Hosea prophesied about Israel’s unfaithfulness towards their faithful God. Though this theme is consistent throughout, during the course of the book the scene shifts at the outbreak of the Syro-Ephraimitic war (Hosea 5:8-7:16). This conflict resulted in the northern kingdom of Israel falling to the juggernaut Assyrian army.
James Luther Mays (b. 1921) pinpoints:
The references to contemporary events in Hosea 5:8-6:6 fit the situation in Israel during the time after the Assyrian attack had begun, just before and after 733. The sayings are addressed to both the northern and southern kingdoms, with the former called Ephraim throughout. (Mays, Hosea: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 87)
Amidst the wartime material, Hosea includes a famous song of penitence (Hosea 6:1-3) which reflects the belief in God’s ability to resurrect the nation’s life. The song begins:
“Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.” (Hosea 6:1 NASB)Hosea 6:1-3 is closely connected to the preceding chapter (Hosea 5:11-15) as the song alludes to festering wounds (Hosea 5:13) and “torn us” continues the analogy of God acting the lion (Hosea 5:14-15).
James Limburg (b. 1935) explains that these verses (Hosea 6:1-3):
Contain a song of penitence, picking up the medical imagery of Hosea 5:13 and expressing exactly what was called for in Hosea 5:15. Rather than going to “Dr. Assyria” for help...the people of Israel are urged to seek help from the true Physician, the Lord. If they repent, their fortunes will be reversed, just as surely as the dawn comes each morning and the showers come each springtime! (Limburg, Hosea-Micah (Interpretation: a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 27)In addressing their predicament, the prophet asserts that the biggest national crisis is not the imposing Assyrian army but the peoples’ relationship with God. As such, the song urges Israel to seek assistance from God instead of military alliances. James Merrill Ward (b. 1928) speculates that “the expectation...that the healing will take place on the third day [Hosea 6:2] implies that the occasion is a pilgrimage festival at the central sanctuary (Ward, Hosea: A Theological Commentary, 118).”
The primary problem with the song (Hosea 6:1-3) is not its theology but its sincerity (Hosea 7:14). In his acclaimed novel, Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story, Timothy B. Tyson (b. 1959) writes, “If there is to be reconciliation, first there must be truth (Tyson, 10).” The biggest issue regarding Israel’s song of penitence is whether the prayer conveys truth.
J. Andrew Dearman (b. 1951) explains:
The question is whether Hosea 6:1-3 is the speech of the people that the Lord longs to hear while waiting in his place (Hosea 5:15), and is thus composed by Hosea to represent true repentance (if only Israel would embrace it!); or whether Hosea 6:1-3 is something that Israel is proposing but in an inadequate way. A decision between the options is difficult. With regard to the witness of the book, the result is crystal clear: whether repentance is inadequately expressed or offered as advice to Israel, the people failed the loyalty test. (Dearman, The Book of Hosea (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 191).Based upon God’s rejection (Hosea 6:4-7), most conclude that Israel’s song of penitence was not wholly sincere. Ehud Ben Zvi (b. 1951) wrestles, “On the one hand, Hosea 6:1-3 represents what postmonarchic Israel should think and do. As an interlude, it provides an important teaching to the community. Nothing in the text per se suggests that Israel is insincere in Hosea 6:1-3. Yet within the literary context Hosea 6:1-3, in a seemingly unexpected manner, leads to YHWH’s negative response in Hosea 6:4-7 (Ben Zvi, Hosea (Forms of the Old Testament Literature), 144).”
D.A. Carson (b. 1946) adds, “Hosea 6:1-3 sounds rather more like genuine repentance that is urged but not followed, than like the empty words of insincere hypocrites. Whatever the interpretation, clearly God is not impressed with mere words and religious observance (Carson, For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God's Word, 31).”
Some have seen subtle clues behind the song’s beautiful words that betray its true motives. The Israelites’ concern is healing, not cleansing; happiness, not holiness; an improved circumstance, not a matured character. James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) inspects: “The essential elements of a true confession are missing in Hosea 6:1-3. First, there is no reference to sin. There is an acknowledgment of the consequences of Israel’s sin...A second missing element is a personal relationship with God. This is seen in the mechanical way the people conceive of God’s restoring them (Boice, Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment, 147).”
Who is speaking in this passage? Does Hosea 6:1-3 represent true repentance? What clues reveal the speakers’ earnestness? Do national events still reflect spiritual realities?
While the motives behind Israel’s song of repentance are questioned, the passage’s theology is not. The prophet offers a message of hope - the relationship between Israel and God is still salvageable. Gary V. Smith (b. 1943) clarifies, “This hope is based on his [God’s] earlier promises to restore those who turn from their evils ways and repent (Hosea 2:16-23, 3:4-5; cf. Deuteronomy 4:25-31, 32:39) (Smith, The NIV Application Commentary: Hosea, Amos, Micah).”
The passage hints that if God tore the Israelites, it was so that they could be mended. Some bones must be broken before they can properly heal. The Israelites could become strong in the broken places. The possibility existed that they were set apart to be together.
Caleb Oluremi Oladipo (b. 1955) writes of Christianity’s role in the improbable racial reconciliation in South Africa:
In South Africa...the Church was in captivity under apartheid, and the unjust social structures were reinforced and legitimated under the banner of Christianity...At the same time, the constructive roles of mission in Africa cannot be ignored...What is clear is that the Christian faith has renewed its destiny in South Africa, providing an opportunity for a society fractured by the racist ideology of apartheid to come together. (Oladipo, The Will to Arise, ix).The same religious text that had been wrongly used to divide a nation was also properly used to reunite it.
If God could reunite South Africa, is any relationship unsalvageable? What is the most improbable reconciliation you have witnessed or heard of? Was Israel torn so that it could be better mended? Is a person’s relationship with God ever unsalvageable?
“I would hope that understanding and reconciliation are not limited to the 19th hole alone.” - Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006)