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Go to Bible: Hosea 4
“lawsuit.” The Hebrew noun translated “lawsuit” is rib (#07379 רִיב pronounced reeb, related to the verb, #07378), and it has a wide range of meanings including strife, controversy, dispute, quarrel, accusation, lawsuit, etc. The wide range of meanings is attested to by the different translations in the English versions: “controversy” (ASV, ESV, KJV); “cause against” (BBE); “grievance against” (CJB); “case against” (HCSB, NASB); “enter into judgment with” (Darby); “dispute” (NAB); “charge to bring against” (NIV); “indicts” (NJB); “has an indictment against” (NRSV); “brought charges against” (NLT).
The NET uses “covenant lawsuit,” which can be clarifying because the charges in the lawsuit are based upon the covenant that Israel made with God (Exod. 24:3-8; we refer to it as “the Old Covenant”). Israel broke the covenant so God is bringing a lawsuit against Israel which, because of her refusal to repent and return to God, will eventually lead to Him divorcing her and sending her away (Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3:8).
“covenant faithfulness.” The word translated “mercy” is hesed (#02617 חֶסֶד), and it has a very broad range of meanings, including “mercy, faithfulness, goodness, graciousness, etc. It was also the word used when two or more parties had an agreement or covenant, and it expressed the joint obligations of the parties, such as covenant faithfulness, love, loyalty, or obligation. It is used almost 250 times in the Old Testament, often because Israel had failed to keep the covenant they made with God and thus abandoned their obligations and the covenant faithfulness and love they agreed to. That is the case here in Hosea 4:1.
The reason Yahweh had a “covenant lawsuit” against Israel is that they had broken the covenant they made with God (Exod. 24:3-8; we refer to that covenant as “the Old Covenant”). Israel ignored the covenant they made with God and even openly defied it. God compared His covenant with Israel as a marriage, and when Israel broke the covenant and refused to repent, eventually God divorced Israel and sent her away (Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3:8); Israel was captured by the Assyrians and deported from their land (2 Kings 17:6-23). The deportation of Israel was still future when Hosea 4:1 was written.
The range of meanings of hesed in this context makes it hard to agree on the best English translation, and that fact is reflected in the translations: “goodness” (ASV); “faithful love” (CJB, HCSB); “steadfast love” (ESV); “mercy” (KJV); “loyalty” (NAB, NET); “kindness” (NASB, NLT); “love” (NIV). In fact, however, all those things are based on the fact that Israel abandoned the covenant, and thus “covenant faithfulness” seems to catch all the different failures of Israel. God expects people to keep their vows, oaths, promises, and covenants, and it is very serious when they do not and ignore what they said. As God says in Ecclesiastes: “It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. (Eccl. 5:5).(top)
“break all boundaries.” The Hebrew is literally, “they break out,” and that phrase is used literally of breaking physical boundaries but here it is used figuratively of breaking moral boundaries and resorting to immoral behavior and even violence. That explains translations such as the NET: “they resort to violence.” While that is historically true, the people did more than resort to violence, they were involved in many different kinds of immoral behavior and shed lots of blood.(top)
|Hos 4:3||- (top)|
|Hos 4:4||- (top)|
“destroy your mother.” In this case, the “mother” is the whole nation, the nation as a whole, who has given birth to the rebellious Israelites of the time. That did happen when Assyria conquered and carried away the nation of Israel.(top)
“you have forgotten the law.” Here in Hosea 4:6, God uses the word “forgotten” idiomatically. Here it means more than “forget,” although the people certainly did forget much of the Law simply because they paid no attention to it for so long. Here the Hebrew means that Israel “ignored” the Law, then “rejected” the Law, then forgot it due to neglect. The BBE translation reads that the people “have not kept in mind” the Law. The NIV reads that the people “ignored” the Law. The NET translation says the people “reject” the Law. All those different English translations get part of the meaning correct. The meaning of the idiom is very broad.(top)
|Hos 4:7||- (top)|
“feed on the sin of my people.” The word translated “sin,” chattah (#02403 חַטָּאָה) means both “sin” (Lev. 4:3) and “sin offering” (Lev. 4:8). Here in Hosea 4:8 it likely means both and thus is an amphibologia, a double entendre. The priests were living off of (feeding on) the sin of the people by literally eating the sin offerings of the people (“feed on” can also be translated “eat up” as in the KJV).
