The first three chapters completes the narration of Hosea’s life as he is told by God to marry a woman who will be unfaithful to him to show the pain God experienced by Israel’s unfaithfulness and to show God love to Israel to buy them back to him. The rest of the book is God’s prophecy through Hosea to the people. As we think about the first three chapters God revealed the direction of the prophecy in chapters 4-14. God’s message was judgment must come but then God’s love will continue and he will redeem his people. So these prophecies are going to show us what brought Israel into God’s judgment. From this we can learn what we must and must not do so that we can avoid God’s judgment and enjoy an eternal relationship with him.
The Problem (4:1-3)
The Lord begins by declaring that he has a legal case to bring against Israel. His charge is that there is no faithfulness, no steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land. Rather than faithfulness and steadfast love, there is cursing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery. There are no boundaries. Murder follows murder. All the rules of God are broken. Israel has lost its moral compass. Now the characteristics of God’s people are lying, cursing, stealing, adultery, and murder rather than faithfulness and righteousness. How has this happened? What we are going to see throughout these two chapters is that the primary reason for the people’s sinfulness is that they do not know God. We see this first stated in verse 1. There is no knowledge of God in the land. People know of God, but they do not know God as in having a relationship with him. How did this happen? The explanation of how Israel got to this point is explained in the next five verses.
The Failure of the Priests (4:4-8)
The Lord turns his attention to the priests as God lays the responsibility for the people’s ignorance on them (4:4; ESV, CSB, NRSV, NET, NLT). I think these translations have the better reading because verses 4-8 show a condemnation of the priests. Listen to verse 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 will also forget your children.” The people are destroyed because they lack a true knowledge of the Lord. The condemnation is on the priests because they have rejected the knowledge of God themselves. They have forgotten God’s law. They have failed in their mission of bringing God to the people by teaching them the law of the Lord.
Would God say this to preachers and teachers in churches today? Would God say that we are teaching but are we teaching a knowledge of God? This is a point that deeply concerns me and motivates my own teachings. I have a great concern that there is much teaching about some of God’s rules and some of God’s teachings, but there is still not a knowledge of God. God did not want the people to simply know the commandments. God wanted the people to know him. God wanted to draw his people into relationship with him. Rule following is not a relationship. Knowing a person is a relationship. The neglect of the complete scriptures is spiritually fatal. When teaching is built on an illustration, then we are not teaching the scriptures. We have it all backward when we spend our time on an illustration or a story and then ending the lesson showing how the Bible fits our story. The knowledge of God must have the preeminence and then we may illustrate what God means. To put this another way, if people are remember the story or the illustration rather than the scripture, then we have failed in teaching. As God’s people we must beg teachers to teach the text. Take us to the scriptures. Show us what it says. We must not teach something and the show how the Bible supports what we just said. This is prooftexting and it is dangerous. We must be more like Ezra who read from the law and gave the meaning to the people (Nehemiah 8:8). We as teachers will be condemned if we mess this up so that we have a bunch of people who do not truly know God.
Verse 7 records a sad statement. The more the priests increased, the more sins increased against the Lord. The priests prospered on the sins of the people (4:8). Rather than the priests trying to prevent sins, the priests were glad for the people’s sins so that they could feed off of their sin offerings.
The People Are Like The Priests (4:9-19)
Before we think that only the priests are accountable, God turns his prophecy against the people because they are just like the priests in their attitudes toward God. The people will also be punished (4:9). God will take away their satisfaction because they left him (4:10). Seeking joy and satisfaction out of life without God will leave us empty. God will make this an empty pursuit. The people love wine and sex, sex and wine, instead of God (4:11). So they have lost their minds and do not see the foolishness of this kind of life. Isn’t it interesting that this is what our culture tells us is “true living?” Live for the weekend, have lots of sex and get drunk and this is will be a great life. They have lost all understanding. Sex and alcohol have become the people’s worship (4:12-14). In verse 13 God says that Israel has given their daughters over into the sexual immorality and idolatrous practices of these idols. They are sleeping with everyone. But notice that God says he will not punish the daughters but the men who are consuming these women (4:14). The men are judged for consuming women with their sexual appetites.
