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Fleeting Faithfulness (Hosea 6) March 4

At the end of chapter 5 we saw Israel and Judah being punished together, at the same time, for their failure to follow God's ways and God telling them that He would leave them until they repented.

Chapter 6 opens with Hosea presenting what Israel will finally say. The Expositor's Bible Commentary concurs with the view that verses 1-3 are connected to the previous chapter: "For three verses, Hosea gives the words of Israel in their day of repentance. The section carries a close relationship in thought with 5:15, which notes that this time of repentance will come only with the beginning of Christ's millennial reign. Israel as a nation has never yet prayed like this…. After the inserted words of repentance, Hosea returned to his main theme of warning the people against their sin" (note on verses 1-3).

Verse 1 uses the analogy of sickness and God's healing power—healing the "sickness" and "wound" of 5:13. The Bible has much to say about physical sickness and God being our Healer (e.g., James 5:14-15; Psalm 103:3).

However, Scripture also uses sickness as a metaphor for spiritual problems, which seems to be the primary usage here in Hosea. The Dictionary of Bible Imagery states: "The book of Isaiah begins with an oracle that uses the imagery of 'wounds and bruises and open sores' (Is. 1:6) to describe the effect of God's judgment on the nation of Israel. Other prophets use similar language. Jeremiah often uses pictures of disease and healing to describe the destruction and subsequent restoration of Jerusalem (e.g., Jer. 10:19; 14:19; 15:18; 30:12-17; 33:1-9; see. also Mic. 1:9). False prophets who proclaim an optimistic future are said to 'dress the wounds of my people as though it were not serious' (Jer. 6:14 NIV; see also Lam. 2:13-14). The prophet Nahum uses similar terms to describe the fate of the Assyrian capital, Nineveh (Nah. 3:18-19). Along the same lines the prophet Hosea uses pictures of sickness and sores to illustrate the effects of invading forces on the territories of Ephraim and Judah (Hos. 5:8-15)" ("Disease and Healing," 1998, pp. 208-210). In writing to Timothy and Titus about their tasks as ministers, Paul employs the analogy of health for the spiritual condition of the Church and for good doctrine, using the word "sound," which has the meaning of "good health" or wholesome (Titus 1:9, 13; 2:2, 8; 1 Timothy 1:10; 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3).

Some have speculated that the references to "after two days" and "the third day" refer to the resurrection of Christ. This is based on the false assumption that Christ was in the grave for only one day and two nights (Friday evening to Sunday morning), not three days and three nights as He prophesied (Matthew 12:40; compare Jonah 1:17). "Jonah 1:17, to which Christ referred, states specifically that 'Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.' We have no reason to think these days and nights were fractional. Nor is there any basis for thinking that Jesus meant only two nights and one day, plus parts of two days, when he foretold the length of time He would be in the grave. Such rationalization undermines the integrity of Jesus' words" (Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Keep?, p. 14).

What, then, is meant by the prophetic statement, "After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up"? We should view it in context. As we've already seen, being raised up in Hosea 6:2 is parallel with a humbled and repentant Israel emerging in verse 1—around the time of Christ's return—from the terrible punishment described at the end of chapter 5. So the period of punishment to which Hosea refers is not of his own day. Rather, God enables him to look down through the ages to the end time. The book of Revelation mentions a coming period of three and a half years of horror unparalleled in human history. The first part of this period is a time of punishment on Israel called "Jacob's trouble" (Jeremiah 30:7) or the "great tribulation" (Matthew 24:21-22). It is followed by the Day of the Lord, of which Isaiah 34:8 states, "For it is the day of the Lord's vengeance, the year of recompense for the cause of Zion." Introduced by dramatic heavenly signs (Revelation 6:12-17), the Day of the Lord would thus seem to be the final year leading up to Christ's return.

Observe also that it is a time for punishing Israel's enemies, thereby "raising up" Israel. Therefore, since the Day of the Lord is the last year of three and a half years, Israel must be punished in the Tribulation for the first two and a half. Interestingly, there are other passages where days are used to represent years in prophecies dealing with Israel (Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6). Hosea 6:2 is no different when it states that "after two days" (i.e., after two years) and "on the third day" (i.e., during the third year—indeed, halfway through it as we've seen), God will raise Israel out of the Tribulation, reserving the final year before Christ's return to rain destruction on Israel's foes.

Israel will finally recognize its need to "pursue the knowledge of the Lord" (verse 3), the lack of which has brought them destruction, as earlier stated (4:6). We are then told that the coming of God is as certain as the sun's rising (6:3). In the same verse, we are told, "He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth." The Nelson Study Bible states: "The latter rains of Israel came in the spring and caused the plants to grow. The former rains came in the autumn and softened the ground for plowing and sowing" (note on 6:3). This ties in with the seasons for God's annual festivals (see Leviticus 23). When God came the first time in the person of Jesus Christ, He fulfilled the spring festivals—"like the latter rain." When He comes the second time, He will fulfill the fall festivals—"like the former rain." And since Christ fulfilled the spring festivals on the very days the festivals occurred, it seems logical that He will fulfill the fall festivals on their calendar dates as well—though we can't know this for sure (for more details see God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind).

In the meantime, God reflects on the fact that any repentance of Israel and Judah before their ultimate repentance of the end time would be short-lived—as fleeting as fog or morning dew (Hosea 6:4). God doesn't just want Israel's sacrifices and religious rituals (Isaiah 1:11-17; 43:22-24; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Amos 5:21-25; Micah 6:6-8). While He had commanded that they be kept, they were only valid if offered in a right spirit (Psalm 51:17; 107:22; Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 2:5). God wants mercy. The Hebrew word translated mercy in verse 6 (hesed) is the same word used for "faithfulness" or "love" in verse 4. Israel was not merciful or faithful in love, and Hosea goes on in verse 7 to describe their crimes.

"Even Ramoth Gilead and Shechem, which were cities of refuge where manslayers could find asylum, had been contaminated by bloodshed" (Nelson, note on verse 10).

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