After the first three chapters, which form the introduction to the book, now follows the main part of Hosea’s prophecy. In it the Holy Spirit makes an indignant appeal to Israel’s conscience because of the increasing evil. The first chapters take place in the period of the reign of Jeroboam II. What follows now in Hosea 4:1-6:3 moves us to a later part of the history of Israel, the ten tribes realm. This is apparent from the allusions to the assassinations of kings.
“Bloodshed follows bloodshed” (Hos 4:2) is such an allusion. We can think of Zechariah, the last descendant of the generation of Jehu, who is murdered by Shallum, and of Shallum who in turn is murdered by Menahem. Menahem’s successor, his son Pekahiah, is murdered by Pekah, who in turn is murdered by Hoshea, the last king of the ten tribes realm. The history of these assassinations is described in 2 Kings 15 (2Kgs 15:8-10,13-14,25,30). The prophet Hosea does not mention their names; he only wants to tell the people their moral condition.
In this part of the prophecy there is much talk about the leaders of the people and other main responsible persons, such as the priests and the prophets. There is not much to be seen of the brilliant perspective of the future with which each of the first three chapters ends in the days of the prophet. Nevertheless, a ray of hope regularly breaks through the series of indictments that the prophet pours out on the people. These rays of hope are characteristic of all ‘writing’ prophets.
The course of events of the common people and the actions of the religious leaders are discussed in this chapter. In fierce words the indictment is made. Verse 6 gives the essence of all deviation and decay: there is no knowledge. If there is no knowledge of what God wants, one comes to the most sinful practices.
Because of the persistence of their sinful behavior, God must bring judgment. He will take His hands off them and leave them to themselves. This final judgment comes about as follows:
1. First, God indicates that He no longer wants to listen to them.
2. Then, in verse 14, He says that judgment makes no sense.
3. Finally, in verses 17-18, He comes with the worst judgment by leaving the people to themselves. Indeed, a man or a people cannot suffer a worse judgment than to be left to himself, without any help.
What we read in verses 1-2 is reminiscent of Romans 3. There is a description of what a man is and does without God (Rom 3:9-19). That description applies to all humans without exception. But Hosea speaks to God’s people. That makes his indictment all the more penetrating.
1 The Case of the LORD
1 Listen to the word of the LORD, O sons of Israel,
For the LORD has a case against the inhabitants of the land,
Because there is no faithfulness or kindness
Or knowledge of God in the land.
The first call made to the whole people is to listen. From whom may God expect more that they will listen to Him than from those who profess to be His people? They do want to listen to a word of comfort. But do they also want to listen when there is exhortation, when there is an indictment against them? The LORD is the accuser. At first the indictment sounds rather general.
Hosea points in this verse to things he misses among the people. They should be present! In the following verse he speaks of things that are present with the people, while they should not be present.
1. The first thing that is missing is “faithfulness”. By this is meant reliability as well as sincerity and honesty.
2. Also the “kindness” is missing, which means that goodness and benevolence are not found.
3. The third missing thing is called “knowledge of God”. This knowledge, which will be present in the future (Hos 2:20), is completely lacking here. This lack of knowledge stems from inner alienation away from God, meaning that the heart is no longer directed toward God. The result can only be spiritual degeneration.
This chapter focuses on the lack of knowledge of God (verses 1,6,14). All abuses are a consequence of this. If the knowledge of God is lacking, nothing good can be expected. With knowledge is not meant intellectual knowledge. We even encounter it with the devil. It is about a deep, intimate, personal relationship, a knowing with the heart. To be able to experience such knowledge it is necessary to study the Word of God. With someone who is honest, his knowledge of God will become visible in his way of life.
Knowing God and living in evil do not fit together. Those who are used to committing sins do not know God. Paul points several times to this ignorance as the cause of sinful opinions and a resulting sinful behavior (1Cor 15:34; Eph 4:17-19; 1Thes 4:13).
2 Various Iniquities
2 [There is] swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery.
They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed.
When faithfulness, kindness and knowledge of God are lacking, there is ample room for all kinds of iniquities or sins. If the bond with God is severed, this also has harmful consequences for the relationships between people. Where God’s rights are disregarded, what is normal between people is also lost sight of. We already see this with Adam and Eve. As soon as they have deviated from God, they also abandon each other. They blame each other. Also with their children the failure to acknowledge God’s rights becomes visible. Cain kills Abel.
From the sins that Hosea lists with short, powerful words, it becomes clear how the people trample the law of God underfoot. Various commandments, which are briefly discussed below, are grossly violated here:
1. “swearing”, that is swearing to confirm a lie, is a violation of the third commandment,
2. “deception” is a violation of the ninth commandment,
3. “murder” is a violation of the sixth commandment,
4. “stealing” is a violation of the eighth commandment and
5. “adultery” is a violation of the seventh commandment (Exo 20:1-17).
