Hosea 4 is a sad chapter because in it the Lord charges his people Israel with their sinful behaviour. Despite temporal judgements on the land (v. 3), including poor harvests, they still continued with their wrong practices. The chapter is also a serious message. After all, it is not merely a social analysis of lifestyles in Israel at that time. Instead it is an indictment from their covenant Lord who has been offended by their rebellion.
Their responsibilities to their God had been described in the Ten Commandments. Instead of such loyalty, now ‘there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed’ (v. 2). They behaved in this way because ‘There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land’ (v. 1).
God complains that his ‘people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’ (v. 6). He accuses the religious leaders – the priests and the prophets – of failing to teach his laws to his people (vv. 4-5). Because they had refused to teach his will, he would reject them. Not that the people were complaining about what they heard from their religious leaders. Instead they approved of the new teachings and adopted the sinful practices that were now allowed.
The new teachings were connected to pagan idolatry (vv. 12-14). God did not approve of such inter-faith attitudes and immoral practices, but regarded them as spiritual adultery. The fact that the majority in Israel approved of the new developments in no way indicated that the Lord was pleased.
Hosea was given a message too for the southern kingdom of Judah (vv. 15ff.). It should not join in with the religious changes occurring in the northern kingdom of Israel. There was the possibility that Judah imagined it could retain its pure practices by reciting the correct words should there be such developments resulting in shared worship with Israel. Instead Judah should leave Israel alone because it was attached to idolatry (v. 17).
The lessons for us are very clear. I would mention two. First, it is impossible to mix the worship of Jesus with other forms of worship. Such demeaning of worship insults the Lord who has done so much for us. Of course, there may not be much danger of us engaging in inter-faith worship. Yet we can have other forms of spiritual idolatry, and we have to watch out that we don’t offend our God and Saviour.
Second, we should encourage our pastor/teachers to fulfil their calling and teach the Word of God. The Lord laid a great deal of blame for Israel’s sins on her priests and prophets who failed to teach what the Lord required. As long as they did so, the people would go astray. Therefore we should pray for our spiritual teachers that they would remain faithful to their Master, which means they will also remain faithful to us.