For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2001 James Melough

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.”

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.

4:2.  “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 another.

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.”

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.

4:4.  “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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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.”

4:7.  “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.

4:8.  “They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.”

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.

4:9.  “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.

4:10.  “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.”

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.

4:11.  “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 judgments.

4:12.  “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.”

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 ancient Israel.

4:13.  “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.”

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.

4:14.  “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 cause. 

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!

4:15.  “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 idolatrous  footsteps. 

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.

4:16.  “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.

4:17.  “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 win Christ.”

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 foolish.

“... 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 coming Tribulation.

4:18.  “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.

4:19.  “The wind hath bound her up in her wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.”

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.

[Hosea 5]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough