COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 4:8 They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity. 9 And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings. 10 For they shall eat, and not have enough: they shall commit whoredom, and shall not increase: because they have left off to take heed to the LORD. 11 Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.” (Hosea 4:8-11)
The Lord is describing to Hosea the sin of His people. Whatever excuse the people may offer for their condition, and however they may choose to describe it, this is the true assessment of it. Before the Lord deals with His people, He precisely describes their condition. Divine workings cannot be fully appreciated until men see the real circumstances in which they were made known. It is totally unacceptable to ask God to intervene in problems that have been diagnosed and defined by mere men. The Lord is “a God of truth” (Deut 32:4), and as such works within the context of truth. This is one of the reasons for the marvelous intercessory work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:26-27). He provides a true assessment of our need when we are unable to do so. Thus, Hosea is given to see the real situation that precedes the promised work of God. The state of Israel will not be varnished, distorted, or glossed. Their condition will be plainly described. This will serve to accentuate the greatness and the graciousness of the work God will do.
THE SPREADING NATURE OF SIN
“ 4:8 They eat up the sin of My people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.” The Lord continues in His explanation of the transgression of the people – the reason for which He has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. He has already indicted all of the people, and now is focusing upon their priests as well.
THEY EAT UP THE SIN OF MY PEOPLE. Other versions read, “They feed on the sin of My people,” NASB “The sin of My people is like food to them,” BBE “The priests get fed when the people sin and bring their sin offering to them,” NLT and “They feed on my people’s sin offerings.” TNK
The foundational idea of this text is that the priests actually were taking delight in sins of the people, for they saw themselves as gaining advantages from them. Rather than deploring iniquity, they saw in it an opportunity for gain. Keep in mind, this is the Divine assessment of the situation. No doubt, from their own point of view, the priests did not take pleasure in the sin of God’s people – that is, they were not glad the people offended God. However, when the people sinned and consequently brought sacrifices for their sin to the priests (Lev 4:27-28,35; 5:4-10; 19:20-22), they seemed to be advantaged. In turn, the priest was granted to eat a portion of that sacrifice (Ex 29:33; Lev 6:18,26,29; Deut 12:27).
The intent of this verse is this: rather than the priests teaching the people to refrain from their sin, lifting up their voice against the transgressions of the people, they kept silence, taking advantage of all of the food they gained from the various sin offerings. This is what God calls “eat up the sins of My people.” They were being nourished by the sin, rather than developing a certain revulsion for it. They were merely eating the fruit of the sin rather than lifting up their voice against it.
AN APPLICATION. In our day, we have a similar circumstance. There are religious professions who actually profit from the sins of the people. They may call themselves counselors, recovery ministries, crisis centers, and the likes. Too often they do not call sin what it really is, or teach the people to turn from their sin, and refrain from doing it. Rather, they profit from the sins of the people who come to them, building large businesses, and entering into lucrative careers. Whatever defense may be offered for such activities, it is my opinion that God would call it “eating up the sin of His people,” or being fed when the people sin. I understand this is a highly controversial area. However, it is time for those who wear the name of the Lord to look at sin and its consequences as God does.
THEY SET THEIR HEART ON THEIR INIQUITY. Other versions read, “direct their desire toward their iniquity,” NASB “relish their wickedness,” NIV and “greedy for their iniquity,” NRSV and “so the priests are glad when the people sin.” NLT
This is an example of enjoying “the pleasures of sin for a season” (Heb 11:25). It is what happened when the serpent deceived Eve into thinking the fruit of the forbidden tree was “good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desired to make one wise” (Gen 3:6). She thought there was an advantage to sinning – to doing what God had strictly forbidden to be done. When the priests and the people thought the things that they were doing brought personal advantages to them, they were actually relishing wickedness. Their desires were, in this quest of fleshly advantage, really “toward iniquity.” When the priests did not speak against the sin, they were actually “greedy for iniquity,” and “glad when the people sinned.” By seeking advantage and gain from unlawful things, they had “set their heart on their iniquity.” This is not how the sinful priests and people themselves would have assessed the situation, but it is precisely how the Lord assessed it.
