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Hosea is a difficult book to digest. The prophecy highlights time and again that, for all their external adherence to temple rituals, Israel and Judah were far from God. The Lord’s expressed displeasure comes to a head in chapter 6, where we read, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (v. 6).

There are several interesting things about this verse, not the least of which is the fact that “steadfast love” translates the Hebrew word hesed, which we most frequently associate with God’s covenant loyalty to his people. Here, however, we learn that the Lord wants us to reciprocate his covenant loyalty. He wants our devotion to him to mirror his devotion to us.

Of course, our devotion will of necessity look different to his because he is God and we are not. Nonetheless, our love must display a degree of loyalty in keeping with his loyalty to us.

If God demands hesed from his people, it will help to ask what hesed looks like in our relationship to him. It is frequently observed that there is no directly English translation of hesed. The Hebrew word is far richer than any English equivalent. To determine what our hesed should look like in relation to God, we should consider in Scripture what God requires of his people. One text that proves helpful in this regard is Deuteronomy 10:12–13:

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?

According to this verse, God requires at least four things of his people. It is probably fair to say that if our relationship with God is marked by these four things, we are living with hesed toward him. Let’s briefly consider the four things that God requires.

First, God requires reverence: “fear the LORD your God.” Revering God means recognising who he is and responding to him accordingly. The writer to the Hebrews contrasts reverence with hardened, unreceptive hearts (Hebrews 12:25, 28). The Israelites “refused him who warned them on earth” but the writer calls us to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” Reverence manifests itself as worship and intentionally walking with God.

Second, God requires obedience: “to walk in all his ways … and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD.” Obedience is the mark of true faith. It does no good to call Jesus Lord if we are unwilling to do what he commands (Luke 6:46). Obedience is the essence of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:20). Loyalty to Christ cannot be divorced from obedience.

Third, God requires love: “to love him.” Love is the great command of the Christian life: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). We cannot claim loyalty apart from love. We must love God supremely, which will put all other affections into proper perspective.

Fourth, God requires service: “to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Service implies obedience but it also necessarily includes worship. Serving God means obeying him, not rotely, but in a way that exalts his majesty and makes him look supremely valuable.

As you meditate on Hosea 6 this morning, ask God to help you to be done with empty, ritualistic obedience and to instead to display steadfast love toward him.