A. Order in the Court
Have you ever noticed how many courtroom dramas are on TV? From Perry Mason in the1950s and 1960s to today’s Law & Order, this is an enduring staple of secular entertainment. An entertainment-oriented culture even looks upon such shows as Court 7’V as a source of reality-based amusement.
Hosea wasn’t a scriptwriter for a courtroom drama. His book wasn’t designed to be entertaining. Hosea wasn’t a lawyer, but he could have
been. Much of his teaching is like an indictment that would be presented in court. It is a bill of particulars confronting Israel for sin.
Hosea’s focus in both the positive and negative sections of his book is on the relationship between God and His people. The prophet Amos talked about God, Israel, and the surrounding nations, but Hosea largely focused on the theme of God and Israel. In this context, Israel refers to the northern kingdom of God’s divided people as distinct from the southern kingdom of Judah.)
B. Lesson Background
To put Hosea’s words in context, it will be helpful to understand what the people of Israel had done to their religion. In some cases they had rejected God and their traditions outright. In other cases they had merged the religion of the one true God with a regional religion that worshiped a god named Baal (Hosea 2:8). This greatly disturbed Hosea and the other prophets. Hosea probably began his prophetic ministry just as Amos’s ministry (last week’s lesson) was drawing to a close. Hosea thus prophesied between about 760 BC and the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 BC.
This period of time seemed like a golden age to the people living in it (compare Isaiah 2:7:3:16). Yet Hosea saw it, as did Amos and Isaiah, as anything but a golden age. Yes, there was prosperity, but the rich took advantage of the poor. Yes, there were religious observances, but they were corrupted by paganism and sensuality. Hosea’s name means “salvation,” and he certainly preached that the people were in need of that! Yet the people did not see themselves as vulnerable—”Salvation from what?” they probably asked themselves. The relatively stable reigns of Uzziah in the south and Jeroboam II in the north bred complacency.
But the prophets of God were not fooled. Justas Amos had seen the truth, so did Hosea. As a patriotic dweller of the north, he warned the people of the problem. And his warning would later prove to be valid.
In some ways Hosea is the most intriguing prophet in the Old Testament. Hosea’s tumultuous family life, as noted in Hosea 1:2-11; 3:1-3,became almost a metaphor of what was happening between God and His people. God had commanded Hosea to marry a woman who would prove to be unfaithful. This was so that Hosea’s family could be an example of God’s willingness to love and take back His faithless people. Thus Hosea’s own family became a kind of object lesson of human faithlessness and God’s forgiveness.
The book of Hosea itself can be studied in three divisions. The first division, chapters 1-3,describes the personal information about Hosea and his family life.
The second division is chapters 4-13; this contains the oracles, or sermons, of Hosea. These messages are very tough condemnations of what was going on in Israel. The lesson for today is taken primarily from this section.
The final section is chapter 14. It deserves its own designation because, while it also contains sermonic material from Hosea, a bit of hope is introduced. Even so, no more than 10 percent of the book of Hosea deals with God’s blessings. The book is overwhelmingly a message of condemnation and punishment
Serious Charges(Hosea 4:1-4)
A. Absence of Goodness (v. 1)
1. Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the Loin, hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.
The opening phrase hear the word of the Lord begins the indictment. What follows is a bill of particulars about things the people are lacking. We may call these sins of omission.
First, the Lord says there is no truth. The word used for truth carries the idea of faithfulness, fidelity, honesty, or reliability (compare Genesis24:49; 47:29; Exodus 18:21; Joshua 2:12, 14).Neither is there any mercy in the land. Mercy is one of the most beautiful and interesting words in the Old Testament. It is sometimes translated love, loving-kindness, goodness, etc.(examples: Psalm 36:7; Jeremiah 9:24). The He-brew words translated truth and mercy in this passage occur together (translated in various ways) in dozens of other Old Testament pas-sages. One interesting example is Exodus 34:6:”The Lord, the Lord God . . . abundant in goodness and truth.” What the Lord himself abounds in is precisely what His people disdain!
Third, Hosea says there is no knowledge of God. This does not mean that there is no knowledge that God exists. Rather, the word knowledge is used to describe an intimate mindfulness of God and His requirements under the covenant. In place of this knowledge, the people have substituted meaningless ritual. “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
Do we see any of these omissions in our own age? Truth is certainly under attack. IS. question A I. page 3581 There is too little mercy. While there are few genuine atheists in the world, there is still a dearth of the knowledge of God. God has made knowledge of himself avail-able, but many suppress it (Romans 1:18-23).
B. Presence of Wickedness (v. 2)
2. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they breakout, and blood toucheth blood.
Here Hosea describes the presence of serious sins. We would call these sins of commission. He describes a decay that is illustrated by the people’s ignoring basic morality and decency, such as what is prescribed in the Ten Commandments(Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21).
At least four of those commandments are mentioned here by use of the words lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery. The word swearing probably does not refer to using obscenities but to pronouncing a curse on some-one. Break out is the idea of violating boundaries(compare 1 Samuel 25:10). The expression blood toucheth blood probably means that one murder quickly follows another.
