Hosea 4 - Outline of Hosea (Book Notes menu page)
Chapter 3 closes with the promise of restoration. God's people, who have played the harlot, in following other gods, will have a perfect heart to serve Him, when their Messiah returns, and they seek Him whole heartedly (Hos 3:5). Two hundred years before Hosea, King David prayed that Solomon and his people would have hearts prepared to serve God, as they prepared to build the Temple (1Chr 29:10-20). At that time, the people bowed their heads in worship with him. But through the ensuing centuries, their hearts would be distracted and drawn to other lovers... until their troubles, in the latter days, would cause them to seek the LORD, who will give them new hearts to love Him wholly.
     Now, the LORD turns again to address the condition of the nation, specifically that of Israel, the northern kingdom, in Hosea's day. The greatness, of God's grace and love, is comprehended, when His people understand the depth of their sin. (The points, below, follow the Outline of Hosea.)
A. The LORD's case against Israel (4:1-6:3)
1. Israel's guilt exposed (4:1-19)
     a. Their sinfulness (4:1-5)
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.
2 By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery,
they break out, and blood toucheth blood.
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.
4 Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another:
for thy people [are] as they that strive with the priest.
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.
the LORD hath a controversy...- He lays out a formal legal case against them.
  1. A summary of His case against them:
    ...no truth... no mercy... no knowledge of God in the land.
  2. Their violation of the Law (eg., the Ten Commandments, Ex ch.20):
    • swearing and lying...- Thou shalt not bear false witness.
    • killing...- Thou shalt not kill {commit murder}.
    • stealing...- Thou shalt not steal.
    • adultery...- Thou shalt not commit adultery.
    • blood toucheth blood...- ie., One murder is compounded by another murder. Murder is committed even against family members (blood relatives).
  3. The present state of affairs -
    • The land mourns.
    • The people languish. -
      Famine and human sorrow were the consequence of their sin and the foreshadowings of more severe judgment.
    • The beasts, birds and fish are 'taken away' {or, 'gathered along,' 'caught up'} in the ranks of the mourning.
      (The whole creation groans under the effects of man's sin. Rom 8:22)
  4. Reproof was hopeless.- In v.4, the two occurrences of 'strive' are the same word as 'controversy' in v.1.
    The whole nation was rejecting correction and striving against {lit., 'in controversy with'} the Authority who would judge them. Anyone who stood to rebuke the nation's sins (ie., prosecuting God's case against the people), was considered an evildoer, like someone who dared to disregard the LORD's priests (cp. Deu 17:12). However, in this case, the priests, who were supposed to represent the LORD and His Word, had corrupted themselves with the sins of the nation (v.6-9).
  5. Judgment was inevitable (v.5).- It would come...
    • upon thee - ('you' singular: each guilty individual).
    • upon the {false} prophet.
    • upon thy mother (ie., upon the whole nation of Israel).
     b. Their willful ignorance (4:6-11)
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.
7 As they were increased, so they sinned against me:
[therefore] will I change their glory into shame.
8 They eat up the sin of my people,
and they set their heart on their iniquity.
9 And there shall be, like people, like priest:
and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings.
10 For they shall eat, and not have enough:
they shall commit whoredom, and shall not increase:
because they have left off to take heed to the LORD.
11 Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.-
They were suffering the consequences of willful ignorance of God's Word:
  1. Removal from priesthood (v.6) -
    Israel was supposed to represent the LORD before the nations (Ex 19:5-8). But they had forgotten His Law.
       Here is a warning to the church (which is also a kingdom of priests, 1Pet 2:9), which, in our day, is characterized by biblical illiteracy on the one hand, and on the other, by those who refuse to follow the Word which they have heard (James 1:22; Rev 3:14-16).
  2. Growth of error (v.7) -
    The LORD had blessed the nation, causing it to increase in number, as He had promised Abraham (Gen 12:2; 15:5). But this growth had only increased the number of sinners, and the perversity of their errors. The glory (honor) of their national relationship to the LORD would become their shame, because they had turned away from Him (Jer 2:11-13; Rom 1:21-23).
  3. Hunger for depravity (v.8,9) -
    The priests and the people were alike in their appetite for perversion.
       The priests wore garments proclaiming 'Holiness unto the LORD.' They were commissioned to exhort the people to holiness. But instead, they 'feed on' the sins of the people, while the people were wholly unholy in their hearts and actions. The priests and the people were one in guilt. They would be one in judgment.
  4. Hunger without satisfaction (v.10) - (an element of the judgment that would befall them)
    • They would eat but not have enough. Judgment would fall on the fruit of the field (Lev 26:15,16).
    • They would indulge their fleshly lusts, but it would not be productive. Judgment would fall on the fruit of the body (Rom 1:27).
  5. Robbed of understanding (v.11) -
    Their whoredom (idolatry) and wine (licentiousness) had robbed them of the understanding which comes from heeding the Word of God.