APPLICATION. In our time, there are all manner of sinful practices and manners being promoted within religion. They range from religious careers to personal manners. It is found in the veneration of religious entertainers who bring nothing of substance to those who see and hear them. It can be seen in religious education that seeks to blend the ways of the world with the things of God. In all of these things, SELF is exalted, even though we are strictly charged to crucify it. Personal preferences are being exalted above the will of the Lord. The modern church is having a great deal of difficulty with iniquity and immorality. It is seen in increased births out of wedlock, divorce, enslavement to pornography, and all manner of sin. Rather than the preachers and teachers lifting up their voices against sin, they are establishing uncondemning and congenial ways of dealing with it. The result is that sin is spreading, for that is what it does when it is not checked by sound teaching and calls to repentance. God looks at circumstances such as these and declares, “They eat up the sin of My people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.”
PEOPLE AND PRIEST PUNISHED TOGETHER
“ 4:9 And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings.”
Originally, God made a distinction between the people and the priests. The people received an inheritance in the land, but the priests did not (Num 18:20; ,23-24; Deut 18:1-1). The priests were sanctified to serve the Lord wholly – separated to him in the place of the firstborn, the people were not (Num 3:12.45; 8:14). The priests served in the tabernacle, the people did not (Num 1:47-54). A preference for sin, however, and a refusal to pronounce God’s mind concerning transgression, destroyed this distinction.
LIKE PEOPLE, LIKE PRIEST. In the punishment that would be administered by the Lord, “the priests shall fare no better than the people.” NAB No mercy would be granted to them because of their office, for they had not been good custodians of their ordained position. When God destroyed the world, He “saved eight souls” – Noah and his family (1 Pet 3:20). When He poured His wrath upon Sodom and Gomorrah, “He delivered just Lot” (2 Pet 2:7). When He judged Israel for their unbelief in the wilderness, He exempted Joshua and Caleb from the curse, enabling them to enter the promised land (Num 14:30).
However, when people sin together, they perish together! Adam and Eve were both expelled from the Garden (Gen 3:24). Nadab and Abihu both were slain with heavenly fire (Lev 10:1-2). Ananias and Saphirra were both judged by God (Acts 5:1-10).
The people and those who taught them would both be punished, for this is God’s way. Isaiah spoke of this manner: “Therefore the LORD will cut off from Israel head and tail, branch and rush, in one day. The ancient and honorable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail. For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed” (Isa 9:16). Again, Isaiah spoke in the precise language of our text: “And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him. The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the LORD hath spoken this word” (Isa 24:3). Jeremiah spoke of a similar conspiracy against God. “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). Ezekiel also spoke of this dilemma: “Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned Mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they showed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from My sabbaths, and I am profaned among them” (Ezek 22:26).
APPLICATION. When a people go astray, the problem has been compounded. God placed priests and prophets among the Israelites to alert them to His word and ways. They were to blow the trumpet among the people and set up the standard of God’s word (Jer 51:27; Ezek 33:3; Joel 2:15). Likewise, God has placed certain within the church to sound the Word – including prophets (1 Cor 12:28; 14:3), pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11), and “elders” (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:2). When the professed church drifts from its moorings, both the leaders and followers are at fault. That is how God viewed the departures of Israel, and it is how He views departures within the church. Thus Paul accounts for the dreadful apostasy of the church by saying, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Tim 4:3). That is a New Covenant version of “like people, like priest.”
PUNISHMENT AND REWARD. Moses once said to the people, “be sure your sin will find you out” (Num 32:23). God’s nature will not allow Him to overlook sin. He “will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex 34:7). It is true, He is remarkably longsuffering, yet if men will not turn from their sin, the day of reckoning will surely come.
Both the people and the priests would be punished for their insolence, for sin is insolence, or impudence, against the mighty God. The expression “punish them for their sins, and reward them for their doings,” is a hebraism – a Hebrew poetic manner of saying the same thing two different ways.
“Punish them” accents the Lord’s reaction to what they have done. “Reward them” emphasizes the unavoidable result of what they did. Where men cling to sin, neither of these is avoidable. Unless forgiven, sin WILL result in punishment. If justification does not take place, the “reward of iniquity” (Acts 1:18) is certain. The Lord has revealed what He will do to sinners, and what will result from iniquity. These things are certain. Thanks be unto God for Jesus, who saves His people from their sins (Matt 1:21)!