Exhort - I Desire Mercy

Exhort - I Desire Mercy


During the ministry of Christ, he directly quotes Hosea 6:6 not once but twice.  “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.”  Quoting a verse more than once is rare for Jesus.   He must be putting emphasis on this verse as a key to what God had sent him to do.  It is a passage that strikes at the nub of the problem with the Pharisees way of thinking.  In typically fashion, Christ provides a short succinct passage expecting the hearer to go search out its fuller meaning.  The first instance is in Matthew 9:9-13,

"And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. {10} And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house [Mathew’s house - Luke 5:29], behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. {11} And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? {12} But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. {13} But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

If you are like me, you usually read these words from the perspective of Christ pointed directly at somebody else other then yourself.  May I suggest that you try to put yourself in the Pharisees shoes and consider what impact these words would have on you?  You’ve grown up and have been surrounded in a system, a way of thinking that places actions and conformance to law as the path to righteousness.  There is an abhorrence to have any association with that which is not in accordance with God’s ways.  Condemn it, leave it alone, and have nothing to do with it.  Now here comes Jesus having a party with publicans and sinners.  Obviously, he is in the wrong by associating and eating with such people. 

Now when he says to you, “Go and learn what this means”, can you feel the pride and offense swell up in your chest?  Who is he to tell us about the Bible?  I know my Bible and I’m not even going to begin to look at what he has to say because clearly his actions are wrong?  In fact, I’m going to search out anything I can that would prove him wrong.  Would you, as a Pharisee, even make a fleeting attempt to look at the passage in Hosea and ascertain its meaning?

Do you recognize those feelings?  I do.  I feel them.  We have to take ourselves up short and listen to what somebody is saying.  Really listen to whether it has merit or not.  We all have the tendency to be Pharisees.  None of us likes to hear that, but it’s true.

It is clear when Jesus uses the verse from Hosea 6:6 again just a few chapters over in Matthew 12:7 that they hadn’t gone back to learn what it means.

"But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless."

Clearly, there was a wall there that would not even let in the faintest suggestion that their judgment was wrong.  Not only would they “condemn the guiltless” disciples but they would turn around from this and plot the murder of an innocent man, the Lord Jesus Christ, in verse 14.

"Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him."

Now, if we have not lost that sense of being a Pharisee, hopefully we would be like a Nicodemus (see John 7:50-52) and be able to break away from the group think.  Would we be able to start pondering and considering what Hosea has to say and whether we are truly living according to what God wants from us?  So keep that Pharisaical attitude in mind and let’s look first this morning at how the message of Christ from Hosea will affect our minds about what sacrifice really means.  Secondly, we will see that the passage Jesus chose also brings us to the greater reality of Christ’s sacrifice and our need to believe in him and be associated with his death and resurrection.

The True Meaning of Sacrifice

Turning our hearts is not as easy as turning a page.  What would happen though if we were to go over to Hosea 6:6 with a Pharisee’s heart and start looking at the prophets words?  We’ve just come from this conference on how best to annihilate Jesus and we read in Hosea 6:6-9,

"For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. {7} But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me. {8} Gilead is a city of them that work iniquity, and is polluted with blood. {9} And as troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way by consent: for they commit lewdness [villainy (ESV), “carry out their wicked schemes” (NIV)]."

Ramoth-Gilead was a priest’s city, a city of refuge and here it was defiled with blood.  The priests considered the payment to Judas to be the “price of blood” (Matt. 27:4, 6, 8) not fit for the temple treasury but fit enough for their purposes.  Was it just a coincidence that Jesus brought them to a context that mentions a “company of priests murdering in the way by consent”?  That’s exactly what they were doing.  Where was the mercy?

Our eyes then glance in more of the context from verses 4,

"O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away. "

Here the word “goodness” is the Hebrew word “chesed”.  It is the same word translated as “mercy” in verse 6.  Some translations have the word “faithfulness” or “loyalty” here because the word has a twofold sense of “steadfast loving-kindness”.  Their mercy was like the morning cloud or early dew.  It was there at first as a lovely thing but under threat it quickly dissipated.

It frustrated God to no end!  Is anything to hard for the Lord?  Is anything impossible for him?  Yet he asks the questions, “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah?” (NIV).  To quote G. Morgan Campell,

“God is seen in difficulty.  Is there any way of escape for God from His difficulty?  God's difficulty is revealed, as I have said, in the question he asks.  It is a daring figure of speech which the prophet employed, and of course that means that God employed it through His servant the prophet.  I think the more quietly we look at it, and the more carefully we consider it, the more startling it will become.  I can understand a man saying, What shall I do to be saved?  But here is God saying, What shall I do to save him?  This is not the cry of the human soul seeking after God.  It is the cry of God seeking after the human soul.  This is not the picture of a man in difficulty because he cannot find God.  It is the picture of God in difficulty because He cannot deal with man.”

God felt this way about the Israelites during Hosea’s days, he felt that way about the Pharisees and he feels that way about us if we cannot grasp what he truly wants.

(Hosea 6:6)  "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings."

God is not saying he doesn’t want sacrifice at all.  This is a Hebrew idiom as a means of emphasizing one above the other.  God wanted the true essence of sacrifice, which here is “mercy” and “knowledge”.  It almost seems like every prophet had this message in one form or another.  We can take a look at a few of these and glean a fuller picture of the true meaning of sacrifice.

Let’s start in Psalm 51:16-17,

"For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. {17} The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."

If that is our attitude then God will be pleased with our sacrifices as in v. 19,

"Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar."

So we can add to our list of “mercy” and “knowledge” the aspect of a “broken spirit and a contrite heart”.  Interestingly enough, if we as a Pharisee would read verses 12-13 we would see a lesson to do exactly what the Lord Jesus Christ had been doing when eating with publicans and sinners.

