Judgment with Mercy
The judgments of God, in the end, are designed to correct and restore. God shows Himself to be reluctant to bring judgment upon Israel and Judah, but He also finds it necessary. So in Hosea 6:4 we read how God appears to talk to them with a sigh:
4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? For your loyalty [chesed, “mercy, loving-kindness”] is like a morning cloud and like the dew which goes away early.
The implication is that Ephraim and Judah did not have a solid understanding of the concept of mercy. Although they may have practiced it occasionally, it was only as temporary as a morning cloud or the early-morning dew.
The NASB translates it “loyalty,” because the word is rooted in an expression or outworking of God’s covenant relationship. According to The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, by Gerhard Kittel, chesed is “an attitude arising out of mutual relationship between parties in a Covenant relationship.”
The implication is that those who are in a covenant relationship with God ought to live in a constant attitude of chesed, desiring (as we will see shortly) mercy rather than sacrifice.
In other words, Hosea 6:4 tells us that these covenant people did not truly understand what it means to be under God’s covenant, for if they did, they would make chesed, “loving-kindness,” a permanent feature of their daily lives and in their court procedure.
A biblical judge, of course, does not have the right to show mercy, for his duty is to uphold the rights of the victim to be compensated for his loss. But once the judge has rendered his decision, the victim then is given the right to show mercy according to his own discernment and leading by the Holy Spirit.
But the people of Ephraim and Judah functioned too often with self-interest that characterizes the old man of flesh, rather than living according to the New Creation Man that is seen in the character of Christ. Hence, their chesed was fleeting and temporary.
Divine Judgment Contains Mercy
Fortunately for both Ephraim and Judah, God is not dominated by the old man of Adamic flesh. His mercy is permanent, and for this reason, His judgments are remedial and corrective. Hosea 6:5, 6 says,
5 Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth; and the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth. 6 For I delight in loyalty [chesed] rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
The context of this passage shows that God was setting forth His own example of chesed in judging Ephraim and Judah. Instead of killing them with the sword, He slays them by the sword of His mouth. Many carnal minds have misunderstood this, thinking that this pictures God as a Judge speaking the death penalty, ordering them (by the words from His mouth) to be killed.
However, it speaks of the New Covenant “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17), which kills the old man of flesh. Such a death results in resurrection, so that we may arise in “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). It is a merciful death penalty.
This is the sword coming from the mouth of God and from the prophets. So also we read in Heb. 4:12 that the Sword of the Spirit is sharp enough to divide soul and spirit. It is again pictured in the mouth of Jesus in Rev. 19:15. Even though Ephraim and Judah lacked such a sword in their mouths, God Himself used this sword to judge them.
Notice, then, the contrast. Fleshly Israel’s chesed is fleeting and temporary; God’s chesed is deep and permanent. Whereas Israel desired only sacrifice (or killing the “victim”), God’s desire was chesed, or mercy and loving-kindness.
Hosea 6:5 says, “the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth.” The KJV incorrectly renders this, “thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth.” But here God was not speaking of the people’s judgments, but rather His own. “I have slain them by the words of My mouth; My judgments are as the light that goes forth.” Dr. Bullinger’s notes on this verse read this way:
“thy judgments are. A regrouping of the letters of the Hebrew word agrees with the Aram. Sept., and Syr. and reads ‘My judgment is’.”
The thought being expressed is that the divine judgment, which contains true chesed, is as the light going forth. We can say, then, that judgment without mercy is not divine judgment.
This, of course, was fortunate for Ephraim and Judah, because both nations had been caught up in a spirit of harlotry and therefore deserved the death penalty. The mercy of God caused Him to “kill” them by the words of the prophets by the sword of the Spirit, rather than by “sacrifice.”
Sadly, however, the people did not have the same level of chesed in their own hearts.
Jesus Came with Chesed
Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6, using it to admonish the Pharisaical attitude in Matt. 9:10-13.
10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,” for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
If the Pharisees had understood the word of God in Hosea 6:6, they would have agreed with Jesus’ actions. The problem was that the Pharisees did not have chesed, and for this reason they manifested the same problem seen in Ephraim and Judah in the time of Hosea. They desired sacrifice, but knew little of mercy. They were quick to judge with no merciful purpose.
But it was mercy that motivated Jesus to eat with the tax collectors and sinners—those who had been cast out of the temple, those who had been excommunicated and forbidden to set foot in the temple or in a synagogue. He came, not to condone sin, but to restore sinners to a covenant relationship with God.
Again, when the Pharisees criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, He told them in Matt. 12:7,
7 But if you had known what this means, “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the innocent.
The context shows that it was lawful to do good and to heal on the Sabbath.
The Judgments of Men
Hosea 6:7-10 continues by showing the contrast between God’s judgments and men’s judgments.
7 But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; there they have dealt treacherously against Me. 8 Gilead is a city of wrongdoers, tracked with bloody footprints. 9 And as raiders wait for a man, so a band of priests murder on the way to Shechem; surely they have committed crime. 10 In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s harlotry is there, Israel has defiled itself.
The KJV reads, “like men they have transgressed the covenant,” but it is actually a reference to Adam himself. The original instruction given to Adam (not to eat of the tree) was a “covenant,” Hosea tells us. Hence, Israel’s violation of the covenant is comparable to Adam’s violation of the original covenant.
Even some of the priests were known to be murderers. Apparently, someone was murdered on the road to Shechem, and the investigation proved that a band of priests had committed this crime. Shechem was a priestly city, given to the family of Kohath (Joshua 21:20). It was also a city of refuge (Joshua 21:21), where those who had accidentally killed someone were allowed to live until the death of the high priest. Perhaps some priests of Kohath had murdered someone who was on his way to Shechem after accidentally killing someone. We are not told, but this would be consistent with a lack of chesed among the priests in Hosea’s time.
Hosea 6:11 concludes,
11 Also, O Judah, there is a harvest appointed for you, when I restore the fortunes [shebuwth] of My people.
This is not a positive statement, but is meant to include Judah in the divine judgment. It should be understood to mean that Judah has sown evil and will therefore reap a harvest of evil as well. Gal. 6:7 says, “whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” Hosea mentions this principle later in Hosea 8:7, “they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind.”
If they had sown good seed, they would reap a good harvest. Hosea 10:12 says, “Sow with a view to righteousness [tsedakah], reap in accordance with kindness [chesed].” Sowing righteous seed will bring a harvest of mercy, or loving-kindness. However, Judah had become a harlot, along with Israel. Hence, Judah also fell under the same divine judgment.
Hosea uses the term shebuwth saying, “when I restore the shebuwth of My people.” The NASB renders it as “fortunes,” whereas the KJV translates it “captivity.” The word literally means “exile, captivity,” but according to Strong’s Concordance (#7622) the word also was used figuratively for “a former state of prosperity.”
Hence, the KJV gives its literal meaning, while the NASB gives its figurative meaning. Hosea probably chose his words carefully in order to give it a double meaning with layered prophetic significance. Either way, this “harvest” will reap the results of their unrighteous “seed” that has been sown, and yet this will also mark the time that their captivity is reversed.
Keep in mind that neither Israel nor Judah had gone into captivity at that point. Hosea was still warning the people of those captivities. The prophet knew that both Israel and Judah would be taken captive, though he did not appear to know that they would go into two separate captivities. The chesed of God, however, was to result in mercy for both Israel and Judah, once their times of judgment were complete.