COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 4:1 Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. 2 By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.” (Hos 4:1-2)
God has promised that Israel would return to Him, seeking Him and the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ – here called “David their King.” They would “fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days.” A comely prospect, indeed! However, that does not mean the Lord will ignore the present condition of the people. When there is a generation of people who do not fear or trust the Lord, regardless of the promises of goodness relating to their future, God will deal with their present condition. Future blessedness never moves God to ignore present deficiencies. The promises of God are not intended to put men to sleep, but to awaken in them attitudes, virtues, and deeds that are pleasing in His sight. Just as the Divine nature cannot forget the promises, neither can it tolerate a manner of life that contradicts the Divine call. This will become very apparent to us throughout the book of Hosea. God will upbraid, declare imminent judgment, and make promises of good things to come – all to the same people, and in the same prophecy. It is therefore apparent that the promises of God make no provision for the tolerance of sin. No individual who takes them seriously will look lightly upon moral and spiritual deficiencies. In our present religious culture, this is a revolutionary perspective. This is a day when Divine goodness is viewed as tolerant of unapproved and sloppy conduct. Such a view is wholly false.
A CONTROVERSY WITH THE INHABITANTS
“ 4:1 Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land . . . ”
HEAR THE WORD OF THE LORD. This is a word to ALL the inhabitants of the land. It is a call to focus their attention upon what is being said. This call is issued twenty-four times in the Word of God – all in the Old Covenant Scriptures (2 Kgs 20:16; 2 Chron 18:18; Isa 1:10; 28:14; 39:5; 66:5; Jer 7:2; 9:20; 22:2,29; 31:10; 34:4; 42:15; 44:24; Ezek 6:3; 16:35; 20:47; 25:3; 34:7,9; 36:1,4; 37:4; Hos 5:1). It is a universal word, as confirmed by Jeremiah 22:29: “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD.”
The word “hear” means to “listen” NASB – to hear intelligently, with attention, an obedient spirit, carefully, with consent, and with understanding. While that is an academic definition of the word, it contrasts sharply with the hearing of our day. Much of the hearing associated with the Word of God is casual, flavored with disinterest, and with very little understanding. When it comes to the Word of the Lord, the average American Christian hearer is not a good listener. That is why speakers lace their sermons with illustrations, humorous anecdotes, personal experiences, and the likes. Would-be preachers are taught these things are necessary in order to help the people understand. However, that is not a fair assessment of the case. It is the heart of the people that is deficient, not their intellect. It is the listeners’ obligation to tune their hearts and minds to the Divine frequency, listening intently to what the Lord says, and with a concentrated purpose to shape their conduct by it.
Obedience is implied in the word “hear.” There is a certain inclination associated with hearing. As it is written, “Incline your ear, and come unto Me: hear, and your soul shall live” (Isa 55:3). As the eye can fasten on an object, so the ear can fasten on a word.
A CONTROVERSY. The hearers are to focus on a most arresting circumstance. The Lord has a “controversy” with the people. Other versions read, “a charge against,” NKJV “a case against,” NASB “an indictment against,” NRSV and “filed a lawsuit against you.” NLT
Some people cannot conceive of God having a “controversy” with anyone. Jeremiah once spoke of God having a “controversy with the nations” (Jer 25:31). Micah said the Lord had a “controversy with His people” (Mic 6:2). Later Hosea says the Lord has “also a controversy with Judah” (12:2). Whether Israel, Judah, or the nations, therefore, God is depicted as being at variance with people, and bringing charges against them. The Lord will not ignore those who are at variance with Him. There are sufficient examples of this to dissolve any doubt on the matter. They include Adam and Eve (Gen 3:16-24), Cain (Gen 4:10-12), the world of Noah’s day (Gen 6:13), Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:13), Pharaoh (Ex 4:21-22), Sihon and Og (Josh 2:10), Sennacherib (Isa 37:21-37), Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4:30-33), Ananias and Saphirra (Acts 5:1-10), and Herod (Acts 12:21-23). Those with and without a covenant are included. This is a case of judgment beginning with the house of God (1 Pet 4:17).
The idea is that God is actually against the people. They had infracted His will, broken His law, and violated His goodness.
Consider the fearful circumstances. The One who has the controversy is all powerful, and rules over all. He is able to do whatever He pleases, and none can hinder the execution of His judgments. The ones against whom the controversy is registered are without strength, feeble, and cannot so much as lift a finger against their accuser.
