The book of Hosea contains messages from God to the prophet Hosea concerning the spiritual adultery of God’s people Israel. Hosea ministered during a dark time in Israel’s history when the nation was mired in sin and idolatry and headed for judgement.
In chapter 4, God indicts Israel and Judah for their lack of faithfulness, truth, and knowledge of Him. Through Hosea, God rebukes the priests and prophets for failing to lead the people rightly. He warns of coming judgment but promises restoration for those who repent and return to Him.
Key Takeaways from Hosea Chapter 4
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- God accuses Israel of spiritual adultery for forsaking Him and chasing after false gods
- There is no faithfulness, love, or knowledge of God left in the land due to Israel’s sin
- The priests and prophets have failed in their duties to instruct the people in God’s laws
- God will reject the people’s children because they are the offspring of spiritual adultery
- Israel’s idolatry has led them into total depravity and moral degradation
- God’s contends with Israel because of their persistence in sin and refusal to repent
- Judgment is coming soon but God will restore those who repent and seek Him
In this commentary, we will explore this sobering chapter verse-by-verse to understand the severity of Israel’s sin and the necessity of God’s impending judgment. We will also look at principles for repentance, restoration, and renewal with God.
Commentary on Hosea Chapter 4
Hosea 4:1-3 – God’s Controversy with Israel
Hear the word of the Lord,
You children of Israel, For the Lord brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: “There is no truth or mercy
Or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, Killing and stealing and committing adultery, They break all restraint, With bloodshed upon bloodshed. Therefore the land will mourn;
And everyone who dwells there will waste away With the beasts of the field And the birds of the air; Even the fish of the sea will be taken away. (Hosea 4:1-3 NKJV)
At the start of chapter 4, God brings a legal charge against Israel. He indicts the entire nation – the “children of Israel” and “inhabitants of the land” for their lack of faithfulness towards Him. Three things are notably absent in Israel – truth, mercy, and knowledge of God. This triplet summarizes the core of Israel’s covenant unfaithfulness. They were meant to walk in God’s truth, show mercy, and know Him intimately. But through rampant covenant breaking, these virtues have vanished from the people.
In their place are appalling sins like swearing, lying, murder, theft, and adultery. Israel’s brazen rejection of God’s laws has unleashed a flood of wickedness upon the land. There are no restraints left. “Bloodshed upon bloodshed” flows as violence and injustice prevail.
Therefore, God pronounces that the land itself will suffer. Creation will groan under the weight of Israel’s depravity. The land, beasts, birds, and fish will all “waste away” and be taken away. This is a reversal of the blessings of the covenant. God had promised bountiful harvests, livestock, and wildlife if Israel remained faithful (Deut 28:1-14). Now the curse for disobedience will come instead.
- Persistent covenant unfaithfulness breeds moral decay in a nation
- Lack of truth, mercy, and knowledge of God leads to unrestrained wickedness
- The land itself suffers when wickedness goes unchecked
- God cares about how we treat creation and judges nations for environmental stewardship
Hosea 4:4-10 – God’s Rebuke of the Priests and Prophets
“Now let no man contend, or rebuke another;
For your people are like those who contend with the priest. Therefore you shall stumble in the day; The prophet also shall stumble with you in the night; And I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
“The more they increased, The more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame. They eat up the sin of My people; They set their heart on their iniquity. And it shall be: like people, like priest. So I will punish them for their ways, And reward them for their deeds. (Hosea 4:4-9 NKJV)
In this section, God zeroes in on the priests and prophets who were charged with instructing the people in God’s laws. Their failure to lead rightly has contributed to Israel’s downward spiral.
God forbids the people from rebuking the priests, even though they were complicit in Israel’s sin. The priests and prophets will stumble and God will destroy Israel, pictured as an unfaithful mother. She has produced rebellious children due to lack of knowledge of God.
The priests are meant to mediate God’s laws to the people. But they have rejected knowledge themselves. So God will reject them from the priesthood. He will forget their children, refusing to bless the next generation.
The more priests there were, the more they sinned. Rather than setting hearts on God, they indulged the people’s sin and iniquity. They became examples of sin rather than righteousness. Therefore, God will punish them according to their deeds.
Corrupt spiritual leaders always bring judgment, both upon themselves and their followers.
