Hosea 4:1-10 Knowing God
1. With chapter four of Hosea we go into the second part of this prophetic book. With chapters one to three he based his entire case taking for his main subject the situation at Hosea's home and marriage. In the [next] teaching block beginning in chapter four, various prophecies [made] during his public activity are collected. We want to listen closely to the messages that are given while keeping in mind the background to Hosea's prophetic activity which we have seen so far.
A Lack Of Sincerity And Mercy
2. To begin I will read from verses one to three.
"Hear the word of the Lord, O Israelites.
The Lord is indicting the inhabitants of this kingdom.
Because in this kingdom no one knows
Sincerity, mercy or God.
Swearing, deceit, murdering, stealing, adultery run rampant
Bloodshed flows to bloodshed.
Therefore, this land will be dried up
Everyone who dwells in it will waste away
The beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea will even be swept away," (4:21-3).
4. It is a message of the Lord's indictment that we have here in this passage. The substance of this indictment is about the fact that they don't have what they should have and do have what they shouldn't have.
5. The first thing they lack here is "sincerity, loyalty." "Sincerity" is often times translated as "truth." The opposite of it is hypocrisy and deception. That the truth is missing [among them] means that they are filled with hypocrisy and lies. After about one hundred and ten or so years after Hosea, the prophet Jeremiah described a society that had lost the truth in the following terms: "They draw back their tongues as a bow and run wild in this land with lies but not the truth. They go from evil to evil and refuse to know me, says the Lord. Let a person warn his or her neighbor. Don't even trust your brothers and sisters. Even these brothers and sisters of yours are 'Supplanters (Jacob)' and your neighbors walk slandering everything. A person will deceive his or her neighbor and not speak the truth. They teach their tongues to speak lies and they work at evil deeds till tired. They lay deception upon deception and refuse to know me, says the Lord," (Jeremiah 9:2-5). In Hosea's time even the society that the Lord had been looking at was one like the one in [Jeremiah] in which no one could trust any one else any more. This is the deficiency in truth which the Lord is indicting them for.
6. And in the Bible the word "mercy" is frequently expressed contrastively to these words of truth and sincerity. They say "hesed"* in Hebrew. This word is often used when one uses language to express the kind of being God is. For example, in Psalm 136, the phrase "[his] mercy [is] forever" is sung repeatedly. "O give thanks to our gracious Lord. His mercy is forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His mercy is forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords. His mercy is forever," (Psalm chapter one hundred and thirty six, verses one through three). When this word is used for God like this then, it means the unchanging love of God.
7. And hesed is the very thing that God, who practices it, requires between one person and another. It is [this hesed], the bond of mercy and love. [This kind of love] is not merely a reference to likes and dislikes. Likes and dislikes change with the mood and the situation. Hesed means a love that is not lost due to the current feeling or circumstance. I'd say that it is the marriage vows that describe what this means in the easiest to understand terms. During the wedding ceremony, a marriage comes into existence as one gives the answer "Yes" when asked "Will you love your mate in sickness or in health?" What is being required there is nothing less than this hesed love.
8. Human relations are miserable when hesed love is gone. That we know too well. Because even modern times is a time when hesed love is lost. In a world where living as one's heart so yearns and going according to one's emotions is encouraged hesed love won't be found. Hesed love won't exist in a world in which living as one pleases is thought of as true freedom. When this one thing is missing something else fills its place. In a society where hesed doesn't exist, it becomes a society filled with hate instead. Because a person's relationship with another who wants to live as his or her heart desires will ultimately be governed by hatred.
9. Therefore, the Lord expresses the effects of this as "Swearing, deceit, murdering, stealing, adultery run rampant. Bloodshed flows to bloodshed," (verse two). When what ought to be is absent, then what ought not to be takes over. And it doesn't stop with human society either. When what ought not to be rules the world, it not only destroys human society, but it comes to destroy the world itself. It says that as we go on into verse three. The land dries up, everyone who dwells in it wastes away and even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea come to be swept away. How these words press upon us today with so a modern ring to them!
10. The Lord accuses those in such a state as "not knowing God." It is repeated in Jeremiah's prophecy later. It said "They go from evil to evil and refuse to know me, says the Lord." But, this message of Hosea must have been really surprising for those who heard it because they were not at all what you might call unbelievers or impious people. The holy place was always bustling with flocks of people. [It was] the time of Jeroboam, which had been economically prosperous, [and] people were happily singing praises and offered up lots of sacrifices. In those days, the number of priests increased a great deal. They all must have thought that our country is one that knows the Lord. But, [as a place] in which both sincerity and mercy [or loyalty and love] have been lost, their country is indicted as one that does "not know God."
11. The word "to know" is repeatedly used in the Bible as an expression for the physical and mental oneness of husband and wife and their deep personal bond together. Upon losing loyalty and love, a relationship of [oneness and depth] cannot exist. No matter how fervent they have been at the festivals or how many sacrifices they have offered up, to lose their loyalty and love in the reality of their every day lives clearly points to the fact that a relationship based on God himself and on loyalty and love has been lost. As a result, their country is indicted as "not knowing God."
