About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Hosea 4

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The Charge Against Israel (ch. 4:1 - 19)


Verse 1 is speaking to "the Israelites" as stated in the NIV and other translations.  Again, I need to point out, the word "Israelites" here refers only to the northern kingdom of Israel.  It does not refer to the southern kingdom of Israel called Judah.


From this point on in the book of Hosea, "the charge against" Israel is set forth, as stated here in verse 1.  God has certain things against Israel, and as the prophet of God, Hosea, will now speak on God's behalf and tell Israel what God does not like about them.  We need to hear the prophets of God today, because there is no real difference between the northern kingdom of Israel and the world today.  To be able to hear the prophets today, we need to believe they exist for today.  Many Christians, but not I, don't believe the ministry of the prophet is for today.  There's no specific Scripture that states this.  The prophetic ministry is more important today in the western world than ever since we are fast moving away from any Christian heritage that we might have had.   


Note the word "charge".  This in fact is a legal term.  An offense has occurred, and Israel is the offender.  This would give credibility to whom some believe that God is actually divorcing Israel as I've stated earlier in this commentary.  The word "charge" is used in verse 4 as too we will see.  The Mosaic Covenant was a legal document that both God and Israel signed on to, but Israel broke the covenant and now will be so charged.


Right off the bat, in verse 1, God says that there are three things that are no longer in the land.  They are, faithfulness, love, and acknowledgment of God.  My suggestion would be that there is no faithfulness and love because there is no acknowledgment of God.  The northern kingdom forsook their God and joined themselves to pagan gods.  Love was not part of the vocabulary of these pagan gods, except for physical love of course.  Love is not part of  our vocabulary today either, other than in loves songs and love that really means lust. 


In the western world today, we no longer acknowledge God on a national scale.  Even many so-called churches really don't acknowledge the true God of the Bible.  For this reason, divorce rates are on their way up, both in Christian and non-Christian circles.  Faithfulness has been turned into freedom to sleep around.  Love has lost its real meaning.  Love is now simply emotion and sex.  Any modern pop song with prove I am right on this point. The Bible defines love as sacrificing one's self for the benefit of another. 1 Corinthians 13 shows this to be true.


The word "charge" in verse 1 is a legal word, much like the word "rebuke" in chapter 2, verse 1.  Remember, there are legalities to God's relationship with Israel.  Both God and Israel entered into a legal agreement in the Law of Moses.  The Law of Moses was in fact a covenant.  We call it the Mosaic Covenant, which both God and Israel pledged to uphold.  Israel broke this legal agreement, thus the reason for the divorce that is pictured here in the book of Hosea between God and Israel.


The word "faithful" here means "loyalty".  Israel lost her loyalty with her God. 


The Hebrew word that is translated as "love" in verse 1 is equivalent to the Greek word "agape" in the New Testament.  This is a godly love that is based on commitment no matter what happens in the relationship. 


The word "acknowledgment" here denotes that you have a personal relationship with God and that you acknowledge it to others.     


Instead of love, faithfulness, and the acknowledgement of God, verse 2 states what the northern kingdom has instead.  They have, cursing, lying, murder, steeling, and adultery.  All of these are in direct violation of the Mosaic Covenant that Israel agree to keep.  These are things that are seen in movies in our day.  These movies resemble real life.  All this happens because people have forsaken the knowledge of God in society.  Paul teaches on this very point in Romans 1 and 2.  Eventually God hands people and nations over to their sins.  He simply says, "if that is how you want to live, go ahead and live that way".  Yet once God pronounces that judgment on a nation, that's it, judgment will soon come.  Judgment swiftly came to the northern kingdom, then to the southern, as it will come to the western world today.   


The phrase "they break all bounds" in verse 2 means that people just break out, they explode in sin.  They move beyond the boundaries the Lord has set for them. I've always said that if one stays within the boundaries the Lord sets out for him, the Lord will look after that one.  But, if you move outside of God's boundaries, then He is not obligated to look after you.  


As verse 2 says, "bloodshed" is a result of this explosion, of the failure to acknowledge God. our so-called educated and civil nations of the western world are more and more seeing bloodshed in their streets.  Each morning as you read the newspaper, you read the headlines of murders and killings.  The failure to acknowledge God results in the breakdown of society.


