God spoke these words through Hosea to the children of Israel. These words are about what God wanted the people to bring to Him. But when we really think of these words we wonder how do we offer God mercy? When we use the word "mercy," we think of forgiveness of sins or wrongs done to another person. God doesn't sin or commit injustices! So what does it really mean that God desires mercy? Our traditional understanding is that God desires us to extend mercy to one another, and that is part of the answer but not the whole answer. To get the complete answer, we need to look at the original Hebrew word and the overall context of its usage.
First, let's look at the overall context of the book of Hosea. God tells Hosea to marry a harlot as a metaphor for God's relationship with His people. God took the children of Israel as His people at Mt. Sinai, essentially marrying them. But the children of Israel forgot God and went after other gods, thus, committing adultery!
Through Hosea's adulterous wife, God compares their behavior to that of a wife engaging in sexual intimacy with other men, then expecting her husband to desire sexual intimacy with her. The children of Israel offer their worship to idols through sacrifices of various types including sacrificing their children; they then come to God and expect God to accept or even desire the sacrifices they bring to Him! No way does God want their sacrifices after they have worshiped other gods and committed such abominations! What He wants is the same thing any husband wants, commitment and faithfulness to their marriage vows! God desires loyalty to the covenant they made with Him at Mt. Sinai. It's not that God doesn't want their sacrifices; He does. But their sacrifices are not acceptable when they have also been offered to others!
Now, let's turn our attention to the words translated as mercy. In the book of Hosea, there are two different Hebrew words translated as mercy. The first one is racham with a root word meaning womb. In this case mercy would mean taking one into the family or as one's own.
Hosea 1:6-7 NKJV 6 And she conceived again and bore a daughter. Then God said to him: "Call her name Lo-Ruhamah, For I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, But I will utterly take them away. 7 Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, Will save them by the LORD their God, And will not save them by bow, Nor by sword or battle, By horses or horsemen."
The context of this verse is Hosea rejecting the daughter his wife bore to him. He was instructed to name her Lo-Ruhamah which means not loved. God then says He will no longer have mercy, racham, on the house of Israel. They have been disinherited! They are no longer part of the family! But God will still have mercy, racham, on Judah. Judah is still part of the family. God then goes on to say that He will eventually woo Israel back to Himself. She will be adopted back into the family.
God turns His attention to the charge against Israel, namely her unfaithfulness.
Hosea 4:1 NKJV 1 Hear the word of the LORD, You children of Israel, For the LORD brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: "There is no truth or mercy Or knowledge of God in the land.
The word mercy in this verse comes from the Hebrew word chesed which is sometimes translated goodness or lovingkindness. In this context, coupled with truth and knowledge of God, we see that it refers to covenant devotion. Israel has no devotion or commitment to their covenant with God.
Now, to the passage about God desiring mercy not sacrifice, God starts by stating their lack of faithfulness!
Hosea 6:4-5 NKJV 4 "O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, And like the early dew it goes away. 5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of My mouth; And your judgments are like light that goes forth.
Then God states what He desires concluding that they have transgressed the covenant.
Hosea 6:6-7 NKJV 6 For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. 7 "But like men they transgressed the covenant; There they dealt treacherously with Me.
God desires commitment, loyalty, devotion to the covenant He makes with Israel. This is the same commitment He made to them. Instead they have been unfaithful to the covenant.
Exodus 20:5-6 NKJV 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
This word translated mercy is again the Hebrew word “chesed.” God extends covenant devotion to thousands of generations to those who love Him! In Jeremiah, we read of God's commitment to His covenant with Israel and Judah.
Jeremiah 31:37 NKJV 37 Thus says the LORD: "If heaven above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel For all that they have done, says the LORD.
We are part of God's new covenant with Israel and Judah ratified by the blood of Yeshua who died to bring us into covenant.
Jeremiah 31:31-33 NKJV 31 "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah- 32 "not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Luke 22:20 NKJV 20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.
When we read these words that God desires mercy, we understand that God desires our whole hearted commitment to Him and the covenant He makes with us.
Shalom and be blessed,
Dan and Brenda Cathcart