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The illustration drawn from Hosea’s relationship with Gomer has now ended. It has served its purpose and is not mentioned again. From now on the prophet reverts to the more usual way of preaching to the people.
1 The Legal Case Against Israel
4:1-2 Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites! For the LORD has a covenant lawsuit against the people of Israel. For there is neither faithfulness nor loyalty in the land, nor do they acknowledge God. There is only cursing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery. They resort to violence and bloodshed.
The Lord had a case to bring against his people, like a legal case being brought against someone in court. God is the plaintiff, the judge and the lawgiver. God accuses His people of three sins of omission and five of commission.
Their Sins of Omission
There was no faithfulness to God or man – you could trust no one. No loving kindness or mercy shown to those in need. Worse, there was no knowledge of God. This was inexcusable, since God’s covenant people had received the law through Moses. The Word of God had become so irrelevant to them that it was ignored. Many were not even aware of what the law required. The people knew little or nothing about God, such was the extent that false religion had taken over and become a national way of life.
Their Sins of Commission
The sins of commission were just as bad: swearing, lying, killing, stealing and adultery. There could be no doubt that God’s law had been broken (Ex. 20:13-16). By swearing, the prophet did not mean the use of bad language, but rather the taking of false oaths in the name of God. In modern courts, this is perjury or lying to a court under oath. Lying was so commonplace that one would be shocked to hear a true word spoken. This was true in every area of life, in the home, in business, even in the place of worship.
No one could doubt the clarity of God’s command, “do not kill” (Ex. 20:13), but in the Israel of Hosea’s day murder was common. If a man were angry at another, he would be ready to lash out, whether his anger was reasonable or not. The land was stained with bloodshed.
Amos had pointed out that the rich oppressed and took from the poor to become richer. But the poor were guilty too; and how could the rulers, who were dishonest themselves, crack down on theft? So the increase in crime was left unchecked. The whole society was corrupt and selfish.
The religion in which the people were entangled was one which encouraged immorality. Sex with prostitutes in the temples was not so much an indulgence as an act of worship. Female prostitutes were on offer for the men and male prostitutes were available for the women. In such a prevailing atmosphere of immorality it is hardly surprising that adultery was commonplace. Sin had broken down the moral fabric of society until an “anything goes” culture prevailed. What a vivid picture of our land today!
4:3 Therefore the land will mourn, and all its inhabitants will perish. The wild animals, the birds of the sky, and even the fish in the sea will perish.
Having found Israel guilty, the judge passes sentence. The law gave clear penalties for those who broke it. Among these were droughts, locusts, loss of livestock. All these were to come to Israel. The land and the animals that lived there would be affected as God meted out judgment on the people. Even the fish would die, as God withdrew this food supply from people’s mouths.
4:4-5 Do not let anyone accuse or contend against anyone else: for my case is against you priests! You stumble day and night, and the false prophets stumble with you; You have destroyed your own people!
As judgment fell, it was not time to lay blame on others. All the people were equally guilty. A similar teaching is found in the New Testament. Paul says in Romans 3:23 that ‘all have sinned’ and in Romans 2:1 he says,
‘Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else. For on whatever grounds you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge practice the same things.’
Believers are warned not to take a judgmental attitude and apportion blame to others, whatever the circumstances (Matt. 7:1-5).
2. The Failure of the Priesthood
The priests were supposed to teach and instruct the people in the way of God and lead them by good example (Malachi 2:7). Instead of this, the priests had led the people into idolatry, as had the so-called prophets who actually spoke in the name of Baal. Because of this neither priest nor prophet would be spared. Their entire families would be wiped out so that idolatry might be purged from Israel.
4:6 You have destroyed my people by failing to acknowledge me! Because you refuse to acknowledge me, I will reject you as my priests. Because you reject the law of your God, I will reject your descendants.
Had the priests instructed the people in the law and requirements of God, they would have returned to the Lord and repented of their sin. As it was, destruction had come upon them for lack of this knowledge. Those who were in possession of the truth and who could have instructed others chose rather to reject the truth for a lie.
This wilful ignorance of what they knew to be God’s Word made them even guiltier. God would remove them from their priestly office. Although the priesthood was meant to be hereditary, they had forgotten the law given them by God. Therefore God would forget their children, or in other words, their children would not be priests either. God would abolish the priesthood, and it would cease to function in Israel.
4:7-8 The more the priests increased in numbers, the more they rebelled
against me. They have turned their glorious calling into a shameful disgrace! They feed on the sin offerings of my people; their appetites long for their iniquity!
The priests made a lot of money out of their false religion, and the more they had, the deeper they sank into sin as a means of making more money. Their
‘glorious calling’ was to lead many into righteousness, but instead they had led many into sin, which would be to their eternal shame (Dan. 12:2-3). There is a great responsibility for all those who, in any capacity, lead others into sin.
Because idolatrous religion brought them their income, they had a vested Interest in the people continuing to sin. That is why God says, very literally, that they fed on the sin of his people, since they ate the sacrifices that were made to the golden calves.
Tatford says, “There could scarcely be any greater impropriety than that of the priest, whose duty was to nurture the people in the faith, officially encouraging the transgressions of the sinner.”
Let neither the church nor yet its ministers be guilty of condoning or of encouraging others to remain in their sin.
