Hosea – God’s Great Love Story – 04 (“The Indictment”)
- SCRIPTURE READING:
Hosea 4:1-19 (ESV) ~ “Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lordhas a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; 2there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. 3Therefore 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. 4Yet 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. 6My 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. 7The 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. 9And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds. 10They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the Lordto cherish 11 whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding. 12My 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. 13They 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. 14I 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. 15Though 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 Lordlives.” 16Like a stubborn heifer, Israel is stubborn; can the Lordnow feed them like a lamb in a broad pasture? 17Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone. 18When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring; their rulers dearly love shame. 19A wind has wrapped them in its wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.”
The focus on Hosea’s marriage and family situation disappears now and the focus shifts to Israel’s gross unfaithfulness already introduced in chapters 1-3.
God starts a “court case” in which He charges Israel because they are unfaithful, they lack loyalty, and don’t have knowledge of God and that leads to the people of Israel betraying God. Betraying God leads to betraying loyalty to fellow human beings, thereby unleashing social chaos. Isn’t this exactly what we are experiencing in our beloved country, South Africa, right now. In fact, we see this happening all over the world. There is disrespect, very little or no submission to authority; no respect for life, no for fear of God. And, don’t think for a moment that we as professing Christians are not part of these social chaos and sin. Absence of God leads to social chaos!
In the light of this serious accusation, we must carefully listen to this word by Hosea, because it is also applicable on us as a nation. However beloved, keep in mind that not all Israelites were worshipping the Baal gods of Babylon – think of Daniel and his friends. But they were also exiled and sent to Babylon – the faithful also experienced the effect of God’s wrath on the nation.
We will be looking at our passage for today under the following four headings:
- The Sins of the People (4:1-3);
- The Sins of the Priests (4:4-11);
- The Idolatry of the People (4:12–14) and
- A Special Appeal to Judah (4:15–19).
- The Sins of the People (4:1-3): In the opening verse of chapter 4, Hosea addresses the ten tribes in Israel – the northern kingdom. He tells them that they must listen, because when he speaks, it is actually the Lord addressing them and therefore they must pay close attention.
Hosea continues by telling them (the people), that the Lord has brought charges against them – i.e. there is an indictment laid against them (case against the people). We have to do with legal terminology here and the NKJV translates it correctly, when it says… ~ “For the Lord brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land.”Hosea informs them that they are in the “accused bench” and involved in a court case where the Lord God is both the prosecutor and the Judge – what a terrible and frightening situation to find yourself.
The Lord issued a strong indictment against Israel. Tenvery specific charges were brought in against the people. The charges were serious, so much so that the people were exhorted (told) to listen very carefully. After all, it was the Lord Himself who was issuing these charges.
The charge sheet contains the following charges: They are unfaithful; there is no steadfast love present in their lives; they have no knowledge of God. Furthermore, they are a bunch of swearing, lying, stealing, adulterous, murderers. It is interesting to note that five of the Ten Commandments are summarized in 4:2 and they have violated all five of them. Violent crimes had become so common that one seemed immediately to follow another. That is why the land was in such a bad state.
The people of Israel deceived and betrayed others. They made promises to both the Lord and others, but they did not keep these promises.
The people showed no mercy or love to others. People were self-centred, focused on their own lusts and desires. This reminds us of 1 John 2:16 ~ “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”They abandoned God and the knowledge of Him (4:1). When the Bible speaks of knowing God, it does not mean knowing facts about God. It means knowing God personally and intimately. It means to establish a personal relationship with God, to walk with Him and fellowship with Him through prayer. It means to listen to Him through the study of His Holy Word. But, tragically, there was no personal knowledge of God throughout the whole land of Israel. No one recognized or accepted the Lord or had a personal relationship with Him. Apparently, the whole population of the Northern Kingdom was ignorant of the Lord.
The people filled the land with cursing, lies, and murder(4:2). Cursing or swearing was a violation of the third commandment, which forbids taking the name of the Lord God in vain. No person should ever misuse God’s name in any way, whether speaking profanely (unholy), giving false testimony, or making deceitful oaths (oaths that they did not mean)~ “You shall not take the name of the Lordyour God in vain, for the Lordwill not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain”(Ex. 20:7).
The people were also guilty of stealing and of committing adultery (4:2). A spirit of selfishness and covetousness flooded the land. People took whatever they wanted and cheated whenever they could. Businesses overcharged customers by using unjust scales, overpricing products, or promoting cheaper quality materials. The general public shoplifted and stole from both businesses and neighbours whenever they could. Stealing is a violation of God’s eighth commandment ~ “You shall not steal”(Ex. 20:15).
