David Guzik's Commentary on the Bible
HOSEA 4 - ISRAEL’S SIN AND GOD’S REMEDY
A. The charge against Israel.
1. (Hosea 4:1-3) A statement of the charge: Israel’s sin and God’s remedy.
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. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed. Therefore the land will mourn; and everyone who dwells there will waste away with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air; even the fish of the sea will be taken away.”
a. Clarke on brings a charge: “What we should call a lawsuit, in which God is plaintiff, and the Israelites defendants. It is Jehovah versus Israel and Judah.”
b. There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land: Each of these three points is connected. When people forsake the knowledge of God, soon truth and mercy are both gone. Truth must be rooted in something more than personal opinion, and mercy means going beyond self-interest.
i. True wisdom and understanding always begin with the knowledge of God. Proverbs 9:10 says, The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
ii. Alexander Pope, a famous writer, once wrote: “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; the proper study of mankind is man.” But an even more famous writer, Charles Spurgeon, responded to Pope’s statement: “It has been said by someone that ‘the proper study of mankind is man.’ I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.”
c. They break all restraint: It all connects back to leaving the knowledge of God. Soon, truth and mercy are things of the past, and people no longer practice restraint. When man will not or can not restrain himself, bloodshed and destruction follow.
i. Our modern age is completely set against the idea of restraint. You see it in modern advertising slogans:
ii. The message is the same: You make your own rules. You answer to no one. You are the one that matters. Your universe revolves around you. You should only restrain yourself if you want to.
iii. The ultimate result is bloodshed after bloodshed. In the ancient Hebrew, this is literally “bloody deed touches bloody deed.” “Apparently violent crimes had become so common that one seemed immediately to follow another, as if touching it.” (Wood)
d. Everyone who dwells there will waste away: This is the tragic fruit of forsaking the knowledge of God, truth, mercy, and restraint. Satan sings sweetly to us, making us think or hope that casting these things away is a doorway to freedom - but it is only a path to destruction.
i. “Paul probably had Hosea’s chapter in mind as he penned his own indictment of the gentile nations (cf. Hosea 4:6 with Romans 1:24; Rom_1:26; Rom_1:28; Hosea 4:7 with Romans 1:23; Hosea 4:11 with Romans 1:21-22).” (Boice)
2. (Hosea 4:4-8) The corrupt and ineffective leadership of the priests.
“Now let no man contend, or rebuke another; for your people are like those who contend with the priest. Therefore you shall stumble in the day; the prophet also shall stumble with you in the night; and I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. The more they increased, the more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame. They eat up the sin of My people; they set their heart on their iniquity.”
a. Your people are like those who contend with the priest: In passages like Deuteronomy 17:9-12, God clearly commanded His people to listen to and submit to the priests, who would lead and help the people with the Word of God. But because the people cast off the knowledge of God, truth, mercy, and restraint, they wouldn’t listen to the priests, and contended with them instead.
i. This helps to explain the opening of the verse: Now let no man contend, or rebuke another. The idea is “They won’t listen to the priest, but they contend with him instead. So don’t waste your time trying to contend or rebuke them yourself.”
b. Therefore you shall stumble in the day: It’s bad enough to stumble in the night, but at least we can understand it. But when God’s people cast off the knowledge of God, restraint, and guidance from leaders then they shall stumble even in the day.
c. The prophet also shall stumble with you in the night: God paints a picture so bleak that even the prophet is dragged down to the level of the people and stumbles. Perhaps the prophet thought he was safe or immune because of his spiritual standing or reputation, but he is not. The prophet also shall stumble with you.
d. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: When God’s people are destroyed and waste away, it isn’t because God has lost either His love or strength. It’s because His people lack . . . knowledge.
i. It isn’t that God says His people are completely ignorant. They have some knowledge, but not enough. They may have just enough to make them think they know it all.