Verse 3 is so relevant.  Because of the sin of the northern kingdom, both land and livestock are dying and wasting away.  The sin of human beings has an affect on both the land we plant on and the animals that live on the land.  This is an ecological message.  Sin pollutes.  Sin destroys.  Sin causes environmental disasters.  You can't get much more relevant than that today.  And we wonder today, why we are seeing so much trouble with nature, with the environment, with the animals.  This is the real "Inconvenient Truth", to quote the title from a popular book in the early 21st century.


It was Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that sinned, but they brought all of creation down with them.  God judged all of creation, not just Adam and Eve.  When man sins today, we still bring the environment down with us.  The popular documentary entitled "The Inconvenient Truth" doesn't really tell the real story of climate change.  Climate change is all about the sins of those people who live in the climate that is changing.  Simply put, environmental disasters and problems that we face today are all a matter of judgment by God for our sins.  


Romans 8:18 to 25 speaks of a day in the future that creation itself is actually looking forward to.  When the redeemed inherit their new glorified bodies, all creation will be made new as well.  Creation will glorify God in a way we can't imagine.  What Paul says in Romans 8:18 to 25 seems to suggest that creation itself, the rocks, the land, the animals, have some kind of intelligent personality.  


In verse 4 God says not to bring charges against one another like they do against the priests.  Charges against priest were strictly prohibited in the Law of Moses.  (Deuteronomy 17)  The point of this verse is that the people of the northern kingdom were always striving, or fighting against what the priest were telling them, that is, what the good priests were telling them.  They were now doing the same with each other.  They were back-biting, arguing, and blaming one another, much like what you hear in the media today and on talk radio.  We do the same today.  At a drop of a pin, we sue our neighbour.  God simply says "blame yourself". The whole land has become populated with complainers and blamers.  God sounds a little sarcastic here, but if you study the prophets, you will see that God does speak sarcastically at times. 


Verse 5 says "you stumble day and night".  Simply put, "it's the blind leading the blind".  Even the so-called prophets, the so-called men of God, stumble with the population in general.  The same is happening today in many parts of the church.  Leaders are just as blind as those they are meant to lead.  They're all walking around as blind men, thus the destruction that comes on the northern kingdom will come on those blind parts of the church as well.  What I say about Israel and the church, applies also to the nations of the world.   


When verse 5 says "that I will destroy your mother",  the word "mother" refers to the nation of the northern kingdom, the mother of the people who live in the nation.


In verse 6 God gives us the reason for the mess the northern kingdom is in, and the reason why He is now going to destroy them as seen in verse 5.  It is because of "lack of knowledge".  "Lack of knowledge" here is not only "not knowing", but "rejecting the knowledge" they do know or have been taught in the past.  Over the prior generations, one generation after another all did  a poor job of passing godly knowledge down to their children because they rejected the knowledge themselves. It got to the place that those who lived in the northern kingdom had no knowledge of what was right and what was wrong, what was godly and what wasn't godly.   How they lived was the way they thought God wanted them to live.  The same is true today.  We are so far removed from God that we think the way we live is what God wants, but it isn't. 


Lately I encountered a 28 year old person that had never heard of the story of David and Goliath.  Biblical knowledge in our secular societies is non-existence.  Even in the church, Biblical knowledge and understanding is fading fast.  For this reason we, as happened with Israel, will perish, as verse 6 states.  "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge", or, "for rejecting knowing God".  This should be at the top of the church's list today to fix.            


Verse 6 also says, "because you (Israel) have rejected knowledge (of God), I will reject you as priests".  God had ordained Israel to be a kingdom of priests.  They were called to represent God to the nations of the world.  God was now taking this responsibility away from them because they didnít want to keep godly knowledge.  The didn't want to retain the knowledge of God, let alone the knowledge of His ways of doing things.  It only makes common sense that God would take their priesthood away from them.   