People did what they wanted, when they wanted. They did this without any restraint whatsoever on their behaviour. They did not care about the consequences of their actions. They lived self-centred, shallow, and materialistic lives. They claimed the right and license to indulge (feed) their fleshly, covetous (selfish) desires. They denied God and ignored all the restraints (restrictions) of His Holy Word. And they hardened themselves against the restraints of conscience and reason.
The inhabitants of Israel were guilty of allowing violence to run wild (4:2). Day after day news reports of violence and bloodshed filled the air. A steady stream of raw physical abuse, assaults, and killing flowed throughout the land. People of all levels of society were willing to do anything to fulfil the lustful cravings of their hearts.
They were also guilty of blaming others instead of accepting responsibility for their own behaviour and admitting their own guilt (4:4).
Morally and spiritually, the nation was in bad shape. There was also a tendency to blame others, especially the priests. But charges and counter-charges were not the answer to the nation’s problems. Thus, the Lord exhorted the people to quit blaming others and accept responsibility for their behaviour. They needed to confess their guilt and repent of their sins, not accuse others. Each person was responsible for his or her own behaviour. And each one played a part in the problems within the nation.
Do all of these accusations sound familiar? Think of plastic, oil, sewerage, air, etc. pollution. Think of rhino and elephant pouching, think of abortion, rape, heists, corruption, murder, state capture, etc. Think of lawlessness – simple and serious lawlessness – how many people have you seen skipping stop signs and exceeding the speed limit. How often do we read and hear and even experience lies, irresponsibility, laziness, etc? The 8thcentury BC book of Hosea, is almost a mirror image of the 21stcentury AD South Africa!
Such accusations, as in the case of Israel, challenge us to ask if our Christian worship is that much different from theirs – where do we stand? Are we part of the small band of people who still worship the Lord (like Daniel and his friends), or are we also lazy, skipping stop signs, lying, murdering, being plain lawless like the majority of people in Israel? Are we praying for revival in our country? Are we ready to accept the Lord’s sovereign decision to punish all the people (and nature)in our country like He did with Israel even if we are innocent? We must not think that the small band of obedient people in Israel and later Judea, were not taken away in exile – they also experienced the punishment of the Lord (again think of Daniel and his friends).
3.2The Sins of the Priests (4:4-11): The Lord, through the prophesy of His servant Hosea, also holds the priests and to a lesser extent the prophets responsible for the sad state of affairs in Israel. They have neglected the Torah (the Law of God as revealed to Moses – guidance, teaching, instruction – 4:6). Priests have not taught the knowledge of God (4:6) and, together with the people, participated in a multitude of Canaanite religious practices collectively called adultery and prostitution (4:10-19).
Of course, the nation was responsible for their own sins, but the priests were also guilty of not guiding the people on the right path, because they did not know ~ “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge”(4:6). We read in Hebr.13:17 the following ~ “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give an account.” It is clear that the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the congregation to live holy lives and to listen to the teaching and reproofof their pastors. However, there also is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of the pastors, to feed their flock and to feed them the whole Word of God. Paul tells Timothy the following in 1 Tim.4:13-14 ~ “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.”Paul also tells Timothy in 2 Tim.4:2, to… ~ “…preach the Word.”
The priests in Israel, did not do that. This reminds me of the question that XX asked last Wednesday evening during our Midweek Meeting, how she must handle the fact that she partook in the holy Communion for many years while she was unsaved, and that happened because her pastors never told her that she cannot partake in the Communion if she is not saved – those pastors did not devote themselves to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation (explaining) and teachingof the Word of God and therefore misled many people.
Priests in those times and pastors in our days did not and do not preach against sin. The priests, who eat portions of the animals sacrificed for sin (Lev. 6:26), encouraged the people to sin so that they will have more to eat. In a figurative sense, the priests are gratified by the people’s sin. So, people and priests were both corrupt. Despite their priestly office, they would share the punishment of the people. Their punishment will be that God will give them over to their own sin and they will not get enough of wine and adultery.
John Owen once said: “The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word.”This, the priests, in those days, did not do… and today? “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge”(4:6).
These corrupt priests would not escape the punishment of the people of Israel ~“And it shall be, like people, like priest”(4:9). Their position as priests would not give them a free pass from judgment. The Lord threatened them by saying…~ “I will punish them for their ways.”They would be rewarded…“…for their deeds,” i.e., they would receive the wages of sin (4:9). In fact, James 3:1 says ~ “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
These priests would experience frustration in their lives, even before the rest of Israel would be punished. First ~“…they shall eat, but not have enough”(4:10).Their lust to consume more and more of the offerings would be punished by unsatisfied hunger. This type of punishment was described many years before in the law of Moses (Lev.26:26).
Second, the priests ~“they shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the Lordto cherish”(4:10). This has been taken to mean that the priests would multiply wives and concubines; they would also engage in idolatry; and participating in temple prostitution.
