Hosea 6:6
In the verse immediately preceding, God has spoken of sending his prophets to "hew," and his words to "slay," and of visiting the nation with a sunrise of judgment. And now, in the remainder of the chapter, he proceeds to justify these threatenings by setting forth the reason why he felt compelled to deal with the Hebrews in this fashion.

I. THE NATURE OF TRUE RELIGION. (Vers. 6, 7.) It is described here in a twofold manner.

1. Faithfulness to the covenant of grace. (Ver. 7.) The covenant office has been made by God with his elect people, the Lord Jesus Christ being Mediator in their behalf. It rests upon the covenant of redemption which was formed from eternity between the Father and the Son. The promise of the covenant of grace is spiritual and eternal life; and faith in Christ is the condition of it. This covenant has been the same under all dispensations; but, as made with the Hebrews in the time of Moses, it is presented in three aspects:

(1) national and political;

(2) legal, as seen in the moral and ceremonial laws;

(3) evangelical, for all the Mosaic institutions pointed to Christ.

Under every economy, also, religion has consisted in acceptance of this covenant and fidelity to its obligations. In every age faith in God has been the bond of living fellowship with him.

2. The offering of the worship of a holy life. (Ver. 6.) Religion must have a form in order to its manifestation. Piety has an outward side as well as an inward. Where there is wine, there must also be bottles in which to hold it (Matthew 9:17). Among the Jews this outward expression of piety was to take the form of "sacrifice" and "burnt offerings." But religion itself is a spirit. It consists in "mercy" towards man, and in the experimental "knowledge of God." Jehovah says here that holiness in the life is the test of sincerity in the observance of ritual. He does not reject sacrifices in themselves; indeed, he had himself instituted them. But he will not accept heartless oblations. He thinks of sacrifice without mercy as being like a body from which the spirit has fled. All the prophets of the Old Testament asserted the superiority of ethical over ceremonial laws. And the Lord Jesus Christ on two different occasions quoted the words before us, "Mercy, and not sacrifice" (Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7), in support of the position that the righteousness of forms is not the righteousness of faith, and that it is the discharge of moral duties rather than the observance of positive institutions that makes the true life of religion. Such also is the doctrine of the apostles; e.g. James says in his Epistle that the ritual of Christianity consists in a life of personal purity and active benevolence (James 1:27).

II. THE IRRELIGION OF ISRAEL. (Vers. 7-11.) The entire Hebrew nation, and both of the kingdoms into which it was divided, had failed to maintain any appreciable measure of religious life.

(1) They had been faithless to the covenant. (Ver. 7.) In this respect they were "like Adam" (margin), i.e. they had "sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression." They had violated the covenant alike under all its aspects - national, legal, and evangelical.

(2) Their worship was an insincere formalism. (Ver. 6.) "There" (ver. 7), even at Bethel, whither they went "with their flocks and with their herds to seek Jehovah" (Hosea 5:6), they in so doing "dealt treacherously against him." For they brought "sacrifice," but showed not "mercy;" they presented "burnt offerings," but had lost "the knowledge of God." Hosea, in the remainder of the chapter, adduces one or two illustrations of the deep and universal apostasy.

1. Sacred places had become polluted. (Ver. 8.) "Gilead" perhaps means Ramoth-gilead, a famous city in Gad, and the center of the mountainous region called Gilead. Moses appointed it for one of the cities of refuge. The place seems to have had now a bad eminence in crime. Many homicides were there, not of the class alone for which the cities of refuge were intended, but also many culpable homicides and murderers. Gilead was "tracked with blood."

2. A sacred office had become infamous. (Ver. 9.) The priests of the northern kingdom belonged to "the lowest of the people," and they were now giving themselves over to perpetrate the grossest wickedness. They "did evil with both hands earnestly." One "enormity" which the sacerdotal guild committed was actually that of lying in wait for the pilgrims from the north who were "in the way to Shechem" (margin), perhaps en route for Bethel - to demand, like robbers, their money or their life!

3. The sacred nation itself had become abominable. (Vers. 10, 11.)

(1) Israel's apostasy was "a horrible thing;" a godly mind could only contemplate it with a shudder. The sin of the ten tribes was "whoredom," both spiritual and literal. But is not that of our own Christian land the same? There is doubtless a large portion of the British people who love and follow purity, and thus far as a nation we are morally better than Ephraim; but those who study our national life upon its seamy side "sigh and cry for all the abominations that are done in the midst thereof."

