When Goodness Is as the Morning Dew
Hosea was an eighth-century B.C. prophet whose prophetic messages were aimed primarily at the wicked northern kingdom of Israel.
The background of the book relates to the prophet’s personal history. He was married to a woman whose name was Gomer. After the birth of their first child, Gomer became unfaithful, even pursuing the profession of a street harlot. From this circumstance came a lesson for the nation.
The nation of Israel was considered to be the “wife” of the Lord (2:19-20). The people had entered into this “marital” relationship by way of a covenant (6:7; 8:1).
But the nation, by the worship of idols, became unfaithful to Jehovah (2:8,13,17; 4:13; 11:2). Consequently, if no repentance by the people was forthcoming, a severe judgment was certain to follow (9:1-10:15; 11:12-13:16).
In connection with his rebuke of the wayward nation (which in this instance also included the southern kingdom), the Lord said:
O Ephraim [Israel], what shall I do with you? O Judah, what shall I do with you? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the dew that goes away early (6:4).
To express the thought in a more paraphrastic form, the essence of the rebuke is:
Your brief periods of “goodness” are temporal; your “repentances” are superficial. Under the immediate pressure of rebuke, you express sorrow and feign reformation. But as soon as my back is turned, you are back to your old ways.
This disposition of shallow spirituality is likewise common in the new “Israel of God,” the church (Galatians 6:16). We constantly observe church members who are “in and out,” “on and off,” “hot and cold.”
After significant absences from worship they suddenly show up—with no explanation to the elders or anyone else as to where they have been. Sometimes they solicit prayers, but almost before their words cool off they are gone again, and the hopes of loving brethren once more are dashed on the shoals of discouragement. The same cycle is repeated over and over with the passing of the years. What is the problem?
May we suggest some possible diagnoses?
- Some appear never to have been converted. O, they “got baptized,” but they never entered into a genuine contract with God to serve him permanently in exchange for the salvation of their souls.
- Some were converted initially, yet never realized the need to sink down roots and grow. Somehow they entertained the illusion that baptism is a “one-way ticket” to heaven that simply cannot be cancelled. Hence, they never fortified their souls with serious Bible study. They frequently neglected worship attendance. They were easily offended and walked out in a huff at each little wound. They never developed a close relationship with God or his people. They always wanted to be on the receiving end, but never the giving end.
And what shall be the fate of those whose goodness is “as the morning dew”?
Therefore I have hewn them as 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 (6:5-6).
The prophets of the Lord had warned of coming judgment with words that are as cutting as an instrument of destruction. Men like Elijah, Elisha, Amos, and now Hosea have rebuked spiritual superficiality. The words of God have inflicted mortal wounds. (Note that the messages of the prophets ultimately are viewed as from the Lord.) And as surely as the light (of the sun) goes forth with certain regularity (cf. v. 3), so the chastisements from the Holy One will continue. This pronouncement will be more immediately recognized in the forthcoming Assyrian captivity (722/21 B.C.).
The Lord takes no pleasure in perfunctory acts of worship that are not properly motivated by love and knowledge. Cheap efforts to squeeze by with minimal formalities designed to manipulate the Creator for favors are disgusting. Was Jehovah deprecating acts of genuine worship prescribed in the Law? Not at all! He was, however, rebuking the facade of cheap religiosity at the expense of true godliness.
So what’s new? Not a thing. The same pattern can be observed in many who clutter the environment of modern “church-anity” with arrogant, egocentric performance exercises that are light-years from godly service.
As the unchanging and just God punished the Israel of history, neither will the Lord’s wayward people of this day escape his wrath. Whether it comes in the form of some temporal chastisement, or in the eternal blast of ultimate Judgment, it will come.
Are we wise enough to apply the prophetic principles to our own lives with a view to the necessary reformation? May it be the case that we are willing to do whatever is necessary to satisfy Heaven’s requirement for obedience.