COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. 7 As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame.” (Hosea 4:6-7)
The Lord has declared He has a “controversy with the inhabitants of the land.” They are occupying His land, yet their conduct is wholly unacceptable. The land was intended to be a distribution point for God’s truth – yet there was “no truth” in the land. The people themselves were to be exhibits of the mercy of God – yet there was “no mercy” in the land. From the very beginning, this people had been cultured to know God in a unique and productive way – yet there was “no knowledge of God” in the land. They were a living contradiction of Divine purpose. Although God is often represented as being understanding and tolerant of ignorance in those He has called, Hosea is inspired to give quite another picture. We will find that the Lord is wholly intolerant of an ignorance of Himself among those to whom He has revealed Himself. In order to get the full impact of this text, we must be able to recognize the high level of ignorance that exists in the professed church – ignorance of God, for that is the fundamental ignorance. The situation is particularly critical because God has most fully revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. For God to remain unknown among those who are in Christ Jesus is a sin of such magnitude it can scarcely be overstated. We have before us a message that unveils a Divine manner that must be recognized and embraced by all who wear the name of the Lord.
DESTROYED FOR LACK OF KNOWLEDGE
“ 4:6a My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge . . . ” Other versions read, “destroyed from lack of knowledge,” NIV “Destruction has overtaken my people because they have no knowledge,” BBE “My people perish for want of knowledge!,” NJB and “My people are being destroyed because they don't know me.” NLT
MY PEOPLE. This is not as judgment against the Gentiles, as proclaimed in the first chapter of Romans (1:21-32). It is not a reference to the world as a whole, as in Noah’s day (Gen 6), or a heathen city like Nineveh (Jon 3:4). This is an assessment of God’s own people: “MY people.” These are the people with whom God made a covenant (Deut 31:16). It is the people He had chosen to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” – a “peculiar treasure” unto Him “above all people” (Ex 19:5). The Lord chose them, and set His love upon them (Deut 7:7). He found them in a “desert land, and in the waste howling desert.” He “led” them, and “kept” them “as the apple of” His “eye” (Deut 32:10). No nation had been as privileged as them. They had been given advantages realized by no other nation. Moses said to them, “And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?” (Deut 4:8).
There are those who suppose that once God sets His love upon someone, it is not possible for them to every fall out of favor with Him. Texts such as the one before us dash such imaginations to the ground. This is God speaking to the people He has chosen and favored, and there is no way His words can possibly be distorted to give such a meaning.
ARE DESTROYED. The word “destroyed” means cease to be, cut off, and perish. It speaks of a change of status. Whatever blessing they had enjoyed would now be removed. This destruction is the result of Divine withdrawal. From one point of view, they withdrew from the Lord themselves in “departing from the Lord” (1:2). However, this did not leave the Lord standing in the same place. Rather, it drew a response from Him. “I will cause to cease the kingdom of Israel . . . I will break the bow of Israel . . . I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away . . . I will not be your God” (1:4,5,6).
The Living God is never neutral. If a person or nation withdraws from Him, He is not indifferent to their withdrawal. If they pursue other gods, or allow other interests to supercede their involvement with the Lord, He will not be apathetic and tolerant of such actions. He is a God of judgment as well as mercy, and righteousness as well as love. His nature will not allow Him to ignore those who despise Him, and allow other preferences to take the place He alone is be afforded. Thus He says, “My people are destroyed!”
LACK OF KNOWLEDGE. The knowledge they were lacking was the knowledge of God. As He said earlier, “there is no . . . knowledge of God in the land.” They did not know Him. They were unable to recognize His Word when sent to them by His prophets. They could not discern when He was working with them – taking away their corn and wine (2:9). They were insensitive to God. In the Law, God had placed before the people “life and good, and death and evil” (Deut 30:15). He had pled with them through His servant Moses: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deu 30:19). But Israel had paid no heed to Him. Instead the Lord witnesses against them, “she decked herself with her earrings and her jewels, and she went after her lovers, and forgat Me, saith the LORD” (Hosea 2:13).