(2) Judah also has sown the bad seed of sin, and therefore cannot escape reaping "a harvest" of wrath. Already, in fact, the southern kingdom is almost ripe for destruction. It is to be carried into "captivity." Only as the result of such a process of judgment shall Jehovah purge out the wickedness of his people, and restore them again to his favor. In the closing words of the chapter the dark clouds break a little, and there appears just for a moment a glimpse of blue sky. The Jewish nation, says Jehovah, is still "my people," and one day "I will return their captivity." This anticipation shall be fully realized only when at last Israel shall be converted as a nation to the faith of Jesus Christ.

LESSONS.

1. The right relation of the form and the spirit in religion (ver. 6).

2. The appalling wickedness and shamefulness of sin (vers. 7, 10, 11).

3. When man prostitutes the best institutions from their proper uses, they often become the worst things (vers. 8, 9). - C.J.







For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice.
God had Himself, after the fall, enjoined sacrifice to foreshow and plead to Himself the meritorious sacrifice of Christ. He had not contrasted mercy and sacrifice who enjoined them both. When then they were contrasted, it was through man's severing what God had united. If we were to say, "Charity is better than churchgoing," we should be understood to mean that it is better than such churchgoing as is severed from charity. For, if they were united, they would not be contrasted. The soul is of more value than the body. But it is not contrasted, unless they come in competition with one another, and their interests seem to be separated. In itself, sacrifice represented all the direct duties to God, all the duties of the first table. Mercy represented all the duties of the second table.

(E. B. Pusey, D. D.)

It requires both mercy and sacrifice, but the relations between them properly preserved.

1. The rule of true religion requires that all God commands should be respected, and obedience endeavoured, so that moral duties be chiefly made conscience of. Under "sacrifice and burnt-offerings" is comprehended all their ceremonial performances. so far as they were mere external performances rested on by the people. His "not desiring sacrifice" is not to be understood simply, as if the Lord did not approve, even of the external performances which were enjoined by Himself; but comparatively, that He desired moral duties more than burnt-offerings. To which may be added, that in some cases, when moral duties come in competition with ceremonials, the Lord doth not desire ceremonials at that time, but moral duties.

2. Let men submit never so much to the external injunctions of religion and worship, or think to satisfy their own consciences therewith, yet where Christ is not closed with, to enable and make men willing and active in moral duties, they will not be approved in the other at all.

3. Such as would approve themselves to God, ought to make conscience of moral duties, both of the first and second table of the law, and particularly, the saving knowledge of God, whereby we may regulate the rest of our obedience. Shewing of mercy in cases wherein we seem not to be so strictly bound, will prove our reality in religion.

(George Hutcheson.)

I. ANSWER SOME QUESTIONS.

1. What is the difference between natural ordinances and instituted duties? By natural duties understand such duties as we owe to God as God, and to man as man, which we should have been required to fulfil if there had been no written law in relation to them. By instituted duties understand those which, if God had not revealed them, would have had no claim on us. Natural duties refer to attributes in God's nature and character, instituted, to the expression of His will.

2. God required sacrifice as well as mercy, but with these limitations.

(1)I will have sacrifice, but net without the spirit. Instituted worship separated from natural worship is not regarded.

(2)Not sacrifices to make atonement for their sins.

(3)Not sacrifices of your own devising.

3. Why should God require mercy rather than sacrifice? Because mercy is good in itself, but sacrifice is good only in reference to something else. Sacrifices are but to further us in natural duties.

II. SATISFY SOME OBJECTIONS.

1. Men's hearts are deceitful, and they may pretend cases of mercy when there is no such thing in hand. It is not for us to judge the sincerity of other men. God gives general rules for the ordering of a Christian life; and these general rules being observed, particular eases are to be ordered in prudence, faithfulness, and zeal; end where there is miscarrying through frailty, God will have mercy.

2. Can any duty of the second table be more excellent than the duties of the first? In both the tables there are internal and substantial duties and superadded duties. Comparing them it is plain that the substantial are to be preferred before the superadded. Yet God is pleased to indulge men so far that He will let the duties of the second table take precedence.

3. But if God's ordinances are duties, can they be omitted at any time? There are two sorts of precepts, negative and affirmative. A negative binds always and at all seasons, an affirmative only hinds always, but not at all seasons; for we cannot do two things at once, and one duty must be preferred to another. It is the Christian's skill, when two duties come together, which to choose. If God's own worship may be forborne in case of mercy, how much more men's institutions and inventions. God will have mercy rather than disputing about sacrifice. Mercy must be preferred before our own wills and lusts.

(Jeremiah Burroughs.)

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