God’s Indictment of Israel
Sowing and reaping is an immutable law of nature. This law holds true in both the spiritual and moral realms of life. During the reign of King Jeroboam II, seeds of spiritual adultery and moral deviance were sown in Israel and produced a crop of religious and social corruption that propelled the nation on a steady downward course. It became only a matter of time before Israel would reap God’s judgment, resulting in her total destruction. The sins of the nation, described in the analogy of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer (chapters 1—3), are depicted in graphic language in the remaining chapters of the book of Hosea.
Hosea delivered a subpoena from God that indicted Israel for her reprehensible wickedness. In a loud voice, Hosea cried, “Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel; for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land” (4:1). The subpoena figuratively summoned Israel to appear in court to address the charge of breaking God’s covenant and commandments. God was not only the Prosecuting Attorney in this proceeding, but also the Judge who would pass sentence on Israel. The indictment charged the nation with a threefold failure to exhibit the spiritual qualities that should have characterized the people of God; and they broke five of the Ten Commandments.
First, Israel was charged with a lack of truth (v. 1) in speech and actions. The word truth (Heb. emeth) means “faithfulness, reliability,” and “stability.” Without integrity in character and conduct, there would be no stability in the land. Second, Israel was charged with a lack of mercy (v. 1). The Hebrew word for “mercy” (hesed) can also be translated “loving kindness, goodness,” or “pity.” From the ruling king to the man on the street, no one evidenced either natural affection or compassion for one another. Third, Israel was charged with having no knowledge of God (v. 1). Israel had access to the knowledge of God through the Mosaic Law; but it did not practice the principles set forth in the Law nor pass them down to the next generation. Over time, moral and religious corruption replaced godly behavior, leaving the nation devoid of inward spiritual conviction and bereft of understanding concerning God’s ways and purposes. Truth and mercy are two basic attributes of God’s divine nature and must be reflected in the social ethics of any people, or they will not survive.
The natural consequence of Israel’s blatant rebellion against God was that she broke five of the Ten Commandments: “swearing [calling down curses on people], and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery” (v. 2). These are the third, ninth, sixth, eighth, and seventh commandments (Ex. 20:7, 16, 13, 15, and 14 respectively). Iniquity and murder swept the land as “blood toucheth blood” (v. 2). All these sins spontaneously flooded across Israel, contaminating everything in sight.
Israel’s moral depravity even affected nature: “Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth in it shall languish…beasts…fowls…[and] fish…shall be taken away” (v. 3). The land would cry out as crops withered and animal life perished for lack of water and food. Moses prophesied that these judgments would come if Israel turned away from God (Lev. 26 and Dt. 28).
Inevitably, people began to blame one another for the deteriorating conditions. And they especially blamed the priests and prophets. However, God put a stop to that. “Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another; for thy people are as they that strive with the priest” (v. 4). Though the priests and prophets were guilty of causing the people to stumble, God forbade the people to bring recrimination against them (cf. Dt. 17:8-12), because they, too, were as much to blame for conditions within the land. God held all responsible for the fall of Israel: priests, prophets, and populace alike.
With the court proceedings ended and the guilty verdict returned, sentence against Israel was ready to be carried out. “Therefore shalt thou [priests] fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother” (v. 5). The phrase thy mother refers to God cutting off the nation as a whole. This happened in 722 B.C., when the Assyrian army destroyed Israel (the ten northern tribes) and carried her into captivity.
The primary responsibility of the priests was to teach Israel the knowledge of God’s Word and His Law, so the nation would know how to worship and serve the Lord. But the priests had willfully rejected God’s knowledge and failed to teach it to the people.
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me; seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children” (v. 6). Since the priests had rejected knowledge, God would reject the priests. And because they had forgotten the law of God, He would forget their children. Thus the sons of the priests would not inherit the office of their fathers, bringing to an end the priesthood in Israel. This did not mean, however, that the priesthood in Judah would cease; it would remain intact until 70 A.D.
As the priests of Israel increased, growing in number and wealth, the greater their sin grew. “As they were increased, so they sinned against me,” said God (v. 7). Their sin increased in two ways. First, the Hebrew word for “sin” (chattath) can be translated “sin offering,” meaning the more sin offerings they presented in idolatrous worship, the more their condemnation multiplied before God. Second, the priests “eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity” (v. 8). The priests turned the offerings that were intended for God into a thriving little business for themselves. They received a portion of every animal sacrificed, along with a fee for their services. Thus they literally and metaphorically fed off the sacrifice. The more the Israelites sinned, the more sacrifices they offered, and the more the priests profited. Though they were religious leaders, they made no attempt to teach people about the holiness of God or to deter them from a life of sin. Rather, they encouraged iniquity for their own personal gain. Therefore, God changed “their glory into shame [disgrace]” (v. 7).