The violation of the sixth commandment, murder, is emphasized by Hosea. The expression “bloodshed follows bloodshed” reads literally “bloody deed touches bloody deed”. Apparently the killing has become a very common thing that happens frequently. It seems as if one murder touches the next, as if it is a kind of murder raid. Because of this the land is filled with blood guilt (2Kgs 21:16; Psa 106:38).
By swearing is meant the swearing of an oath. With this it is confirmed what has been said. In this context we should especially think of lying statements that must be considered as absolutely true. This is related to the third commandment: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Exo 20:7; cf. Lev 19:12).
The Lord Jesus teaches us the true meaning of this commandment (Mt 5:33-37). The oath at issue there relates to the mutual intercourse between people in everyday life. There are people who want to strengthen their words by swearing an oath. This happens especially when their honesty is questioned. The Lord forbids such swearing.
It is a proof of weakness or possibly even mendacity if we accompany our words with all kinds of terms of force in order to enforce credibility. The Lord says: “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ [or] ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil” (Mt 5:37). We must be known as people who can be trusted in what they say. Not deceitful, not ambiguous, but reliable, honest. Does everyone know us that way?
Closely related to swearing is deception or lying. It is about speaking plainly and consciously falsehood. Anyone who does so violates the ninth commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exo 20:16). Swearing is more a personal matter; deception or lying also involves another person. The truth is violated, usually to put the other person in a bad light. This is done in order to get better off or at least not worse. Even more than in the case of swearing, the depraved relationship between the members of God’s people appears here.
In the church in Ephesus there is also this evil. And today, it can be said, it occurs in the church in ‘Everywhere’. Paul has the following recommendation for this situation: “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one [of you] with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25). The lie must be confessed before God as sin and thus removed.
By the way, it is short-sighted to lie to each other as members of the church. After all, we are “members of each other”. In the Bible the church is compared to a body (Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:18). It is absolutely foolish if one member of my body does something that damages or hurts another member. This damages the whole body.
Well, this is also the way we relate to each other as members of the body of Christ. But something positive must replace that. We have to speak the truth and about the truth to each other. That builds up. What do we talk about and how do we talk to each other?
When lying to our neighbor the neighbor is harmed. Murder goes one step further. Whoever kills someone, prevents him from living. Then the sixth commandment is violated: “You shall not murder” (Exo 20:13). Not only is life taken away from the person, but it is also no longer possible for him to enjoy what God has given. It is God’s intention that His people live in a land overflowing with milk and honey. This comes to an abrupt end for the murdered person.
Maybe we do not run the risk of killing another person in a literal sense. Nevertheless, the word of John in his first letter does come close when he says: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1Jn 3:15). It is not God’s intention to try to deprive life of our brother and sister in a spiritual sense, but to make life as pleasant as possible for them. This is only possible if there is love in our hearts instead of hate. If love is active in our hearts, instead of taking our brother’s life, we will even be able to lay down our own life for our brother.
The love that is capable of doing this, we have come to know in the Lord Jesus, Who actually laid down His life for us (1Jn 3:16). Only by looking upon Him we can be able to step aside for our brother or sister so that they can enjoy the true life, the life with the Lord Jesus. Do we give our brother and sister the space to live?
Stealing means depriving another of something that belongs to him. This is a violation of the eighth commandment: “You shall not steal” (Exo 20:15). It does not go as far as murder, because in doing so you take someone’s life. Stealing is about someone’s property, for which the thief has no respect.
Ephesians 4, quoted earlier, says something for anyone who cannot keep his hands to himself: “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have [something] to share with one who has need” (Eph 4:28). Here too, on the one hand, sin is condemned, while on the other, something positive is put in its place.
The command is that work must be done. In a practical sense this is a smart thing to do. He who does nothing is in great danger of getting income in the wrong way. By working someone can provide for himself. But work is not a ‘must’ to be able to provide only for one’s own needs. Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, says that believers have to work, precisely to share with others who are in need.
This is now typically Christian. There the other comes first and only then do you think of yourself. That is how it works in God’s church. What do we do with our possessions, both temporal and spiritual? Do we make them available to our fellow believers?
Stealing usually involves material things, but it is also possible to steal in an immaterial way. We can also steal someone’s words: ““Therefore behold, I am against the prophets”, declares the LORD, “who steal My words from each other”” (Jer 23:30). The point is that we can say things that show that we are only parroting someone else, without having thought about it ourselves and made it our spiritual possession. We can also steal someone’s honor, that is to say, take the honor that belongs to someone else. Instead, we are told to render “honor to whom honor” (Rom 13:7).