The men are responsible for protecting women, not using them for their own personal pleasure. This is another concept that is completely lost in our culture: men protect and care for women. This is not because women are of lesser value or cannot handle themselves. This is not at all the idea. God’s point is that we would look upon them with care, love, and concern. God’s point is that men would have soft hearts toward women so that they are not looked upon as people who can be taken advantage of, dominated, or controlled, but people who should be prized and elevated. I will illustrate this in a simple way. A man hold the door open for a woman does not communicate that a woman is unable to open a door. Unfortunately, this is what our culture says. But that is not the message. A man giving up his seat for a woman on a bus or subway is not saying that a woman is too weak to stand. That is not the message. The message is that as men we honor and respect our women. The point God is making to Israel is that they had lost this godly thinking and the men were going to be judged for how they were treating the women in their society. Sobering words for us to think about as a nation and as God’s people.
Unfortunately, God says that it is too late for this nation. Israel is stubborn and will not change. The house of God (Bethel) has been turned into a house of iniquity (Beth-aven), and as such judgment will come (4:15-16). Their worship is rejected because, rather than being led by God like a lamb, Israel is as stubborn as an ox (4:16). The people are consumed with drinking and sex, one after another (4:17-19). It is a hopeless situation because that is all they love.
Everyone Judged (5:1-15)
God now brings everyone into the same boat for judgment. God called the priests, the people, and the leaders in the first verse of chapter 5. Israel is defiled. The leaders are culpable. Nothing is hidden from God’s sight. No one is getting away with their sins (5:3). Their actions do not allow them to turn back to God (5:4). This is a key statement. It is a point that is made three times in the book of Hebrews. It is not simple for people to return to the Lord because their sins are destroying their conscience and soul. They become so darkened that any sense of repentance or turning to God becomes impossible. Therefore they cannot change. I wish I did not have to say how often I have seen this happen. A person’s sins do not allow them to return to the Lord. They are so right in their own eyes. They become so stubborn in how they see their situation and how they see God that they just end up in complete darkness. It is so sad and so depressing to watch. The person just cannot change because of their own sins which lock them away from God. How does this happen? In verse 5 God says it is pride. Pride interferes with seeing the way back to God. Being right in one’s own eyes and doing what is right in one’s own eyes is spiritual suicide. It leads to total spiritual doom.
This is the point in the rest of chapter 5. The people can keep bringing their sacrifices but they will not find God. In our language, people can keep coming to church and look like they care about God, but it is false and eventually will reveal itself. So sound the alarm because doom and judgment are coming (5:7-10). Judgment will be crushing because the people chased after things that are filth or useless (5:11). Think about that statement from God. You will be ruined when you seek after the wrong things. Israel becomes a case study for this. Rather than seeking God in their times of trouble, Israel is seeking help from foreign nations (5:12-13). You try to get your help from all the wrong places and you will ruin your life. You look to the wrong people and you look to the wrong ideas for help, you will find doom. So Israel will be carried off in judgment with no one will rescue them (5:14).
Yet with all of this, there is only one thing God wants. Look at verse 15. “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face and in their distress earnestly seek me.” God does not need your righteousness. God does not need perfect living or sinlessness. God wants you to acknowledge your sin and seek him. God wants you to look to God when you are in distress. This is what God wants from us. You will sin but do not keep sinning. Acknowledge your guilt to the Lord and turn to him. You will fail in trials but do not turn from God. Do not look for help elsewhere. Seek the Lord in your distress.
We can see how this first prophecy comes full circle. The message God gave in these two chapters is clear. We are doomed if we are ignorant and arrogant. We are doomed if we do not know and we are doomed if we are arrogant in our way of life and thinking so that we will not seek him. We see that bad teaching leads to unholy lives and unholy worship. God’s word must be central to our daily lives or we will be doomed because we do not know him. Our lack of knowledge of God leads to pride in our own knowledge. We believe our ways our best rather than God’s ways because we actually do not really know God’s ways. We think our ways are God’s ways and that is the worst outcome we could possibly have. We live in our own delusion that we are right with God when we are so far from him that there is no chance to repent.
So we must seek to know the Lord. Determine what you can change this week so that you can have a deeper knowledge of him. Remember that the message from the book of Hebrews was that to endure trials we need to a deeper vision of Jesus. So we need so much more time in his word. Get into those journaling Bibles and enjoy seeing God for yourself each day. We are destroying our lives if we lack a knowledge of him. God will take away life satisfaction because we are missing out on him, the one that satisfies all of our desires.