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Yahweh’s Covenant Faithfulness September 30, 2010

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.

Hosea 5:13-6:6

Proper 5


Focus: God is faithful to the covenant.

Goal:  That the hearers seek a deeper relationship with Yahweh their God.

            Our God, Yahweh, is a God of love and peace.  We know Him best through His Son, Jesus and the fact that He gave up His life to set us free.  Through Christ’s great sacrifice, we are forgiven of our sins, healed from our worldly afflictions.  Whenever things start to go badly for us, we can turn to God for help.  We know He’ll be there for us despite all the things that we do.

While that may sound like the gospel in a nutshell, it also sounds strikingly similar to what we just heard read from the book of Hosea.  The prophet begins with God speaking of the territories of Ephraim and Judah.  The people of these lands are Abraham’s descendants, children of God’s covenant with Abraham.

They are also sick and injured.  Where do they turn, however?  They look to the king ofAssyriafor help rather than God.  He cannot help them, only God can.  But because they abandoned God, God declares that He will be like a lion to them, tearing them in pieces and carrying them away.  He is leaving their land until they accept the guilt of their sins and seek Him instead of earthly means.

The people of Ephraim and Judah speak next, declaring that they will surely return to Yahweh.  And then they ramble on about some of God’s characteristics that they think they know about Him.  “His going out is as sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”  Here they have declared their intentions of returning to God.  That’s what Yahweh wanted isn’t it?

If so, why does He respond harshly?  “What shall I do with you O Ephraim?  What shall I do with you O Judah?”  He takes their references to nature and throws them back in their faces.  He compares them to the drops of dew on the grass, which we all know disappear as soon as the sun comes up.  They indeed haven’t done what God wanted them to do.  Where did they go wrong?

Yahweh summarizes the heart of the problem in verse six and this is certainly a verse worth looking into more deeply.  “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.”  Many of us recognize that verse, but not from Yahweh’s lips.  We recognize it because Jesus threw it in the face of the Pharisees, which happened to be our gospel lesson this morning.

What does God mean that He would desire mercy instead of sacrifice?  Is He saying that He would rather show us mercy than have us sacrifice to Him?  Is He doing away with sacrifices altogether?  Especially those bloody animal offerings?  Some people have used this verse to do just that, no more sacrifices.  It has even been taken to mean that tithing isn’t necessary.  And that can sound even better when you put it together with that group of Pharisees Jesus was addressing, men who adhered very strictly to sacrifices and to giving a tenth of their earnings to the temple.  These aren’t the right answers.

The reason this verse is so hard to understand is that its meaning has been disguised by language.  If you look at the text again, you won’t see any similar words between verses four and six.  However, in the original language, there is a very key word that is actually used in both verses.  One English translation, the NASB, noted this.  Most others do not.  The word for “love” in verse four, and “mercy” in verse six are actually the same word.  The most literal definition for these would be “covenant faithfulness.”  Let’s reread verses 4-6 with that in mind.

4What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?  What shall I do with you, O Judah?  Your covenant faithfulness is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.  5Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light.  6For I take pleasure in covenant faithfulness not sacrifice, the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.


It isn’t as though sacrifices are bad in God’s eyes.  After all, He instituted them in the first place for our benefit.  But the problem is in the attitude of the people.  It is as though they think they can do whatever they please, look to whoever they want for comfort and support in good times and bad, and then go running back to God whenever things appear to have taken a turn for the worst, whenever things seem impossible.  That’s not the covenant!

God made the covenant with Abraham that He would give them the land which He had promised and He would their God.  They, in turn, would obey His commands and be His people.  The covenant formed an everlasting relationship.  God desired for them to keep the covenant.  But they failed to keep it.  And instead, they kept the land and lived life as they pleased.  They went about their daily routine putting themselves first, looking to things, possessions, or others as the primary source of all the good in their life.

When you put it that way, it starts to sound familiar to us again.  Where do we turn when things are going well for us?  To money, success, or friends? How often to we put ourselves before others, and even before God Himself?  Why do we make excuses for avoiding God and His Word, and for doing things we know He commanded us not to do?  It really is all too easy to simply rely upon God as a crutch for when we get hurt and things are going terribly wrong.  It’s all too easy to only turn to God when we’ve lost our job or when death is on the horizon.  We, too, have broken that covenant.  We’ve destroyed the relationship.

