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Hosea Chapters 4-5 “God’s Lament”

The Book of Hosea: God’s Scandalous Grace

“Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the Lord of hosts, though their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel.” _ Jer. 51:5

Chapters 4-5 – “God’s Lament”

God has an indictment against Israel. God condemns the fertility cults that were widely practiced in Israel. However, what does this mean for us living in the twenty first century? It means a great deal because the sources of that idolatry are still very much with us. These include faithlessness, disloyalty, greed, bloodshed, drunkenness, sexual immorality and pride. The most serious problem is that Israel has forgotten the word of the Lord (Hosea 4:6). Therefore, there is no knowledge of God.

  1. The Indictment Against Israel – chapter 4

We now get a full picture of the situation in Israel that prompted God to give Hosea his shocking command.  God’s ordering Hosea to marry a prostitute was a symbolic way of showing how God was being frustrated by the faithlessness of Israel.  Yet in spite of all that God continued to love Israel.

Here now God lays out the crisis in Israel in clear terms. The list of their offenses is sobering and indeed disturbing:

  1. No faithfulness or loyalty
  2. No knowledge of God
  3. Swearing
  4. Lying
  5. Murder
  6. Stealing
  7. Adultery
  8. Greed

This is to say that Israel has made a mockery of God’s law. The people have broken the commandments not occasionally but on a regular basis. How has this happened?

The problem begins with the leadership. The priests and the prophets have turned away from the Lord (vs. 4-6). These leaders have become greedy.  They have in fact corrupted the people. They will not be able to enjoy their food or their wine. They have in fact indulged wine and have fallen into the trap of worshipping the idols of the land. Moses explicitly warned them about this (Deut. 6:14-15).

The problem with the fertility cults of the ancient world was not only the direct worshipping of false gods like Baal and Astarte.  It was also the way the way those gods were worshipped.  Since they were allegedly gods of fertility their worship included not only sex with temple prostitutes but open sex in general.  The belief was that sexual practices among humans (and even humans with animals (Lev. 18:23; 20:15-15; Deut. 27:21)) helped the crops to grow.  Their growth in turn helped to sustain life.  This was central to the worship of these false gods.  Hence the general terms of “whore” and “whoredom” are used repeatedly to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness (vv. 11-15).  The sacrifices on the tops of the mountains and under the shade of the trees involved sexual practices (v. 14).  The shade of the tree was more conducive to the “sexual orgies” (v. 18)!

One of God’s concerns is that the degenerate activities of Israel would infect the southern kingdom, Judah (v. 15).  The point of this chapter is that once God has been forsaken everything and anything becomes possible.  The apostle Paul says the same thing (Rom. 1:18-32).

  1. God’s Judgement – chapter 5

God follows the indictment now with the pronouncement of judgement on faithless Israel.  God refers to Israel as “Ephraim.” Ephraim was the second son born to Joseph (Gen. 48:50-52).  His descendants became a major tribe in Israel.  Joshua was part of that tribe.  Eventually Ephraim merged with Israel once there was a separation between the northern (Israel) and southern (Judah) kingdoms.  In the judgement here Ephraim is included along with Israel.  Judah also will not be exempt.

God has had enough.  The bottom line is that Israel has a “spirit of whoredom.”   God’s ultimate judgment, again in the words of the apostle Paul, is that God gives them up (Rom. 1:24-32).  They will seek for God and not find him (v. 6).  The “new moon” which was associated with the cycle of life and the fertility cults will “devour them.”

God is about to pour out his wrath on them “like water.” The essential; fault they have is pride (v. 5) and vanity (v. 11).  They will seek outside help by going to Assyria but this will accomplish nothing (Assyria actually will eventually conquer Israel).  God will in effect attack them like a lion (v. 14).  Yet in their distress they will beg for God’s favor (v. 15).

How does all this relate to us?  We need to recognize that we are all vulnerable to the influence of idolatry.  It begins with pride and then continues into faithlessness and finally a breakdown of the knowledge of God.

The pop singer Katy Perry stated in an interview that she began as a gospel singer (she wanted to be the next Amy Grant).  Her parents were both ministers.  However, she wanted to be certain to achieve fame.  So, in her words, she sold her soul to the devil.  Was she kidding?

This was Israel.  By turning to the idols Israel (along with Ephraim and Judah) sold themselves into the powers of darkness.  C.S. Lewis has said that the only thing worse than over-emphasizing the power of evil is to under-emphasize it.

Nonetheless God’s judgment is never the end.  It is not the end here.

Questions for Discussion –

  1. Where do we see idols in our world? How can we recognize them?
  2. Why do you think Israel, in God’s words, played the whore when they had God’s law to guide them?
  3. What would be examples of God giving us up as a form of judgement?

Next Study – “God’s Desire” – chapters 6-8