How bad is it to not know the Lord – to not be able to detect His person or His will? What can be said of the individual or nation that is unacquainted with God, and even “love to have it so” (Jer 5:31)? What if all manner of false things are said about God, His Word, His salvation, and His Son, and yet the people are unable to detect it? What can be said of those who are subjected to erroneous doctrines and theologies, and yet do not entertain the slightest notion that they are wrong? What of the failure of the professed people of God to see dangerous and eroding religious trends and fashions rising in the land? Are such things just innocent failures to apprehend the truth?
In salvation God has “shined into our hearts with the light of the glory of the knowledge of God in the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Cor 4:6). That is how every person begins in Christ Jesus. They know enough about God to turn from their sin, obey the Lord, call upon Him, and alter their lives. Those are traits in every spiritual beginner – just as singing on the banks of the Red Sea involved every delivered Israelite. However, when an ignorance of God develops with the passage of time, God’s “great salvation” has been “neglected” (Heb 2:3). It is not possible to escape the judgment of this text while in such a condition.
A MUTUAL REJECTION
“ 4:6b . . . because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me . . . ”
BECAUSE. God does not do anything without a cause. As He revealed to Ezekiel, “and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezek 14:23). This is involved in God being “righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works” (Psa 145:17). The Lord will now affirm that the judgment against Israel was righteous. There is absolutely no unrighteousness with God. As it is written, “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid”(Rom 9:14).
Those who glibly state that God can handle people getting angry with Him are foolish in the extreme. Those who would take it upon themselves to chide the living God, or to question His judgments are suggesting He is not righteous in all of His ways.
REJECTED KNOWLEDGE. The word is clear: “thou hast rejected knowledge.” To “reject” is to refuse what is offered. It means to despise what is freely given. We know from Jeremiah that this rejection even permeated the priesthood. “The priests said not, Where is the LORD? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit” (Jer 2:8). This provides some additional insight into what is involved in rejecting knowledge. This means more than just rejecting a specific word that has been addressed to a person or a people. It includes the failure to seek counsel from the Lord – to refuse to inquire about the Lord’s mind on the matter. The words “Where is the Lord” mean “How does the Lord speak on this matter?” or “Where does the Lord stand on this?”
In seeking counsel from others, and not from God, Israel had “rejected knowledge.” Isaiah said it this way, “Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of Me; and that cover with a covering, but not of My Spirit, that they may add sin to sin: that walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at My mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt!” (Isa 30:2).
Through the Psalmist, the Lord spoke of the same rejection when He said, “But My people would not hearken to My voice; and Israel would none of Me” (Psa 81:11). Other versions read, “would have none of Me,” NKJV “would not submit to Me,” NIV and “would have nothing to do with Me.” BBE
The situation is much more complex in this day of salvation. Jesus has promised, “Seek, and ye shall find” (Matt 7:7). God has said, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). Again we are told, “let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6). Everything about salvation is conducive to the knowledge of God. Jesus ever lives to intercede for us (Heb 7:25). The Holy Spirit Himself makes intercession for us (Rom 8:26). God has shined into our hearts with the light of Divine knowledge (2 Cor 4:6). Prayers are presented to God that plead for our enlightenment (Eph 1:17-18). What possible reason can be adduced for remaining in a state of fundamental ignorance concerning God, His purpose, and His ways? The reason is that such knowledge has been “rejected” in the preference of other things.
DIVINE REJECTION. Candidly, the response of the Lord to this rejection is frightening: “I will also reject thee.” This is a rejection that nullifies any previous favors. For example, God “gave” Saul to Israel as their king (Hos 13:11), then later “rejected him from reigning over Israel” (1 Sam 16:1). That rejection concluded Saul’s reign.
To be rejected by God is to be a “castaway” – something that Paul zealously sought to avoid (1 Cor 9:27). It is the same as being “reprobate.” As it is written, “Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the LORD hath rejected them” (Jer 6:30). Something of the involvements of such a rejection is recorded in the Kings. “And the LORD rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight” (2 Kgs 17:20).
