Steadfast Love and Not Sacrifice – Hosea 6
“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6
October 31, 1517. On this day, just shy of 500 years ago, a 33-year-old monk nailed his protests against the religious establishment to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. And so began what we now know as the Protestant Reformation. Many of us are direct descendents of that day, our faith shaped in the crucible of the five solas and the cry of “Semper reformanda!” (always reforming). But I wonder if we’ve made a bit of a mistake; I wonder if calling this event a “Reformation” isn’t a bit of a misnomer.
Perhaps we should call it the Great Repentance.
In Hosea 6, speaking through His prophet, God chastises the people of Israel. Like Hosea’s faithless wife, Gomer, they have run from Him living lives of decadence and lust. But still they call themselves by His name. They carry out the forms of marriage, offering their sacrifices and words of love even while their hearts are far from Him. But God isn’t fooled. In chapter 6, verse 4, He asks,
“What shall I do with you?… Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.”
If you know anything about Europe at the time of the Reformation, it was similar to Israel during the time of Hosea. Corrupt and decadent, it was also religious. People committed themselves to the forms of faith, offering their money and bodies to a system that they believed would satisfy God. Martin Luther himself, the pastor who posted his objections on that day, was a former monk. His wife, Katarina von Bora, a former nun. Both devoted to the Church and to the forms of religion that they knew.
But there was something missing. Something that they had to learn. Something that the children of Israel during Hosea’s day had to learn as well.
In Hosea 6:6, God reveals what He wants from those who claim to be His. He says,
“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Simply put, God does not want our service if He does not have our heart. He does not want us to act married to Him if we do not truly love Him. But here’s the catch. We can’t simply make ourselves love Him. We can’t simply reform ourselves. We must repent.
We must turn from our works, turn from our burnt offerings, turn from our sacrifices, turn from our sin, and run straight into the welcome steadfast love of God Himself. We must pursue Him, not simply for doctrinal knowledge, but for intimate knowledge. The kind of knowledge shared between true lovers.
Later in chapter 14, Hosea begs Israel to do this.
“Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.” (14:1)
And if they will, God promises to welcome them.
“I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely… I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily (14:4,5)
In 1560, Anne Lock, a noblewoman who was a poet, translator, and personal friend of John Calvin, wrote a sonnet sequence expressing her own brokenness and the hope of God’s mercy.
Have mercy, God, for thy great mercies sake.
O God: my God, unto my shame I say,
Being fled from thee, so as I dread to take
Thy name in wretched mouth, and fear to pray
Or ask the mercy that I have abused.
But, God of mercy, let me come to thee:
Thy mercies praise, instead of sacrifice,
With thankful rnind so shall I yield to thee.
So this Reformation Day, remember that coming to love God as He desires is not simply about reformation. It’s not about fixing ourselves. It’s not a 12-step (or 95-step) program. Reformation only comes when we repent and cast ourselves headlong into His love. And when we do, we will discover what Martin Luther and Katarina von Bora and Anne Lock found for themselves: We will discover a steadfast love that rains down on us like dew and causes us to blossom like the lily.
Hannah Anderson lives with her husband, Nathan, and their three young children in the haunting Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. As a pastor’s wife in a rural setting, no two days are ever the same which suits her short-attention span perfectly. Hannah is passionate about helping women discover their God-given identity as His image bearers and is the author of Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image (Moody, 2014). She also contributes to a variety of Christian publications, and you can find her on her blog, SometimesALight.com, and on Twitter @sometimesalight.