Hosea was a prophet of Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam II. Unlike his contemporary, Amos who prophesied in Israel but was a native of the southern tribe of Judah, Hosea was a native of the northern nation of Israel. Jeroboam was the king of Israel during Hosea’s tenure as a prophet, and led the nation during a period of relative peace. Unfortunately, peace brought with it a sense of self-security, complacency, and an ignorance-based national arrogance that would ultimately bring them down as a nation. After the six-month reign of Jeroboam’s son, the throne of Israel would pass violently from one ungodly man to another, and none would be anointed to the position by a prophet of God. After six such tumultuous kingdoms, rebellious Israel would be overrun by the Assyrians and as a nation, Israel would no longer exist.
Hosea’s prophecy is probably best known by his God-ordained marriage to the prostitute, Gomer. God called upon Hosea to marry an Israelite temple prostitute as an illustration of Israel’s act of unfaithfulness to Himself that is similar in many ways to the act of prostitution. Through Gomer and her children, God would reveal to Hosea and to the nation of Israel the egregiously sinful faithlessness of the nation’s leadership and the direction in which they have taken God’s “chosen people.” Hosea makes no further reference to his marriage to Gomer after Chapter 3, as his attention turns to the purpose of his life-style illustration: illuminating Israel’s sin, and proclaiming a call to repentance.
Note that the prophecy of Hosea refers to the judgment of God upon the apostate nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, and not upon the pagan nations within which they were immersed. We should keep this in mind as we study the book, and focus the judgment of God upon the sins of His people, not of the pagan nations in which we live, including our own. As we look at the sins of Israel we cannot help but see a similar character of arrogance in our national culture today, and contrary to our national motto “In God We Trust,” we, as a nation, certainly do not trust in God. On the political scene the most significant and successful effort is to actively banish any reference to God at the national level, and replace the Christian culture with a pagan and secular humanist view that only serves to promote endless moral decay. In this manner, modern western governments are following a nearly identical path as Jereboam’s Israel. Our first line of rationalization within the church may be that those who are leading this nation to decay are not members of the Church. However, it would not take much research to find out that many are, and in a democracy, the church can find a voice. The remnant of ancient Israel had no such opportunity.
Many who claim to be numbered among Christians have never known God, or turned away from Him, ignoring His Word and His Spirit, and are more a part of the secular, pagan, and hedonistic culture in which we live than they are a part of the family of Christ. Many members of the church are suffering from a behavior that could be referred to as “spiritual schizophrenia,” attempting to live out two distinct and conflicting personalities, one sacred and one secular, and by doing so, are bringing upon themselves the rebuke of God. They are missing the blessing and peace that comes from knowing one is in God’s will, and are exchanging it for a temporary, hoped-for gain in this world. Many of these people call themselves Christians and attend meetings of Christian churches, but have not had the life-changing experience that comes with sincerely accepting Christ as one’s personal LORD, remaining a Christian in name only, and subject to the same eternal separation from God that the rest of the Godless world will find.
Consequently, since there are so many ways in which our modern church and government are similar to ancient Israel, we can gain from an understanding of Hosea’s prophecy as we look at the attitude of the modern Church and identify areas where repentance is needed.
Hosea 4:1. Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.
Again, God’s words of rebuke are not directed towards the pagan nations, but to those who, “live in the land.” God is reaching out to those who should “know better,” having been given the privilege of receiving the knowledge of both His presence and His word. The land represents God’s promise to the Israelites (and Judeans), a promise that comes through Abraham, that He would provide for them a secure and peaceful homeland, that they would be His people, and He their God, and that through them the whole world would be blessed.
However, all throughout the Old Testament we find that the obedience that God requires in order to realize that blessing is literally impossible to maintain. Without God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, it is impossible to live a life of complete and uncompromised obedience. Faith in God brings His promise of forgiveness, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the faithful lead them away from the abyss of a sin-filled life. Devoid of this faith, the people of Israel had turned so far from God that His Spirit was working only in a remnant of the nation, a community of faithful that was so small that they had no influence that would serve to stem the steep descent into the abyss of sin that would characterize Israel and Judah.