4:9-10 I will deal with the people and priests together: I will punish them both for their ways, and I will repay them for their deeds. They will eat, but not be satisfied; they will engage in prostitution, but not increase in numbers; because they have abandoned the LORD by pursuing other gods.
Both the priests and the people would be punished together. Although the priests were guilty of leading the people into sin, that fact did not
excuse the people of their own responsibility.
Once again Hosea warns that God’s retribution would involve famine – they shall eat but not be satisfied. The worship of Baal supposedly made the people and the land fertile, but now the land would be infertile and the people childless. The blessings, of food and of children, are bestowed by God. He would withdraw these blessings from an unthankful people who no longer paid any attention to his word.
3. Turning from God to Follow Demons
4:11-14 Old and new wine take away the understanding of my people. They consult their wooden idols, and their diviner’s staff answers with an oracle. The wind of prostitution blows them astray; they commit spiritual adultery against their God. They sacrifice on the mountaintops, and burn offerings on the hills; they sacrifice under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is so pleasant. As a result, your daughters have become cult prostitutes, and your daughters-in-law commit adultery! I will not punish your daughters when they commit prostitution, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery. For the men consort with harlots, they sacrifice with temple prostitutes. It is true: “A people that lacks understanding will come to ruin!”
The people whom God had redeemed from Egypt, whom he had made his own, and to whom he had given his law, saw no form when they received that law (Deut. 4:1-2). Yet they had turned their backs on the living and true God. They no longer sought guidance from God, but from idols. They asked their blocks of wood for help and indeed their blocks of wood apparently answered them. Kiel tells us how this was done, “Two rods were held upright and then allowed to fall, while forms of incantation were being uttered; and the oracle was inferred from the way in which they fell.”
The Lord accuses the people of becoming stupid; their continual indulgence in sexual immorality and drink had dulled their senses and robbed them of spiritual discernment (Eph. 4:18). It also robbed them of self-respect and respect for the marriage union. Sin takes its toll on the mind as well as the body.
Hosea makes plain that it was a spirit which had led them astray to worship idols rather than God. The New Testament confirms this truth. “You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, even as you were led” (see 1 Cor. 12:2; Eph. 2:2 and 1 John 4:1).
Demon spirits who do the bidding of their master Satan seek to blind men and women to the truth and lead them to an everlasting hell (2 Cor. 4:4). These spirits also seek to disturb and distract God’s own people and turn them away from following the truth (1
Tim. 4:1 and 1 John 2:18).
The people of Israel had become pagans, worshipping the so called gods of nature and natural forces. Many such deities were worshipped, known in plural as Baalim. The reference to shade illustrates how the people loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
The union of the men with shrine prostitutes set an example which was followed by their wives and daughters. That is why God says that he will hold the men, the head of the household, responsible for the situation.
The tragic conclusion of this statement is that the people, being devoid of
spiritual understanding, would be dashed to the ground. There was no hope for them. Their destruction was at hand.
4. A Warning Against Compromise
4:15 Although you, O Israel, commit adultery, do not let Judah become guilty! Do not journey to Gilgal! Do not go up to Beth Aven! Do not swear, “As surely as the LORD lives!”
Here was a warning for Israel’s neighbour Judah, not to follow Israel in the way of idolatry. The faithful people of Judah were warned to stay well away from the places where Israel kept her pagan shrines. This is a timely warning for us today. Christians must keep clear of anything that would lead us away from Jesus Christ. We must keep away from places where others indulge in pagan revelry, for we are not to associate with those who do such things (2 Cor. 6:16-17).
A drinking party is no place for a Christian. The sports team of the local pub is no place for a Christian. Certainly the home of those who are involved in black arts or who are in touch with demons is no place for a Christian even to visit. If you do go there, be warned that the demons will be able to attack you and you will not be protected.
Hosea gave this warning because he knew that the influence on Judah would lead her astray from God. In fact, it later did. Christians should never compromise with sin and darkness, for eventually, such compromise will lead them away from God, back into sin, and ultimately to hell (2 Peter 2:20-21).
5. Israel Provides an Illustration of Apostasy
Having known God, the nation of Israel had turned from him. This was a national apostasy. Only judgment could result. The apostate Christian is one who has known God, but who has now forsaken him and denies that he ever knew him. Nothing can await such a person but judgment (John 15:6).
4:16-19 Israel has rebelled like a stubborn heifer! Soon the LORD will put them out to pasture like a lamb in a broad field! Ephraim has attached himself to idols; Do not go near him! They consume their alcohol, then engage in cult prostitution; they dearly love their shameful behavior. A whirlwind has wrapped them in its wings; they will be brought to shame because of their idolatrous worship.
The prophet asks, “Should a cow that is prone to wandering be allowed to roam freely?” The answer is, of course not. Freedom and blessing were not suitable for a nation which, like an obstinate cow, was stubborn against God.
Ephraim is another name for Israel. She was irreparably joined to idols, and should be left alone to suffer the consequences of her sin. It is of note that Judah never fought to defend Israel. We can only do so much to help people. After that, we can only leave them to face the consequences of their folly.
When the people had finished drinking, they looked for immorality. The rulers were among those leading the way both in drink and immorality. Because of this, Hosea, in remarkable picture language, speaks of the suddenness and violence with which Israel will be carried away by Assyria, as being caught up and carried away in a whirlwind which they are helpless to resist.
Prophet of a Broken Heart due for Release in October 2013. Find hundreds more free online Bible studies at www.biblestudiesonline.org.uk