Verse 6 also says, because you have ignored the law of God, I will also ignore your children".  This has come true throughout much of the history of Israel.  That may sound unfair to you, but this is how God works.  He does not change to meet our expectations. We are the ones in need of change.  We need to submit to His expectations.  This is something we really do need to understand.  All that being said, the individual Israeli could still find repentance and God's blessings if they turned from their sin.  God may reject a generation, but there is still hope for the individual in that rejected generation.   


Verse 7 also says, "they exchange their Glory for something disgraceful".  The word "Glory" in the NIV is capitalized because it refers to God Himself.  Yahweh was the Glory of Israel, but in rejecting God and turning to other gods, they lost that glory.  The glory, the shine, the vibrancy that comes from the Lord Himself will disappear as we reject Him and His Word.  Worse  still, they lose the Lord as He steps back from them.


Verse 8 says that the Jewish leadership fed on the sins of their people.  Simply put, the more sins committed by the people, the more animal sacrifices would be made for their sins and the more the priest would feast from these animals.  A man would bring his sacrifice and instead of the priest caring for the man in his sin, he was caring for his stomach. 


Verse 9 says, "like people, like priests".  The two groups just feed off each other.  They encouraged each other to sin.  The priests promoted sin and the people sinned by doing what the priests promoted, and in the long run, the priests would benefit.  God would punish both the priests and the people because of this.  Does God still punish today?  There is no place in the Bible where it says He doesn't.  As a matter of fact, Hebrews 12:5 says that God rebukes, or punishes, his children.  We need to distinguish between God's punishment, as a father would discipline his children, and God's judgment.  They are two different things.  I think many get confused about this.  


One thing about God's punishment is that the people and priests are both punished.  Even though the priests didn't properly teach the people, and the people may be ignorant of God's will, the people were still punished. That being said, I do believe there is Scripture evidence that leaders are judged more severely than the people.  


This punishment is seen in verse 10.  Israel will eat, but won't have enough.  This suggests a meager standard of living.  Their will be food, but not enough food.  There will be necessities, but still not enough.  They'll always scrape the bottom of the barrel, so to speak.


This lack of prosperity is due to God's punishment of Israel , but we need to realize that not all lack of prosperity is due to God's punishment.  The apostle Paul was poor, but he was not being punished by God.  Being poor might well be God's will for a person. 


Verse 10 says that Israel will run to their prostitutes but won't increase, that is, increase in numbers.  God promised Israel in the Abrahamic Covenant that she would increase in numbers, but here God says, it won't happen, at least not back then.  It will happen when this age ends, and when all the curses of the Law of Moses have been fulfilled on Israel in order for them to receive the blessings of the same Law.


We need to understand that prostitution as seen here and elsewhere in Hosea are seen in two ways.  It is literal prostitution, and it is spiritual prostitution.  When Israel went after other gods, God considered that prostitution because He considered Israel to be His wife. 


Another thing to note here is that part of the worship of other gods often included prostitution.  As time went on, more and more of the religious life of paganism included temple prostitutes, which by the way, were both male and female.  Having sexual encounters with these temple prostitutes was seen as a religious experience.


Temple prostitutes were part of the worship of  Baal.  He was the god of fertility.  Priests would often have sex with Israeli women, both mothers and their virgin daughters.  It is said that men would go to the temples for worship, meaning sex, and when they arrived, they would often see their wives and young daughters.  That's how bad things got in the northern kingdom of Israel . This is what it means when in verse 12 it says, "a spirit of prostitution leads my people".     


Verse 11 continues with punishment and the reason for God punishing Israel .  In verse 10 we noted that Israel gave herself to prostitution.  Verse 11 states that Israelis gave themselves to wine.  Now I don't believe that drinking wine is wrong.  I believe Jesus drank wine, not grape juice.  The important word here is the word "gave".  They didn't just drink wine.  They gave themselves to wine.  This is alcoholism, which as the text states, dulls the understanding.  There's no doubt about that.


Verse 12 sounds pathetic.  God says that Israel consults wooden idols and a stick answers them.  We should ask, "does the stick really answer them"?  If this were the case, the stick has pretty magical powers.  No, the stick does not answer them.  In 1 Corinthians 8, the apostle Paul teaches on idols.  He says that wooden and stone idols are just wood and stone.  They're not gods.  With this in mind, these wooden idols of Israel did not answer them.  There are two possible answers then to our question.  The first answer is that the answer they got was a product of their own imagination.  The second possible answer is that they did get an answer, but it wasn't from the idol, but from a demon.  I suggest a combination of both answers to be the case.  I believe that idol worship was satanically based, but not every answer came from satan, although some might have actually came from one of his demon helpers.