What is lacking in the nation, according to this verse? God has searched over the land and found that there is no truth, love, or knowledge of Him. The first lack, translated “truth” or “faithfulness” refers to the knowledge of the truth of God’s Word. When one would visit the Israelite marketplace and in the homes, God’s Word is not heard in a way that reflects truth. Certainly, people quoted scriptures in their daily activities and in their religious ceremonies. However, the words they were reciting was simply repeated out of the text and did not penetrate their hearts. Religion had become filled with legalistic rite and ceremony, driven by a church dogma that entirely overshadowed the truths of the words they were reciting. The authority of religion rested in the religious and national leadership and not in God. Israelite “faith” had come under the authority of men.
Consequently, the people had wandered so far from God that His Love was not found in them. The Hebrew word for love, hesed, refers to that unconditional love that God has for man, and empowers man to share with each other. The closest Greek equivalent is the word, agape, a word that was redefined and used by the early church to express the meaning of hesed. The church had become a rigid, dictatorial, social order, devoid of any of the true love of God. The church was the social center of their lives, defining who they were. Their religion became their exclusive club, disallowing entry by any others, quite the opposite from God’s purpose for the Israelites to be a nation of priests who would share the goodness of God with the rest of the world.
Finally, we see that the Israelites no longer taught the truth of God’s Word. It was required that young men memorize many of the words of scripture, but they completely denied its power. Consequently, over generations, the knowledge of God’s purpose for man was lost. It was necessary for God to raise up prophets, men and women who would support and maintain the small remnant of faithful through this very dark period of faith history.
We see in ancient Israel a “church” that no longer teaches the truth, no longer demonstrates God’s love, and is no longer a place of learning about the Kingdom of God. It would be useful for us to look into our own church and see if we have started to wander away from God in any of these areas. Is the truth of God’s Word the central focus of our doctrine and teaching? Are we sharing that truth with one another in a way that changes our lives, turning us to God, and empowering us to love one another, and love God? That is God’s purpose, and to deny this calling is to follow the well-documented example of ancient Israel that led to God’s rebuke, and ultimately to their demise.
Hosea 4:2. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.
Even though God’s people still carry the name of Jehovah God’s chosen people, they have denied obedience to God for so long that there is little knowledge or indication of their true calling. We see God charging them with, and exposing some of the sins in which they are so immersed. We see cursing (utilizing false oaths), lying (bearing false witness,) murder (killing), stealing, and adultery. Each of these charges is specific to one of the commandments given to Moses and placed on the stone tablets that were placed in the Arc of the Covenant.
Even while the people are practicing such sinful disobedience, they still sincerely believe that they are spiritually privileged, religious, and righteous. They arrogantly rationalize away the words of this prophecy by discrediting (and persecuting) the messenger(s), and holding to their self-declared righteousness that is based upon their identification with the religious subculture of Abraham’s progeny rather than upon their relationship to God. Consequently, freed of any need for a relationship with the LORD, there is no limit to the expression of their sin. The sin they commit has no bounds, because they are ignoring the boundaries that God has provided for our own benefit.
Generation after generation of degrading Israelite culture is characterized by the bloodshed that comes from a complete disregard for God and the value that He places on life. Parents did not teach the ways of God to their children, and after so many generations of apostasy, faith in God is essentially non-existent. The nation of priests that God had empowered, had become no different from the rest of the world, except that they arrogantly proclaimed their own self-righteousness.
Hosea 4:3. Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away.
There are consequences to sin that reach deep into our lives. Because man had left God out of their lives, their sin left its mark throughout their culture and throughout the land. Israel (and Judah) had gone through several cycles of obedience and disobedience, with the latter addressed by God through events that would bring the people back to Himself. This return to Him came only when the people would turn to God in their defense against other nations or against a violent nature. Droughts and plagues would impact not only them, but also the flora and fauna of the land. The land mourns, and even the plants and animals waste away when drought and disease hits. God called upon man to “have dominion over” the animals. This word, dominion, does not mean to lord over the animals, but rather to have a position of authority as stewards of them. As a parent has the authority to name the child that is to be nurtured, man was given the authority to name and nurture the animals. However, when man turned from God, those animals and the garden in which they reside suffered for a lack of a steward, and suffered when God sent His judgment upon the people.
The entire planet is saturated with the sin of man, and the entire planet suffers. One cannot go anywhere in this world without observing the dramatic and obvious results of man’s self-centered greed and hatred.
Hosea 4:4-5. Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest.