The priests were allowed to eat portions of many of the sacrifices. For example, the priest ate some of the grain offerings (Lev. 6:4-16, 18; 7:9-10), the sin offerings (Lev. 6:26, 29), the guilt offerings (Lev. 7:6), and the fellowship offerings (Lev. 7:28-34). The fact that the priests got to eat parts of some of the sacrifices is one reason why the altar of the Lord was also referred to as the “table” of the Lord (see commentary on Mal. 1:7).
We learn from Hosea 1:1 that Hosea wrote at the very end of the kingdom of Israel, after which it was conquered and deported by the King of Assyria (2 Kings 17:5-23). At the time of Hosea, the political and priestly system of the Kingdom of Israel was very corrupt; in fact, the whole priestly system in the Kingdom of Israel had started with priests who were not from Aaron and who led the worship of golden calves (1 Kings 12:28-32). The priests in the Kingdom of Judah were corrupt as well.
The second stanza of the verse, “and set their heart on their iniquity,” shows that the priests enjoyed eating the rich meat of the various offerings, and thus had no real incentive to work to help the people overcome their sin. The more the people sinned, the more food the priests got to eat. God originally gave the priests a share of some of the sacrifices as a reward for their labor, but now the priests had perverted the system and were happy when people sinned.
That the priest got to regularly eat meat already put them in a very privileged position in the biblical culture, because it was not common in those days for people to eat meat for a number of reasons: most people were poor, there was no way to reliably preserve the meat, and much of the meat that was eaten was of poor quality. Proverbs 7:14 gives us some insight into how attractive good meat could be in the biblical culture and how it could be used to help lure people into sin (see commentary on Prov. 7:14). The priests got the best meat in the land because the animals had been offered to God, but they were not thankful for that and instead looked forward to people sinning so they could have more.
One point that the Bible makes again and again is that if the heart of the person doing the sacrifice was not right with God, then the sacrifice was not acceptable to God (see commentaries on Amos 5:22 and Matt. 5:24). This should have been something that the priests were teaching the people and themselves as well.(top)
|Hos 4:9||- (top)|
|Hos 4:10||- (top)|
“understanding.” The Hebrew word translated “understanding” is leb (#03820 לֵב), which is often translated “heart.” Leb occurs over 800 times in the Old Testament, and it has a very large number of different meanings—and often combines a number of meanings into one use. The Hebrew language and culture ascribes physical, mental, and moral functions to the heart, as well as control over the physical body. Actually, leb has so many meanings that saying it means “heart” is too restrictive. The full range of meanings of leb includes, but is not limited to, heart, inner man, mind, will, thinking, reflection, inclination, resolution, understanding, sense or good sense, and in some contexts it can also refer to the seat of passion and emotion. In this context in Hosea, idolatry and wine take away the understanding and good sense of the people. Different English versions translate leb differently in this context (“wisdom” BBE; “wits” CJB; “heart” KJV; “mind” TNK). [For more on the Hebrew word leb and its use in Scripture, see commentary on Prov. 15:21].(top)
“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.”(top)
|Hos 4:13||- (top)|
|Hos 4:14||- (top)|
“Gilgal.” Gilgal had long been a center of idol worship (cp. Judges 3:19).
“Beth-aven.” “Beth-aven” means “House of Wickedness,” and it was the name that God was giving Bethel (Beth-el; House of God) which is where Abraham had stayed a while and Jacob had seen God in the “Jacob’s Ladder” incident. That once godly place had become a center of idolatry.(top)
|Hos 4:16||- (top)|
|Hos 4:17||- (top)|
|Hos 4:18||- (top)|
|Hos 4:19||- (top)|