That’s what this whole mess is all about: relationship.  That’s what Yahweh’s covenant was about: the relationship of a God to His people.  Yahweh has chosen to fill the Bible with all sorts of examples of this relationship.  Think back to the Garden of Eden, to Adam and Eve.  God spoke with them and He walked with them.  He gave them everything they needed to live and flourish.  And Satan’s temptation of the knowledge of God?  Why not just ask God?  He would have been happy to talk to them.  Instead they gave in, they ruined the relationship and they hid from Him.

God also reveals Himself through family relationships.  First, He likes to use the relationship of Father and children.  Numerous times, we are referred to as being children of God.  He is our Father who loves us.

And then Christ tells us that our relationship is like a husband and wife.  In Matthew’s gospel, Christ refers to Himself as the bridegroom.  And the book of Revelation again emphasizes it, that the church, that is all of us, is the bride of Christ.

But these aren’t just New Testament examples of God trying to relate His relationship with us.  The Bible is simply teeming with that language.  Hosea, where our message comes from this morning, is full of the same imagery.  Yahweh commands Hosea to take a prostitute as his wife.  So, he goes out and marries Gomer.  But even after having children with him, Gomer isn’t satisfied and leaves Hosea for another man.  Hosea then, again by God’s command, has to go out to her and buy his wife back from the new man in order to bring her home.

The whole book of Hosea has its ties in an analogy comparing Gomer to God’s peopleIsrael.  Just as Gomer left Hosea for other men whenever it pleased her, so God’s peopleIsraelran off and broke the relationship in search of something better.  And God in turn had to seek them out, and pay the price, to bring them home.

We know that price.  It is why we are here this morning; it is why we call ourselves Christian.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  We broke the covenant we had with God to be His people, but He didn’t just let us go.  Instead, He gave His Son Jesus Christ as a sacrifice, the price to be paid, to bring us home.

God kept the covenant that we failed to keep.  In Christ, God has restored that covenant with us.  In Christ we are forgiven.  In Christ we are children of God.  It is a new relationship with the very same God who first created us.

At the beginning of the sermon, I gave you the gospel in a nutshell, which I just told you again.  But it is one that we can easily neglect.  When you leave church this morning, what happens?  Do you plan on actively pursuing Him in every aspect of your daily life?  Or do you plan on putting God back in His box until next Sunday morning?  When you sin, do you return to God simply for healing as Ephraim andJudahdid, or do you return to God because you know you have damaged the relationship and you want it back?

That’s what forgiveness is.  It’s not as though when God forgives you those wounds on your body or the holes in your heart are suddenly filled.  Nor are the consequences of your actions gone.  It just isn’t a physically seeable thing.  Rather, forgiveness is an aspect of a relationship.  You can’t touch it, but you know it’s there.  Do you remember the last time you hurt a friend or perhaps your spouse?  Can you remember feeling terrible about it?  But what happened when you apologized?  They forgave you and the relationship was restored to a healthy state.

This is why Jesus references Hosea 6:6 when He’s talking to the Pharisees.  It isn’t merely that He came to be a doctor for sick people, but rather that He came to heal them, in deed to make their relationship with God healthy again.  If the Pharisees had only understood what that meant.

Through Christ, we have forgiveness from God and our relationship with Him is made healthy once again.  We do not return to Him simply seeking to get ourselves healed for our own benefit, but rather we receive the forgiveness that restores the relationship back to health both for us and for God.  The relationship is what matters.

And, as we all know from our relationships with others, it is part of any healthy relationship that each person would grow in their knowledge and love for the other.  God’s off to quite a head start, being all-knowing.  But, that doesn’t mean that we should not live our lives with the attempt to continue to learn who He is and what He does for us, seeking to deepen our relationship with Yahweh our Father, our God and Creator.  We can do this through reading the Bible, admiring His creation, being part of a community of believers like we are in this church, and so many other ways.  God wants us to be in relationship with Him; He wants us to have the desire to know Him as He knows us.  And He is not out of reach, but with us always.



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