Hosea 4:11-19
The Charm And Trap Of Religion

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  Israel had been a united kingdom until Solomon's time, but in the time of his son Rehoboam it split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.*  It was Jeroboam who waved  the flag of revolt against the royal house of David and became the king of the northern monarchy.  He was the king who ruled the ten tribes of Israel, but there was complete unrest.  It was [because] the temple at Jerusalem was in the south in Judah.  He thought the following idea in his heart, "Now, the kingdom looks like it will belong to the house of David again.  Since the people are going up to the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem in order to offer up sacrifices, the hearts of the people will look again to their master, to the king of Judah Rehoboam and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah," (First Kings 12:26-27).  So after thinking hard, he constructed two golden calves and said to the people, "You no longer need to go up to Jerusalem.  Look, o Israel.  Here is your god that brought you up out of Egypt."  Thus, he placed one idol in Bethel and the other at Dan.

2.  In order to enmesh the hearts of the people together, religion is often used as an effective means to that end.  Many rulers that have appeared in this world have skillfully used that method.  Even for Jeroboam and for the kings after him, the religion of Israel was required by all means to be an attractive power for the people so that the state would be maintained.  So then, Jeroboam set up temples in a number of holy high places and there he appointed priests from among the people who were not Levites and he made them hold elaborate rites and even the king himself stood at the altar offering up sacrifices.  These "holy high places" are places that were holy places in which the aboriginal Canaanites used to hold services for their gods.  Jeroboam made these high places important again as places to hold services unto the Lord.  That's how these services in which they made no distinction from the Canaanite Baal services captured the hearts of the public in the kingdom.  And it kept on being an attractive religion and after about two hundred years it [still] lasted all the way to the time of Hosea.

3.  So then, today wherever Japanese missions is discussed, the attractiveness of the Christian church is often brought up.  They say that it must surely be a very fascinating church with a power over people.  The gospel of Christ is certainly a very attractive thing by its very nature as we would think as many generations of disciples have even given up their lives joyfully for the cause of the gospel.  Thus, I would say that the church in a certain sense must have an attraction to it and must be a church that is able to witness to this world of the gospel's attraction.  But, we should not overlook that a great danger comes along wherever one easily supplies or seeks for this thing of religion's attraction.  When we read The Book Of Kings, what Jeroboam did is referred to as "the sin of Jeroboam" way way much later.  And in The Book Of Hosea the reason they were so harshly indicted was for these rites done in those very prosperous holy places, over which many people cared so zealously and were so happy.

An Attractive Religion

4.  With that, let's begin reading from verse eleven to verse fourteen.


"Wine and new drinks rob the mind.
My people seek for oracles at the tree
At its branches they receive instructions.
They are allured by a spirit of adultery
And in departing from God they indulge in adultery
At the mountain tops they offer up sacrifices
On the hills they burn incense.
For the shade of the oaks, the poplars, and the elms** is pleasant.
Your daughters indulge in adultery
Your brides*** even indulge in adultery.
Even though your daughters indulge in adultery
And though your brides indulge in adultery, I won't blame them.
Because their parents have gone astray with the prostitutes
And they offer up sacrifices with the temple harlots.
The ignorant perish," (4:11-14).

6.  The kind of religion that fascinated them is described in this scripture.  It is represented by "wine" and "adultery."  While under the rapture of drink and sexual activity they would "seek for oracles at the tree and receive instructions at its branches."  We might be able to lay this description along side that of the unique cults in recent years.  But, actually, the detailed elements pertaining to this have everything to do with us as well.  Although our faith lives may not literally include the same activities, there is so very much the possibility that the essence of [our lifestyles] has no major differences from the Baal religion of Israel.

