Hosea: Chapter 4

I had a very busy weekend full of things I’d promised other people I’d do, so I didn’t get much chance to post this, though I did read through this chapter several times in anticipation for making this post.  At first I was a little let down by this chapter.  Yes, it is God’s word, but it didn’t seem at first to hold all that much information that would be useful for people today.  Of course, Rabbi Akiva is quoted as saying (not exact quote, please forgive) “If you read the scripture and it doesn’t speak to you today, then dance for JOY, for God has prepared you for a day yet unseen.”  His idea here is that if scripture doesn’t speak to you where you are right now in your spiritual walk, one day it will, and you’ll be glad you read it way back then.

Thankfully, though, God blessed me to find meaning even for today in this chapter, and I think it’s a rather sobering conclusion.  Go with me…

Domestic Disturbance

Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites, because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. ” (Hosea 4:1, NIV)

Hosea begins his next sermon against the people with word from God.   The word the NIV translates as “charge” is the noun “RIBH” which could also be translated as “dispute”, but not just any dispute but a “clamorous dispute” or in today’s terms, a domestic disturbance.  This is not a silly dispute or argument, but the word denotes a tone of seriousness and also that the dispute is with family.  The rabbinic commentary that I have translates the first part “Hear the word of the Lord, O Children of Israel”, which I think more accurately captures the nature of this very serious family dispute.

God’s dispute is three-fold, His people have: no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement (or just simply “knowledge”) of God. Here each of the Hebrew words that are negated with “EN” in front of them (“EN ‘EMETH”, “EN HESEDH”, and “EN DA`ATH”) are all words in the Bible used to describe God.  Now God uses his own description to show the people what they are not.  God is describes as faithful (Psalm 89:8), loving (Psalm 100:5), and knowledgeable about each and every one of us (Matthew 10:30, God knows you so well that the hairs on our heads are numbered).  And yet here are a people who have forgotten God and have no knowledge of him and as a result they have no love and no faithfulness.  The next few verses go into what the people are doing because of this total lack of God in their lives: breaking oaths, murdering, and violence.

Verse 2 has an interesting tidbit in it: “…they break all bounds…” (Hosea 4:2)  About this part of the verse the rabbis say:

“…the breaking of all bounds refers to the breaching of the rabbinical ordinances, whose purpose is to create a protective ‘fence’ around the laws of the Torah.  As indicated in the ensuing verse, this initial disregard for the rabbinical ordinances leads one to the path of spiritual decline which often culminates in the cardinal offense of murder.” (Redak and Mezudath David)

I think highly interesting because the rabbinical ordinances which they speak of were known then as “the tradition of the elders” and today known as the Mishna.  The Jews wanted to obey God’s commands so much that they created rules of tradition that would make sure that there wasn’t even a chance of you breaking the command.  Some say this is terribly legalistic, and certainly it could be twisted be that, but I see it more originally coming out of an intense desire to follow God.  Indeed, today many Jewish neighborhoods have erected a line that goes around their neighborhood so they know how far they can walk on Shabbat, and they called it a fence, which can also symbolize the fence of the rabbinical ordinances that keep religious Jews well within the bounds of the Torah.

Creation Suffers

“Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying. ” (Hosea 4:4, NIV)

The above passage struck me that God listed the creatures in the reverse order that He created them: Man is wasting away for not following God’s Torah, then the animals of the ground, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea.   My own midrash on this verse would be that when man fails to follow God, God’s good creation suffers with them since man is the caretaker of God’s world.

A Lack of Knowledge

“my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children” (Hosea 4:6)

It’s pretty clear from this passage and others like it in the prophets that God’s people were destroyed because they did not know the Torah.  Knowledge of God’s scripture is key to following God completely or else we are destroyed.  Today the disturbing trend for Christians to go to church and think that they’re all good as far as Bible knowledge goes.  “Maybe go to Bible class (if I feel like it), listen to the sermon….yeah, I’m good. I’m saved…what’s it matter? I don’t need book knowledge to be saved!”  While I don’t want to get into the question of salvation, I do think it prudent to point to this passage to show the necessity of God’s people reading, studying, and memorizing His Word.  It’s important!  Don’t neglect the reading of the scripture, as Paul exhorted Timothy.  This actually leads up right into the next part…

A Corrupted Priesthood

Hosea points to the priesthood and blames them for the problems of the people for they were supposed to be the instructors in the way of the Torah (Deut. 33:10).  And apparently, even more terribly, the priests were not only neglecting their priestly duties to the people as instructors but still continued to function as “priests” at the high places, for it is written:

“The more [the priests] have increased, the more they have sinned against Me; I will (therefore) exchange their honor for shame.  They feed on the sin offerings of My people, and set their heart on their iniquity.” (Hosea 4:7-8, Tanakh)

Here the rabbis expound that the priests were encouraging people to sin (by wrongly teaching them) so that they would bring sin offerings to the priests who would then eat them (as was their priestly right).  It would be like today a church leader openly supporting adultery but also demanding that when you do commit adultery you have to bring in a large sum of money to pay for your sin which he would get most of (if not all).  That sound wrong to you?  Does that make you angry to even think of someone manipulating God’s people into doing that?  That is exactly what the priests were doing in the day of Hosea.  Therefore, God says, He will exchange their honor (like that of eating a king’s table) for shame (like that of a prostitute) (based on commentary of Rabbi Malbim).

“And it will be: Like people, like priests. I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds. ” (Hosea 4:9, NIV)

And here we see the final consequences of the priests leading the people astray: destruction of both priest and the people.  All are held accountable for their own sins, even when being led astray by people who claim they know God.  And so even today we see the need to study God’s word diligently to make absolutely sure that we are not being led astray but are being taught the truth.  Do not trust your pastor, reverend, preacher, elder, or whoever else tells you something about the Bible – go and look it up yourself!

At first Chapter 4 seemed to wander and not be very cohesive as a chapter, but then here at the end it all came together for me: it’s all about knowledge of God.  If you have it, you will prosper.  If you do not have knowledge of God but instead rely on others to give it to you, it will lead you to destruction.  God says clearly that you will be held responsible for your sin, regardless of whether you were led astray by those that would twist the Words of God.  I pray that each of us are like the Bereans (Acts 17:11), and study the scriptures daily and diligently.

Peace to you,

James

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2 thoughts on “Hosea: Chapter 4

  1. Yet another side of James Prather.

    I don’t read Hebrew or Syriac, so my opinion may not be weighty, but I find this running midrash to be very helpful.

    Thank you, James. I want to read all of your stuff. Have you done any work in the Psalms? I’m preaching through them and writing music for some of them, and I’d love to see your work.

    • Randy,

      Always a pleasure to hear from you. Thanks for the kind words. The Psalms…that’d be alot of fun. I’ve done some work in them, but not alot. I’ve done the most work on Psalm 8, 22, 23, 40, and 119, but none of that has been posted on this blog (yet). The song I wrote at Haskell Singing School 2008 (“I need You, Lord”) was based out of Psalm 40. One of the reasons I made this blog was because people at church would ask me questions and I would think “you know, I bet other people would want to know that.” So if you have a request, I’ll read up on it and post my thoughts on it. I like a challenge. :)

      Peace to you,

      James

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