Then another thing. The Lord Jesus has given a gift to every member of the church. The intention is that each member serves the other members. Serving someone else means that through our service the other can function better, i.e. perform his or her task more for the glory of the Giver. In this way all members are a gift to each other. If we use this gift ‘to glorify’ ourselves or we do nothing at all with our gift, we commit theft. We rob the church of the use of the gift. A gift is not something to boast about. It has only been given (1Cor 4:7). What do we do with our gift?
Hosea concludes his enumeration of sins with adultery, a violation of the seventh commandment: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exo 20:14). Much has been said about marriage and unfaithfulness while discussing Hosea 1 and Hosea 3. In the relationships that can exist between people, marriage is the closest. The marriage relationship is not only close, in God’s eye it is inseparable. “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mt 19:6). Mind you, it says “what”, not ’who’. The word “what” indicates that it is the institution of marriage itself. What is merged by the bond of marriage should not be divorced.
Now also here, as in the case of murder, perhaps the danger of adultery is not immediately present. But let us not be mistaken. The Lord Jesus points out this danger in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28).
If the Lord already says this to His disciples, it is certainly not a superfluous luxury for us to take this word to heart. The world we live in is largely focused on sex. Research shows that people who call themselves Christians also regularly watch sex programs. Studies aimed at mapping out how many Christians visit porn sites via the Internet make that clear.
The Lord Jesus gives the solution, so we do not have to fall into this danger. That solution is that without hesitation we should get rid of everything in our lives that can tempt us to sin. “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; … If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you” (Mt 5:29-30).
3 Consequences of Sin
3 Therefore the land mourns,
And everyone who lives in it languishes
Along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky,
And also the fish of the sea disappear.
If man breaks his connection with God, it has dramatic consequences for the relations between people. We see this in the previous verse. But that is not the only consequence. The actions of man living in sin also have consequences for his natural environment, creation. As a result of the sins mentioned in verse 2, God has had to judge the land by withholding the rain from it (1Kgs 17:1-7; Joel 1:10-12,17-20). The result of that, the drought, gives the land a desolate appearance. Land-, air- and sea beasts are dying out. All life disappears.
Throughout the Old Testament, the sin of the people and the condition of the land are closely connected. When God’s people listen to Him, there is abundance; when they disobey, the land is ‘smitten’ and there is scarcity.
What applies to Israel also applies to the whole creation: “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom 8:22). This is the result of man’s actions (Rom 8:20). As a result, creation now does not produce its abundance, as it will in the realm of peace. The disturbed relations in the realm of animals are also a consequence of man’s sin.
Man was originally set to rule “over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). If man had continued to serve God faithfully, it would have meant blessing for creation. But by sinning, man has dragged creation into his apostasy from God. God placed man on the earth to cultivate it and keep it and to rule over the animals (Gen 2:15). Nothing of this has come to pass. Just as in Israel in the past, the consequences of sin are visible in creation in our time.
4 No One Can Accuse the Other
4 Yet let no one find fault, and let none offer reproof;
For your people are like those who contend with the priest.
There they are in the dock, all of them. It is quite a queue: people, princes, priests, prophets. You see them looking at each other. But they really do not have to. Nobody has to lift an accusing finger at someone else. They are all guilty, no one goes free. Accusing each other would only make things worse. Sometimes an accusation results in people realizing that the accusation is justified. But in that respect, too, indictment no longer makes sense because there is no hope of restoration.
The priests do have to be accused, an accusation that God Himself does. They are primarily responsible for the decay because they have gone ahead in it. These are not priests of the LORD, but those who serve in the idolatry sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan and other places. That whole, false priesthood that deceives the people will be exterminated by God.
We live at the end of the Christian dispensation. We may wonder how we can get the ears open for the message of God. If from lots of pulpits it is preached that you should not take the Bible seriously in everything, the logical consequence is that people do not take what the preachers preach seriously anymore. It is therefore not surprising that the churches are emptying. Because of the false preaching ‘blood guilt’ sticks to the hands of the pastors. The same goes for evangelical and charismatic circles where a ‘prosperity preaching’ addresses feelings and not consciences and where the fallacy of general reconciliation is taken at face value.
Whatever the content of the sermon, however, the one who listens to a sermon has the responsibility to test, on the basis of the Word of God, whether what is said is true. Everyone who calls himself a Christian is personally responsible for what he believes or does not believe.
The observation that the churches are emptying has led some people to seize popular means to fill the churches again. It must be made attractive to come and listen. They use PR as if the church is a business. An advertising film with celebrities should persuade people to go to church.
The message has to be adapted, or at least the packaging. Pop groups have to ‘cheer up’ the church services. This means that the message is literally overpowered by the packaging. God does not get through with His Word anymore. In some cases it even does not make sense to point it out anymore. Leave the indictment then.
5 So you will stumble by day,
And the prophet also will stumble with you by night;
And I will destroy your mother.