The second half of verse 12 speaks of "a spirit of prostitution leading Israel astray".  With the word "spirit" inserted into this verse, we realize that satan is clearly at work in Israel .  They have opened themselves up to demonic activity.  Human tendency is to always stray from God, but once you take the first steps to stray from Him, then you open yourself up for satanic influence in your life.  This is what I believe this verse means.  That being said, you can look at "spirit of prostitution" in the sense that it was just "the spirit of the day", "the trends people followed".  I do believe this is part of the meaning of this phrase as well.  Once an evil  trend is established, satan can step in. 


Verse 13 speaks of sacrificing on mountain tops and hills.  This would be on the mountains and hills of Samaria .  This was in direct opposition to God's command to them.  Jerusalem was the place for them to worship, but they could no longer do that, because the northern kingdom separated from the south and Jerusalem was in the south.  This goes to show you where division and separation between God's people leads to.  It leads to false worship.  I dare say this is something that the modern church has not understood.  We have not learned this lesson from history.


One reason why these people, and pagans in general, sacrificed on the top of mountains and hills was because they simply believed the higher up you get, the closer you are to the gods.  That sounds logical from a pagan standpoint. 


If you remember John, chapter 4, where Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman, she asked Jesus about worshipping on "this mountain".  What she said concerning worshipping on "this mountain" stems from this verse.  The paganism of Hosea's day was still part of Samaritan worship when Jesus was on earth.    Remember, Samaritans were part Jew and part pagan, both in ethnicity and religion.  


Verse 13 also states that Israel 's daughters and daughters-in-law turn to prostitution.  The terms "daughters and daughter's-in-law" refer to literal women in Israel .  Sometimes in the Bible these terms refer to Israel , that is, the next generation, and those after.  In this case the terms aren't used symbolically because of what verse 14 says.  In verse 14 it speaks of the men going after prostitutes, so they are just as corrupt as the women. 


Concerning the adulterous lifestyles of both the men and the women, we see in verse 13 the reason why this took place.  It was because they worshipped wooden idols in the mountains and hills of Samaria .  Once you turn away from God, you open yourself up to all sorts of sin.


Notice the term "temple prostitutes" in verse 14.  This was common place among pagan civilizations.  As I said earlier, these prostitutes were both men and women, mothers, daughters and sons.  Throughout the centuries, in front of pagan temples and places of worship, prostitutes would make themselves available to the men who came to worship.  The mixture of sex and false worship is another tendency of man.  We're actually seeing a revival of that today with the mixture of yoga and sex.  Sex and yoga are combined for a greater sexual experience, or so they say.


Verse 13 speaks of these sexual encounters beneath trees.  The simple reason was to stay out of the sun.  


Verse 14 in the NIV states that God would not punish the daughters and daughters-in-law of Israel .  Some versions add the word "alone"  to this verse.  By doing this, the translators of those versions are saying that God would not simply punish the women, but the men as well, since they were the ones going to the women to commit adultery.  So, according to these translations, both women and men are at fault, and both will be punished.  The NIV seems to suggest that just the men will be punished. 


Note the term "sacrifice with the temple prostitutes" in verse 14.  This tells us that men having sex with these temple prostitutes was seen as a sacrifice, as a means of worship.  Truly, this is the pagan mentality and this is what the Jews were doing.


Verse 14 ends with, "a people without understanding will come to a ruin".  The simple point here is that Israeli society had lost all understanding of God and His ways.  Children born of Jews were being raised as pagans and that's all they knew.  The result was that their society would fall into ruins.  


In verse 15 God gives up on the northern kingdom.  She has gone too far to return.  He acknowledges the sin of the northern kingdom and gives some hope for the southern kingdom that she will not do the same. We know from history, however, the southern kingdom did commit such adultery, but the number one reason why the southern kingdom experienced God's judgment about a hundred years later was because of their neglect to keep the Sabbaths.


