HOSEA - CHAPTER 4
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2001 James Melough
“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.”
That command given to Israel
through His servant Hosea is no less applicable to present day Christendom.
We who profess to be His people today have equally great need to hear and obey
His word, for He has equally good reason to have a controversy with us,
controversy meaning an indictment: a lawsuit.
The Lord’s first charge was
that there was no truth, that is, no fidelity, stability, trustworthiness, or
faithfulness to be found amongst them. Mercy (kindness, tenderness) had
departed, as had also the knowledge of God. The same lack marks Christendom,
but worse, it marks many genuine believers also.
But how had this condition
come about? The priests had failed to teach the people, who in turn were then
unable to teach their children, the end result being that the knowledge of God
and the holiness He requires of His people, were not to be found, except
amongst the very small minority of true believers who clung to God and His
Word, while the mass of the nation became apostate, imbibing the false
teaching of the Canaanite priests, and worshiping their idols.
Only blind eyes and darkened
minds will fail to realize that Christendom has walked the same road to ruin.
It is significant that Canaanite means trafficker, the equivalent of
the Canaanite priests being the hordes of clerics who are the spiritual
leaders of today’s Christendom, trafficking in spiritual things simply for
money, having no qualification except that of a theological education, which
is no qualification in God’s sight, His true ministers being those to whom He
has given the necessary spiritual gift, see Eph 4:11, and whom He, not the
members of some earthly church, has called and appointed to their sphere of
service. The result of all this is that the lack which prompted God’s
indictment of Israel, has produced the same indictment of Christendom also.
“By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery,
they break out, and blood toucheth blood.”
Swearing, as used here,
includes the invoking of a curse on another, but relates primarily to
adjuration, that is, the solemn commanding of truth under threat of penalty.
Only a fool will attempt to deny that this very sin pervades today’s society.
Witnesses in our courts, having sworn to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth,” proceed to lie brazenly, and without penalty when
their testimony is proven to be false. The ink on some contracts is barely
dry before the signatories are looking for loopholes that will enable them to
violate the agreement.
Comment on today’s killing,
stealing, and adultery would be redundant. “... blood toucheth blood” means
simply that the blood of one murder victim hadn’t dried until there was
“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.”
Languish means to pine away
and become weak through grief or unsatisfied longing, and it is generally
agreed that here the cause is drought. The same God Who had multiplied them,
their crops and cattle, the wild animals, birds, and fish, warned that He
would diminish them, and He kept His word. In the book of Revelation chapter
six, for example, He has warned today’s world that it too is to be visited
with even more terrible judgments in the fast approaching Tribulation era, but
as Israel mocked His messengers, so do the men of this present age also mock
Him and His Word. This generation, however, will also reap the terrible
results of their folly.
“Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that
strive with the priest.”
The first two clauses forbade
anyone to make a charge against another, or to blame others for the judgments
they were about to experience: all were guilty. Little has changed since
then. The self-righteous professors of this generations are the first to
point the finger at others, refusing to see that underneath their pious
religious facade they themselves are just as guilty in God’s sight, their very
hypocrisy compounding their guilt.
The meaning of their being as
people “that strive with the priest” is difficult to understand, but other
translations render it as “... with you is my quarrel, O priest,” “... My
people are like their priestlings,” “... the quarrel with you, false priest,
is mine,” indicating that God held the Israelite priests responsible first for
the apostasy of the nation. Had they taught the people truth it would have
exposed the error of the priests of Baal.
With a few very rare
exceptions, today’s religious leaders are just as culpable as were Israel’s
priests in the days of Hosea.
“Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with
thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother.”
Fall here means to totter from
weakness, especially weakness of the legs or ankles, but since the legs in
Scripture speak of the walk or manner of life, the truth being declared is
that the priests and false prophets, having rejected God’s Word as their
guide, would stumble along spiritually, blundering between a token
acknowledgment of Jehovah and a wholehearted allegiance to Baal.
Their falling “in the day”
(time of light) speaks of blatant disobedience against the known word of God,
while their falling in the night (time of darkness) speaks of sin resulting
from their ignorance of His word, that ignorance resulting from deliberate
refusal to even listen to it. The very same sin marks Christendom today.
What little is known of God’s word is deliberately disobeyed, the rest of the
rampant sin being due to lack of any desire either on the part of cleric or
layman to know that word.