ii. What kind of knowledge do they lack? In the context, the first answer must be they lack the knowledge of God (Hosea 4:1). They know God some - perhaps a little - but not enough. Perhaps they felt they knew God well enough already.
iii. The second kind of knowledge they lack is the knowledge of God’s Word (you have forgotten the law of your God). They know the Word of God some - perhaps a little - but not enough. Perhaps they felt they knew God’s Word well enough already.
iv. It should not surprise us that there is a connection between knowing God and knowing His Word. Some people think that Bible knowledge is boring and brainy and not necessary for a real walk with God. But God and His Word are vitally connected. Psalms 138:2 says, You have magnified Your word above all Your name. When God sought for a term to express His nature, He calls Himself “The Word” (John 1:1).
v. When we know God for who He really is, it affects our conduct. “Where there is no knowledge of God, no conviction of his omnipresence and omniscience, private offences, such as stealing, adulteries, and so forth, will prevail.” (Clarke)
e. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me: Here we see who is responsible for the lack of knowledge among the people of God - the priests who rejected knowledge, the knowledge of God and His Word.
i. Teaching was an important duty of the priests (Deuteronomy 33:10, Ezekiel 44:23, Malachi 2:7). Their neglect of this demonstrates what an important place the minister, the pastor, the preacher has in presenting God and His Word to the people. If he neglects his duty to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2), then he can’t lead the people into the true knowledge of God, and will lead them into destruction.
ii. I will also forget your children: God will hold the unfaithful minister, pastor, or preacher accountable. They have much to answer for before God.
iii. Priest for Me reminds us that the priest didn’t only serve on behalf of the people, but also on behalf of the LORD. The priest represented the people to God, but also represented - through the preaching of the word - God to the people.
f. The more they increased, the more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame: God blessed the priests with increase, but they took God’s blessing for granted and only sinned against God all the more. Blessing is a two-edged gift; it is obviously wonderful to be blessed, but it also brings more accountability and more opportunity for sin.
g. They eat up the sin of My people: “They did this by enjoying the benefits of the people’s sins, such as taking bribes and eating the sin offerings. So the priests actually relished Israel’s wickedness.” (Wood)
3. (Hosea 4:9-10) Judgment is promised.
“And it shall be: like people, like priest. So I will punish them for their ways, and reward them for their deeds. For they shall eat, but not have enough; they shall commit harlotry, but not increase; because they have ceased obeying the LORD.”
a. Like people, like priest: The priests may have thought they would be immune from the judgment coming upon Israel. After all, they were priests! But God promises that when it comes to judgment, like people, like priest.
i. There is no doubt that the priesthood of Israel was corrupt. “Jeroboam I had made priests ‘from all sorts of people’ (1 Kings 12:31; 1Ki_13:33). Therefore, large numbers of true priests - and doubtless true prophets, also - had left the northern kingdom (2 Chronicles 11:13-16).” (Wood)
ii. There is also another way to understand the phrase “like people, like priest.” It also means that as the people go, so go the priests. Sometimes people expect their religious leaders to be holy for them or instead of them. But since the “priests” come from the people, if the people are backslidden then many backslidden men will seek to be “priests.”
b. They shall eat, but not have enough: One aspect of the judgment God promises is that Israel will not be blessed with increase. They will have, but it will never seem to be enough, and they will never be satisfied.
4. (Hosea 4:11-14) The adultery of idolatry.
“Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart. My people ask counsel from their wooden idols, and their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, and they have played the harlot against their God. They offer sacrifices on the mountaintops, and burn incense on the hills, under oaks, poplars, and terebinths, because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters commit harlotry, and your brides commit adultery. I will not punish your daughters when they commit harlotry, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go apart with harlots, and offer sacrifices with a ritual harlot. Therefore people who do not understand will be trampled.”
a. The spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray: Israel’s idolatry was like adultery against the LORD. Every sacrifice made to a pagan god was like an act of adultery.
i. The picture is striking when we consider what a faithful and good husband the LORD is to His people. Adultery is never excusable, but is even more heinous against a good, faithful, loving spouse.
ii. The picture is striking when we consider how Israel wanted to add pagan gods to their worship of the LORD. It isn’t as if Israel officially said, “We want to leave the LORD, and now serve only pagan gods.” Instead, Israel wanted to add the worship of pagan gods to their worship of the LORD. God received this the same way a husband would if his wife said, “I want you to still be my husband, I just want to take on a few more lovers also.”
b. For the men themselves go apart with harlots, and offer sacrifices with a ritual harlot: Describing idolatry as spiritual adultery is especially appropriate when we understand that many pagan gods were “worshipped” by the hiring of a ritual harlot. This was far more enticing that just praying to a statue.
i. I will not punish your daughters: Because the men of Israel sinned this way, God would not single the women of Israel out for judgment when it came to this sin. God doesn’t have a double standard for sexual conduct between men and women.
c. Therefore people who do not understand will be trampled: The idea of Hosea 4:6 is repeated (My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge). Without understanding God and His word, God’s people are destined for destruction.
B. A warning to Judah.
1. (Hosea 4:15) Judah is warned not to follow Israel’s sinful ways.
“Though you, Israel, play the harlot, let not Judah offend. Do not come up to Gilgal, nor go up to Beth Aven, nor swear an oath, saying, ‘As the LORD lives’;”
a. Let not Judah offend: At this time, God’s people were divided into two nations - Israel to the north, and Judah to the south. Israel’s apostasy was far more ingrained, so Judah is cautioned that they must not follow her neighbor’s sinful ways.
b. Do not come up to Gilgal: The cities of Gilgal and Beth Aven were centers of idolatry in Israel. For a citizen of Judah to travel there meant they shared in Israel’s idolatry. When we get too close to sinful practices, they often rub off on us: Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)
i. At one time, Gilgal was a place where prophets were trained under Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2:1; 2Ki_4:38). But in Hosea’s day it had become a center of false worship (Hosea 9:15; Hos_12:11; Amos 4:4; Amo_5:5).
ii. There is no city actually named Beth Aven. Hosea is twisting the name of the city of Bethel - meaning “House of God” - into the more fitting name Beth Aven, meaning “House of Deceit.” Bethel was the southern center of calf worship established by Jeroboam I (1 Kings 12:28-29).
2. (Hosea 4:16-19) A summary of the charge: Israel’s sin and God’s remedy.
“For Israel is stubborn like a stubborn calf; now the LORD will let them forage like a lamb in open country. Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone. Their drink is rebellion, they commit harlotry continually. Her rulers dearly love dishonor. The wind has wrapped her up in its wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.”
a. Israel is stubborn like a stubborn calf: Cattle can safely feed out on the open range, because they are not easy prey for predators. But a lamb in open country has strayed from the shepherd and is vulnerable. Hosea’s point is plain: if you act like a stubborn cow, don’t expect to be protected like an obedient sheep.
b. Ephraim is joined to idols: “Ephraim” was the largest tribe that made up the population of Israel. Therefore, the prophets often refer to Israel as “Ephraim.”
c. Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone: This is one way to express the judgment that is coming against Israel. God will simple leave Ephraim alone. When the mighty Assyrian army comes against them, they may fight for themselves - God will let him alone.
i. We don’t want God to leave us alone because we need Him to protect us against our spiritual enemies. Satan wanted to sift Peter like wheat, but Jesus did not leave Peter alone to face the attack. Jesus prayed for Peter, and he emerged victorious (Luke 22:31-32).
ii. We don’t want God to leave us alone because we need Him to protect us against ourselves. Left to ourselves, with our own sinful hearts, we will surely drift away from the LORD. All God must do to make certain a man goes to hell is simply let him alone. Our prayer should always be, “LORD, don’t leave me alone. Keep working on me.”
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