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Bible Commentaries
Hosea 4

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


A. The judgment oracles chs. 4-5

Chapters 4 and 5 contain more messages of judgment. Chapter 4 focuses on the sins of the Northern Kingdom. Chapter 5 describes the guilt of all the Israelites in both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms and announces judgment on both groups.

1. Yahweh’s case against Israel ch. 4

This chapter exposes Israel’s sins more particularly than we have seen so far. The Northern Kingdom had broken covenant with Yahweh. Her priest’s (religious leaders) were especially guilty, but the idolatrous citizens also deserved divine judgment, and they would receive it.

Verse 1

Hosea called on the Israelites to listen to a word from Yahweh because He was charging them with serious crimes. Yahweh was taking the Israelites to court. The basic accusation is that there was no faithfulness (truth, trustworthiness), kindness (loyalty, Heb. hesed), or (evidence of) knowledge of God in the land. The Israelites failed to acknowledge Yahweh as their God (cf. Hosea 2:20). These were all things that God had ordered His people to pursue when He covenanted with them at Sinai.

Verses 1-3

Israel’s breach of covenant 4:1-3

The Lord brought a legal charge against the Israelites for breaking the Mosaic Covenant. Again the literary form of this section is a legal confrontation (Heb. rib, cf. Hosea 2:2). Scholars therefore often refer to these courtroom type charges as "rib oracles," pronounced "reeve." Waltke called these messages oracles of reproach in the form of a lawsuit. [Note: Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, p. 836.] The Lord stated His charges against Israel in Hosea 4:1-3 and then developed these charges in reverse order.

God’s Lawsuit against Israel
The chargesStatedDeveloped
No faithfulness (trustworthiness)Hosea 4:1Hosea 11:12 to Hosea 13:16
No love (kindness)Hosea 4:1Hosea 6:1 to Hosea 11:11
No acknowledgment of GodHosea 4:1Hosea 4:4 to Hosea 5:15

Verses 1-3


The remaining messages that Hosea recorded in this book continue to expound the themes introduced in the first two series (chs. 1-3). All five series of messages major on Israel’s guilt and coming judgment, but all conclude on a positive note promising restoration in the future. [Note: See Charles H. Silva, "The Literary Structure of Hosea 4-8," Bibliotheca Sacra 164:655 (July-September 2007):291-306.]

"At this point we leave the account of Hosea’s marriage and begin a new section, which extends to the end of the book and contains oracles of doom and hope. Even in this section, however, we are never far from Hosea’s marriage, for it is always in the background and is the catalyst for his message to his people. We see it in the references to the nation as mother and children, as well as in the numerous allusions to spiritual harlotry and adultery." [Note: McComiskey, p. 56.]

Chapters 4-14 contain speeches that Hosea probably gave at various times in his long prophetic career.

Verse 2

Instead of these virtues, He observed swearing (cursing others by misusing oaths and imprecations), deception, murder, stealing, adultery, violence, and continual bloodshed. An imprecation is a formal curse made in the name of some deity in which one person calls down calamity on another (cf. Job 31:29-30). These were things He had forbidden in His covenant. He identified violations of at least five of the Ten Commandments (Numbers 3, 9, 6, 8, , 7). Violent crimes were so common that they seemed to follow one another without interruption.

Verse 3

Therefore God was not blessing Israel but was bringing curses on the land so every part of the Northern Kingdom suffered, every living thing. Drought seems to be the primary form of chastisement in view (cf. Leviticus 26:19; Deuteronomy 28:23-24).

Verse 4

Israel’s guilt was so clear that the Lord forbade the people from denying His charge against them. As judge, He silenced them in His court. In defying Him they were like witnesses who brazenly defied their authority on earth, the priest.

Verses 4-10

The guilt of Israel’s priests 4:4-10

In this pericope God addressed the Israelites as a whole but identified sins of their priests in particular.

Verse 5

Because of this rebellion the people would have great difficulty and would stumble as they walked through life. Their false prophets would also err. Both types of spiritual leaders, priests and (false) prophets, were guilty before God. The Lord also promised to destroy the mother of the Israelites, probably another reference to the nation as a whole (cf. Hosea 2:2).

Verse 6

God would destroy the Israelites because of their lack of knowledge of Himself. That is, they failed to acknowledge Him as their God (cf. Hosea 4:1). God would reject them as His priests on the earth, whose task it was to mediate the knowledge of God to the nations (Exodus 19:6), because they rejected the knowledge that He gave them in His law. He would abandon (forget) their children because they had abandoned (forgotten) His law.

"To the modern Western mind, it might seem unfair that the priests’ mothers and children should be punished for their sins. But the concept of corporate guilt and punishment was common in ancient Israel and is frequently reflected in the Hebrew Bible." [Note: Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., p. 349.]

