Hosea 4:1- 5:7
Israel was consumed by the sins of their culture, and those who were given the responsibility of teaching them the Law of the Lord, the priests and Levites, failed in their task. It was not because they were not listened to, but because they themselves also participated fully in the sins. The priests led the Israelites in worship and sacrificial rituals at the temple and then hypocritically entered the groves or temples where the pagans worshiped and indulged in ritual sexual practices in honor of Baal or his consort, Asherah. Israel seemed to justify their sexual immorality by indulging in such perverse activities in the name of a religion. The result of these sexual encounters not only exposed the hypocrisy of the priests, but corrupted their own families. Their own daughters and daughter-in-laws participated in ritual prostitution (4:13). Their own sins led their children to demeaning lifestyles, but it did not stop there. They led their flock astray by their own words and deeds. Their sins had devastating effects on all Israel (4:3). God could do nothing but bring a complaint against his people.
“Do not go to Gilgal, do not go up to Beth Aven,” the prophet cried (4:15). Beth Aven (“house of iniquity”) was a derogatory term used of Bethel because of the connection to the pagan practices associated with it (see also 1 Kings 12:28-33). Going to Gilgal was prohibited because of its connection to the corrupt religious practices (see also 12:11). God warned Israel that to continue in such corrupt practices would do nothing but bring destruction. They did not listen to his prophets, and thus they refused to hear his word. Thus, he cut them off, even when they turned to him, because of their divided loyalty.
Questions for Home Study and Class Discussion
1. Look at the list of sins in 4:2. God begins this section by bringing a charge against the Israelites. These are the complaints he had against his people. What could lead God’s people to have committed sins such as these? What was it that Israel lacked according to 4:5-6?
Israel’s downfall came as a result of their forgetting God’s law. They failed to understand his will and the importance of making a practice of seeking God within every aspect of life. Their divided loyalty corrupted their practices. Hosea claimed that their sins were a result of their ignorance of God’s law (4:6). God had a reason to accuse (“has a case” in verse 1) of unacceptable behavior. In 4:1, they were said to lack faithfulness (honest or integrity), love (better “loyalty” or “kindness”) and knowing what God expected from them. The lack of these qualities resulted in gross immorality. The sins listed in 4:2 are all violation of the basic commandments we call the 10 commandments. (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21). Israel had no integrity, making oaths they did not intend to keep and if they did, they swore by the God they did not wholly devote themselves to (“oath-taking” or “cursing”). They gave false testimony, perhaps in courts (lying), violating legal and personal rights. They murdered and stole (this word originally meant “to kidnap”, but came to include the theft of all valuable possessions). Adultery was not uncommon among them. The last phrase is very difficult to translate and interpret, but could mean “they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed,” referring to violent activity of armed troops, perhaps to steal children for sacrificial rites. This is uncertain however. The context is clear: Israel was violently and disgustingly corrupt because they did not pay attention to God’s law and devote themselves to him alone and they forgot how to be honest and kind to one another. They forgot God.
2. In 4:3, sin is seen to have cataclysmic effects on the world itself. Compare this to Jeremiah 4:23-26 and Romans 8:18-22. What effects does sin have upon the creation of God? How should this principle affect our perception of sin?
Israel’s sin had a devastating effect not only on the people of the land, but on both the land and animal life as well. Israel’s corruption or faithlessness dictated the well being of the land. The land suffered because of Israel’s sins. Often, sin is viewed only in how it effects humankind, that is us, but scripture reveals it has far more damaging effect than just on humans. The earth, God’s creation, had been damaged and continues to suffer the consequences of sin. In the beginning, when Adam and Eve sinned and fell, not only was their relationship damaged, but so was humankind’s relationship with the world (Genesis 3:17-19). Jeremiah, in his prophesy to Judah before their downfall, described the result of sin as unraveling the very fabric of creation (4:23-26). Sin does not build nor does it create; it destroys and tears down. As a result, creation itself moans and awaits the coming of Jesus to lift the burden we, as humankind, have laid upon it (Romans 8:18-22). Sin has ruined much of God’s creation; and we, as sinners, contribute to this decay. Sin is not “natural”, but stands in contrast to everything God has made. It brought decay and death. The greatest threat to this natural world is not pollution or deforestation, but sin itself. As a result, we await a new heaven and new earth that has lost the corruption of sin (Revelation 21:1).
3. Hosea blamed the priests for leading Israel astray. Look at the list of failures:
a. They failed to encourage the people to know God’s law (4:6).
b. They used their religious authority for gain (4:8).
c. They sought guidance from divination, not God (4:12).
d. They participated in idolatrous practices on high places (4:13).
e. They took part in religious orgies, including lewd sexual practices and drunkenness (4:12b-14, 17-19; 5:7, 17-18).
How are these sins present in our culture? How should have Israel responded to such corrupt leaders? How do we today approach leaders caught in sin (1 Timothy 5:17-25)?