If someone stumbles during the day, it is usually due to inattention. Of course, one can also literally be blind. The Lord Jesus applies this to the way He goes. He allows Himself to be guided by His Father and walks in His light. Because of this He knows perfectly what to do without stumbling (Jn 11:9-10).
In this He is an example for us. For us He is the light of the world. He says to us: “He who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (Jn 8:12). He who is without light, whether through blindness or total darkness around him, is doomed to stumble. For those who are blind, it makes no difference whether it is day or night. Day and night are then equal.
The priests and prophets, who should be examples of good, lead the people astray. About the leaders in His days the Lord Jesus says: “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Mt 15:14). As in the days of Hosea, the Lord Jesus has given up hope of the restoration of these Pharisees. That is why He says: “Let them alone.” But also just as in Hosea, He accuses these leaders when He speaks to them: “Woe to you, blind guides” and: “You fools and blind men!” and: “Blind guides” (Mt 23:16,17,24).
The kind of prophets Hosea talks about are also found in 1 Kings 22 (1Kgs 22:6). Similar priests were appointed by Jeroboam I in the past, according to his own thoughts. They came from all layers of the people (1Kgs 12:25-33; 13:33). There are no longer any priests from the generation chosen by God. They all moved to Judah, “for Jeroboam and his sons had excluded them from serving as priests to the LORD” (2Chr 11:13-16).
Undoubtedly, most of the true prophets of the LORD were also unable to stand longer in Israel. Only prophets like Hosea and formerly Elijah and Elisha can be found there because they have received the command of the LORD to preach there. Should there still be some hope that the people as a whole would be spared, then that hope will be taken away as well. No help is to be expected from the whole because God will eradicate the whole. The false priests and prophets will be exterminated together with the unfaithful people, “the mother”.
6 No Knowledge
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also will reject you from being My priest.
Since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.
The priests are mainly responsible for the lack of knowledge of the people. Precisely they have, together with the Levites, the task to teach the law to the people of God (Deu 33:8,10; Eze 44:23; Mal 2:7). God’s judgment of the priests means that He will remove them from His presence. After all, the great privilege of priests is that they may be in the presence of God, isn’t it? But God can no longer tolerate them there. He still speaks of “My people” (cf. verse 12), but it will not be long before He will have to call them “Lo-ammi”, ‘not My people’.
The lack of knowledge is not because they have no light, but because they hate the light. They are not wandering astray because they do not know the way, but because they have no desire to go God’s way. They have become like the people of whom Job says: “They say to God, ‘Depart from us! We do not even desire the knowledge of Your ways’” (Job 21:14).
The attitude and behavior of priests and people do not only affect them. If parents reject the knowledge of God, they cannot pass anything on to their children. The consequences of a Godless upbringing are easy to guess: even the children will not ask for God. If children in the families of God’s people do not learn to remember their Creator, they cannot expect their Creator to remember them.
An example of priestly sons rejected by God can be seen in the sons of Eli. Eli did not teach his sons any knowledge of God. This is God’s reproach to him (1Sam 2:29). Eli’s attitude determines the behavior of his sons. And through their behavior, people in Israel start to despise the offering of the LORD (1Sam 2:17). The contempt Eli’s sons show for the offering is attributed to Eli. God has no choice but to deprive Eli and his house of the priesthood (1Sam 2:30-31; 3:12-14).
The knowledge of the Word of God is of utmost importance to every member of God’s people. Only by reading and studying the Bible is it possible to live to the glory of God. But also here the time spirit affects God’s people. There is hardly any demand for Bible study anymore. People are more looking for books that are easy to read and fit the feeling. That market is far from saturated. Of course there are also good, faith-building books, especially when it comes to books that are written from a pastoral concern with the flock. This is apparent from the number of references to the Bible.
It is often the case that one abandons as soon as some effort is required. Sometimes even the accusation is made that you do not have to quote a Bible text for everything. It indeed is not always wise to quote texts haphazardly. What matters is the attitude we encounter in Christianity today. There is hardly any interest anymore in digging into the Word of God, while it is precisely through Bible study that God’s thoughts become more our own.
This stratagem of satan is doing well. The call of Isaiah must be heard again: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn” (Isa 8:20). Back to the Scriptures! Those who think they can do it without will not see the light, but will continue to wander in the darkness and remain in it forever. Back to the Scriptures! Those who think they can do it without will not see the light, but will continue to wander in the darkness and abide in it forever.
How we can study the Bible in a good and fruitful way and then also serve others with God’s Word, we see with Ezra. In his dealings with the Word of God we see three elements that are of decisive importance: “For Ezra had set his heart
1. to study the law of the LORD and
2. to practice [it], and
3. to teach [His] statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).
Here it becomes clear that it is primarily about the knowledge of the heart (cf. Eph 1:17-18) and not about sheer head knowledge. If the heart is in the right mind, the desire is first “to study” or “to examine”, then to “practice” what has been learned from God’s Word, and finally to “teach” to God’s people what has been learned and put into practice.