“... and I will destroy thy
mother,” the mother here being Israel, the nation which had produced them.
The Assyrian captivity of Israel, and the later Babylonian captivity of Judah,
were a partial fulfillment of God’s threat, the complete destruction of the
nation coming in AD 70 at the hand of Rome.
“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.”
It was lack of the knowledge
of God that had resulted in the apostasy of the people, that lack being due to
the failure of the priests to teach them; and because of their delinquency
they were to be set aside from being His priests. That threat has had its
partial fulfillment in the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, and in the
Diaspora of AD 70 when God used the Romans to destroy Jerusalem and the
temple, and to scatter the survivors of the ensuing slaughter among the
Gentiles, where they have remained for the past two thousand years. Without
the temple the scriptural functioning of the priesthood is impossible. The
reinstatement of Jewish autonomy in 1948, however, and the continuing return
of thousands of Jews to Palestine since then, assure us that the end of the
age is near. The fig tree is beginning to bud again. God is preparing to
bring His erring people back to Himself and to their land, and to make good to
them the blessings promised to Abraham.
As it was lack of the
knowledge of God that brought ruin to Israel, so is that same lack bringing
destruction to today’s world. And as it was the failure of the priests to
teach the people that resulted in Israel’s ruin, so is it the same failure of
Christendom’s religious leaders to teach that same knowledge that is bringing
the destruction of the present order.
“I will also forget thy
children” is not to be understood literally. God will never forget His people
Israel. He loves them too much, and because He does He must punish their sin
to bring them to repentance, so that He can bless them. His chastisements
make it seem that He has forgotten them, but they are in reality the proof
that He remembers them. And so is it with believers of this present age, as
we read in Heb 12:6, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.”
“As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change
their glory into shame.”
God is here continuing to
speak, not of the people in general, but of the corrupt priesthood. As the
numbers of those priests increased so did their sin, their provocation of God
compelling Him to respond by chastisement instead of blessing. The glory
which had attended their exalted office was about to be changed to shame as
they and the people were both led off as the captives of Assyria.
A similar fate awaits apostate
Christendom in the impending Tribulation when the beast emperor seizes the
harlot church and declares himself to be God, demanding that he be worshiped
on pain of death.
“They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their
While some may take this to
mean that the priests lived well off their portion of the sin offerings of the
people, and delighted accordingly in seeing the people sin, it is very
difficult to believe that people in such a condition as Israel would be
bringing many offerings to Jehovah. It seems more likely that the priests
officiated at least in part in connection with the worship of Baal, and
because of the multitude of those idolatrous offerings, became rich out of the
part of the sacrifices assigned to the officiating priests. Little wonder
that they set their hearts on, i.e., loved the iniquity (idolatry) of the
people: it made them, the priests, rich.
“And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for
their ways, and reward them their doings.”
As God would punish the people
for their sins, so would He also punish the priests whose guilt was compounded
by their greater knowledge and privileged position. Responsibility is in
proportion to light given.
“... their ways” may refer to
the evil of their personal lives, while “their doings” may be related to their
public sinful activities in connection with the worship of Baal.
“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.”
Their eating, but not having
enough, is the declaration of the truth that their greed was insatiable.
Increased riches created, as almost always, a desire for more.
The reference to their
whoredom relates both to the sexual promiscuity associated with the licentious
worship of Baal, and to their rampant adultery, both of which would normally
have resulted in their numerical multiplication; but they wouldn’t increase,
because their rebellion against God had caused Him to diminish them.
The rampant promiscuity in our
society today is little different from that of Hosea’s day, and now as then it
is simply another evidence that the judgment of God is about to fall.
“Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart (understanding).”
Sexual promiscuity, and the
lust for wine and liquor had robbed them of understanding. Succeeding
generations, having grown up in the midst of this debauchery, considered it
normal behavior, so that they didn’t think of it as sin.
Will anyone fail to realize
that this is exactly the character of today’s society? But as that generation
of Israel was unaware that such conduct would bring the wrath of God upon it,
so is present day Christendom also ignorant of the fact that Divine wrath is
about to break upon it in the form of the impending terrible Tribulation
“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.”