Hosea continued: “And there shall be, like people, like priest; and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings” (v. 9). The priests and the people were addressed as one man. And both would receive the same punishment.
God’s judgment against the priests would unfold in three ways: First, “they shall eat, and not have enough” (v. 10). The priests who greedily fed off the sin offerings would be left unsatisfied with what they received. Second, “they shall commit harlotry, and shall not increase” (v. 10). Those who practiced so-called sacred prostitution in connection with the worship of Baal, a Caananite fertility diety, and encouraged Israel to obtain fertility of the soil and womb by doing likewise, would be “rewarded” with childlessness. Third, “Harlotry and wine and new wine [would] take away [their] heart” (v. 11). The word heart signifies affections, understanding, and rational thinking. Most priests were addicted to wine and sexual perversion, both of which affected their minds and bodies. They became mentally dull, spiritually ignorant and indifferent, and devoid of natural affection for one another. The priests sowed perversion, and the people of Israel reaped the dreadful results.
The priests and the populace were so possessed by a spirit of harlotry that they asked “counsel of their idols, and their staff” (v. 12). Rather than seeking God, Israel sought direction through divination before inanimate wood idols with a diviner’s staff. The “spirit of harlotry” caused them to offer “sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and elms” (v. 13). Even worse, the daughters and wives followed the example of their fathers and husbands by practicing “sacred” prostitution; “your daughters shall commit harlotry, and your spouses shall commit adultery” (v. 13). God would not single out the daughters and spouses for judgment, because the men of Israel committed the same sin: “for they themselves are separated with harlots, and they sacrifice with harlots” (v. 14). Ultimately, the tragic end of these people who “doth not understand [would be their] fall” (v. 14). Israel’s perversion and lack of spiritual understanding led to her destruction.
After speaking about the northern tribes of Israel, Hosea abruptly turned to Judah and warned her not to follow in Israel’s footsteps. He also warned Judah not to make oaths to the Lord in a place of idolatry: “let not Judah offend; and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Beth-aven, nor swear, The LORD liveth” (v. 15). Gilgal was located in Samaria and was a holy place until Israel desecrated it with idols. The name Beth-aven (“house of wickedness”) is a substitute for the name Bethel (“house of God”)— another holy place, where the Lord had appeared to Jacob. God was condemning the practice of idolatry in these cities, and warned Judah not to visit such places in Israel.
Israel also worshiped cows, which were a portraiture of Israel herself—a young “backsliding [rebellious] heifer” (v. 16) who refused to be led by the Lord. God vowed to give His people their way and to “feed them as a lamb in a large place” (v. 16). Like a lamb in a large field, without protective boundaries or guiding shepherd, they would be consigned to wander the world, unprotected from predators who would try to destroy them.
Hosea cried out to a rebellious Israel, “Ephraim is joined [yoked] to idols; let him alone” (v. 17). Ephraim was the largest and most prominent of the ten tribes, and the name is used throughout the book of Hosea to refer to the northern kingdom. Since Israel was so inextricably yoked to idolatry, God instructed other nations to have nothing to do with her, nor to intervene when her judgment came.
Thus Israel’s leaders brought the nation to shame by their excessive drinking and immoral practices. Hosea wrote, “Their drink is sour; they have committed harlotry continually; her rulers love shame more than glory” (v. 18). The word rulers means “shields” and describes the leaders’ protective role as guardians of Israel. But instead of guarding Israel from evil, they promoted the very wickedness that brought the nation to shame, not glory.
Hosea closed this indictment with a prediction of Israel’s sudden destruction: “The wind hath bound her up in its wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices” (v. 19). As prophesied, the Assyrians came like a whirlwind in 722 B.C. and carried helpless Israel into captivity. In exile, Israel had years to reflect on her idolatrous sacrifices, sinful lifestyle, and shameful deeds.
Although all this transpired long ago, no nation is exempt from what happened to Israel. God is forever consistent in applying His eternal, immutable, divine law of sowing and reaping. No nation can escape. Whatsoever is sown, in due time, shall also be reaped. America, are you listening?