When things start to go bad, the first thing that happens in a godless world is that people universally place the blame for the situation on somebody else. A sinful spirit rationalizes away any sense of personal responsibility. Hosea clearly points to this behavior as he declares that no person can truthfully blame others, but rather look to their own actions and attitudes that have resulted in the current state of Israel. Likewise, the people will bring charges of blame against the leadership of Israel. Certainly, the leadership of Israel is responsible for their God-given responsibility, and are simply a mirror of the behavior of the people. They are no “more sinful” as the rest of the nation, but with all falling short of God’s call to obedience, any charges against the leadership of Israel would be hypocritical. All people are personally responsible for the state of their own relationship with the LORD, and the placing of blame on anyone else is both foolish and ineffectual. Such behavior is simply another fruit of the self-centered sinful nature of the people.
Hosea 4:5. Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother.
There is a consequence to choosing a lifestyle that rejects God. The “therefore” of this passage represents a bridge between the behavior of the people and the consequence of that behavior. God is a Holy and Just LORD, and His treatment of His people must likewise represent Holiness, and be handled with just judgment. Note that the LORD does not state that, because of their sin He will destroy them. The statement is “thou shalt fall in the day.” By placing their trust in their warring neighbors rather than placing their trust in God, Israel will find itself at the mercy of the political and military intrigue of the nations that surround them. God would not need to destroy Israel. By placing their trust in their political alliances, their abandonment of the LORD’s protection would lead to their destruction as the dynamics of those changing alliances would simply turn against Israel when their neighbors vie for regional domination. By taking place in “the day,” their fall would not be hidden, but would be obvious to all.
When God’s judgment would sweep the land, it would gather to itself all who live there. This would include the remnant of faithful who would also be swept up by the battles and wars that the people would experience when they leave behind the LORD’s hand of protection. Because their sin will effect the entire nation, all of its residents will be impacted, including the faithful prophets who they themselves persecute in order to quiet the voice of truth that they reject. The consequence of Israel’s continued sin would bring about the destruction of the entire nation, referred to in this passage as “thy mother.”
Hosea 4:6. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.
Spiritual ignorance is a powerful tool that, when wielded by the hand of the lord of death, satan, can result in the eternal loss of an entire people. Israel is in the state that it is in at this point because of the widespread rejection and ignorance of the Word of God, and of the resulting loss of a relationship that each individual could have with Him. Ignorance is simply a willful lack of knowledge, a lack of a true desire to seek appropriate knowledge of that which one is responsible to know. God has revealed Himself to mankind, and specifically to the Israelites through many means, including their history, their written scriptures, and through the testimony of the prophets. They have chosen to ignore the truths that these sources proclaim. They have, consequently, forgotten God. Likewise, with salvation based upon faith, their deliberate lack of faith will result in their continued and eternal separation from God, illustrated by the metaphor of God’s “forgetting” them.
The function of the priests was to have a relationship that brought them, humbly, to the LORD who would establish a relationship with them that would serve to lead the people to God. Having rejected this calling, those who think of themselves as priests are not priests at all. They may wear priestly clothes and speak priestly words, but in their ignorance they do not even realize that they have no relationship with the God they are to serve, and for whom they are to be serving the people. The consequence of the ignorance of the religious leadership is profound: their sin will not only cause their separation from God for eternity, but also the separation of the people in the nation to whom they have rejected the responsibility to share the love of God.
Hosea 5:1. Hear ye this, O priests; and hearken, ye house of Israel; and give ye ear, O house of the king; for judgment is toward you, because ye have been a snare on Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor.
God directs His words to three groups of people: the religious leaders, the public, and the political leaders. We might be reminded of the imperative in James 1:3, stating that we should not all strive to be leaders, for theirs is the greater judgment. All need to hear of the nature of the judgment that God is preparing. How should the religious leaders respond to God’s word? One would expect that, as religious leaders, they would, upon learning the truth, lead the people into repentance. However, they were so overpowered by their dogma and self-righteousness that they could not hear the prophecy. Their hearts were hardened. As the public would hear the words of God, some might respond in obedience, but most would maintain that same hard heart, and refuse to buck the “status quo,” an action that would bring them persecution by both the religious and political leaders.
Secular and pagan people tend to place trust in their political leaders, or religious leaders when such institutions exist. We expect those leaders to be people of honor, integrity, and altruistic leadership. Unfortunately this is usually not the case. It is a universal truth that power corrupts those who lack moral and spiritual integrity. Corruption was the pattern of leadership in Israel, much as it is throughout worldly governments today. Without godly leadership, the people were left to wander away from God. The leadership failed in its God-given responsibility. What were once worship centers at Mizpah and Mount Tabor had become the capitols of idol worship. Archeologists have uncovered many pagan idols from these and similar locations. The places that had been set apart as altars to God had become no different from the pagan altars to their idols. In fact, the Israelite leadership had actively worked to bring the most sinful of pagan worship behaviors into the synagogues.
