Hosea 4 and the (lack of the) Knowledge of God

The old adage, “Ignorance is bliss” may not be entirely true when it comes to the knowledge of God.  We look at our culture today and wonder how everything has jettisoned so out of control.  We wonder why murder and strife is rampant and why the overall character of our world is vicious.  Much of this could be blamed on the popular media and the speed at which information is transmitted in our day.  Not only does the media share and report only the worst of the worst, but untold millions of people can like, share, and post these negative reports with the click of a button.  According to the prophet Hosea, cultural downfall is the result of a lack of knowledge of God. 

In Hosea 4, the Lord indicates that he has a contention (רִיב) with the inhabitants of the land.  During this period in history, Israel experienced economic wealth and military peace.  The Assyrians were the major world superpower, but during the reigns of Jeroboam II in Israel and Uzziah in Judah, the Assyrians experienced a lull in their power.  As a result, Israel and Judah became entirely too comfortable with their life situation and rejected faithfulness and steadfast love (4:1b).  Hosea 4:2 tells us that the things that marked the land was “swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery.”  Israel “fed on the sin of my people” and were “greedy for their iniquity.”  Israel had forsaken the Lord in order to “cherish (לִשְׁמֹר) whoredom, wine, and new wine” (4:10-11).  Idolatry was rampant as people prayed to pieces of wood and assumed that their walking staffs would provide oracles of hope (4:12a).  The moral culture was in shambles to say the least. 

Now, we could stop here and make all sorts of appropriate application to our culture today.  However, it is important to point out WHAT happened to the land in Hosea 4 and WHY Hosea says that it happened. 

First, Hosea tells us in 4:3 that the land mourned (תֶּאֱבַל) and its inhabitants languished (אֻמְלַל).  As if it were a curse on creation itself, the beasts of the field, the birds, and the fish all were affected by the sinful tendencies of the land.  Verse 5 says that the people stumble and verse 6 tells us that the people are destroyed.  Verse 7 says that God will turn their glory into shame.  In verse 10, we are told that the land will eat, but not be satisfied.  Finally, at the end of verse 14, we are told that this people will come to ruin.  The point here about WHAT happens to Israel is that the land is in shambles.  Rampant sin caused rampant destruction.  It seems that there was nothing left untouched by the effects and results of the harlotrous culture in Israel. 

We may sit back and think how bad it must have been for Israel and yet we face much the same situation today.  Rampant sin is causing rampant destruction, not just destruction of cultural norms and ethical standards, but destruction of morale and decency in the human race.  We no longer simply sin, but we “are greedy for their iniquity” (4:8b).  We spread the demise of our culture and sometimes approve of it to some degree. 

While we can see WHAT happened to Israel and make connections to our own culture, it is important secondly to see WHY the culture declined to this extent.  Hosea 4:1 says there was no knowledge of God in the land.  Verse 6 says that the people were destroyed “for lack of knowledge,” and they were being rejected because of this lack of knowledge.  Israel had forgotten the law of God (4:6b).  Verses 10-11 indicate that Israel was not satisfied because they had forsaken the Lord and turned to things that remove “understanding.”  In some very real way, whoredom, wine, and new wine remove the ability for someone to think logically about God’s work in the world.  Finally, in Hosea 4:14 we see that the ruin to which God’s people spiral was because they were “a people without understanding.” 

Hosea takes pains to show that a lack of knowledge of God led to rampant sin, which led to the languishing and ruin of the culture. 

Now, we could certainly read a passage like this and immediately look to our culture and their demise with Pharisaical eyes.  However, we must remember that Hosea was preaching to Israel.  He was correcting God’s people and the Lord’s contention (רִיב) was with the inhabitants of the promised land, namely, Israel (4:1a).  Likewise, the church should hear these words and apply several things. 

First, we should never presume that we are above the fall of our culture.  We are just as likely to succumb to the pressures of sin as anyone in the human race under Adam, and so we must stand firm in the truth of the gospel and trust the Lord to preserve our affections for him so that we may desire his glory over anything that sin may offer. 

Secondly, may we (the church), not forsake our knowledge of God.  May we not be those who are destroyed due to a lack of knowledge of God.  May we not be those who fall to swearing, lying, murderous hearts, stealing, and adultery because there is no knowledge of God in our churches and in our families.  May we not be those who forsake the Lord and turn to the things of the world that take away understanding (4:10-11).  May we not be those who come to ruin because we are a people without understanding. 

If Hosea’s overall message is consistent, and if the picture of Hosea marrying an adulterous woman (Hos 1-3) says something about the character God, then we have hope.  We have hope that in the midst of cultural whoredom, Jesus Christ stands ready to “love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress” (Hos 3:1).  The gospel of Jesus Christ does not free us to sin, but rather, it empowers us NOT to sin.  As the downward spiral of our culture spins faster and faster, let us hold fast to knowing our Anchor, Jesus Christ.  Rather than stumbling over the Cornerstone (Hos 4:5; cf. Isa 8:14-15; 1 Pet 2:8), let us build our house upon the Rock that does not falter or sway.