NO PRIEST TO GOD. There are two meanings in this expression. First, the people would no more be a “kingdom of priests” to God (Ex 19:6). Their rejection of the knowledge of God cost them their elite status with Him. Second, false priests who failed to bring the mind of God to the people would not longer be allowed to function. Some of these priests were put into office by wicked Jeroboam who “made again of the lowest people priests of the high places” (1 Kgs 13:33; 12:32). Such men were “no priests” unto God. They did not speak for Him or to Him, and God did not speak to them. We should learn from this that those who misrepresent God have nothing whatsoever to do with Him.
FORGOTTEN AND CHANGED
“ 4:6c . . . seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. 7 As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame.”
THE FORGOTTEN LAW. Both the people and many priests had “forgotten” the law of their God. They had not become irreligious, but had embraced corrupt religion. Jeremiah stated the case this way: “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?” (Jer 5:31). This was a deliberate forgetting, not simply a lapse of memory. When they gave themselves to other lovers and other gods, the Law of God no longer remained in their mind. When the “bands of the wicked” robbed the psalmist, he said, “but I have not forgotten Thy law” (Psa 119:61). However, when Israel ascribed the cause for her blessings to other gods (2:12; 3:1), they revealed they had “forgotten the law” of their God.
Just as the Gentiles “did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (Rom 1:28), so Israel did not like to keep God’s law in their minds. It chaffed against them, and thus they expelled it from their thinking. Knowing their hearts were calloused and their spirit rebellious, the Lord had commanded them to write these laws on the door posts of their houses and on their gates (Deut 11:20). They were to talk about them when they sat down, when they walked by the way, when they laid down, and when they rose up (Deut 11:19). Solemnly Moses warned them, “Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping His commandments, and His judgments, and His statutes” (Deut 8:11). But they forgot them anyway. They willingly entertained other priorities, and therefore forgot God’s law.
FORGOTTEN CHILDREN. What will God do about such a circumstance? To “forget thy children” is the same as having no more mercy on Israel (1:6). Once God sent a man to Eli with a word. This expression was included in that message: “Be it far from Me; for them that honor Me I will honor, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Sam 2:30). Being “lightly esteemed” by God occurs when the children are “forgotten.”
This word may appear to contradict the prophesy of Isaiah. “But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands; thy walls are continually before Me” (Isa 49:16). This word, however, was not spoken to wayward and forgetful people. Rather, it was a word of Divine comfort to “him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers” (Isa 49:7). This was to a chastened, yet sensitive people. Hosea is speaking to a hard and wandering people.
Hosea has already affirmed the return of Israel the Lord (2:7; 3:5). However, just as a generation fell in the wilderness, and Jerusalem was trodden down by the Gentiles, so a generation of Israel would be forgotten by God – a dreadful prospect, indeed! This is equivalent to the bill of divorce God gave to Israel (Jer 3:8). We should not expect a relationship to the Living God to be overly simplistic.
SIN RESULTING FROM INCREASE. Other versions read, “The more they increased, the more they sinned against Me.” NKJV/NRSV Here is a commentary on “the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13). The more God blessed them, the more they sinned against Him. He planted them a noble vine, carefully attended to it, and they yielded “wild grapes” to Him (Isa 5:2,4). They “received blessing from God” in the form showers of blessing, and yet bore “thorns and biers” to Him (Heb 6:7-8). Moses summarized this unspeakable sin of ingratitude in these words: “But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation” (Deu 32:15). When the heart is hard, the blessing of God is treated with contempt, and becomes the occasion for even more sin.
GLORY CHANGED INTO SHAME. If their numbers are their glory, God will reduce them to a shameful few. If Jerusalem is their glory, it will be demolished by the heathen. If their king is their glory, he will be overcome by a heathen, and himself be slain. If their prophets are their glory, their mouths will be stopped. If their youth are their glory, they will be subject to enemies and famine. They will be brought to a point where the very things they gloried in will be the source of sorrow and same.
Once the people “changed their glory (God) into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass” (Psa 106:20). Now God will debase them before men as they degraded Him before the heathen. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Heb 10:31).