Also in verse 15 God tells the Jews not to go up to Gilgal.  Gilgal became one of the important cities for idol worship.  A once important city for godly heritage now became paganized.  Joshua first led Israel into the promised land of Canaan at Gilgal.  It was there the men were circumcised because their generation of men were not circumcised in the desert wanderings.  They celebrated the Passover and recommitted themselves to the Lord at Gilgal.  It was at Gilgal where they would retreat after a victory of war.  But now, Gilgal had become very sinful.


We see Beth Aven in verse 15 as well.  The Jews weren't to go there either.  This city was known for its idol worship.  The Hebrew word translated as "Beth" means "house'.  " Bethel " means "house of God".  "Beth Avan" means "house of vanity".  Bethel , once a place of godly worship became a place of pagan worship. 


Verse 15 ends by saying, "do not swear , as surely as the Lord lives".  If those in the northern kingdom swore an oath based on their God, as would have been the case, for them in the sinful condition they were in, the oath would have been meaningless.  So they would have sworn based on a relationship with their God that they did not have.  The oath would have been a joke.  The Lord does not want us swearing, or basing a promise, on Him if we have no association with Him, something people often do these days.  If one swears on the Bible in court, and if that one is not a Christian, swearing on the Bible is meaningless, and disgraceful in the sight of God.  If one swears on the Bible in court and claims to be a Christian who upholds the Bible, but doesn't, his swearing is a joke as well.


Verse 16 speaks to the stubbornness of the northern kingdom, as described in farming terms.  They say that you cannot get a stubborn cow to move.  That's the picture of Israel .  She refused to repent, refuses to turn back to their God.


Verse 17 states that Ephraim is joined to idols.  Again, Ephraim in this verse is in reference to the whole of the northern kingdom.  One reason why Ephraim is used in this sense is that it is one of the largest, if not the largest tribe in the northern kingdom.  It was located near the northern borders of the northern kingdom.


The words "leave Ephraim alone" in verse 17 clearly tells us that God is handing the northern kingdom over to its own sin and folly.  Just as Paul speaks of in Romans 1 and 2.  Eventually when people, and when nations, fail to repent, God will step back and leave the people and the nations alone.  He will let them live as they wish, but of course, the people and the nations will suffer the consequences from the Lord.  If God leaves people and nations alone, those people and nations are in serious trouble.  We are all so depraved, without God's help, our depravity will kill us.


Verse 18 states that even when their drinks are gone, they still play around with the prostitutes.  Those who commit adultery often combine their pleasure with drinking alcohol.  For some, drinking enhances the pleasure, possibly relieves shame.  For others, it dulls the senses, meaning, it dulls the guilt.  Yet with those in the northern kingdom, even when the alcohol is gone, they keep going with the prostitutes.  When the alcohol wares off, they still sin with the prostitutes.  They really don't need their sense of guilt dulled anymore. They just don't care any more.  As the apostle Paul said, "their conscience has been seared as with a hot iron". (1 Timothy 4:2 )


It's not only the ordinary people who go after prostitutes, it's the leaders of Israel as well, as seen in verse 18.  The same is true today. I've recently heard that Washington D. C. is one of the leading cities in the United States for adultery.  The leaders of our nations have no sense of leading us as they should. 


Verse 19 ends this chapter.  It says that a whirlwind will sweep the northern kingdom away.  I believe this refers to Assyria, especially in the way in which they came into the northern kingdom and literally swept them away back to Assyria where they were assimilated into the Assyrian culture, never to be seen again. 


This chapter ends on a sad note.  It says, "their sacrifices will bring them shame".  Something that was meant to forgive sins, something meant to be redemptive, and a form of worship, in the long run brought them shame.  None of these religious practices brought the results they were intended to have because they had been adulterated with humanism and paganism.  They were useless in the eyes of God.  Parts of the Evangelical church are doing the same today.  The so-called Emergent Church combines the practices of other religions with Christianity.  Some Evangelicals are now holding joint gatherings with Muslims.  This is no different than what the northern kingdom of Israel was doing.  God punished them.  He will punish those parts of the church today who do the same.     

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