7 Abusing What God Gives
7 The more they multiplied, the more they sinned against Me;
I will change their glory into shame.
“Multiplied” is reminiscent of growth. But with the words “more multiplied” there is also the thought of an increase in honor and prestige. Be that as it may, whether they increase in number or in dignity and possibly power, the result is an increase in sin. If we look at the history of mankind, it appears time and again that acquired greatness has been abused by man to self-exaltation, while God is forgotten.
But God will meet them. If their multiplication is their honor, God will reduce this so much that it becomes a shame for their number. Are they proud of their prestige? Well, God will make them despicable so that everyone who sees them will shake their heads. Do they pride themselves on their wealth? God will make them poor. God will strike man precisely in the things on which he boasts.
We see this, for example, in the judgment of the firstborn in Egypt, just before the deliverance of Israel (Exo 11:4-6; 12:29-30). The Egyptians have placed their hope in those firstborn. But God “also struck down all the firstborn in their land, The first fruits of all their vigor” (Psa 105:36). But God does this only after many warnings. In the same way He deals with His people Israel and with the church. Everything on which a man, especially the Christian, boasts at the expense of God, He must take away.
8 The ‘Benefits’ of Sin
8 They feed on the sin of My people
And direct their desire toward their iniquity.
If a member of the people sins, a sin offering must be brought. The sacrificial animal goes to the priest who sacrifices it for sin. The priest must eat of that sin offering. This is how God prescribed it (Lev 6:26,29). For the priests, sin means livelihood. The more the people sin, the more they have to eat.
This is opposite to God’s intention with the precept to eat of the sin offering. God wants to achieve through this precept that the priest, by eating from the sin offering, identifies himself with this sin, that he feels, as it were, the inner disgust of it.
What Hosea says does not answer that, but gives a different picture. Literally he says that they ‘devour’ the sins of the people. They are greedy that the people sin in order to get as much profit as possible from it. They not only feast on it literally, but also figuratively: they enjoy it when they see the sin of others.
We too are able to condemn the sins of others and yet secretly enjoy them (Rom 1:32). That is a bad thing. It is all the more evil when the sin of the other person benefits us in some way.
The evil pointed out by Hosea can be compared to the indulgence of the roman catholic church. The indulgence is a bill you can buy that says that a certain debt has been forgiven. The bigger the crime, the higher the amount. It is signed by a church leader. This custom has disappeared into the background for quite some time, but lately it is being pointed out more. This custom meets the needs of people to do something or pay for something that has gone wrong. The roman catholic church does benefit from it. The more people sin and want an indulgence for it, the more will come into the church’s treasury.
Instead of raising one’s voice against sin and warning against it, sin is stimulated in veiled terms. Of course it is said that what has happened is wrong. But only when there is sincere confession before God and the awareness of what it has cost Christ to bear the judgment for that sin will the effect be that one gains a greater understanding of the seriousness of sin.
As long as a certain quid pro quo for a committed sin is demanded, one has not yet understood anything of Christ’s work. The consequence is that one does not see sin as God sees it. As a result, one can trade with sin. Practicing sin has become an activity from which the church, or the clergy, can make a profit.
9 People and Leader
9 And it will be, like people, like priest;
So I will punish them for their ways
And repay them for their deeds.
Here the saying applies that a people gets the leadership it deserves. There is an interaction between the two. The people want to have leaders who tell them what they like to hear and the leaders find a willing ear for their depraved teachings (2Tim 4:3-4). The people do not want to be addressed about their responsibility to live as God’s people. Therefore, they choose leaders who do not call sin sin or even condone sin. As a result, the ‘church people’ do not take the will of God into account. In this way leaders become seducers. God will visit their wrong ways and deeds.
This contains an important warning for anyone who holds a prominent position in the midst of God’s people and that warning is that someone does not leave the way of God alone. There are always people who follow that path. There is also an important warning for the people of God. The leaders are not the only ones to blame. The people have their own responsibility. If they follow their leaders on their wrong path, they do so because they like that path.
It is important that we pray for those who lead, that they will do so “in the Lord” (1Thes 5:12). “In the Lord” means that leading should not be done in one’s own power, but in the power of the Lord. One’s own insights must be submitted to Him. He alone can give good insight in problems. Therefore, leading must happen in full dependence on the Lord. The way in which leading is given, must be surrounded, as it were, by His presence. That will be so if it happens in His mind.
10 Not Enough and No Increase
10 They will eat, but not have enough;
They will play the harlot, but not increase,
Because they have stopped giving heed to the LORD.
The visitation and retribution announced in the preceding verse are elaborated in this verse. The priests and the people may think that sin brings benefits, but they will never feel satisfied with it (cf. Mic 6:14). That they are insatiable is the result of the judgment of God.