Has the modern church, or parts of it, suffered a similar fate? Have some left the faith to embrace the culture of this world. Are there pulpits in the church today that proclaim politics and culture instead of proclaiming the word of God? Some churches have become centers for gambling. Some churches have strived to remove any references to God in their services in order to prevent insulting the sensibilities of the lost. The church denomination that I grew up in has removed references to blood in its hymnal and replaced references to a masculine God with one that is gender-neutral, or not there at all.  Many in our modern church have compromised the truth, exchanging it for a powerless lie that has destroyed its integrity. As social organizations with a Christian theme, these have become snares for the lost. Those who come to these churches find social enrichment, but do not find Christ, and not only remain lost, but become harder to win to Christ when they think that they are righteous in their membership. This is virtually the identical error that is so graphically illustrated to us in the character of ancient Israel.
Hosea 5:2-4. And the revolters are profound to make slaughter, though I have been a rebuker of them all. 3I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me: for now, O Ephraim, thou committest whoredom, and Israel is defiled. 4They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God: for the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and they have not known the LORD.
Verse 2 refers to addiction, as they are “profound” to bring about their own destruction. Israel, and its leaders, have become addicted to their sinful and godless lifestyle. They have no power to return to God on their own. They have been addicted to the power that is realized from repeated murder. They have been addicted to the sensual gratification that comes from continued prostitution, realized both in religious and physical ways. They are addicted to the corruption that provides them with worldly power and prosperity. They simply cannot give up these vices without God’s intervention. For God to intervene at this time, whether it be by rebuke or by their destruction, is an act of love and not an act of anger. If we have a loved one who is addicted to a behavior that is self-destructive, what are we willing to do to bring them to sobriety? Usually our initial successful action is one that is received by the addict as very harsh. The addict wants us to feed the addiction, and considers any other act as harsh or unreasonable. However, to feed the addict is to demonstrate our hatred of the person through our unwillingness to help to lead them to their own destruction. Consequently, we will not help the addict until we respond with a definitive rebuke of the addictive behavior.
God describes the addiction of the nation as a “spirit of whoredom,” a spiritual adultery that is characterized by their lascivious pagan idol worship. The people have turned from God as their authority and replaced him with wooden and stone objects that have been crafted by hand. Many in the church today demonstrate this same spirit when God plays a minor part in their own pantheon of worldly gods. Their theme is “God is my CoPilot,” the motto of the spiritual schizophrenic. God comes in second behind our own desires, and we turn to Him only when we have a need that we cannot handle ourselves.
Hosea 5:5. And the pride of Israel doth testify to his face: therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity; Judah also shall fall with them.
The nation demonstrates an arrogant, lifted up, self-centered pride. God had lifted up the nation as “His chosen people,” with a purpose that they did not fulfill. However, they appropriated for themselves the name of God’s “Chosen People” and wore it as a badge of arrogance rather than as a nation of priests. Instead of becoming a light to the world as they were intended, the nation became an exclusive cult, despising the rest of the world as second-class, unclean, and of little or no intrinsic value.
This is one area where the modern church might look at itself with clarity. Many churches have become exclusive Christian clubs and have little or no interest in outreach. God has called the church for one dual-purpose: to reach the lost and nurture the saved. Many churches have denied one or both of these callings, and by so doing are demonstrating the same arrogance that is characterized by the nation of Israel. If our churches are not putting God first, if they are not actively involved in outreach and discipleship, then they are placing themselves in a position to be rebuked.
Let us remember, that the rebuke that we are speaking of is one given in love, as a parent rebukes a wayward child, it is time for many of our churches to be rebuked. By our failure to be faithful to our calling, many people around us are kept from hearing and responding to the gospel, and their blood is on our hands.
From our childhood we often received rebuke in anger because of our pride. Consequently, in the same response can be realized in adults. Let us not be angered by these words, but be inspired by God’s Word to take a close look at ourselves to see if a rebuke is in order. Let us pray for God’s direction as we seek to become more inclusive, to find ways to reach the lost, and ways to nurture one another in the saving knowledge of a life in Christ.