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Bible study

Bible Study – From Ritual to Relationship (Hosea 6:6)

Today’s Reading: Hosea 1-6

Today’s Reflection: Hosea 6:6

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

What is this text saying?

The Prophet Hosea was warning Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom) that what God required of His people was more than adherence to religious rituals.  Above all else, God desired true, honest and consistent relationships with those who claimed to serve Him.

Why is it important?

The book of Hosea is a warning, as most of the books of the prophets are.  It was written to Israel and Judah at a time when the people of God were enjoying an unusual period of peace and prosperity.  Sadly, peace and prosperity often coincided with a disregard for God’s laws.  This was true of Hosea’s time, marked by a slide into sin and idol worship for many Jews, from the Kings palace right down the most impoverished servant.  The prophet Hosea was instructed by God to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2) to symbolize the covenant union between our ever faithful God and the unfaithful House of Israel, which was guilty of committing spiritual adultery and prostitution through its idolatries and heresies.

Israel and Judah behaved as though their status as God’s chosen people guaranteed their continued success, protection and wealth.  Though they blatantly broke the laws of God they zealously kept covenant practices, like the sanctuary, priesthood, and sacrificial system.  The Children of Israel believed these practices would cover them regardless of whatever else they did.

They were wrong.

What Israel and Judah failed to understand was that these rituals had no power in and of themselves.  They were merely symbols of the relationship that was meant to exist between God and the House of Israel.

Psalm 51:16-17 – For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

The object of the covenant rituals was not the rituals.  The object of the rituals was to demonstrate and affirm belief, faith, trust and fidelity in a relationship with God.  God’s complaint against Israel and Judah is that they desired the blessings and security of God without having a relationship with God, without seeking the knowledge of God.

And what is the point of having a relationship with God?  Transformation.  Without the transformation that occurs when we encounter God in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23-24) we remain exactly as we once were without God.  Hobbled and enfeebled by sin (Psalm 38:3-8), unable to resist temptation (James 1:15), consumed, controlled and enslaved by our lusts (John 8:34, 2 Peter 2:19), and condemned to eternal death (Romans 6:23).

But through a relationship with God we are renewed (2 Corinthians 4:16), restored (Lamentations 5:21), given new hearts (Ezekiel 36:26), new minds (1 Corinthians 2:16, Philippians 2:5), new characters (Romans 5:1-5), rescued from the corruption of this world, and given eternal life (2 Peter 1:3-4).  On this last point, we are not transformed so we can be saved, but it is as we are being saved through our faith relationship with God that this transformation takes place in our lives.

How can I apply this?

1) Sacrifice can’t make up for disobedience.  The House of Israel kept the religious rituals exceptionally, but failed to be self-controlled and abstain from sin.  This proved they were missing the point.  If they understood that these rituals were just symbols of a relationship with God through which we live in harmony with those around us, then these sacrifices would have served as reminder to Israel to put away sins and worldly pleasures.  God, who looks upon the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), is not fooled by the appearance of righteousness, nor will He accept sacrifices from those not truly submitted to Him or His ways.

Isaiah 1:11 – What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD;I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts ;I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.

The same is true of us.  Too often our focus is on external appearances of godliness—our attire at church, the size of our offerings, our raised hands during worship and praise, the ‘reverence’ of our services.  All of these practices, these rituals, may look good, but what value do they have when they are just a vain attempt to cover up lives consistently and defiantly lived in opposition to God and His ways?  We ought rather to focus on simple obedience of God, His laws, and the convictions the Holy Spirit brings to our hearts.

2) The point of God’s law isn’t the law.  It’s relationships, both with God and with each other.  The Jews in Hosea’s time and right up to Jesus time were consumed with the correct keeping of the law.  So much so they missed the point of the law altogether, which is relationships with God and relationships with each other.

Matthew 22:36-40 – “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

When we understand the law in this way, we recognize the ultimate point of obeying God is in improving how we treat God and one another.  The focus must be love.  This doesn’t mean always telling people what they want to hear, for even God disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6), but it does mean that criticism is always presented as an opportunity to repair relationships, to build people up, never to tear them down.  If you see someone being treated poorly because of God’s law—being discouraged, condemned, rejected, or being separated from God or God’s people—the people attempting to exercise God’s law have missed the point of God’s law, attempting to keep the appearance of the law while denying it’s spirit.  Make it the conviction of your heart to never find yourself in this position.

Romans 13:9-10 – For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

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