Stocks were wooden idols, or
poles set up beside the altars, to represent the god being worshiped. Staff,
on the other hand, refers to the sticks used in connection with divination,
the procedure, according to Keil, being that, “Two rods were held upright, and
then allowed to fall, while forms of incantation were being uttered; and the
oracle was inferred from the way in which they fell.”
The modern world smiles
contemptuously at the superstition of the ancients and of present day
primitive societies, failing to see that its own occupation with the occult,
as for example, consulting the horoscopes printed daily in virtually every
newspaper, is little different. The same literal and spiritual harlotry of
Christendom provokes God’s anger today no less than did that of Israel in the
time of Hosea. The modern world has also shaken off the morality imposed by
God for its blessing, and will reap the same terrible recompense as did
“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
God had commanded that
sacrifices were to be offered only at the place where He had set His name, but
Israel in flagrant disobedience used the Canaanite altars which were scattered
in profusion all over the land, and worshiped the Baalim instead of Jehovah.
The reference to the oaks and poplars and elms is related to the fact that
many of the Canaanite altars had been set up in such groves, the trees
affording shade for their idolatrous feasts. The mention of the harlotry and
adultery of their daughters and wives and/or daughters-in-law, is mentioned in
the same context because connected with that worship and those feasts were the
vile fertility rites which involved every form of sexual vice. With
promiscuity and every form of perversion promoted to the level of worship, it
is small wonder that prostitution and adultery were rampant.
And again, few will deny that
the same licentiousness pervades society today, the only difference being that
now there isn’t even the attempt to give it a religious cloak. The same God,
however, Who took note of Israel’s debauchery, and punished it, is equally
observant of Christendom’s evil doings, and will just as surely punish them.
“I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses
(daughters-in-law) when they commit adultery: for themselves are separated
with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots: therefore the people that doth
not understand shall fall.”
The second half of this verse
is also translated, “... for the men themselves go aside with harlots, and
sacrifice with cult prostitutes,” another rendering being, “the men are
wandering off with whores and offering sacrifice with sacred prostitutes,” so
the first clause of the verse is not to be understood as meaning that the sin
of the wives, or daughters-in-law, and daughters would go unpunished, but that
God would not make a special example of the women only: He would pour out is
righteous wrath on all of them, men and women alike, as is made clear by the
statement that they, all the people, “shall fall.” Nor should we fail to note
their being described as “the people that doth not understand.” It was their
abandonment of the knowledge of God that had provided imagined licence for
their wickedness; and the evils of Christendom have their root in the same
God, however, with equal
certainty, will also punish today’s society, and the gathering thunder heads
of that coming storm can be seen already in the state of society, for sin
carries with it its own punishment. Only blind eyes and deluded minds will
fail to realize that the whole social structure is tottering on its
foundations. The courts can’t handle the pending cases. Plea bargaining
makes a mockery of justice. The prisons can’t hold all who are sentenced.
The schools are such jungles that each year sees fewer young people choosing
teaching as a profession. Abortion is the euphemism for wholesale infanticide
... and the list goes on! And in addition to these phenomena, there is the
clear pronouncements of Scripture, but a world that cares nothing about God
neither reads His Word nor heeds the warnings of those who do. As others have
noted, Israel’s history is but the prewritten history of the world!
“Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend; and come not
ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Beth-aven, nor swear, The Lord liveth.”
While the bulk of Hosea’s
message is addressed to Israel, he is God’s spokesman also to Judah, and here
he warns her to learn from Israel’s example not to follow in her sister’s
This warning to Judah is to be
understood in the context of the division of the twelve tribes which took
place in the days of Rehoboam and Jeroboam, the ten tribes (Israel) making
Jeroboam king, while Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to the house of David,
Rehoboam being the then reigning king of Judah. Jeroboam, however, fearing
that if the ten tribes continued going up to Jerusalem to worship, they would
return to Rehoboam, set up two golden calves, one in Bethel house of God,
now called Beth-aven house of vanity, and the other in Dan, under the
pretext of making it more convenient for Israel to worship Jehovah without
having to travel to Jerusalem, see 1 Ki 12. That changed order and place of
worship were the beginning of Israel’s idolatry, and a practical lesson to be
learned is that the elders of assemblies have a very great responsibility to
ensure that scriptural order is adhered to in a day when there is much
pressure to change that order in the name of so-called progress.