Verse 7

God had blessed the Israelites by increasing their numbers, but their response to this blessing had been to increase their sinning against Him. Consequently He would change their glory, a large population (or perhaps Yahweh Himself), into shame; He would reduce their numbers (and withdraw from them).

Verse 8

Israel’s priests were feeding on the sin offerings that the people brought to their pagan shrines. Yet since these offerings were to idols it was as though the priests really fed on the people’s sins. The priests desired these offerings, which meant they wanted the people to practice idolatry so they would bring more sacrifices. King Jeroboam I had appointed as priests people from any tribe and all walks of life in Israel (1 Kings 12:31; 1 Kings 13:33).

Verse 9

God would, therefore, punish the unfaithful priests of Israel as He would punish the unfaithful people of Israel. Both groups were sinning, so God promised to punish them for their sinful ways and to repay them for their idolatrous works.

Verse 10

They would eat but not have enough because the Lord would send drought and scarcity of food as punishment (cf. Hosea 4:3). They would act like harlots by committing fornication with pagan temple prostitutes, but their numbers would not increase because Yahweh would reduce their fertility. He would do this because they had stopped listening to and obeying Him by observing His law.

Verse 11

The practice of idolatry (spiritual harlotry), with its emphasis on drinking wine, had turned the heart of the Israelites from Yahweh. With their heart for God went their realistic understanding of what was best for them, which He had revealed.

Verses 11-14

The guilt of Israel’s idolatrous citizens 4:11-14

The following section is a general indictment of the people of Israel for their idolatry.

Verse 12

God’s people consulted wooden idols and sought revelations using a diviner’s rod. Their spirit of harlotry led them astray from the true God and His Word. They behaved like harlots departing from the authority of their true husband, Yahweh.

Verse 13

They worshipped their idols on the tops of hills and under trees because they enjoyed worshipping at their convenience (cf. 2 Kings 17:10-11). This was as bad as the daughters of the Israelites practicing harlotry and adultery with male cult prostitutes (cf. Deuteronomy 23:17-18; 1 Kings 14:24).

Verse 14

However, Yahweh would not punish only the females in Israel, because the males were just as guilty. The females were unfaithful to their husbands, but their husbands were also engaging in immoral acts with pagan temple prostitutes.

"For homosexuals, homosexual prostitutes were provided (1 Kings 14:24; 1 Kings 15:12; 1 Kings 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7)." [Note: Stuart, p. 83.]

Thus this people marked by lack of understanding would come to ruin when God humbled them with punishment.

Verse 15

The Lord warned the Israelites not to pollute their brethren in the Southern Kingdom with their unfaithfulness. He also warned them not to go to the pagan shrines and take an oath in His name since they did not really worship Him. This was pure hypocrisy. Gilgal and Beth-aven were representative pagan cultic sites (cf. Hosea 9:15; Hosea 12:11; Amos 4:4). The prophet had come to refer to Bethel (house of God) by the name Beth-aven (house of wickedness) because it had become one of the main centers of idolatry in Israel since the reign of Jeroboam I (cf. Hosea 10:5; Amos 5:5). The use of one name to represent a different though similar place is a figure of speech called atbash.

Verses 15-19

Judgment on the idolatrous worship 4:15-19

Verse 16

The Lord asked rhetorically if He could continue to guide Israel as its Shepherd since it was not behaving like a compliant heifer or lamb but had become stubborn and obstinate. No, He could not.

Verse 17

Since Ephraim (lit. fruitful), the largest tribe in the Northern Kingdom that stood for the whole nation, had abandoned her Shepherd for idols, He called others to leave her alone also. He would abandon her to the judgment that would come inevitably from pursuing sin (cf. Romans 1:18-32). Ephraim had become incorrigible.

"By referring to the North as Ephraim Hosea reminds Israel that, as we saw in the story of Jeroboam I, it owed its very existence to Ephraim’s jealousy of Judah with its God-given institutions of the Jerusalem temple and the Davidic monarchy." [Note: Ellison, p. 115.]

Verse 18

Even when the Israelites were not under the influence of liquor (cf. Hosea 4:11), they still played the harlot continually. The rulers of the people, who were to be as shields protecting the general populace, also loved the sins that brought shame on the nation.

Verse 19

God would blow Israel away in judgment as though the wind wrapped the nation in its wings. When judgment came, the Israelites would finally feel shame for sacrificing to idols.

"God’s covenant people are called to court, found to be in violation of the stipulations of his covenant, and sentenced to destruction.

"The passage details a long series of crimes against the divine law, all related to the catalog of blessings and curses found in Deuteronomy 28-33. The sins of omission and commission pictured so relentlessly throughout the chapter make up a remarkably complete picture of the depths of Israel’s apostasy." [Note: Stuart, p. 86.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Hosea 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/hosea-4.html. 2012.
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