As a result of their sins, their understanding, i.e. their ability to judge and think clearly would be taken away and that will frustrate them.
3.3The Sin of Idolatry(4:12–14):In 4:12-14, the focus, yet again, turns back to the whole nation. Harlotry, unfaithfulness, disloyalty and not really knowing God, is a continuing theme. We’ve already seen, that the expression harlotry or prostitution, was used when the people of God turned their backs on Him and bowed their knees before foreign gods – they “sold themselves”to other gods.
The Lord points to the fact that the people are involved in idolatry ~ “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” (4:12). The piece of wood referred to here is literally in the Hebrew, “their wood.”This may refer to the Asherah pole beside a Canaanite shrine. Probably a divining rod, or perhaps a small figurine of Asherah ~ “You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lordyour God that you shall make”(Deut.16:21). Or, this wood could also refer to some other deity ~ “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it”(Hab.2:18-19).
The people were worshiping and looking for guidance from false gods rather than from their own true God. Adding to that, we see that the people were also ~ “…led astray, (a spirit of whoredom) and they have left their God to play the whore” (4:12). Trees were associated not simply with shade, but also with goddesses and sex. The type of trees mentioned here in 4:13 (oak, poplar, and terebinth)supports a fertility link. All of these evergreen trees were a logical place for fertility rites (i.e. people believed that these trees were places where they could bring offerings to the fertile gods in order for the worshippers to be fertile, or even their livestock). In 4:13-14, Hosea describes men who participate in these sacred rites on the mountains with females who were all whores and prostitutes.
God threatens to punish the men more harshly than the women, because these specific women were more sinned against than sinning themselves.
3.4A Special Appeal to Judah (4:15–19):In 4:15-19, Judah (the southern kingdom)is warned not to follow Israel’s wicked example. Israel is stubborn, refusing to be separated from its idols and loving shame more than glory ~ “Like a stubborn heifer, Israel is stubborn; can the Lordnow feed them like a lamb in a broad pasture?” (4:16).
Judah is warned not to“become guilty”in committing harlotry, i.e., getting involved in idolatry. Second, Judah should not “come to Gilgal.”Gilgal was an idolatrous shrine of the northern kingdom, located about one mile from Jericho (4:15a – on the doorstep of Judah).Third, Judah should not “go up to Beth-aven.”Beth-aven seems to be another name for Bethel (Amos 4:4; 5:5). The name Bethel, which means “house of God”is changed to Beth-aven which means “house of nothingness.”The name is either changed to indicate what the place had become in the sight of God – a place which became a house of idols.
Judah was also instructed not to make a mockery of a solemn oath in the name of the Lord. “As the Lord lives”(4:15)was a standard oath formula in ancient Israel. Swearing by the name of the Lord was commanded in the Law (Deut. 6:13; 10:20). This oath, however, was to have its roots in the fear of the Lord. It was not to be used by idolaters.
Hosea gave four reasons why Judah should not follow in the path of Israel:
- In 4:16 he warns them by telling them that Israel has become “…a stubborn heifer.”A heifer (a cow that has not borne a calf, or has borne only one calf)was a symbol of obstinacy (stubbornness or self-will). Hosea says that this stubborn cow would be fed by the Lord like ~ “…a lamb in a broad pasture (or a wide field)”(4:16). There will be no shepherd looking after them and they will therefore, become prey of wolves and wild beasts, because they are unguarded.
- In 4:17 Hosea warns Judah, that “Ephraim is joined to idols.”Who is Ephraim? Ephraim was the most prominent tribe in northern Israel. Hosea often uses the name of this tribe for the entire nation. Hosea warns Judah that one who is “joined to idols”is so involve with idols that he cannot give them up and that is what happened to Israel.
- In 4:18, Hosea says that Ephraim (Israel) was morally so corrupt, that their drinking parties led them to sexual immorality at the Baal temples.
- Hosea warns Judah by telling them in 4:19, that Ephraim is doomed. He tells them that “A wind has wrapped them in its wing,”meaning that they will be conquered in a violent way and even.. ~ “…they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices” – their sacrifices to idols, while at the same time professing loyalty to Yahweh. They would also be ashamed because the deities (idols) which they worshiped, could not deliver them from their enemy.
- CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
God also warns us today to follow Him and not be stubborn like a heifer. He warns us that stubborn people become the prey of wolves and beasts.
He warns us that we should be careful of idealising money, people, health, etc.
He also warns us against moral corruption, such as drinking parties and sexual immorality.
If we don’t pay attention to these warnings, our end might also be violent and no-one will be able to rescue us.
Beloved, we must pray that the Lord will protect us from becoming idol worshippers and spiritual prostitutes. And we must seriously pray for revival in our country, because without Jesus Christ the Saviour, our country will have no future – we will have no future!