This corrupt society can trace its problems to a single cause: the rejection of God. The kinds of qualities that are missing (v. 1) are foundational to a healthy society. The serious sins that are present inevitably serve to weaken a society. Since Hosea is a resident of the land, this must fill him with both anger and sorrow.
Peter Cartwright (1785-1872) spent several decades as a frontier Methodist circuit-riding preacher, first in Kentucky and then in Illinois. In1856 he wrote his autobiography, which has be-come a classic on the history of frontier religion.
Cartwright was still a child when his parents moved from Virginia to Kentucky, much of which was untamed wilderness at the time. Logan County, where his parents settled, was known as Rogue’s Harbor. It was the home of many individuals who came to escape justice or punishment. Law could not be enforced. Murderers, horse thieves, highway robbers, and counterfeiters formed a majority of the population. Honest citizens tried to prosecute them, but the outlaws just provided alibis for each other and always escaped justice.
Finally the law-abiding citizens formed a group known as the Regulators to establish their own code of bylaws. One day the two groups met in town and a battle ensued, fought with knives, pistols, and clubs. Many were wounded, somewhere killed. The rogues were victorious and drove the Regulators out of town.
Sound like a nice place to live and raise your family? It is similar to the situation Hosea de-scribed: a community of killing, lying, adultery, and murder after murder. That is the result of a community that does not know God. When there is no knowledge of God, morals and social stability disappear just as quickly as the outward formalities of religion. This may lead you to reflection how much knowledge of God remains in your city. —J. B. N.
C. Presence of Mourning (v. 3)
3. Therefore shall the land mourn, and everyone that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away.
Visual for Lesson 2. Use this visual as a discussion starter by asking, “What do tree rings and the dating of the prophets have in common?”
The faithlessness of God’s people is to be punished by a drought—that is a secondary meaning of the word mourn in this context. This He-brew verb is used in Jeremiah 4:28; 12:4; Joel1:10; and Amos 1:2. Hosea’s description is of an environment in the process of ruination. All creatures that live in the land will waste away or, literally, wither. Even the fishes of the sea are threatened.
Isn’t it interesting that God associates judgment for sin as being the occasion for general decline even in the realm of nature? Paul speaks of creation groaning as a result of sin (Romans 8:20-24
D. Absence of Integrity (v. 4)
4. Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest.
The first line of this verse is difficult to inter-pret. At first glance you would think that God is forbidding the readers to reprove one another with regard to the moral decay—which is exactly what we need to do! The idea, rather, is that finger-pointing and blaming others will not solve the problems. Great revivals begin not when we put the spotlight of the sins of others but when we dare to indict ourselves.
The last line is also difficult to interpret. Is Hosea condemning his readers for being the kind of people who would dare to bring charges even against a priest?
Considering how angry Hosea is toward the priests, that is not likely (Hosea 4:6-9; 5:1; 6:9;10:5). Many commentators say the verse should be seen as an encouragement to confront the priests. Under this theory, it might be read as, “Your people should be as they who bring charges against a priest.” A different theory is that this is another reference to fingerpointing, as in, “Any problems are the fault of the priest-hood, not me!”
II. Spurned Offer (Hosea 7:1, 2)
A. Healing Was Rejected (v. 1)
1. When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the wickedness of Samaria: for they commit false-hood; and the thief cometh in, and the troop of robbers spoileth without.
The name Ephraim is another way to refer to the northern kingdom of Israel. Ephraim is a prominent tribe in the northern kingdom. Adding the word Samaria to the mix serves to emphasize the entirety of the 10 tribes that are situated north of Judah. God is saying to them that He is willing to heal all Israel. But as God makes this attempt, the sins of the people be-come even more apparent.
The primary way God attempts to heal Israel is by sending them prophets. Rather than causing the people to repent, the work of the prophets just reveals more and more sin and guilt. The prophets are persecuted (Amos 7:10-13), not welcomed (compare Acts 7:52). (See question #2.page 3501
The last line speaks of being robbed inside one’s own house (the thief cometh in) as well as while out on the city streets (the troop of robbers spoileth without). While committing falsehood may be a sneaky, somewhat hidden crime, other kinds of banditry are all too clear. There is no social justice anywhere.
B. Repentance Was Rejected (v. 2)
2. And they consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness: now their own doings have beset them about; they are before my face.
The people of Israel erroneously assume that God does not know or care about the evil they are doing. How often human beings have deceived themselves into thinking they can hide their sins from God! Yet God does not suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. Nor does He have a faulty memory (Leviticus 26:42; Psalm105:8). (See question #3. page 358)
III. Stern Command(Hosea 12:6-9; 14:1)A. Turn for a Blessing (v. 6)
6. Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually. This verse follows a discussion of Jacob’s en-counter with God at Bethel (Hosea 12:2-4; com-pare Genesis 28:10-22; 35:1-15). Hosea is highly critical of what has been going on at Bethel. See Hosea 10:5, which refers to Beethoven, a sarcastic name for Bethel. While Bethel means “house of God,” Beth-oven means “house of wickedness.”In Hosea 12:4, the prophet reminds his audience that Bethel was once a holy place. The people need to return to the kind of religion first celebrated there.