Some others are,

(Prov 21:3)  "To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice."

(Eccl 5:1)  "… be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools."

(Micah 6:6-8)  "Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? {7} Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? {8} He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"

From this, we have a better picture of what God wants more than sacrifices.  He wants mercy, humility, readiness to hear, obedience, but also knowledge, justice, judgment and truth.  Judgment was needed but the judgment must be just.

There are many like passages, but the one that Hosea really seems to be alluding to comes from his phrase in 6:5, “I have hewed them by the prophets.”  Hew, means to cut into pieces.  Which prophet cut somebody into pieces?  It’s in 1 Samuel 15:33 where Samuel “hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.”  Agag thought it was a time for mercy but there was no mercy.  Not for the flesh.  Not for rebellion against God.  Not for a hard and impenitent heart.  Not for one who would not obey.  Is it any wonder that Samuel says something very similar to Saul as Hosea does to the Israelites.  It is in 1 Samuel 15:22-23?

(1 Sam 15:22-23)  "And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. {23} For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king."

Does the Lord require sacrifice?  Yes he does.  That sacrifice was to typify a higher ideal in life than just the blood shedding of an animal.  God rejected Saul as king for his disobedience.  In contrast to that, our king, the Lord Jesus Christ would be a perfect sacrifice acceptable to God by his obedience.  As it says in Heb. 10:7, “Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.”

The Sacrifice of Christ in Hosea 6

Of course, Jesus must have always had his sacrifice in the forefront of his mind.  The will of the Lord must be done.  I cannot help but think then that his quoting Hosea 6:6 was also another pointer to the greatest of all sacrifices that would show forth the love of God for the world in giving his only begotten Son.  For in the context there is something that he must have read, and realized it was about himself.  Let’s go back to Hosea and pick it up from 5:13,

"When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to king Jareb: yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound."

Interesting that when we go back to the incident that caused Jesus to quote Hosea he said, “they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”

“{14} For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him. {15} I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early."

In the context of the times, this is easy to understand.  Assyria, by itself, was portrayed as a lion.  However, God is the lion here because he uses the Assyrians for his purpose.  God is the one who would tear and take away the nation.  He would bring affliction until they sought his face.  This is the context that flows into chapter 6, but notice the change in pronouns.  Who is speaking here?  Personally, I think it is Hosea associating himself with the sins of the people and giving an invitation, “come.”

(Hosea 6:1-3)  "Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. {2} After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight."

Now at first reading we can see it is about the nation of Israel.  We cannot take away from that as a type of the fulfillment of this prophecy.  Nevertheless, as we saw in Hosea 11:1, the Messiah was to be a pattern of Israel.  Many prophecies of Christ have this principle. 

First of all, there are the words "heal" (7495 rapha) and "smitten" (5221 nakah) which are both used in Isa. 53:4-5,

"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten [5221 nakah] of God, and afflicted. {5} But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed [7495 rapha]."

Again, the Jews would readily interpret this passage to be about their nation, but we see it as about the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 8:32-35).[1]

For the Hosea prophecy, the key tipoff is the three-day period.  For the Jews it would be just an expression to mean a very short time but Jesus would read that and see it as literally.  Jesus told them many times that he would “be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).  He would look to Jonah being three days and three nights in the belly of the whale as proof.  What other passages would assure him of this?  There are many interesting passages with three-day periods but Hosea 6:1 must have been paramount, that and the close historical reality that fulfilled this prophecy in Hezekiah.  Remember that Hosea prophesied right before and sometime during the reign of Hezekiah.  So were the words of Hosea also fulfilled in some sense in 2 Kings 20?  Hezekiah is sick and he is told in verse 1 to set his house in order because he would not live.  Hezekiah cries unto God, he is heard, and in verse 5 we have the Lord’s response,

"Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people ['leader' Isa. 55:4; Heb 2:10], thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears [Heb. 5:7]: behold, I will heal [7495 rapha] thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD.”

There are so many echoes in here it excites the mind.  In verse 7, we have another link with Hosea 6:2,

{7} And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs.  And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered [2421 chayah – lived]."

Recovered is the same word for “live”, Hebrew “chayah”.

Even with all of this evidence, we may turn back to Hosea 6 and still grapple with the fact that it uses plural pronouns.  How can it be about Christ if it is plural?  Isn’t that the point though?  His sacrifice was not just for himself but for us together.  As Paul says in Galatians 2:20,

"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."

Additionally, how about John 14:19-20?

"Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. {20} At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you."

There’s an interesting connection here between living with Christ and knowing.  This is exactly what the message in Hosea does.  Compare it to what is said next in Hosea 6:3,

"Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth."

For us then, in Jesus Christ, this knowledge is a reality now.  It is something we know because we live in him.  We are assured in our hearts that Jesus will come again and we shall see him as he is.  Let me read this verse again from the NASB,

“So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.  His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth.”

Oh, if we only had enough time to go through all of the wonderful Messianic threads that run through this verse from Micah, Joel and others.  Hopefully, brothers and sisters, all of that really comes shining through as a prophecy about the Lord Jesus Christ, first and foremost.


Now we come before the table of the Lord.  Did we come as a Pharisee?  Did our hearts change as we read the scriptures together?  We went and learned what true sacrifice really is: mercy, humility, readiness to hear, obedience, but also knowledge, justice, judgment and truth.  In that context we also realized that there is only one sacrifice, that of the Lord Jesus Christ, that can truly save us.  A wonderful three day prophecy that must have encouraged Jesus and encourages us to be a part of it.  We do this know, brothers and sisters, associating ourselves with the Lord in the breaking of bread and wine.


[1] Hosea uses the term “bind us up” which is also used in another Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 61:1, “he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.”