7.  The wine and new drink included at the rites were probably originally meant for giving thanks for the year's harvest.  But, as we see here, it lost its original meaning and it became a means for getting wild and excited.  It is a common occurrence for people that they look for the irrational world in religion.  You might call it the not so ordinary world.  The reason they seek an irrational and non typical world is to flee the ordinary that they always have to rationally face.  In the popular world drink is often used as a means to that purpose.  When this is brought into the world of religion, the kinds of things written here in the text take place.  But, this type of escapism may happen even when alcohol is not used.  Any way, for those who cannot face the real world with awakened minds, religion must be very attractive [as] it allows for [some] irrational and unordinary moments.

8.  On the other hand, the sexual activity involved in the Baal worship services meant that by way of the ceremony they were imitating the sexual activity between the god Baal owner of the world and the goddess of the earth Asherah.  But, it was really the high or the ecstatic state which involved a religious makeup that was being sought after in this, [yet] they weren't doing anything but satisfying their appetites.  Of course, in and of itself sex is not wrong.  A sexual relationship between male and female is a wonderful God-given gift.  It was meant to cause a deep personal bond and it makes the two individuals, male and female, one.  The scriptures say, "For this reason, a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to the woman, the two become one body," (Genesis 2:24).  But, if that really is so, we should not divide the life in marriage of living as one body specifically**** from the home life of every day living together.

9.  It happens all too much in this world that sexuality is divided from the specific life in which we live as one and it just becomes a way to get a high, fill our appetites, or get mental satisfaction.  And it was true then and it is now that the practice of sex apart from a husband and wife lifestyle is destructive to one's every day life.  And when such an irresponsible practice of sex comes into the religious world, it takes on a form like the Baal worship like we have written here in the Bible.  For those who cannot face the specific life of living with another person [responsibly under God], whatever will bring them a high that will let them forget things for a while or fulfill their appetites, whether it is religion or whatever, will always have an attractive power over them and that's a fact.

10.  And while they were in such a state they sought for an oracle at the tree and received instructions at its branches.  [Scholars] think that "to seek an oracle at the tree" means specifically that they sought for an oracle from the idol Asherah that stood beside the altar.  In addition, they think that "the branch" where it says "they receive instruction at the branches" is a type of divining rod.  According to another opinion, they say they would throw down two sticks and the sticks would give an oracle by the way they landed.  I'm not sure of any more of the details by this description, but I know that they would be given a direct and personal answer in some form or another.  They probably asked and got answers pertaining to something specific in farming or various issues about their daily lives.

11.  In a way like this, many people in all time periods have eagerly sought to be given personal answers related to their daily lives in oracular form.  I know this because even nowadays many people visit fortune tellers and they go to [one of] the newer religions where they give personal messages from beyond.  They say that for people back in the old days, in particular, for people who took part in agriculture which involved nature, that a religion that would give them easy answers regarding the present and the future would have been very attractive.

The Danger In Attraction

12.  But, a danger often times comes along with something that holds attractive powers on you.  Those who receive fortunes in such an irrational and out of the ordinary environment, while seemingly obtaining a certain path, they actually are in a delusion, on a lost road.  While it looks like they are with God, they really have departed from God.  It says in the Bible that "They are allured by a spirit of adultery, and in departing from God they indulge in adultery...," (second half of verse twelve).

13.  As we've seen in the passage from last week, to begin with the problem was that the priests rejected a knowledge of knowing God and had forgotten God's law, (4:6).  Thus, knowledge and the law were lost among the Israelites.  They wouldn't live in a personal relationship based on seeking God himself, knowing him, and loving him.  And they didn't try to know what God required from a believer.  Since they did not have any interest at all in the foundational orientation, the direction in which a believer ought to face, and they only looked for easy answers to the immediate concerns of the day, it was only so that they would lose their way.  In not looking back over whether the direction of their lives was right or wrong and since they only sought simple solutions for the problems at the tip of their noses, eventually they couldn't help but live lost as they were.  In acting like they did, they were lead astray by a godless evil spirit and in the end they left God and didn't even realize they were moving down a path out of touch from the will and mind of God.

