We’re going to pick up the pace a bit in our reading through Hosea. (We took our time with the first three chapters last week: we saw the contrast between Israel’s unfaithfulness and God’s undeserved love that sets out to win back his wife, depicted in the real-life object lesson of Hosea and Gomer.) The next few chapters are reasonably repetitive – and there’s a reason for that, which we’ll see. They focus on Israel’s spiritual adultery (chapters 4 & 5), her lack of repentance (chapters 6 & 7), and the certainty and totality of God’s coming judgement (chapters 8 to 10). So we’ll work through these quickly over three days – with a little less comment than usual – before slowing down again when we hit chapter 11.
The case for the prosecution
This chapter is often described as a “prophetic lawsuit,” in which Hosea delivers God’s opening statements for the prosecution. It begins with the announcement that God is bringing formal charges against Israel:
Hosea 4:1a Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land:
The general nature of the charges is that Israel has rejected God and his rule:Hosea 4:1b “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.
This rejection of God’s rule has consequences:Hosea 4:2 There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
God’s rules for living are ignored: he lists five of the ten commandments – or six, if “break all bounds” refers to the rejection of God in favour of idols. The result of ignoring God’s rules is that humans don’t live in harmony with one another: bloodshed follows bloodshed. What’s more:Hosea 4:3 Because of this the land dries up, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea are swept away.
The punishment for idolatry – which God warned Israel about before they entered the land (e.g. Lev 26, Deut 28) – was drought and famine. (We looked at why this was the case last week.)
What then follows – as you’d expect in a lawsuit – is a series of accusations, with supporting evidence. The first charge is against the priests – the spiritual leaders of Israel:Hosea 4:4-6 “But let no one bring a charge, let no one accuse another, for your people are like those who bring charges against a priest. You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you. So I will destroy your mother—my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
These last few verses are difficult to translate, especially verse 4. (It’s probably better to go with the ESV: “Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest.”) The general point is clear, however: Don’t argue with me, says God, because the rot starts right at the top, with the people who should know better. God is holding the priesthood responsible for the state of his people, because they have led them astray.
How? They had rejected the knowledge of God in favour of idols. Therefore, God will reject them:Hosea 4:6-8a“Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children. The more priests there were, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their glorious God for something disgraceful. They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness.
Yet the people won’t escape blame, either:Hosea 4:9 And it will be: Like people, like priests. I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.
Like people, like priests. The priests are corrupt, and so are the people. The priests will punished, and so will the people be.
How will God punish them? What sentence will be carried out? Here, God explains how he will make it so that although they worship the Canaanite fertility gods and goddesses, the land will not flourish or prosper:Hosea 4:10-11 “They will eat but not have enough; they will engage in prostitution [i.e. idolatry] but not flourish, because they have deserted the Lord to give themselves to prostitution; old wine and new wine take away their understanding.
The charges then resume, with God providing some evidence of their adultery/idolatry:Hosea 4:12-13 My people consult a wooden idol, and a diviner’s rod speaks to them. A spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God. They sacrifice on the mountaintops and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar and terebinth, where the shade is pleasant. Therefore your daughters turn to prostitution and your daughters-in-law to adultery.
The problem we face here is knowing where the metaphor of prostitution (referring to idolatry) gives way to real prostitution. This is because worship of the Canaanite fertility gods often involved ritual prostitution at pagan temples. (Remember, they are fertility gods, making the practice at least vaguely logical). So does verse 13 refer to Israel’s daughters turning to the worship of Ba’al, or becoming a temple prostitute? Or both?
Either way, it’s the result of the actions of the Israelite men (who had the power, and should have known better):Hosea 4:14 “I will not punish your daughters when they turn to prostitution, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery, because the men themselves consort with harlots and sacrifice with shrine prostitutes—a people without understanding will come to ruin!
This next section – again, difficult to translate – seems to warn Israel not to drag Judah (the southern kingdom) down with her:Hosea 4:15-19 “Though you, Israel, commit adultery, do not let Judah become guilty. “Do not go to Gilgal; do not go up to Beth Aven. And do not swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives!’
Gilgal and Beth Aven are two prominent “high places” in Israel where Ba’al worship took place.Hosea 4:16 The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer. How then can the Lord pasture them like lambs in a meadow?
Israel is stubborn, and are not receptive to God’s rebuke. So it’s best if Judah leaves them alone, rather than be drawn into their idolatry:Hosea 4:17 Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone!
(Ephraim is one of the ten northern tribes, and is often used as a way of referring to the northern kingdom, since its capital, Samaria, was located in that tribe’s territory.)Hosea 4:18 Even when their drinks are gone, they continue their prostitution; their rulers dearly love shameful ways.
They’re not responding to God’s punishment of drought and famine. Judgement is coming:Hosea 4:19 A whirlwind will sweep them away, and their sacrifices will bring them shame.
Chapter five is more of the same. You can read it now if you like, or just skip over it. It ends with the following ominous warning (yet tinged with a tiny flicker of hope):Hosea 5:14-15 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a great lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces and go away; I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them. Then I will return to my lair until they have borne their guilt and seek my face—in their misery they will earnestly seek me.
To think about
We’ll look at that hope tomorrow, to see if it will amount to anything (or not). But for now, think about these two chapters of accusation, evidence, and judgement. They are quite long and repetitive, hammering home the same theme about Israel’s unfaithfulness and God’s judgement.
What’s the point of this repetition? What kind of effect is it supposed to produce among those who heard it?
What is its effect on you?