The Ancient, Old Testament prophet Hosea was literally told by God that the wife whom he loved and would marry would turn out to be a whore that he would be asked to forgive. “When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”” (Hosea 1:2) Israel had become faithless in their selfishness and idolatry, and Hosea’s marriage would be a reflection of God’s marriage to Israel.
This state of broken-hearted desperation was exactly how God felt about His supposed people, who had forsaken Him for the enticements of the culture around them. They had rendered themselves hypocritical by their chameleon adaptations. They had been blemished by this corruption in God’s sight. At one point, Hosea declares in a burst of desperate emotion;
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:4-6, ESV)
Ephraim and Judah, or the nation of Israel as a whole, were fair-weather lovers of God. They thought they could love Him when it was convenient or religious. They offered burnt offerings and went through religious rituals, but their hearts were far from Him. Much like Hosea’s wife, they were deceptive adulterers in their affair of religious hypocrisy. They were sell-outs and phonies, not living as they proclaimed, indulging in sin when they felt like it and then placating God.
Didn’t God, being omnipotent and omnipresent, see what they were doing anyway? Like Pete Townshend wrote; “I know you deceived me but here’s a surprise… I know that you did cause there’s magic in my eyes… I can see for miles and miles…” But Pete wasn’t omnipresent like God is. We can’t fool Him or placate Him. He knows and sees all that we do. He is the only one that sees into our hearts as well.
God desires “steadfast love and not sacrifice.” He desires “the knowledge of Him and not religious rituals”. We are commissioned to obey Him out of a pure love because He first loved us beyond what we could reciprocate.
It is no wonder why Jesus challenged the religious people of His time. He quoted the words of Hosea, pointing them to what they had studied over and over again. He wanted them to get to the place where they realized their sin, so that they would be healed, instead of thinking they had figured everything out. By their self-righteousness they had actually shut out the voice of God, and had become prone to sin, hypocrisy and arrogance.
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13)