In a literal sense we can think of a special curse of God, by which the beneficial effect of the food is taken away or even changed in the reverse. Zophar alludes to this possibility in his (incorrect) assessment of Job (Job 20:14-15). Together with his two friends he accuses Job of secret sins. He thinks he sees the indications for this in the suffering that Job goes through. Perhaps Hosea, when he wrote this down, thought of what Zophar wrongly applied to Job.
In any case, sin never gives the satisfaction sought. The same goes for harlotry, possibly with a view to numerous offspring. God will see to it that nothing is left of it. How could God bless their walk and conduct when they do not take Him into account? They do not think of worshiping the LORD. All their actions are aimed at favoring themselves as much as possible, both in terms of possession and status.
11 The Heart Taken Away
11 Harlotry, wine and new wine take away the understanding.
Israel did not take to heart Solomon’s admonition to his son (Pro 4:23). Instead of protecting their understanding or heart (Darby Translation), they opened it to the enemies “harlotry, wine and new wine”. They have seized their hearts. The term “heart” means the center of the human personality, connected with feeling and reason. Once harlotry, wine and new wine have been allowed into the heart, they begin to control the whole human being – i.e. his feelings, his mind and his will – and make him a slave.
Who ever has to deal with such people, makes the shocking discovery of how helpless they are. They no longer have the strength to break with sin. It may be called a miracle when people get rid of this addiction. Most of them do not manage that on their own. Certainly, there is power in the Lord to help, but often He engages people to do so. Someone who for years was addicted to all kinds of things, made the following statement in a newsletter: ‘You have to hate it to let it go.’
If the heart does not remain in fellowship with the Lord, there is no longer a correct view of the everyday things in life. The lack of thoughtful judgment is mainly caused by a licentious approach to marriage, “harlotry”, and an excessive longing for earthly pleasures, “wine and new wine”. If the heart is focused on this, it is away from God.
He asks just our heart: “Give me your heart, my son” (Pro 23:26a). If we give our hearts to Him, all our dealings and walks will be directed toward Him and He will be honored.
12 Idolatry and Harlotry
12 My people consult their wooden idol, and their [diviner’s] wand informs them;
For a spirit of harlotry has led [them] astray,
And they have played the harlot, [departing] from their God.
The consequences that arise when the heart is no longer focused on God become visible here. The people, whom God still painfully calls “My people”, resort to divination, the general practice of the pagan, idolatrous peoples. They ask for guidance from a piece of wood! God is exchanged for a wooden idol and a magic wand. The less account is taken of God, the more room there is for superstition. Jeremiah sharply denounces this foolish superstition (Jer 2:27a).
The foolishness of this action is sarcastically painted by Isaiah (Isa 44:14-17). He makes their nonsense clear by saying that man uses half of a piece of wood as firewood, to heat himself or to bake bread on it, but of the other half he makes a god to whom he bows down. Anyone with a bit of sense, sees the ridiculousness of it. But what do you want when your heart has been seized by harlotry, wine and new wine (verse 11). Then you fall into such follies. Man cannot do without an object of worship. If he does not worship God (verse 10b), he falls into idolatry and superstition.
Idolatry and superstition do not stand on their own. They are nourished by “the spirit of harlotry”, which permeates the whole atmosphere. All those who do not submit to God’s authority, who in fact withdraw from it, come under the seizure of that spirit of harlotry and are influenced by it. This leads to spiritual adultery. In the realm of sin there is always a satanic spirit active, to whom someone who is in that realm surrenders himself. For this, however, one is responsible oneself.
Those who ignore the statements of God in His Word and consult the world and the flesh, in fact consult their wood and ask for information on their wand. Here too the parallel between the days of Hosea and ours is clear. It has become possible for a spirit of harlotry to be active in Christianity. More and more the contact with the world is sought.
The motives put forward, as if it were to bring the world under the influence of Christianity on the basis of that contact, are no good. The Lord Jesus says of His disciples: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (Jn 17:16). Whoever forgets that and imitates the world in order to be successful, even with the most beautiful motives, for example, to gain entrance for the gospel, falls under the influence of the spirit of harlotry. This leads them to playing the harlot and departing from their God. We must not want to be wiser than what God tells us in His Word.
13 Sacrificial Places
13 They offer sacrifices on the tops of the mountains
And burn incense on the hills,
Under oak, poplar and terebinth,
Because their shade is pleasant.
Therefore your daughters play the harlot
And your brides commit adultery.
In the law, God warns His people to completely destroy all those places where the people practice idolatry (Deu 12:2). Then He tells how He wants it to be done (Deu 12:5-6a). God has chosen Jerusalem as the only place of worship. Israel, the ten tribes, turned their backs on that place after the tearing. As a replacement, Jeroboam I invented Bethel and Dan, with the golden calves as objects of worship. But it did not stop there. In other places too they have, according to the pagan model, introduced idolatrous rituals of sacrifice. With the introduction of pagan practices they also dragged their daughters into their harlotry.