     c. Their idolatry (4:12-19)
12. My people ask counsel at their stocks,
and their staff declareth unto them:
for the spirit of whoredoms hath caused [them] to err,
and they have gone a whoring from under their God.
13 They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains,
and burn incense upon the hills,
under oaks and poplars and elms, because the shadow thereof [is] good:
therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom,
and your spouses shall commit adultery.
14 I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom,
nor your spouses when they commit adultery:
for themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots:
therefore the people [that] doth not understand shall fall.
My people...
Robbed of understanding, Israel turned to false gods and occult practices...
  1. they ask counsel {ie., consult} at their stocks {wooden idols}- (Isa 44:18,19)
  2. they seek direction from divination rods (eg., Eze 21:21,22)
  3. their worship became...
    • indiscriminate - Wherever they pleased, rather than in the place where God chose to place His Name.
    • self-centered - Where the flesh was comfortable ("...because the shadow is good...")
    • debased - The worship of Baal and other false gods involved sexual promiscuity and perversion. Yet, God would not press judgment upon the women who gave themselves to this purpose, because the leaders of the nation were equally guilty of spiritual and physical adultery. Robbed of understanding, the whole nation would fall together.

15 Though thou, Israel, play the harlot,
[yet] let not Judah offend; and come not ye unto Gilgal,
neither go ye up to Bethaven, nor swear, The LORD liveth.
16 For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer:
now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place.
17 Ephraim [is] joined to idols: let him alone.
18 Their drink is sour: they have committed whoredom continually:
her rulers [with] shame do love, Give ye.
19 The wind hath bound her up in her wings,
and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.
...let not Judah offend...
The LORD's case against Israel (the northern kingdom) was also to be a warning for Judah (the southern kingdom), which was already showing signs of following in her sister's footsteps. Today, as true believers observe the rise of apostasy in the church, we must take heed to ourselves, lest we fall into the same errors which have overtaken others.
...and come ye not near to Gilgal... to Bethaven...-
Those who would follow the LORD are warned to maintain a wide separation from the places known to harbor error.
  • Gilgal {meaning 'a wheel' or 'a rolling'}-
    When this name is first mentioned in the OT, it was a place to memorialize true religion and to symbolize the rolling away of the sinful flesh (Deu 11:30-32; Joshua 4:19 - 5:10). In Samuel's day, it was a place where the nation gathered for true worship (eg., 1Sam 10:8). But by the time of Hosea, it had become a center of idolatrous worship and false religion (Amos 4:4,5).
  • Beth-aven {meaning 'house of vanity' or 'house of iniquity'}-
    The true prophets often referred to the idols of false gods as 'vanities' (eg., Isa 41:29; 66:3 where 'idol' is HB='aven; Zech 10:2). Hosea uses this name derogatorily of Bethel, which had become the primary seat of the northern kingdom's idolatry. Yet, a thousand years earlier, it was in this place that the LORD had revealed Himself to Jacob (Gen 28:17-19, 'Beth-el' means 'house of God'). Now, the LORD calls to Judah to stay away, due to the infectious nature of apostasy.
Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer...-
The picture is of a cow, that refuses to walk up a ramp at the command and prodding of its master. She stiffens her legs, and slides down the slippery ramp, even as the cattlemen attempt to pull and push her in the way she ought to go. So, Israel refused to be harnessed in the LORD's yoke or to walk in His way. The LORD desired to tend and nourish the nation, for their good. But, since they refused to follow Him, He would let them go astray to feed in the pasture that they desired.
Ephraim is joined to idols...-
Ephraim was the largest of the ten tribes which composed the northern kingdom of Israel. The territory belonging to Ephraim was home to both Bethel and Gilgal. The name 'Ephraim' is frequently applied to the northern kingdom, synonymously with 'Israel.'
...let him alone... - ie., Let him go his own way (cp. Mat 15:14).
The northern kingdom was hopelessly set in its wicked ways... and, therefore, hopelessly set for judgment.
...their drink {ie., wine, strong drink} is sour {lit., 'turned aside'}, they have committed whoredom continually...-
That is, they were intoxicated with turning away from the LORD, to pursue spiritual adultery.
...her rulers {HB=magen, shield, buckler} with shame do love...-
The nation's rulers, who should have stood to protect their people from such error, loved the sin which was their shame, and could not get enough of it, continually crying for more, "Give ye..."
The wind hath bound her up... they shall be ashamed...
The winds of false doctrine had carried them away. This wind {HB=ruach, wind, spirit} is called "the spirit of whoredoms" in v.12. A similar phrase is used, in Zech 5:9-11, to picture a basket of wickedness being carried on wind borne wings, to become a house of error, ripe for judgment.
...because of their sacrifices.-
The idolatrous religion which they loved to practice was spiritual adultery, and would prove to be their undoing.

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