(Oseas 6:1 NBLH)
"’Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.’"
(Hosea 6:1 ESV)
We’re on the home stretch now. The last three verses are right here in Hosea 6:1-3.
Before we dive into this, one of my favourite passages of the Bible, let me address one interpretation on these verses.
Hosea 6:1-3 really jumps in out of nowhere, and so commentators have speculated about who is actually speaking. Could it be the prophet Hosea? Could it be the people themselves? Or the leaders of Israel?
It would be a sudden departure for the prophet, who is speaking words of judgement. But it would also be a huge departure for the people, who are fickle and faithless. As a matter of fact, verse 4 says
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
So The Apologetics Study Bible makes this conclusion about the first part of Hosea 3 (particularly verse 2, but I think they’re referring to all three verses): It was, apparently, not Hosea’s own teaching but the shallow, complacent response of the people to his warning of judgment to come. This becomes clear from the Lord’s evaluation of their words: "Your loyalty [hesed, faithfulness to the covenant] is like the morning mist and like the early dew that vanishes" (v. 4).
With all due respect to The Apologetics Study Bible, I’m not buying it.
Why? For one thing, Hosea 6:1-3 too closely reflects the heart of God. And hopefully I can show that as we talk about it.
For another thing, it’s not unusual to have a plea to return to the Lord and enjoy His mercy in the middle of passages about judgement. This fits a normal pattern.
In spite of the wickedness of the people, God kept reaching out to them – and this fits perfectly with the rest of Hosea’s message.
I tend to think this is the prophet himself speaking. Much like is recorded in Zechariah 1:4 – Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the LORD.
But whoever it was, it reflects God’s heart. So let’s briefly look at verse 1.
It’s a common message of the Bible that God brings judgement in order to bring His people back to Himself. He starts by warning them of the consequences of sin (think of the blessings and curses that went along with the Law). When they disobey, He sometimes shows mercy, and He sometimes brings judgement. He calls people to return to Him to be healed.
Similar language can be seen elsewhere in the prophets. For example, Amos chapter three. Take this verse as an example: "I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me," declares the LORD. (Amos 4:9)
Isaiah 60:10: Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you.
In Lamentations 3, the prophet affirms:
Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?
Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD!
Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven:
We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven…
And in Joel 2:12-13: "Yet even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
The point is not that every problem in life is a sign of God’s discipline or judgement. Very often we do not know God’s purpose.
Neither does God always send disaster when people sin – He is, as we saw in Joel, slow to anger. Most often He shows His patience and mercy.
But it’s crystal clear that one of God’s purposes for "bad things" is to call people back to Himself.
The Psalms also are full of examples of the songwriter acknowledging that God has brought pain (though we often don’t know why) – and yet we look to God for salvation.
In the Psalm with the famous verse "This is the day that the LORD has made" the Psalmist also says "The LORD has disciplined me severely" (Psalm 118).
There is nowhere else to go for salvation. Only in God do we know there is purpose in pain, rescue from evil, loving discipline, and the certain hope that He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)