The Atonement Sacrifices Which Have Lost Their Meaning
12. They think that it was the priests serving in the temple no less who had first resisted the severe messages of the Lord. So, these messages from the Lord were for the priests. Through the Lord's word the focus of their deep spiritual infection is made clear. I will read verses four to six.
"Don't accuse any more. Stop fighting.
Your people seem to be indicting the priests.
At day time you stumble,
In the evening, the prophets stumble with you.
Thus, I will silence your mothers.
Since my people have refused to know they will be silenced.
Since you have rejected knowledge
I will not see you as my priests any longer.
Since you have forgotten God's law
I am forgetting your children too," (4:4-6).
14. If I may supply some detail here, in re-reading a bit of the first section The Bible Society Version translates it as "But, everyone, you should not fight and you should not blame. O priests, the fighting I do is fighting with you." Judging from the context, I think that way is better. Up to this point all the inhabitants of the country had been spoken about in the text. But, the problem lies with the priests. In speaking against the religious authorities, the Lord clarifies what the problem is. In addition, the expression "Since my people have refused to know they will be silenced" may be too weak. If this is translated more forcefully, it would read "Since they do not have knowledge my people will be destroyed."
15. The country will be destroyed. It is because they do not have knowledge. It is clear, as we've already read, that the knowledge that this is talking about here does not merely mean intellectual understanding with regards to God. It means to "know" God like in a true relationship between husband and wife. But, it is not just the fault of the citizens of the land that they don't know God. The great responsibility lies with the priests. The reason the country lies in such a state is that the priests have rejected knowing God. Another way to put this is to say that "since you have forgotten the law of God." Forgetting the law means to forget what God requires of us. It means to forget how we are to live in response to God's love and grace.
16. When a person forgets God's requirements, when a person loses concern for God's demands, then human requirements will come to have central importance. Thus, religion becomes no more than a matter of a projection of a person's wishes. As they seek material abundance they lose their ability to tell the difference between worshipping Baal the god of the abundant harvest and worshipping the Lord, [the God] who requires sincerity and mercy out of us. You can't expect personal relationships that are based on a love for the Lord God to be established there in that.
17. We come to know how this is so by the words of the Lord that come next.
"As they increase in might
They sin against me more and more.
I will change their glory to shame.
They indulge in the atonement sacrifices of my people,
They hope for the people to sin.
Both priest and people seem the same.
I will punish them according to their deeds
I will pay them according to their evil deeds.
They eat but are not satisfied
Even though they indulge themselves in adultery
They will not be able to increase their lineage.
They keep up their adulteries
Because they cast off the Lord and refuse to listen," (4:7-10).
19. As we see here, whether the citizens of the land truly turn their hearts to God or not, it was good for the priests either way. They didn't care at all to tell of God's grace and to tell them what God requires of them or if all the people ever came to live in true responsiveness to God's grace. What the people were looking for was that the nation be at peace and in prosperity and the priests were looking for the exact same thing. Every thing was fine as long as the wants of the people were filled, the sacrifices were continually being offered up out of that prosperity, the religious system centered on the temple was sustained by it and the status and lifestyles of the priests were supported.
20. When it said, "They indulge in the atonement sacrifices of my people. They hope for the people to sin," it was a strong criticism against the state of the priestly class. A part of the meat from the atonement sacrifices was for the priests, (Leviticus 6:18ff). Since their portion got bigger, it meant that the priest got happier even though the people sinned. From these words we see that the atonement sacrifices offering up in the holy place and the various rites that were intermediated there had no connection to any kind of true repentance or even any kind of sincerity or mercy. Therefore, on the one hand even though atonement sacrifices were being offered up, on the other hand they were wishing for prosperity and bumper crops, and sexual rituals in which they partook of temple prostitutes were going on. The root of religious depravity actually lies in a worship like that that has lost God's law and [the need for true] repentance.
21. That kind of thing was not limited to only the Old Testament period. John wrote the following words to the church. "O my children, the reason I am writing these things is so that you do not sin. Even if you do sin, an advocate with the Father, the righteous one, Jesus Christ is present. This very One is the sacrifice that atones for our sin, - no, not just our sin, but the sin of the entire world. We understand that if we keep God's commandments we know God by that. People who do not keep God's commandments though claiming "I know God" are liars and the truth is not in them," (First John 2:1-4). The danger is ever present and before us that the worship of the church that ought to be established through the eternal atoning sacrifice by Jesus Christ might lose its meaning without our realizing it and end up becoming only a projection of human wants like in the religion of Baal.
*Some English versions translate "hesed" as "unfailing love, lovingkindness, loyal love, steadfast love." To me this word is the most important word in the entire Bible. It tells us who God is and how we ought to be. Its New Testament counterpart is "agape," which is understood as "unconditional love."