In Hosea chapter 4, the prophet’s focal point is the people. God continues to lay out accusations against Israel as a legal proceeding. He not only lists their offenses, but proceeds to reveal the cause for their transgression and future consequences. The Israelites had broken God’s law, the first of the ten commandments, but they also had strayed far from reflecting his character as his children. As Hosea lays out God’s controversy, he reveals that the reason for the Israelites’ behavior is that they had no knowledge of God in the land. The blame for their lack of knowledge was laid on the priests, who had failed to properly lead God’s people because of their own sin. Both the priests and the people of Israel would suffer consequences for their sin if they did not repent for their spiritual adultery and turn back to their God. We see in previous chapters that God had chosen Hosea as an example to show how desperately he pursued his people even though they had committed offenses against him and broken the covenant. God desires for his children to return to him, even if it means that he would be giving them over to their own self-destruction to do it. This chapter shows us that, to God, his covenant with Israel was not about following rules, or giving them everything they desired. It was about his relationship with them. Their sin and the consequences they faced were only the result of not knowing God.
4 Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; 2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.3 Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away.Hosea 4:1-3
Hosea addresses the children of Israel and begins to lay out the controversy God has with them. They reflect no characteristics of God because they have no knowledge of him and as a result break his laws. In v. 3 we see one of the consequences of their sin. The land mourns because the Israelites inhabit the land. Like at the fall in Genesis, which infected all of God’s creation with sin, the land and all creatures are affected by the weight of sin.
4 Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest. 5 You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother. 6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. 7 The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame. 8 They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity.Hosea 4:4-8
God placed the blame for Israel’s waywardness on the priests. The line of priests were established to be the mediators between God and his people. They made sacrifices to temporarily atone for their sin. But the priests were led astray themselves by their own sinful hearts and now the Israelites had no relationship with God. Therefore, God warned that they will be punished. They will stumble in their ways and God will reject them as they had rejected his law.
9 And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds. 10 They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the Lord to cherish 11 whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding.12 My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. 13 They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters play the whore, and your brides commit adultery.14 I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes and sacrifice with cult prostitutes, and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.Hosea 4:9-14
God continues to lay out his contention with Israel and further describes the consequences of their sin. As they continue to go after their idols, God warns that they will never be satisfied or be able to flourish in their sin. Ultimately, the feeding of their flesh would lead to their own self-destruction. Israel is committing idolatry and as a continued reference, compares them to a whore, like Hosea’s wife. The people of God were giving themselves to idols and their spiritual immorality led them to commit physical immorality. They were mixing their “worship of God” with idol worship in temples to false Gods. Some of these rituals would include sacrifices made with cult prostitutes. As punishment, the Israelites would have to suffer by having their daughters and wives of the next generations stray into sexual immorality.
15 Though you play the whore, O Israel, let not Judah become guilty. Enter not into Gilgal, nor go up to Beth-aven, and swear not, “As the Lord lives.” 16 Like a stubborn heifer, Israel is stubborn; can the Lord now feed them like a lamb in a broad pasture? 17 Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone. 18 When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring; their rulers dearly love shame. 19 A wind has wrapped them in its wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.Hosea 4:15-19
Judah is warned to not follow into the same footsteps as the northern kingdom, Israel (though they eventually did). He warns them not to enter Gilgal or go up to Beth-aven, where temples of foreign gods were located, and swear “As the Lord lives.” It would be committing spiritual adultery to go into the temples of false gods as if they were there to worship their true God. He calls Israel a stubborn heifer, wanting to worship and serve other gods, and God pleads for them to be the lamb of his pasture that he will care for. But he says that they are wrapped in the wings of a wind (or spirit,) alluding to a spirit of whoredom also being a factor in their sin. Ultimately, their sacrifices, made to false gods, would lead to their shame and ruin.
The law and rituals that God enforced on his people were to reveal and provide a temporary solution to their sin. Even so, the priests who were meant to represent the people in the atonement of sin through sacrifice had failed. God condemns the priests and the sacrifices of the people. There was a right way for his people to be led and to worship. The reason they were doing it wrong was because the people lacked knowledge of God due to the priests straying from God and following their flesh. The knowledge of God was the key to their righteous living.The priests were not able to be good representations for the people and the people were making shameful sacrifices.
God gave the Israelites priests to lead them into his knowledge and to be a way to atone for their sin. They rejected and failed at these things. Their failure points to a need for perfect leaders and sacrifices if they were ever to avoid judgement. This points to the need for Jesus. He is the only perfect solution. We are in the same position as the Israelites. We face consequences for our sin. We cannot follow the law just as the Israelites could not and we can look to no other to lead us than Jesus. We cannot know God the way that he desires for us to because of our sinful state. So, God sent his son to atone for our sins and lead us into righteousness. Jesus is the true shepherd, who cares for us and gives us all that we need. Jesus is the true priest, the perfect mediator between us and God, atoning for our sin and saving us from his wrath. Jesus is the true sacrifice, shedding his blood and taking our deserved punishment upon himself.
Like the Israelites, the only solution to our standing with God is to know God. We are not saved simply by following Christ’s lifestyle and teachings. We can only know God by becoming righteous through Jesus. The Israelites understood that there was something missing without God, but attempted to fix and fill themselves. This led to their shame and destruction. We are the same. We try to replace God with other things and ultimately it will lead to our ruin. How do we know God? Through Scripture. Christ is revealed to us by the Spirit when we read. We can know God through Jesus revealed to us in the Word of God.