A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 1

A Call to Know God:  Hosea

Prophets are hard to understand. Other religions have their prophets; their seers. But in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the office of prophet involved considerably more than foretelling future events. Biblical prophets not only spoke for God but their words could be trusted only insofar as the prophet himself could be trusted. This elevates the prophets of the Bible far above their pagan counterparts.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)

And understanding Biblical prophecy is as easy as understanding the prophet himself. All Old Testament prophet have three things in common:

a. They are called of God. Prophets were not born that way. They didn’t aspire to become a prophet like one would aspire to become a carpenter. No Biblical prophet became some voluntarily; each one was called by God.

b. They told the truth no matter what. Prophets not only predicted the future, they preached about events in their present time.

c. They were married to their ministry. They were their ministry. This is why we see so many Old Testament prophets “acting out” their sermons or using their own family situations as living illustrations to get their messages across.

Hosea is a classic example of an Old Testament prophet. He was a prophet who lived and worked in the northern kingdom, Israel. He was preaching during the days just before Israel fell to Assyeria. Life wasn’t that bad in Israel during this time. Their decline was gradual and their fall from grace, while definite and steady, looked more like a feather wafting down from the sky than a meteor dropping onto the earth. Hosea’s time was relatively peaceful and prosperous. Unfortunately, if history teaches us anything about God’s people in general, it’s that during the good times rarely, if ever, do we engage in behavior that pleases or glorifies God.

Right beside all the wealth and prosperity was poverty and injustice. The poor were being taken advantage of, the weak stepped on by the strong, the innocent often oppressed by the governing authorities.

Religious conditions weren’t much better. They definitely had a “form of godliness” but it wasn’t Yahweh they were worshiping. Paganism was the religion of Israel at this time. True worshipers of Yahweh had long ago left Israel for Judea in the south.

The fall of Israel was just around the corner; conditions were soon to deteriorate quickly and it was into this atmosphere God had called His man, Hosea, to witness.

1. Consequences of rejecting God, Hosea 4:1-6

Attitudes have consequences. When people have no moral center, pretty soon immorality of all kinds becomes commonplace. Recklessness and lawlessness become the norm. The prophet Hosea hollers at the people of Israel to “listen up” because God is about to bring charges against them:

There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.” (verse 1)

Hosea begins with a “general” charge. In essence, the people of Israel had completely disregarded God; He had become irrelevant to them. He no longer figured into their thinking in any way. Because God no longer figured in their lives, they had lost their moral compass. They had become ruthless and untrustworthy, selfish and narcissistic.

a. God’s charges, verses 1-3

There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. (verse 2)

Hosea uses several key words in his charges against the people of Israel.

  • There was no truth to be found in the land. The Hebrew word is emeth, and is sometimes translated “faithlessness” because is carries with it the notion of knowing right but doing wrong. Frequently falsehood dries up any love and compassion one may have for another.

  • Cursing and lying. The Hebrew alah, “to swear,” is used in combination with kichesh, “false lying,” to describe people who lie and swear false oaths and in general whose words cannot be trusted.

  • Added to this was: murder (killing), stealing, and adultery. The structure of this phrase suggests that these crimes were rampant in the land. Literally, they happened so often and were so common that one murder followed another; one broken marriage followed another, and so on.

The consequences of this kind of behavior is stark:

Because of this the land dries up, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea are swept away. (verse 3)

As is common in the Biblical prophets, we see nature suffering because of the sins of man. We recall how, during the days of the prophet Elijah, God allowed a prolonged drought to afflict his people as a form of judgment.

b. The people’s charges, verses 4-6

But let no one bring a charge, let no one accuse another, for your people are like those who bring charges against a priest. (verse 4)

This verse seems to indicate that even though moral conditions in Israel were bad and about to bet a lot worse, reasoning and reproof were useless because of the obstinacy of the people; they would blame each other or blame the priests for their state, never for a moment realizing that they themselves were responsible for the conditions of their nation.

You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you. So I will destroy your mother—my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. (verses 5, 6a)

Here, the prophet speaks directly to the religious leaders, the priests of the Israel. What a degenerate lot they were! Their behavior was bringing about judgment from the hand of God. The phrase, “I will destroy your mother” simply means that God was going to destroy the nation.

Priests and prophets, those who minister for God before God’s people, fall under a special condemnation of God when they fail in their duties. When the people are not taught the knowledge of God, it is the fault of religious leaders.

This lack of the knowledge of God was the very crux of Israel’s downfall according to Hosea’s word. In the Hebrew mind, “knowledge” means much more than information or a collection of facts. It involves the whole person; it involves information in the mind and the body’s response to that information. In terms of knowledge of God, it involves man’s relationship to Him. Because the priests and prophets did not give the people the knowledge of God, they could not have a relationship with Him. In other words, knowledge of God gives a person his moral compass.

2. Tragedy of sin, 4:7-19

In the Bible, sin is not seen as merely as breaking a law or going against what you know to be right, sin is personal. Every sin is a sin against God. It is an attitude of the heart that causes a person to rebel against God. Israel’s sin led them to break the covenant that existed between them and God and to actually mock God and His Word. Such an attitude realizes real effects.

a. Judgment on the priests, verses 7-9

The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their glorious God for something disgraceful. They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness. And it will be: Like people, like priests. I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.

The awful indictment against the priests continues with this group of verses. The “priests” were clearly not worthy to be called priests, and the greater their power became, the more they sinned. As a judgment, God would turn their disgrace back on them. J.B. Philips captures the perversity of the priesthood with his translation:

They feed on my people’s sins and lick their lips over the guilt to come.

This could be a metaphorical statement, or it could have reference to eating forbidden meat sacrificed to pagan idols. Regardless, the priests in Israel at this time were definitely “blind guides!” The judgment, though, is awful: they would reap the sin they were sowing.

b. Judgment on the people, verses 10-19

They will engage in prostitution but not increase, because they have deserted the Lord to give themselves to prostitution; old wine and new wine take away their understanding. (verses 10, 11)

Though the priests were feeding on the sins of the people, their appetite for sin only increased, they were never satisfied. Lust and alcohol had deadened their sense of right and wrong. Turning to the people, the Lord continues His pronouncements:

Therefore your daughters turn to prostitution and your daughters-in-law to adultery. (verse 13b)

The people, bereft of understanding of even rudimentary spiritual concepts, had been sacrificing to idols all over the countryside, out in the open, with no sense of shame. Because of that, a terrible judgment passes on to the children. The prostitution referred to here is related to the worship of pagan idols. Prostitution played a big part in this kind of worship, and the people of Israel had fallen so far from God that they were willing to literally give their daughters over to that kind of life in order to stoke their perversity. Make no mistake about it, a person’s spirituality will always work its way into his physical life.

A whirlwind will sweep them away, and their sacrifices will bring them shame. (verse 19)

This final verse of chapter 4 really says it all. Due to the depths of the Israelites sin, there will be no escape. The literal meaning is even more chilling: “A whirlwind has wrapped her (Ephraim) up in her wings.” The coming destruction would be inescapable. Today, people who don’t know any better, get all wrapped up and carried away by every wind of doctrine, and, just like the people of Hosea’s day, when the storm clears, they will be ashamed.

3. Return to God, Hosea 6:1-6

Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us… (verse 1)

a. A call for hope, verses 1-3

Here is God’s “last call.” Judgment is coming and it can’t be stopped, but there can be healing if the people would just return to the Lord. This verse is not without controversy. Some scholars see Hosea as praying for the people, others see the people themselves praying to God, expressing a desire to be right before Him. It seems to us that it is unlikely the people would all of a sudden turn to the Lord on the basis of Hosea’s word; Israel never paid attention to the prophets in the past.

But this verse teaches us something about the nature of God. It is God who is the source of ALL. He is the One who had torn, and He will be the One who will heal. When will this healing take place? Verse 2 refers to a time in the future, when national Israel will be brought back into the land and the Lord will bring them to Himself. This verse has no reference to the resurrection of Christ, incidentally. The idea is that when God begins His work of healing and restoration, it will happen quickly.

Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” (verse 3)

Hosea continues to encourage the people, this time to “acknowledge the Lord.” Here are two beautiful figures: the early morning sunrise and the life giving rains. The coming of Yahweh is seen as the dawn of a beautiful day and as the winter and spring (latter and former) rains, which bring life to the earth.

b. Enduring love, verses 4-6

What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth— then my judgments go forth like the sun. For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

After a brief call to repentance, Hosea returns to warning the people against their continued sin. He is addressing Ephraim and Judah, but Ephraim should be viewed as representative of all of Israel.

If ever anybody sounded frustrated, it must be God in these verses! This is God’s heart cry to His people; His religious people. He just doesn’t know what to do to them! The people were clueless and God is expressing His frustration with them. Here is God, on then horns of a dilemma: He wants to save, not judge, but He must judge. When people continually turn from Him, no matter how much He wants to save them, He must judge them.

The people of Israel, and to a much lesser degree, the people of Judah, were a very religious people, but they had no personal knowledge of God. This shows you the value of religion. From Dr. McGee’s book on Hosea, he quotes a letter to the editor:

In today’s society, religion has outlasted its usefulness. Man at long last has outgrown the need for this opiate. No longer does he have to explain the unknown with folktales and the worship of a superior being. In a complex society such as ours, religion can only mute and cloud the mind. Religion blurs and distorts important details and information, interferes with important decisions, and promotes bigotry and injustice. Now is the time for humanity to discard this mental blindfold.

In our modern society, it’s time, perhaps past time, for religion to be done away with and a mass return to Jesus Christ begun. Religion never does anybody any good, but Jesus Christ alone can save. He can save an individual, a church, a community, and a nation. God condemned the ancient Hebrews on account of their convenient religion, which was a perverse caricature of what God really wanted. That’s why the Lord told His people, and He is telling us today:

I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burn offerings.

God wants you to live right, and to stop being religious.

(c) 2011 WitzEnd
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