Rebuking Destructive Behavior
Tom J. Nettles
I. Verses 4:1-3: God brings charges against
A. In 4:1, the Lord announces that
he has a controversy [a “Charge” or a “Case”] against the children of
· No faithfulness – Though God redeemed them from Egypt, showed himself in mighty wonders, provided for them through the wilderness in spite of their various rebellions and complaining, and gave them a law stipulating that blessing would come to them by their faithfulness to worship him alone and put no rival in his place, nor seek to replicate him in an image, they have consistently refused to do this. They are unfaithful.
· No steadfast love – Though Yahweh is worthy of all their devotion and should be the sole object of their love, they have loved other things first, all focusing on their quest for personal pleasure.
· No knowledge of God – Though God has given his revelation in an abiding word, and his designated that priests should teach it, and though he gives continuing revelation through prophets, the people have no knowledge. Not only do they have no cognitive understanding of the character of God and the nature of his aggressive mercies toward them, they have no personal experiential knowledge; they have not sought to love him and meditate with devotion on the mercies that formed them into a people. In spite of the fact that of all the peoples on earth none received the advantage of special knowledge of God except this people, they do not know him. If there were knowledge of God in the land, then there would be less godlessness in the land, But what is the case? The lack of God-centeredness breeds perversity of life.
B. In 4:2 the Lord continues with the charges. The only manifestation of recognition of God comes in the breaking of the commandment not to take his name in vain. There is
· Swearing – Jesus looked upon the common practice of swearing as a form of taking God’s name in vain [Matthew 5:33-37]. James told his hearers not to swear [James 5:12] so that they would not fall under condemnation. Swearing occurs when one invokes the integrity of God as a fail-safe for one’s own lack of character and resolute honesty. It shows that there is no trust, no personal and internal awareness of the holy presence of God, no concern that all of our words are heard and known by him, that they arise from the heart and reflect our spiritual state. Swearing is a form of moral deism, a lack of sense that God is always present and that all our words and actions are under the scrutiny of his holy omniscience.
· Lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery – The lack of knowledge of God, the callousness to his holy presence leads to rampant disregard of the commands of the second table. It is no mere accidental arrangement of words that lying immediately follows swearing. They swear by God on some occasions, but in their normal daily intercourse they lie and bear false witness.
· Having given themselves over to Baal and Asherah, under conditions of drought or other natural calamity, human sacrifice was made to Baal of the first-born by burning. This devaluing of human life gives rise to a murderous society in which “bloodshed follows bloodshed.”
· God has no need to bring specific judgment for the harlotry of the daughters and brides [4:14] for the conduct is inherently self-destructive. These women will not find faithful men anywhere, for it is a faithless nation, and the men consort with prostitutes and temple prostitutes. Such supposed enlightened conduct, given over to Lord Baal, carries the seeds of a self-inflicted horror. “A people without understanding shall come to ruin” [14c].
In 4:3 Hosea shows that nature itself is under repression [“the land
mourns”] because of the sin of
II. Now the charge [4:4-9] becomes more isolated to a specific group. Prophets and priest encourage the downward spiral.
A. verse 4 - God prohibits any of those against whom he is bringing his charge from accusing another: “Let no one contend, and let none accuse.” God Himself will point out the most guilty perpetrators.
B. God points to the priests and prophets. During the time of Ahab and Jezebel, there were prophets and priests of Baal. Elijah had many of them destroyed and Jehu had followed suit and managed to rid the land of Baal during his time as king; but the tenacious idolatry of the people and subsequent kings, as well as the failure of Jehu to restore pure worship, had brought them back so that 2 Kings 17 noted, “And they abandoned all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord.” [2 Kings 17:16, 17] The priests mentioned here in Hosea 4 seem to be those that are supposed to minister according to the requirements of Yahweh.
