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My text is the sad Divine comment upon the apparently genuine repentance and quick return to God expressed in previous verses. But God sees how flimsy and hollow that repentance is.
I. It is a strange and awful fact that men can thwart God. The words of the text express perplexity, and it would seem as if we must accept them as implying the failure of every weapon He has. It is a mystery, but it is no less a certainty. But it is not owing to deficiency in his appliances.
II. The most dangerous of all man's ways of thwarting God is through transient impulses and resolutions.
III. Our resolutions to amend are incomplete, and usually arise from fear or pain.
IV. The Divine effort to amend us persists. What is the effect of all our unbelief upon God? It is not to make Him angry, not to make Him pause, but to heighten the energy of His efforts.
Reference. VI. 4. H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx. p. 1381.
Mercy, and Not Sacrifice
Hosea conceives the relation of Jehovah to His people as a moral union.
I. Not with violence, but gently, with tender indulgence and consideration, had they been treated; Jehovah had shown towards them the love and regard of a father. Israel, as an aggregate of individual persons, is Jehovah's family; and between the members of a family governed by such a Head, mutual loyalty and kindness, mutual consideration and regard, ought instinctively to prevail, and form a natural bond regulating the intercourse of each with his fellow-man.
II. By 'knowledge of God,' Hosea here means not a merely intellectual apprehension of His nature, but a knowledge displaying itself in conduct, a knowledge of His power, His influence, and His character, resting upon spiritual experience, and resulting in moral practice.
III. The Israelites, Hosea says, had misapprehended the nature of Jehovah's demands: they were prompt, and even punctilious, in the performance of outward religious ceremonies, supposing that this would satisfy His requirements; but what He delighted in was conduct governed consistently by a moral purpose, and a life regulated by a cheerful regard for the rights and needs of other men: sacrifice was offered properly as the expression of a right state of heart, but it could not be accepted in lieu of it; it was valueless unless accompanied by sincerity of purpose and integrity of life.
IV. Mercy and not sacrifice! The knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings! The saying is one of those pregnant ones which abound in the writings of the prophets, and which, expanded and generalized, became the basis of the teaching of Christ. Christ enforced anew the true character of religion. The citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven was recognized, not by external marks, but by Godlike dispositions, by humility, meekness, the aspiration after goodness, simplicity.
S. R. Driver, Sermons, p. 217.
A False Standard
In the Old Testament the idea of covenant colours the whole history. Pious Jews looking back interpreted the past of their race by this great thought. They were the children of the promise, and the promise was the gracious relationship into which God entered with the people of Israel. To Hosea it was a figure of speech by which he expressed his interpretation of the spiritual history of Israel, stating the terms of love in which God stood towards them, and on the other side the moral obligations that lay upon them in view of that gracious attitude. Israel's privilege meant Israel's duty. The covenant was broken when they ceased to do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with God. They put themselves out of that sweet relationship, wilfully robbed themselves of the promise, when they did not perform their part of the loving contract. They took the rank and place of other men. They like men transgressed the covenant. Thus these words are more than an assertion of universal human fallibility, more than saying that it is human to err, like men to transgress. It is the assertion of a higher standard for Israel. Israel had special privileges, peculiar opportunities, and was charged with a mission. To fail, to be after all only like other men, was to come under heavier condemnation. If they are not better than others they are worse; for they have sinned against clearer light, and sinned against special love.
I. The principle of this greater condemnation is a common one, and works out in every relationship of life. Every step of progress sets a new standard; and men are judged not by what they have passed on the way, but by what they have attained. Every advance is a fresh obligation. New knowledge is new duty. The higher you rise, the higher rises the standard of judgment. Do you complain? Nay, it is the reward of efficiency. In business the capable man is not laid on the shelf as a reward for his capacity. He is promoted, advanced to harder and more responsible positions. It is the practice of life; and we recognize the principle in every sphere.
II. There is, however, a constant tendency to level down the standard, and to be content with just what is expected by the mass. It was against this tendency that the prophets ever had to strive. The higher religion with its sterner, simpler rites, with its great moral claims on life, was ever menaced by the surrounding idolatries with their appeal to sense and their laxer standard. There was also a heathen party in Israel, even in her most faithful days, a party ever ready to take advantage of every weakening of the religious conscience and ever making a strong appeal to the lower instincts of the nation. Why should they be bound to a covenant so severe? Why not be like the men of the place, like the men around them, who get on very well and have a happier time where less is expected of them? The strongest count in Hosea's indictment against them, that 'they like men transgressed the covenant' was also the strongest temptation. It is the common temptation still to accommodate oneself to environment. We excuse ourselves that we are just like men when we transgress the covenant, the covenant which our own hearts acknowledge.
III. The men who will sneer at you as a 'saint' will admire you for being what they call a man of the world. You will get plenty of help in being like others, and plenty of hindrance in attempting the exceptional or uncommon. In addition to this outside pressure of a low worldly standard, another subtle encouragement to reduce the level of conduct is due to a disillusionment which comes regarding others, sometimes in men we have admired and looked up to. We find they are like men, hampered by the same weakness, liable to the same temptations, overtaken by the same faults. We take a low estimate of human nature, and bring down our own standard of duty to suit it. On such reasoning there could be no progress at all. There would be no stainless peaks on earth; only a dreary level. We have not come to our kingdom as men till we have got past the merely social conscience, the outside standard of others, and have within ourselves a measure of right and wrong and are parties to a personal covenant in which we stand to God.
Hugh Black, University Sermons, p. 175.
References. VII. 8. J. Baines, Sermons, p. 100. C. J. Vaughan, Lessons of Life and Godliness, p. 65. VII. 9. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 830. VIII. 2. J. N. Norton, Old Paths, p. 172. J. H. Hitchens, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii. p. 59. VIII. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 16. X. 2. Ibid. vol. v. No. 276. X. 12. E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation (2nd Series), p. 281. XI. 1. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1675. XI. 3, 4. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Prophets, vol. ii. p. 87.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Hosea 6". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany