What does Hosea 6:6 Mean?

By Larry Ray Hafley

“For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6). Upon two occasions, Jesus referred to our text. In each case he taught that a proper understanding of Hosea 6:6 was essential to a devout attitude and godly living. Before we note the use made by the Lord, let us look at the passage in its setting.

Hosea prophesied in Israel during the reign of Jereboam II (Hos. 1:1). The nation was exceedingly wicked (Hos. 4). “The picture painted in the Book of Hosea is truly that of a nation in decay” (Hailey, Homer, The Minor Prophets, p. 129). In Hosea 6, God rebukes their shallow attempt at piety. Their godliness was an empty form, a hollow shell. “For your goodness is as a. morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away” (Hos. 6:4). Clouds and dew soon disappear and evaporate. So had Israel’s goodness. In place of lasting, inner character, they subs1ituted perishing, outward burnt offerings. In effect, God said, “I wish mercy kindness, humanity, compassion rather than external elements such as burnt offerings.” The mercy desired describes man’s relationship to his fellow man. The knowledge demanded is man’s relationship unto God.

Matthew 9:13; 12:7

(1) Matt. 9:13: The Pharisees cast reflection on Jesus’ character bv asking His disciples, “Why eateth your Master wit~ publicans and sinners?” Translation: If Jesus eats ~vitli sinners, He must be a sinner, i.e., “Birds of a feather flock together,” Jesus responded to the unjust iusinuation and accus9tion with a three pronged argument. First, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” In other words, a doctor goes among the sick, not because he is sick but in order ot treat them. Second, “But go ye and learn what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and riot sacrifice.” If the Pharisees had known what Hosea. 6:6 taught, they WOUld not, have made the charge. Jesus was extending goodness or mercy toward those who were bereft of it. This the Pharisees should have been doing. They, like the people in Hosea’s day, depended upon their formal rinials, their external show, to manifest their piety (Cf. Matt. 6). Instead of kind1v intreating, they censoriously berated the publicans and sinners. However, they fasted, gave tithes and offered sacrifices which they imagined were acceptable replacements for genuine mercy, love and faith, Third, “For I ani not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” This is related to ,he first appeal and declares Jesus’ divine mission.

(2) Matt. 12: 7: The disciples were unjustly accused by the Pharisees. Of course, the point was not to condemn the disciples. The charge was designed to hurl aspersion against Jesus. In reply, Jesus said, “But if ve had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.” “The argument is, that mercy toward these hungering disciples was more acceptable to God than sacrifices at the altar; and that, if the Pharisees had known the meaning of the passage, they would not have condemned the ‘guiltless'” (McGarvey). Again, the emphasis is upon goodness and kindness. Nothing says, “Ignore the sacrifices and burnt offerings and smile sweetly and pat everyone on the back.” No, that is sentimentalism. The sacrifices, Jesus teaches, are worthless without a contrite heart and a broken spirit, one devoted and dedicated, one moved and motiviated to do the will of God because of a love for God and man (Psa. 51:17; Mk. 12:33).

Application Today

Is there a lesson for us today? Is our goodness a vanishing cloud and an evaporating dew? Is what we do mere adherence to what is expected of us? Do we do what we do because of a sincere desire to accomplish the will of God as expressed in His word? Consider your own life, your own worship and service in Christ. Is laying “by in store” a mindless giving of a few leftover dollars? Is the Lord’s supper a mere pinch of bread and sip of juice? Is Bible study simply a matter of “going over the Sunday school lesson?” Think of other items.

It remains true that God desires mercy rather than sacrifice and the knowledge of Him more than burnt offerings. Mercy or goodness is a product of knowledge. Knowledge is regard and reverence for the revealed will of God. It is the yearning to please God by obeying His word rather than to rely upon “going through the motions” in performing external ordinances. The knowledge of God is not mere awareness of His existence. Israel knew that. Those who perfunctorily offered sacrifices knew that God lived and that He was to direct them. The very fact that they set forth sacrifices reveals that. So. when Hosea says that Jehovah requires the knowledge of Him, we may know that it is something more than mental assent to God’s being. To know the Lord is to be related to Him through unfeigned faith and obedience (1 Jn. 2:3-5).

Therefore, the words of the Lord ring and echo through the centuries, “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” Have you learned what it means in the framework of your life in the Son?

Truth Magazine XX: 40, p. 626
October 7, 1976