By Caleb Faires
Hosea writes to a spiritually unstable people, often wavering in their vows to return and seek God. What, then, are we to make of this declaration: “Come, let’s return to the LORD” (Hosea 6:1)?
Is this an expression of genuine repentance, or another vain commitment, a faithless promise?
Even well-intentioned repentance, performed in our own strength, will be like the dew that goes away. Time and again, Ephraim and Judah (two tribes of Israel) had vowed and fallen away. They had promised and grown weary of keeping their promise. “What am I going to do with you, Ephraim?” God asks (v.4).
Like Ephraim, when I hear that question, my gut reaction is to say to God, “Give me another chance! I can do it this time!” But I cannot. God does not desire my own sacrificial efforts, or any vain attempt on my part to earn His favor. Such pursuits are not true repentance.
Yet how often do we substitute “sacrifice” for faithful love? Do we measure our spiritual walk by our own accomplishments, rather than by what He has done for us? Do we walk alone, rather than in the light of His fellowship and the communion of the saints? Do we engage in the Word and prayer as to-dos, rather than as a feast of grace? When we sin, do we try to earn our way back into God’s favor, rather than leaning wholly upon Christ?
We all have Ephraim hearts. We are quick to turn aside and seek refreshment from strange waters (Jeremiah 2:17–25). But God, in His great mercy, has offered deliverance even to us. God’s rebukes mercifully drive us to Christ:
For he has torn us,
and he will heal us;
he has wounded us,
and he will bind up our wounds.
He will revive us after two days,
and on the third day he will raise us up
so we can live in his presence.
Our hope of returning to the Lord is not in our efforts, but in Christ. In Him, we are struck down, as God visited His just wrath against our sin on the cross. In Him, we are raised. God does not desire vain sacrifice from us, for Christ Jesus, the true sacrifice, has already satisfied the demands of justice.
Therefore, “let’s strive to know the LORD” (Hosea 6:3). He has come to us as the spring rain, making even the wasteland and desert glad (Isaiah 35:1). Let us lay aside vain pursuits and walk in His steadfast love. How rich indeed is His mercy, how unfathomable His redemption!