Adam and Israel

I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.”

- Hosea 6:6–7

God’s call in Hosea 6:1–3 for His people to repent ends with His imploring the old covenant community to press on to know the Lord (v. 3). The obvious implication of this call is that the nation of Israel, as a whole, did not know the Creator. What was the evidence of this? Today’s passage indicates that Israel’s failure to share God’s view of what is most important betrayed its lack of a true saving relationship with Him.

False worship, Scripture reveals, has many forms. First, one can worship the true God in ways He has not commanded, which was Israel’s error with the golden calf (Ex. 32). Second, one can worship false gods. Ahab offered such worship (1 Kings 16:29–33), and Paul describes it in Romans 1:18–23. Finally, one can engage in worship that is nothing more than “going through the motions”—worship that gets the ritual right but does not lead to obedience to God in all of life. At various points, the prophets condemn Israel for every type of false worship, but they often focus on the third form of false worship— formally pure, spiritually dead worship.

In Hosea’s day, the Israelites worshiped God falsely in many ways. Yet in today’s passage, Hosea condemns them for following the sacrificial rules but missing the heart of worship—knowledge of God and steadfast love for Him that leads to love of neighbor (Hos. 6:6; 1 John 4:20–21). The Lord wanted Israel and Judah to render such worship, which Jesus calls “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24). Instead of offering such worship, however, old covenant Israel “transgressed the covenant” (Hos. 6:7).

Hosea 6:7 says this transgression was like the transgression of Adam. Commentators differ as to what the word Adam means, for it can refer either to the first man and father of humanity or to mankind in general. If it refers to the first person God created, we have a hint that the Mosaic covenant—the broken covenant of Hosea 6:7—has some kind of relationship to the covenant of works not shared by the other covenants the Lord has made with His people. It would also mean that Israel had shown itself no better than the Gentiles outside the covenants of promise God made with His chosen nation. The nation sinned like Adam, the father of all covenant-breakers. Of course, the point is substantially the same if Adam means “all mankind.” Israel was no better than the unclean Gentiles, who were as far away from the Lord as one could imagine.

Coram Deo

John Calvin comments on today’s passage: “God desires to be worshipped otherwise than sensual men [people who serve the flesh, not the Spirit] dream; they only display their rites, and neglect the spiritual worship of God, which stands in faith and love.” It is easy for us to criticize the false worship of other religions but much harder for us to recognize where our praise has degenerated into mere formalism. Let us regularly examine our worship to make sure it is in spirit and truth.

Passages for Further Study

Ezekiel 44:4–8
Malachi 2:1–9
2 Corinthians 3
Philippians 3:3

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