The people find it pleasant to abide there. It feels like a protective shadow against the hot rays of the sun. It is pleasant, because the conscience is kept out of reach; pleasant, because in a self-conceived worship service you can control everything to your own liking; pleasant, because it makes you feel good. In a more refined form we can observe all this, in all sorts of variations, on the Christian area.
Christianity is imbued with the feeling of ‘every man for himself and God for us all’. This may sound nice, but this view is contrary to God’s will. No one has the right to devise a worship service of their own. Also, it is not right to simply join an already existing worship service, but one conceived by people, because he feels most comfortable with it, where “their shade is pleasant”.
In Deuteronomy 12 the LORD urges the Israelite to look for the place where He dwells (Deu 12:5-7,10-14,26). Later it turns out to be Jerusalem. In the New Testament there is also a place of which the Lord Jesus said: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Mt 18:20). From the context in which this verse is written it is clear that it is about the gathering of the local church. There the sacrifices of praise and thanks may be brought. There the shade of the Beloved can be experienced, as the bride says in Song of Songs (Song 2:3).
God desires to come together with His own, not in any place, but in the place where He can dwell. That is, in the place where He rests because one submits to Him. If not He and His Word are the norm, but the service is adapted to the taste of man, the negative result should come as no surprise: “Therefore your daughters play the harlot And your brides commit adultery.” A worship service that contains many elements that caress the flesh will have the effect that our children will live for nothing but the flesh.
14 God No Longer Supports the People
14 I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot
Or your brides when they commit adultery,
For [the men] themselves go apart with harlots
And offer sacrifices with temple prostitutes;
So the people without understanding are ruined.
The fact that God does not visit the daughters in their harlotry and adultery with His judgment does not mean that He overlooks their deeds. God can never tolerate sin or let it take its course. If God takes His hands off someone, it does not mean He is indulgent. He acts in this way by way of judgment because the person is incorrigible. By exposing such a person to sin, God seals the choice made in favor of sin (cf. Rom 1:28).
Withdrawal by God has – besides the issue with the daughters – another reason. The elderly take the lead in this sin over the young. If children have such examples, is there anything to blame on them if they are guilty of harlotry and adultery in the same or even worse way? Certainly, adult children have their own responsibility. But those who take the lead in committing sin are guiltier. Where older people take precedence, it is very difficult to point out sin to young people.
The unrestraint reign supreme. Following the disgraceful Canaanite norms, women who are ‘devoted’ to the idol and surrender to prostitution can be found at the sacrificial sites. Such a behavior arises from a people who have “stopped giving heed to the LORD” (verse 10). The fall of Israel has become inevitable and unstoppable.
15 Not to Gilgal and Not to Bethel
15 Though you, Israel, play the harlot,
Do not let Judah become guilty;
Also do not go to Gilgal,
Or go up to Beth-aven
And take the oath:
“As the LORD lives!”
“Gilgal” is the place where God has had the people circumcised for the second time. Because of this, they rolled away the reproach of Egypt (Jos 5:2-9). Bethel is the place where their ancestor Jacob received the promises of God (Gen 28:10-19). But Gilgal, the place from which the land was conquered, has become a place of idolatry. And Bethel, meaning ‘house of God’, has got a golden calf. That is why the prophet here calls it ‘Beth-aven’, which means ‘house of iniquity’. It is not God Who dwells there, but iniquity has taken up residence there.
They do not even hesitate to connect the holy Name of the LORD with their idolatrous practices. They swear by His Name. Thus they connect the Name of the LORD with sin, which is of course abominable. The swearing of an oath is not sinful in itself, as long as it is done in sincerity before God.
Israel and Judah are mentioned separately in this verse. There is still a distinction between the two realms. During the last days of the prophet Hosea Judah experiences a time of revival under Hezekiah and even later under Josiah. Then the horrors are removed from the land, but unfortunately not from the hearts. Judah will also stumble (Hos 5:5). Still, it is as if the prophet looks at Judah with a slanting eye and warns people not to go into the apostasy from God.
It may be that people from Judah go to places in the ten tribes realm to celebrate and that Hosea has them in mind. Bethel lies against the border of Judah. Seeking contact with what is sinful puts that sin itself in danger. “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1Cor 15:33). You are infected with that which you associate yourself with.
Although Hosea mainly prophesies in the northern realm, he sometimes raises his warning voice to Judah. Here he warns the southern kingdom not to follow his northern neighbor in his horrible forms of worship.