14.  So then, if one generation is confused, the next generation will also live lost and confused too.  "Your daughters indulge in adultery, your brides even indulge in adultery," (the second half of verse thirteen).  But, in one certain sense the Lord saw that this was an appropriate result.  He even says, "Even though your daughters indulge in adultery, and though your brides indulge in adultery, I won't blame them."  Because what you'd expect to happen happened.  "Because their parents have gone astray with the prostitutes, and they offer up sacrifices with the temple harlots."  Then Hosea concludes this message with a proverb from his day, "The ignorant perish."  A danger comes along with anything that holds attractive powers on you.  This danger is great.  It brings destruction.  Did not the Lord Jesus also say, "Enter from the narrow gate.  The way that leads to destruction is wide and by way of this path so wide, many people will enter from it," (Matthew 7:13).

The Unfortunate Cow Turned Loose

15.  But, no matter how much the Lord called out to them, the Israelites would not return.  So the Lord says this to them:


"O Israel, even if you are a playgirl
- Judah, don't sin -
Don't go over to Gilgal.  Don't go up to Beth Aven.
Don't swear, "As the Lord lives."
Israel truly is stubborn like a stubborn cow.
How will the Lord nourish them like a lamb in the open field?
Ephraim is a captive to idols.
Leave them as them are.
Drunken they heap up adulteries
They turn themselves over to shameless behavior.
The spirit of lust wraps them in its wings
And they will receive shame because of the sacrifices," (4:15-19).

17.  Israel was a stubborn cow.  They were such stubborn heifers that no matter how much the shepherd pulled them, they would only go in the direction they wanted to go and no matter how much he pushed them if they didn't have a mind to work they absolutely would not.  The Israelites at first glance looked very pious assembling fervently at the shrines, holding elaborate festivals but when viewed the way God sees [things] they were nothing but stubborn cows.  When all is said and done, they had no intention of going in the direction that the Lord really wanted them [to go in].  What they did fervently was only to make their own hearts glad.  But, it's not just them who do this.  We are just like them, aren't we?  Even though a person looks so fervent in faith as seen according to human eyes, all in all, they are only doing as they please and they are pursuing after only what their heart desires and since the will to follow the Lord's will is not in the least bit present within them they are no different from a stubborn cow when seen from God's eyes.  At minimum they are not even a flock of sheep that hears the shepherd's voice and lives guided by his voice.

18.  That's why Hosea said in regard to Israel, "How will the Lord nourish them like a lamb in the open field?"  Nourishing stubborn cows like sheep makes no sense at first.  But, there are times when the Lord does what makes no sense to us.  The Lord let the stubborn cows loose in the open field.  He said, "Ephraim is a captive to idols.  Leave them as them are," (verse seventeen).  If the cattle are let loose in the field and no one is about to bring them back, what will happen?  We can only say that it will be very disastrous for the cattle.  Similarly, for those like the stubborn cows, the truly disastrous thing is not when they will not be able to do anything, but rather that they can freely do whatever their hearts desire and can freely go wherever they want.  Hosea speaks on the conclusion to that as follows: "The spirit of lust wraps them in its wings, and they will receive shame because of the sacrifices."  We need to know the grace of being allowed to abide in the Lord.

End Notes

*The division of the kingdom into Judah and Israel (south and north, 2 tribes and 10 tribes) is an important fact that one must memorize in order to understand the Bible, especially the historical books and the prophets.  I am amazed at how many Christians do not know this.


***Or "daughters-in-law."

****Translator's note: I think it is best to turn this word into an adverb because the nouns here in Japanese work like verbs referring to action.  Perhaps this moment marks another development in my own long journey towards mastering Japanese.  Or perhaps I still don't get it!  In the second sentence of paragraph 8, I actually applied this same principle when I rendered the interpretation, "they weren't doing anything but satisfying their appetites," which is more literally as "it was nothing more than a filling up of [their] appetites."  It is a case of nouns dealing with actions, thus having verbal nuances, thus working like verbs.

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