In Hosea’s time, of course,
the idolatry was nation wide with shrines and idols everywhere, hence the
warning to Judah not to go to Gilgal or Beth-aven (Bethel) or anywhere else in
Israel just because it might have been more convenient than going up to
Jerusalem. The worship of Israel was idolatrous, and Judah was not to become
involved in it.
“... nor swear, The Lord
liveth,” means simply that while Israel might dare to pretend that she still
worshiped Jehovah, as well as Baal, by means of the vile ritual and the
polluted altars, that worship was an abomination in His sight, and was soon to
be visited with His righteous judgment.
The warning relates also to
true believers today in the midst of Christendom’s apostasy. They are to keep
themselves far from its empty forms by means of which mere false professors
claim to worship God, while the gods they really worship are money, education,
pleasure, etc., their immoral lifestyles being no different from those of the
Israelites upon whom the judgment of God was about to fall.
“For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the Lord will feed them
as a lamb in a large place.”
The figure used her to
describe Israel’s stubborn rebellion is that of a young cow fighting against
having the yoke placed around her neck so that the master can control her.
Israel’s folly is the more apparent when we remember what the Lord says
concerning His yoke, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek
and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is
easy, and my burden is light,” Mt 11:29-30. He who will not wear Christ’s
yoke must wear Satan’s, and it is the opposite of Christ’s, for it is hard and
galling, and used by him to drive his victims along the road to hell.
“... the Lord will feed them
as a lamb in a large place,” is variously translated, e.g., “... now shall the
Lord feed them as a lamb in a large place?”; “... how can Jehovah pasture him
like a lamb in rolling pastures?” “... the Lord will not feed them like a
lamb in a roomy place.” These translations remove the ambiguity of the KJ
version. As long as Israel continued in her stubborn rebellion against Him,
Jehovah would not feed her like a lamb in abundant pastures, i.e., He could
not bless her, because to bless disobedience in Israel, or in anyone else,
would be to impugn His own holy character.
“Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.”
Ephraim means double
ash-heap: I shall be doubly fruitful, meanings which are not as
contradictory as might appear at first glance. A large or double ash-heap
indicated the size and prosperity of a city; and in linking the ash-heap with
fruitfulness, the Lord is teaching the lesson that in proportion as we are
willing to throw in the “ash-heap” all the things that would hinder us in the
heavenly race, so will we be fruitful spiritually. In this, as in many other
things, Paul is our example, see Php 3:7-8, “But what things were gain to me,
those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but
loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I
have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may
Foolish Ephraim, however,
chosen here to represent Israel because of the significance of his name,
instead of discarding all that was offensive to God and therefore hindering
blessing, had chosen rather to magnify the offence by discarding Jehovah, and
taking Baal as his god! As already noted, Christendom has been equally
“... let him alone” makes it
clear that Israel had already crossed over the invisible line separating God’s
mercy from His wrath. She had sinned away her day of grace, and must now face
judgment. And so is it today. With the exception of the very few who trust
in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, Christendom, though unaware of
it, is about to find itself engulfed in the flood waters of God’s wrath in the
“Their drink is sour: they have committed whoredom continually: her rulers
with shame do love, Give ye.”
“... sour” is related to the
idea of turning off: departing: past: plucked away, and since wine is a
biblical symbol of joy, the meaning seems to be that Israel’s enjoyment of
all the sensuality associated with their idolatry was about to be snatched
away. Their continual whoredom refers to their rejection of Jehovah, and the
giving of their worship to the Baalim.
“... her rulers with shame do
love, Give ye,” is generally taken to mean that the rulers were foremost in
this evil, loving all the vileness; and while “Give ye” is ambiguous it seems
to mean that they encouraged the people to keep rendering that worship because
by it they, the priests, were made rich out of the parts of the offerings
which were theirs as officiants.
“The wind hath bound her up in her wings, and they shall be ashamed because of
While the wind is a biblical
symbol of the Holy Spirit, see Jn 3:8, it is used also as a type of Divine
anger, see e.g., 2 Sa 22:11, and clearly that is the sense in which it is used
here. They would be caught up in the whirlwind of God’s wrath, and be carried
away into captivity in Assyria, where they would learn to their sorrow and
shame the worthlessness of the so-called gods to which they had offered
sacrifices while rejecting Jehovah the only true God.