The priests were called by God to stand as teachers of the law and intervene between God and man. This responsibility was not to be taken lightly but the priests of Hosea’s day did. Their divided loyalty led the people to sin and away from God. Instead of feeding God’s flock with righteous food, they fed on the sins of the people (4:8). They consumed sin and satiated their own lusts. Their sins were grievous.
a. They paid no attention to God’s law, if and when they read it. It made no difference to them and they failed to teach it. (4:6)
b. They used their position for their own gain (4:8). This issue will be discussed in detail later in Amos, but religious leaders can certainly be in positions for the wrong reasons.
c. Divination became a popular method for seeking answers regarding the future in the life of Israel. Divination was condemned in the Old Testament because it led his people to seek answers and hope in the future from other sources. In Deuteronomy 18:14, the condemnation stands in contrast to God’s sending his prophets to speak on his behalf. Lest we think this is a sin that does not touch us, we need to look at our culture closely. Many mediums, those who speak to the dead, are becoming very popular because of their ability to help people resolve issues with dead relatives. Horoscopes, astrology, psychic networks, etc., abound in our culture. We must keep our trust and hope in God, who holds the answers to the future and all of life’s questions.
d. Idolatry in the high places (4:13) will also be discussed in detail later, but leaders must be fully devoted to God when they lead God’s people. Any divided loyalties will slip into their ability to guide God’s people to a proper relationship with him.
e. The lifestyles of the priests were perverted and led only to self-gratification. They indulged in the consumption of alcohol in excess, which took away their ability to make wise and ethical decisions. This passage shows the reason for God’s condemning drunkenness. People, priests in this context, cannot make decisions that are God-centered and moral when intoxicated (Ephesians 5:18; 1 Corinthians 6:10). Leaders today must be sober-minded, so that their decisions can be focused on God’s ways at all times (1 Timothy 3:3,8; Titus 1:7)
What then do we do if our leaders are caught in sinful lifestyles or do not seek to honor God’s authority in their position? 1 Timothy 5:17-25, addresses this issue. An elder caught in sin is to be accused only with witnesses, to protect him from those who simply have personal problems with him. If this rebuke fails to accomplish repentance, the whole congregation is to rebuke him, not just for his sake, but to put the fear of continuing in sin in the rest of the elders. Leadership within they church is a servant position, and those who lead serve the church. They are also held accountable to their flock and must accept this principle without complaint. The flock must also keep in mind rebuking an elder is for his benefit and to help him better his relationship with God. This goes with any leadership position. We are all here to better one another and build each other up.
4. As a result of the priests’ sexual sins, their daughters and daughters-in-law were drawn into the same lifestyle. What principle of sexual purity can we glean from this? How do we approach the issue of sexuality today? What is our culture’s view of this sin? How do we approach the issue of sexuality in a godly manner in our day?
The sexual sins of the priests led to the depravity of their own daughter and daughter-in-laws (4:13-14). God would not punish them, but let them fall into the clutches of their perversion. They would be defiled by men they may have never known. Their sexual purity would be lost. The priests, not just as leaders, but parents, failed to teach their children the value of sexual purity, by word or deed. It is essential God’s people know how to communicate the concept of purity in sexuality with integrity and respect.
Sexuality is an issue not ignored by God’s word. Song of Solomon is a book dedicated to this issue, but it is an issue many fear to discuss, and that could and has had disastrous results. In our culture, sexuality has gained too much importance socially, but too little religiously. Our culture is not very different than the culture that embraced the Baal cult; sexuality is idolized. Television, movies, music, books, etc, treat illicit behavior as a positive part of expressing individuality. Our children are in need of hearing God’s view of sex and the church cannot afford to remain silent. If we allow our culture to be the only place our children learn about sex, then we have failed.
5. Why did the prophet forbid Israel from going to Beth Aven and Gilgal? What principle can we glean from God’s forbidding Israel to go to these places?
See introduction for the significance of Beth Aven and Gilgal. The people fell into the cultural influence of these perverse cultic sites and turned their back on God. They principle is clear: an environment saturated with sinful practices needs to be avoided. Obvious places such as adult book stores and strip clubs come to mind; but there are places that may have influences over people who are weak and others that have seem harmless but are in no way Chirstian. We as Christians must be careful in how we are influenced and places we go. Some places frequented simply cannot be justified by any stretch of imagination.
6. Why would God not allow Israel to find him even though they sought him (5:4-7)? How does one find God?
Israel tried to seek God and return to him (4:4-7); but God would not let them find him. It is important to note that God allows people find him (cf. 2 Chronicles 15:4), but only those whose heart is wholly dedicated to him (2 Chronicles 15:2) and desiring to his will (2 Chronicles 17:3-6). He cannot be found without his consent. Israel had divided loyalties and even if they brought an enormous number of sacrifices (4:6), God would reject them and his people. The “spirit of harlotry” had them and they did not care. God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5, 34:14) and does not share his people with anyone or anything. When we seek God, we find him if our heart truly desires him and him alone (see also Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13).
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