4:5, 6 - Though they were supposed to teach the written word and
prophesy truly, both priest and prophet had “rejected knowledge” and thus the
people were “destroyed for lack of knowledge.” The priests had “forgotten the
law of your God” leading to God’s casting off the nation of
D. 4:7-9 - Instead of giving knowledge of the Law, the priests benefit from the increasing sin of the people, and they therefore encourage iniquity that they may benefit from the sacrifices. The reciprocal effect of the sins of the people and the priests create a descending spiral into perversity and increasing culpability. The more they worship, the greater the sin, and the more intense and devastating the judgment.
III. The cumulative effect of sin, unrepented of, is the destruction of legitimate human pleasure and joyful human relations. They are finally cut off from the blessings that God reserved for his peculiar people. 4:10-19
A. The perversion of legitimate human activity, instead of growth and joy, brings emptiness and carries with it its own judgment. When the gifts of God are raised to the level of idols, their legitimate function in the human soul and body is corrupted, and the gift does not bless, but curses. Verses 10, 11
Food no longer gives satisfaction for the
expectations that accompany eating are too high. In the pagan
· Sex as a god, fails to give legitimate increase of population for God makes that blessing a curse. Note 7 b, “I will change their glory into shame.” This has happened in many cultures where the pursuit of the pleasure of sex as an end in itself has led to the corruption of marriage, the increase of abortion, the resistance to family commitments, and resentment toward children. Decisions for childlessness for the sake of an uncluttered life is tantamount to disobedience to be “fruitful and multiply” and a denial that children are a heritage from the Lord.
· Wine also is abused, and instead of making glad the heart, it takes away the heart, that is, the understanding.
B. They become utterly stupid in their approach to the knowledge of God and spiritual truth. Idolatry has sapped from them genuine rationality and led to the substitution of immediate pleasure as the greatest purpose of religion. Verses 12, 13
· Verse 12 - Instead of looking to the revelation that God has given in the Law and in the Scripture, they inquire of pieces of wood, such as their walking staff. Idolatry has made them superstitiously irrational in their quest for guidance. Note how a permissive culture that gives no credence to the fact that God has spoken breeds superstition.
Verse 13 – [See 1 Kings 12:25-31; 13:33f for the
background of Jeroboam’s creation of a new religion for the North] They offer
sacrifices in the places that are most comfortable. For generations they have
lived in disobedience to the Law of God concerning the place of sacrifice in
Verse 15 indicates that the Southern Kingdom, though evil in many ways
(Beth-Aven “means house of evil”) is not to be compromised with the same
judgment that is to come on the nation established by Jeroboam (“Let not Judah
become guilty). Though the Southern Kingdom had its own problems and its
seasons of infidelity, it also had times of spiritual prosperity. Now the prophet shows that
D. Their persistent sinfulness has
finally settled them in a state from which God will not bring about recovery.
From this we must learn that God is perfectly just in leaving us to our sin
[note 1 Kings 12:24, “This thing is from
Verse 16 -
· Verse 17 - Ephraim, a personification of the northern Kingdom, is joined, that is, irretrievably, to idols.
· Verse 18 - In a fruitless and feverish quest for religious fulfillment they move from wine to sex with the participation and approval of those that should protect them from this kind of self-destructive behavior (“Their rulers [shields] dearly love shame.”)
· Verse 19 - They are overcome by the force of such cumulative, incessant, unremitting disobedience to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the house of David. They cannot escape for “A wind has wrapped them in its wings.” Even their practice of their so-called religion (“their sacrifices”) brings shame to them. Look at chapter 5, verse 4, “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the Lord.”
IV. Some concluding ideas
A. The revelation of God in his Law gives the foundation of truth for personal purity and joyful employment of the multiplicity of blessings with which God has flooded the world: food, sexual pleasure in marriage, children, friends, stability of society through just government.
B. When there is “no knowledge of God in the land,” none of these blessings give joy, but they are turned into curses and bypaths to misery.
C. God has given both his word and those that are commissioned to teach it; the unfaithfulness of those that have received this commission brings sorrow, sin, and corruption of heart and life to the people.
D. Consider how great is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that its power can transform both persons and cultures that formerly were given up to this self-destruction and were susceptible to the infinite wrath of God.[See Titus 3:1-7]