Turning thou to thy God involves repentance.(See question #.l, page :150.)The people are also to wait on God. Why the delay? They need for God to bless them again. They need the blessing that God once gave to Jacob.
AXELS OR U-TURNS?
Normally the word turn brings to mind a change in direction. But not all turns are alike. In figure skating there is a maneuver known as an axel, named after Norwegian figure skater And Paulsen (1856-1938). The axel features a jump with a turn in the air that results in the skater still going in the same direction upon landing. It is just for show. Though the axel takes a good deal of skill, it does not result in a change of direction.
Curves on an interstate highway sometimes do not take any effort on the part of the driver. The road may be banked sufficiently for the car to change direction almost by itself. The turn is done by the road conditions, not by the driver. Then there is a U-turn. This is a 180-degreechange of direction. It occurs only when the driver takes a very deliberate action. There is nothing happenstance or accidental about it. It is a conscious effort by the driver to follow a newcomer.
When Hosea urged the people to turn to God, he was not talking about a showy axel that would impress others. Nor was he talking about a situation where the people were turned merely by force of external circumstances, without any conscious effort on their part. Hosea confronts his audience (and us) with the need to make a deliberate change of direction or a U-turn.
B. Turn for Perspective (vv. 7, 8)
7.He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress.
The Hebrew word translated merchant is liter-ally Canaanite. Canaanites are known as shrewd traders, thus the translation merchant captures the sense very well. Canaanites inhabited the promised land before the Israelites arrived (Exodus 3:8).
Greedy merchants are known for their dishonest balance scales (balances of deceit). This is very offensive to God (Deuteronomy 25:13-16;Proverbs 11:1; 20:23). The children of Israel think they are quite superior to the previous in-habitants of the area, but the message is that they have become the same as them. They love to oppress.
8.And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labors they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin.
In a state of arrogant pride, Ephraim believes itself to be rich and righteous. The people are in-deed rich in a material way in the manner of un-just merchants. Not only do they see themselves as rich, they do not see that they had committed any sin. “What harm did we do in accumulating these riches?” the Israelites ask themselves. They have so manipulated the laws that they can maintain that technically they are not guilty(compare Mark 7:9-13). 77tey shall find none iniquity in tee is an arrogant, self-righteous confidence. Yet God knows better (Amos 6:1-7).Several decades after Hosea writes, the message to Jerusalem to the south will be about the same(Zephaniah 1:11-13).
C. Turn or Face Judgment (v. 9; 14:1)
9.And I that am the LORD thy God from the land of Egypt will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast. The word tabernacles refers to the tents that the Israelites lived in while in the wilderness wanderings after they had left the land of Egypt. Thus the Lord promises a severe reduction in Israel’s standard of living: they will give up their cozy houses for tents.
The solemn feast here probably refers to the Feast of Tabernacles. During this festival, people set up booths or tents as a reminder of wilderness wanderings (Leviticus 23:33-44). How sad: the Israelites will return to tents not as a memorial but as a punishment.
14:1. O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou halt fallen by thine iniquity.
We should be glad that the book of Hosea has a fourteenth chapter! It is in this chapter that hope is restored. That hope is more evident in the verses that follow (not in today’s text). There are only seven “blessings sections” in Hosea, and this is one of them.
It is the sin of the people that causes them to stumble. If they return to God, He can lift them
up .d help them walk in the right paths. This is a note of hope in an otherwise very dark book. Yet it is not the only note of hope. Remember that in Hosea’s own experience he bestows for-giving love to an errant wife (Hosea 3). Thus Hosea uses his own life as an example that God also can forgive the people who have been un-faithful to Him.
A. Holy God, Sinful People
Hosea taught that evil can become pervasive. Evil affects the fabric of society. We see in Hosea God’s sense of hurt, betrayal, and disappointment. God suffers when His people sin. Hosea also discovered and taught that God is both holy and merciful. God thundered against sin, but He could be warm and forgiving to the repentant sinner.
Here is where we need to remind ourselves of Hosea’s marital situation. Hosea sought out his wife, bought her out of prostitution, and took her back into his household (Hosea 3). Hosea could not understand how Israel could to callously choose not to love the God who had loved them so much.
Combining his own personal insight and hurts with God’s revelation, Hosea realized the depth of the meaning of unfaithfulness. Unfaithfulness toward another human and toward God can be forgiven, but it takes sincere repentance and pro-found love. Hosea’s love for his wife was a picture of God’s love for His people.
No Christian looking at this can fail to see that Jesus did something similar for us. He paid a price to bring us back home. He did this even though we did not deserve it. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
This is why some people say that Hosea be-gins to put into our minds what will come into sharper focus in the New Testament: the doc-trine of grace. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John1:17).
Forgive me, O God, for breaking Your heart. That fact would be overwhelming to me if not forth message of Your grace. Even in Your anger there is love, and even in the midst of pain You can pardon. In the name of Jesus, who embodied this truth, amen.
C. Thought to Remember