“a spirit of prostitution has led them astray.” In this context, “a spirit” is not an “attitude” or function of the mind; it is a demon. When someone begins to break the first and great commandment about having no other gods except Yahweh, and turns away from God and begins to worship idols, there are serious consequences. Demons crave worship, and are drawn to any idol that is worshipped, so having idols invites demons into one’s life. Furthermore, because of the rejection of the true God, divine protection and blessing is limited or cut off. The person who seeks idols for blessings ends up bringing trouble on themselves, even if sometimes that trouble is delayed and/or results in lack of rewards on the Day of Judgment.
Here in Hosea 4:12, the people had been consulting their idols and asking them for guidance, and thus it is easy to see how demons could have entered into the situation. Demons are more than happy to “help” people with spiritual advice and lead them away from the true God. The fact that often demonic advice is good advice fools people, because they think, “This is good advice, so it must somehow come from God.” Untrue! The fact that the person did not go to God to get the advice, and then gets good advice from an idol only reinforces their abandonment of God and His commandments, which eventually leads to disaster for the individual. Deuteronomy 18:10-13 sternly warns people to avoid pagan and ungodly ways of gaining information.
Ahaz, king of Judah, worshipped pagan gods to get help from them, but they were his downfall (2 Chron. 28:22-23). Ahaz should have stopped sinning and been diligent to return himself and his kingdom to obedience to Yahweh, and then he could have gotten the help he wanted from Yahweh, but instead he turned to idols. Idols of any kind will eventually, if not immediately, bring trouble upon the worshipper.
Idols take many forms, and we Christians must be vigilant to keep our lives pure. The epistle of 1 John ends with, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). People often think that an idol is always in the form of a statue of some kind, but by definition an idol is anything that is worshipped instead of the true God. It could be a “protective statue” of some kind, but it could also be a “lucky hat,” angel pin, rabbit’s foot, or anything else that is looked to for spiritual help and protection of any kind. That explains why the Apostle John would warn his Christian audience to guard themselves against having idols. He was not really worried about them having statues of Zeus or other Greco-Roman gods, but the Roman world was full of amulets and other “protective objects,” or objects that supposedly brought blessings, and those things are idols.
Also, although here in Hosea 4:12 “a spirit of prostitution” refers to a demon, the Hebrew vocabulary allows for the word “spirit” to mean “attitude,” and in this case there seems to be a subtle undertone that once a person becomes insensitive to what the true worship of Yahweh involves, and they begin to worship idols, including having protective amulets and lucky objects, they tend to become more and more involved with, and/or defensive of, their idolatry. Many people become very committed to their beliefs and superstitions about the things they believe protect or bless them, and their committed attitude toward their idols results in their being unwilling to let their idols go and return to the worship of Yahweh alone. But that is what we must do to be pure before God and give Him the worship He deserves; worship with all our heart, all our mind, and all our strength. God does not want “some” of our heart, while we give the rest to some protective amulet or “lucky” object. “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”