The Accusation Against the People
The prophets often acted as prosecutors. They stated God’s case against the Israelites for their violations of the covenant. In this chapter, Hosea presents God’s case against the Israelites. That is what he means by the Lord having a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. (1)
He says “hear the word of the Lord”, reminding us that this is God’s word and he is God’s prophet sent to speak this word.
Previously in Hosea, God had spoken against Israel’s idolatry. That is the first accusation here. Israel has no faithfulness or steadfast love. They are unfaithful in that they worship other gods. They have no steadfast love for God that would make them shun other gods.
The first commandment was to have no other gods. (Deuteronomy 5:7). The second was a prohibition against making idols. (Deuteronomy 5:8)
They were also commanded to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your might”. (Deuteronomy 6:5) That would be steadfast love. But obviously they did not do that.
They had abandoned the LORD to such an extent that there was no knowledge of God in the land. They had been commanded to teach God’s law diligently to their children and to talk about them constantly. (Deuteronomy 6:7) They had not done so.
As the Israelites drifted away from God, they violated other commandments and laws. God complains about these other sins, covenant violations, also. They were swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery. (2) These are all violations of the commandments.
Swearing, taking the Lord’s name n vain, is a violation of the third commandment. (Deuteronomy 5:11) Lying is a violation of the ninth commandment. Murder is a violation of the sixth commandment. Stealing is a violation of the eighth commandment. Adultery is a violation of the seventh commandment.
Effect On The Land
The land and all creatures in it were affected by Israels breaking of the covenant. This is part of the covenant curses. (Deuteronomy 28:18) Again we see the connection to the Garden. Adam’s sin resulted in a curse of the ground and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 3:23-24) Romans 8:22 picks up this thought, saying the creation was subjected to futility. It groans waiting for the consumption of our salvation.
Now, Israel’s sin results in the land ceasing to be bountiful for the Jews. Even the animals languish. Ultimately, Israel’s sin would result in expulsion from the land just as Adam was expelled from the Garden.
Condemnation of Religious Leaders
In this passage, God contends with the religious leaders. First, He sets out their punishment. He will cause them to stumble. (5) To stumble or slip is a judgment. In Deuteronomy 32:35, where the Lord speaks through Moses to tell of judgment for turning to idols in the future, says “for the time when their foot shall slip”.
In a land of dirt roads and paths, filled with stones, one could slip and fall and hurt themselves if they were not careful.
He will also destroy the nation. “Your mother” means Israel, the northern kingdom. He used this same metaphor in verse 2, chapter 2.
The accusation is that the priests and prophets have rejected knowledge, causing the people to be destroyed for lack of knowledge. The priests abandoned God’s word. They have not taught the people the covenant laws and regulations.
Because they rejected knowledge, God rejects them as his priests. (6) Because they have forgotten God’s law, he will forget the people, meaning he will cease to be their God and consider them his people. They will not have his protection or blessings.
As the priests increased in number, the more they sinned. They seemed to relish the sin of the people. Therefore, God will change their glory into shame. (7) They would no longer have the special status and privilege afforded to the priests.
There is a similar condemnation of the priests in the book of Malachi. He said “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from is mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people…”. (Malachi 2:9)
The people followed the priests into sin. (9) Instead of finding joy in the Lord, they turned to partying, excessive drinking and sexual immorality. These took away their understanding. Paul make this same assertion, writing “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit”. (Ephesians 5:18)
So, God determined to punish them. (9) He will keep them from being satisfied by their food and from being blessed with children. (10)
Condemnation of Idolatry
Again, God condemns their idolatry. They had idols made of wood. They sought the blessing of a dead piece of wood rather than from the living God. (12)
The people were making sacrifices and offerings to pagan gods in the mountains and under the trees. (13) They committed spiritual adultery.
God also condemned the men of Israel for failing to lead their families to worship God and worshipping idols instead. Because of that , their brides and daughters have also gone to idolatry. Therefore, God will not punish the wives and daughters, since the men have led them astray. (14) But, the whole people of Israel will come to ruin because of their lack of understanding of the importance of worshipping God only. (14)
A Warning to Judah
God warns Judah not to follow Israel into idolatry. They are not to go to “Gil-gal” or Beth-aven.
Gil-gal was the place Israel went to after crossing the Jordan on dry ground to get into Canaan. The priests made a monument to the occasion by stacking 12 stones from the river bed. (Joshua 4) Later it became a place to make sacrifices and worship, as evidenced by Samuel telling Saul to meet him there to offer sacrifices. (1 Samuel10)
Later, however, it evidently became a place of pagan worship. The site would have been abandoned a place of sacrifice when God designated Jerusalem as the place of worship. Later in the book, Hosea refers to it a a place of stone altars where bulls are sacrificed. (12:11) Amos also referred to it as a place where sacrifices were made to pagan gods. (Amos 4:4)
Beth-aven means house of evil. It is a reference to Bethel, which meant house of God. This is the place where Jacob stopped on the way to live with Laban in Paddan-aram. (Genesis 28) He stayed there for the night and dreamed of a ladder going heaven. The Lord promised him the land and a great people, extending God’s covenant with Abraham to him. (Genesis 28)
Later, however, it became a place of pagan worship. Bethel is where one of Jeroboam’s golden calves was placed. (1 Kings 12) God told the Jews not to go to these places of pagan worship and to not associate his name with them.
A Summary of Israel’s Sin
Israel became stubborn in its idolatry. The Lord could not bless them. Instead he would abandon them to their idolatry and would bring shame upon them.
The failure of the priests and the fathers to teach God’s word led to the destruction of the nation. It is crucial that we teach each generation God’s word.
A nation that abandons God’s laws will sink further and further into debauchery and violence.
Mankind, on its own, cannot live up to God’s standards. Men and women must be changed to live for God. Jesus is the only one who brings that change.