In order to stay free from something, it is best to stay as far away from it as possible. It is life-threatening to visit sinful places purely out of curiosity. The atmosphere can get a hold of someone just like that and before one notices it, one joins in. This applies to places where the world seeks its entertainment. But it also applies to all kinds of religious manifestations where emotions are skillfully addressed. Emotions certainly have their place in serving and honoring God. But as soon as they become the norm for serving and honoring God, the heart is taken away from the one true norm: the Word of God. In it the separation between what is of God and what is not of God is clearly stated.
The believer is warned to keep away from everything that originated from unbelief, while beautiful promises of obedience are made (2Cor 6:14-18). Although that part is about the connection to the world, its application to things found within Christianity, but originating in the world, is certainly justified.
16 In a Large Field
16 Since Israel is stubborn
Like a stubborn heifer,
Can the LORD now pasture them
Like a lamb in a large field?
After the warning addressed to Judah, the prophet addresses himself in this verse to Israel, the northern realm. Just as “an unruly heifer” shakes off the yoke, so Israel refuses to wear the yoke of obedience to God. Do they want to be free? Well, they will be. ‘But’, Hosea seems to say with a certain sarcasm, ‘if you behave like an unmanageable, rebellious cow, don’t think that the LORD will treat you like meek sheep’. The LORD will act with them like a shepherd acts with a stubborn lamb. The lamb may go its own way in the large field, where it will surely perish for lack of protection.
Even now it is still like that. Whoever finds it too oppressive in the vicinity of the Lord may seek ‘space’; no one is forced to serve Him. Whoever experiences His yoke as oppressive, can throw it off. But let someone like that think: ‘If I go away from the Lord, I will inevitably face destruction.’ A lamb left to itself is lost helplessly. “A lamb in a large field” is the prey of all hostile animals.
17 Ephraim and the Idols
17 Ephraim is joined to idols;
Let him alone.
Ephraim, the most influential tribe, represents the ten tribes here. Instead of being attached to God, Ephraim is attached with heart and soul to the idols. Being “joined” means being “deeply attached to”. The idolater is not the man who has broken with religion, but practices it. For Paul, in his conversation with the pagan inhabitants of Athens, this is a welcome starting point. As he walks through the city, he sees many idols. As a result, he begins his proclamation of the gospel in that city: “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects” (Acts 17:22). From there he starts preaching to them the unknown God.
Idolatry is a false representation and depiction of God. If, for example, the Lord Jesus, Who alone is the image of God, is only seen as a good person, idolatry is committed. Then one has a false representation of God.
Being faithful to the true God can never lead to a compromise. We can never compare the Lord Jesus with Buddha, Muhammad and other idols. It does Him a huge disservice. He stands outside and above any comparison. We can respect the Mohammedan and the Jewish rabbi as human beings, but never stand with them on a common, religious platform. They are devoted to a false representation of God.
If the case with Israel then and with Christianity today is like this, God has no choice but to give free rein to evil. That evil will manifest itself fully and God will execute His righteous judgment on it. If God gives Ephraim, or anyone else, such peace, it is because He has given up all hope for improvement. If God withdraws His hands and leaves man to himself, it is a terrible thing for a man (cf. verses 4,14a; Deu 32:20). The Lord Jesus says something similar about the incorrigible Pharisees: “Let them alone” (Mt 15:14). Those who are not troubled by their sins will be ruined by it.
18 The Rulers
18 Their liquor gone,
They play the harlot continually;
Their rulers dearly love shame.
When they have drunk and are drunk, all bets are off and they surrender to harlotry. Their life in debauchery knows no limits. Their rulers precede them in it. The word for ‘rulers’ can also be translated as ‘shields’. The rulers, like shields, should be a protection for the people (cf. Psa 47:9). But instead of being protective, they surrender themselves to harlotry.
Everything is aimed at the satisfaction of one’s own low desires. This way of living goes hand in hand with shamelessness, which leads to disgrace. It is not an occasional sin of adultery, but they sin continuously. They are people who sin without a break, “who do not cease to sin” (2Pet 2:14).
19 Sacrifices That Make One Ashamed
19 The wind wraps them in its wings,
And they will be ashamed because of their sacrifices.
Hosea here describes in symbolic language how the people will be wiped out in a quick and shameful destruction. God will “He will sweep them away with a whirlwind” (Psa 58:9b) with His judgment on them. They refuse to learn peace and righteousness from God and must therefore be surrendered to a “wind”, which is the king of Assyria. This enemy will completely surround them, take them away from their land and scatter them.
Then they will realize that all their sacrifices to the idols have not benefited them. They will be ashamed of their own foolishness by being so attached to the idols. They turn out to be gods who have no strength whatsoever to offer help. By relying on those idols they have made God their enemy, God, Who is powerful, but who now uses His power against them and scatters them.
We may wonder to whom we give our sacrifices. If we are not careful, we will also be ashamed. How much of our time, energy and money have we ‘sacrificed’ to the satisfaction of our own pleasures and to the world?