Is it not a token of Divine mercy that God announces a controversy rather than breaking forth in judgment against them? Also note, the Lord had the controversy, but his servant Hosea was the one who delivered it.
INHABITANTS OF THE LAND. The kingdom of Israel was dwelling in “the Lord’s land” (Hos 9:3)! The land was given to them with the stipulation they would conduct themselves righteously within it. As the Psalmist said, “And gave them the lands of the heathen: and they inherited the labor of the people; that they might observe His statutes, and keep his laws. Praise ye the LORD” (Psa 105:44-45). The land was a place where the people were sequestered – where they could walk with the Lord. Yet they chose not to do so.
APPLICATION. God has also placed those in Christ in a place that is conducive to godliness – “the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3; 2:6). When their conduct contradicts where they were placed in Christ Jesus, God has a controversy with the people. That controversy is delivered in rebukes and correction by those who have “the mind of Christ” (2 Tim 3:16; 1 Cor 2:16). When the Corinthians and Galatians were sharply rebuked, it was evidence that the Lord had a controversy with them (1 Cor 5:6; Gal 5:4). Considering the condition of the average church in our country, it seems to me there is cause for trembling. Surely God has a controversy with the people!
THE ABSENCE OF ESSENTIALS IN THE LAND
“ 1b . . . because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.”
BECAUSE. Now, the cause for the controversy is declared. There is no Divine controversy unless there is a cause for it. Nothing that God does is “without cause” (Ezek 14:23). Furthermore, the Lord declares the cause, not leaving it shrouded in mystery. This confirms that He seeks for recovery and improvement in the people, else He would not tell them of His “controversy” with them.
IN THE LAND. Because sin involves omission and well as commission, or not doing as well as doing, the Lord first indicts the people for what is NOT found “in the land.” He does not say these things are not found in the people, but “in the land.” That is, these things are now being expressed, or conveyed through the lives of the people. If the people have a proper academic definition of these things, it will count for nothing, for they are not being expressed. If they held to a religious creed that included all of these matters, their creed was worthless, for it was not being lived out. It is the evidence of holy virtues that proves their presence, not the profession of them! This goes against nearly the total thrust of contemporary religion. It is therefore imperative that what is said be understood.
NO TRUTH. The word “truth” speaks of reality, including the idea of right, faithfulness, and certainty. In this text, truth is like a two-sided coin. On one side, the truth of God – what He had declared – was not being held forth in the land. It was not prominent in their speech, nor had it been afforded a place of preeminence in the land. On the other side, the people themselves were not reflecting the truth. There was no harmony between the lives of the people and the Word of God. When others saw and heard them, they were not moved to consider God or what He had affirmed in the Scriptures, or in the Law and through His prophets.
Isaiah also spoke of the absence of truth, prophesying with very pungent words. “Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the LORD saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no judgment” (Isa 59:15). Again he declared, “And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter” (Isa 59:14). Because of this condition, there was open opposition to anyone who dared to speak the truth, or live in strict conformity with it. The situation was fearfully like the very conditions under which we are now living.
“No truth” involves no appetite for it as well as no proclamation of it. In such a circumstance there is no hunger and thirst for righteousness – no driving compulsion to hear from the Lord. The love of the truth (2 Thess 2:10) is not present, and thus there is no compelling demand for it. In such a condition, God has a controversy with the people!
NO MERCY. Mercy involves kindness, pity, faithfulness, and goodness. When “no mercy” is present, violence erupts, as it did in Noah’s day (Gen 6:11,13). Disobedience to parents is also cultured where there is “no mercy” (2 Tim 3:2). The poor are also despised (Deut 15:11). God takes special note of those poor souls who are neglected in this world. As it is written, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them” (Isa 41:17). There is also a disdain of prophets and holy men (Jer 18:18). Where there is “no mercy,” there is no compassion, no relief of the afflicted, and no lessening of hardship.
NOR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. Where there is “no truth” and “no mercy,” it is because there is no “knowledge of God.” He is not comprehended, and therefore is not loved and obeyed. If God desires “the knowledge of God,” as Scripture affirms (Hos 6:6), then to be without it is a sin of the greatest magnitude. Through Jeremiah, God spoke derisively of Israel because they did not know Him. “For My people is foolish, they have not known Me; they are sottish [silly] children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge” (Jer 4:22).