- Priests/ministers must walk blamelessly and instruct people in God’s laws
- Don’t follow leaders who contradict or compromise God’s truth
- Spiritual leaders are judged more strictly for misleading people
- We will be held accountable for the example we set before others
Hosea 4:11-14 – The Idolatry of Israel
“Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart. My people ask counsel from their wooden idols, And their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, And they have played the harlot against their God. They offer sacrifices on the mountaintops,
And burn incense on the hills, Under oaks, poplars, and terebinths, Because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters commit harlotry, And your brides commit adultery. (Hosea 4:11-13 NKJV)
Israel’s spiritual adultery is now traced back to their “harlotry, wine and new wine.” These represent intoxication with sin that impairs judgement and enslaves the heart. Drunk with sin, Israel has turned to pagan idols for guidance rather than seeking God. The reference to wooden idols and diviner’s staffs shows how empty and worthless their new gods are.
The “spirit of harlotry” is an actual demonic influence driving Israel towards more and more immoral behavior. They have “played the harlot against their God”, brazenly betraying Him.
In their drunkenness, Israel attempts to worship Yahweh through idolatrous sacrifices and altars on high places. But God rejects this syncretism. He will not share His people’s love with demons.
Tragically, the example set by the wayward parents has corrupted the next generation. Their daughters commit ritual prostitution at pagan temples while their brides break wedding vows through adultery. The family unit, meant to pass on worship of Yahweh, has utterly broken down.
- Intoxicants and immorality impair spiritual judgement
- Idols are empty substitutes that cannot replace God
- Demonic spirits of influence drive sinful behavior
- Children follow the example set by parents, for good or ill
Hosea 4:15-19 – Israel’s Persistence in Sin
“Though you, Israel, play the harlot, Let not Judah offend. Do not come up to Gilgal, Nor go up to Beth Aven, Nor swear an oath, saying, ‘As the Lord lives’— For Israel is stubborn Like a stubborn calf; Now the Lord will let them forage Like a lamb in open country.
“Ephraim is joined to idols, Let him alone. Their drink is rebellion, They commit harlotry continually. Her rulers dearly love dishonor. The wind has wrapped her up in its wings, And they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices. (Hosea 4:15-19 NKJV)
Though God contends primarily with Israel (the northern kingdom) in Hosea, He warns Judah (the southern kingdom) not to follow their example. Specific warnings are given not to worship at the idol shrines of Gilgal and Beth Aven. These were once sites of true worship but have now been corrupted. Swearing oaths by Yahweh at these high places adds insult to injury.
With biting sarcasm, God calls Israel “as stubborn as a stubborn calf.” Like an unbroken ox, they persistently resist the yoke of God’s covenant. So He will loose them to wander like a lamb in the open, vulnerable to attackers on all sides. He gives them over to their stubbornness.
The northern tribes are hopelessly joined to their idols, so God says “let him alone.” All they know is rebellion and harlotry. Their rulers love shameful behavior and lead others into it. Therefore, God’s judgement will sweep them away like the wind. Their sacrifices to idols will bring shame instead of protection.
- Avoid any association with idolatry or corruption
- Persistent refusal to repent leads to God’s judgement
- There is a point when God ceases to contend and lets people go
- God may use sarcasm and irony to highlight sin
- God gives people up to the sinful desires of their hearts
Hosea 4:19-19 – A Call to Repentance
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:6 NKJV)
The chapter ends by returning to verse 6, which sums up the root issue – lack of knowledge of God. Willful ignorance and rejection of God’s laws have led to destruction. But there is still an implicit opportunity for repentance. If the priests will turn back to knowing and teaching God’s Word, they may yet be restored. Then their children too could be blessed and included in the covenant again.
- It’s never too late to repent, turn from sin, and return to God
- Revival starts with spiritual leadership repenting and teaching truth
- God will restore those who humbly return to Him, regardless of past sins
- Our example and instruction affects the destiny of future generations
Hosea Chapter 4 contains a stern rebuke from God to a people who have abandoned Him and gone astray. Israel’s spiritual adultery evokes God’s holy jealousy. Their brazen sin demands justice. Yet even in the midst of coming judgment, God holds out hope. He desperately wants His people to return to Him. For those who repent, His promise still stands – “Return to Me, and I will return to you” (Zech 1:3).
The same gracious God still calls us today to walk in truth, show mercy, and know Him deeply through His Word. May we faithfully follow His statutes and teach generations to come. Then we can claim the timeless promise of restoration for those who repent and seek God’s face.