Something of what is involved in not knowing God is also spelled out in Jeremiah 5:4: “for they know not the way of the LORD, nor the judgment of their God” (Jer 5:4). Keep in mind, this is AFTER the Lord had made Himself known to them through deliverances, provisions, protection, and by His Word through both the Law and the Prophets.
APPLICATION. If not knowing God under the Law created a controversy with the Lord, it does so much more in Christ Jesus. When Paul detected a lack of such knowledge among the Corinthians He wrote, “Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame” (1 Cor 15:34). This is one of the great besetting sins of the contemporary church – its lack of familiarity of both God and Christ.
THE PROVOCATIVE THINGS THERE WERE IN THE LAND
“ 4:2 By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.”
Having affirmed what was lacking among His people, the Lord now declares what was found among them. No person or group of persons can remain in a moral or spiritual vacuum. They will be filled with something. If they choose to be lacking in godly virtues and possessions, they will be “filled with all unrighteousness” (Rom 1:29).
BY. The word “by” is supplied by the translators. It reflects the literary sense of the text. That is, the absence of truth, mercy, and the knowledge of God is revealed by the sins that follow. Where these, and similar, transgressions are found, there is an absolute lack of truth and mercy, and the knowledge of God. This holy triad – truth, mercy, and the knowledge of God – cannot exist in any measure where sin dominates.
SWEARING. Other translations read “cursing.” NIV/NIB This word can mean to take an oath before God, or also to pronounce a curse. In the first use, the meaning would be to swear, or take an oath, falsely – like lying in a court of law, or bearing false witness against someone in the name of the Lord. In my judgment, this is speaking of the vain use of God in the taking of oaths. Isaiah referred to this practice: “which swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness” (Isa 48:1).
This can also refer to imprecations, or pronouncing curses upon others. This is a trait ascribed to the wicked, and is thus particularly reprehensible when found among those who are identified with God. “His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity” (Psa 10:7).
LYING. Deception and falsehood were found in their speech. As it is written, “with their tongues they have used deceit” – a sin for which Gentiles were noted (Rom 3:13). What they said did not comport with reality, and was deliberately spoken to give them temporary advantage, rather than bring eternal glory to God. This was particularly shameful since God had created them for His own glory (Isa 43:7).
Lying also includes misrepresentations by priests and prophets. This was particularly condemned by the Lord. “The prophets prophesy lies in My name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart” (Jer 14:14). Of such speaking the Lord said, “I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in My name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed” (Jer 23:25).
KILLING. Other versions read “murder.” NASB/NIV Among those who were killed were holy prophets (Matt 23:31; Rom 11:3). Isaiah spoke of those who “make haste to shed innocent blood” (Isa 59:7). When God is not known, the lives of those created in His image are not valued. Thus, murder is committed to gain some personal advantage. The Law strictly forbade killing, and did so in plain words (Ex 20:13).
STEALING. Stealing is to secretly carry away what belongs to another. Isaiah declared the princes of Israel were “companions of thieves” (Isa 1:23). Again, the Law was quite clear on this matter: “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex 20:15). Yet, when God is not known, covetousness so dominates the heart that what belongs to another can be taken without the slightest twinge of the conscience.
COMMITTING ADULTERY. Adultery is the breaking of wedlock – unfaithfulness to ones spouse. Again, the Law was clear on this matter (Ex 20:14). Israel’s adultery was both moral and spiritual. There was unfaithfulness to husbands and wives, and toward God as well (Jer 5:7).
THEY BREAK OUT. To “break out” is to barge past all restraints – like a wild horse breaking through a restraining gate. Another version reads, “break all restraint.” NKJV The idea is that in order to swear, lie, kill, steal, and commit adultery they purposefully pushed the Word of God aside, and refused to hear the word of His holy Prophets. Their moral degeneracy was like flood waters breaking through a dam and inundating the land.
BLOOD TOUCHETH BLOOD. This phrase means bloodshed that led to more bloodshed. The idea is that everywhere violence and bloodshed were taking place. It as though the stream of blood from one community merged with that of another.
APPLICATION. In our religious culture the word “addiction”has been popularized. But it represents a wholly inaccurate appraisal of deviate behavior. Sin inevitably leads to more sin. That is because it requires determination, and often even creativity. The message Hosea delivers makes no provision for an excuse to sin, and neither should we.