COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 4:12 My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them: for the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their God. 13 They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and elms, because the shadow thereof is good: therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses shall commit adultery. 14 I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses when they commit adultery: for themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots: therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall.” (Hosea 4:12-14)
The Lord is speaking candidly to Israel about their sin. He is tracing the source of their departure from Him, and accounting for the controversy that He has with the inhabitants of the land. The purpose of this kind of word is twofold. First, it is to abruptly awaken the people to the seriousness of their condition. It is like shouting to them with earnest and compelling tones. Second, it provides a Divine reference point that can be used later by the people to interpret what had actually happened to them. This same type of word is used by the Spirit in speaking to the churches. He assesses their condition with most arresting language, pulling no punches, so to speak, in spelling out any departures from the Lord (Gal 5:4; James 4:4; Rev 2:4; 3:1). We do well to give heed to this manner of Divine communication. It is not limited to the Prophets, who often spoke in this way. This is simply the way God responds to the failure of His people to listen to Him.
ASKING COUNSEL OF OTHERS LEADS TO ERROR
“ 4:12 My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them: for the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their God.”
MY PEOPLE. This is not an indictment of a heathen nation, or a body of people with whom the Lord was not identified. Because judgment begins “at the house of God,” the Lord’s first and foremost controversy is with those to whom He has been gracious, and toward whom He has shown mercy. These are the first people He scrutinizes, for they have received the most. This remains God’s manner to this very day (1 Pet 4:17).
ASKING FOR UNLAWFUL COUNSEL. “My people ask counsel of their stocks.” Other versions translate the word “stocks,” “wooden idols,” NKJV “a piece of wood,” NRSV and “a thing of wood.” RSV
What was revered as a “god” to these wayward Israel, was actually nothing more than a piece of wood. The people whom God had chosen to be His own, and to whom He had given exclusive privileges and benefits, were asking for direction from something other than their God – “their stocks.” Isaiah refers to such people as rebellious children. “Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of Me“ (Isa 30:1). Lifting up his voice against those who sought to those with familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep and mutter, Isaiah said, “should not a people seek unto their God?” (Isa 8:19). We are apprised that king Saul died “for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit” (1 Chron 10:13). Jeremiah said this people said to a stock, or tree, “Thou art my father” (Jer 2:27). Even though they had been severely punished in the Babylonian captivity, yet, like “the king of Babylon,” they had “consulted with images” (Ezek 21:21).
Seeking counsel from the Lord sometimes involved going to a priest (Num 27:21; Judges 18:4). Sometimes it involved going to the house of God, where those who served the Lord ministered (Judges 20:18). There were times when this was done in prayer (Judges 20:23). There were also times when it was sought from a prophet of God (Jer 38:14). Someone in communion with the Lord had to inquire.
How wrong is it to fail to seek counsel from the Lord? In this day of professional religious specialists and worldly wise men, one might think counsel is available from mere earthly resources. However, it is always wrong to seek direction that does not come from God Himself. There are, in this day, resources that are equivalent to “stocks.” They take the form of earthly experts and students of nature. However, if a person is not hearing from God, in matters pertaining to life and godliness, that person is not to be consulted for direction by the people of God.
RECEIVING AN ANSWER. “ . . . and their staff answereth them.” Other versions read “their staff informs them,” NKJV “their diviner’s wand,” NASB and “their divining rod.” NRSV This refers to a practice of divination, whereby knowledge was obtained through heathen ritual, the answer supposedly coming from a staff, or rod. It was not that the rod actually spoke, but that some sign was indicated in it that provided a “yes or no” answer. Ezekiel mentions three other methods the heathen used to obtain counsel: casting lots with arrows, consulting with idols, and examining the liver of a sacrificial animal (Ezek 21:21).
It is to be understood that those who seek direction from unlawful resources will receive what appears to be an answer. In our day counsel is sought from horoscopes, astrology, OUIJA boards, fortune tellers, psychics, witches, and the likes. It is not uncommon to find professing Christians using these twentieth Century stocks and staffs. This is not to mention those with the wisdom of this world – psychiatrists, physiologists, and other areas of worldly knowledge relating to human behavior and constitution.
THE CAUSE OR ERRING. “ . . . the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err.” The “spirit of whoredoms” is a propensity to give oneself to someone other than God. A spiritually promiscuous spirit makes error inevitable. It is not possible to give the affections due to God alone to anyone else, and not depart from the highway of holiness (Isa 35:8). People do not wander from God accidentally. It is always the result of having a primary affection for someone or something other than the Lord Himself. When a person wanders from the way of holiness, it is always because they have prostituted their affection, choosing to pursue and serve other interests. For such people, error that condemns is inevitable.
UNFAITHFULNESS TO GOD. “ . . . they have gone a whoring from under God.” The phrase “from under God” means under His care, direction, and provision. They had to leave God Himself and His benefits in order to consult with, and be directed by, others.
CONVENIENT RELIGION LEADS TO UNFAITHFULNESS
“ 4:13 They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and elms, because the shadow thereof is good: therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses shall commit adultery.”
THEY SACRIFICE. Israel’s quest to obtain consultation from false gods was aggressive. They were not casual in their pursuit of the unlawful! Because they were deceived, the demands of false religion were not too much for them.
“Tops of the mountains.” They climbed to the “tops of mountains” to offer sacrifices. Jeremiah said “she is gone up upon every high mountain” (Jer 3:6). Ezekiel said their idolatry was “in all the tops of the mountains” (Ezek 6:13). Idolatry was consistently identified with “high places,” which God pledged to destroy (Lev 26:30). Rehoboam, son of Solomon, even built a house of worship in high places (1 Kgs 12:31). Israel’s history tells of a time when they “built high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal” (Jer 19:5). Do not think for a moment that false religion is not demanding!
“Upon the hills.” Israel was also noted for burning incense to false Gods “upon the hills.” The burning of incense was an appeal to the good pleasure of false gods – even though there was no such thing. This exercise was amazingly prominent throughout Israel’s history. In the days of king Jotham, the people “burned incense still in high places” (2 Kgs 15:35). Amaziah bowed down before the gods of Seir, and burned incense to them (2 Chron 25:14). Ahaz burned incense “on the hills” (2 Kgs 16:4). Of such practices the Lord said, “Your iniquities, and the iniquities of your fathers together, saith the LORD, which have burned incense upon the mountains, and blasphemed Me upon the hills”(Isa 65:7). He also declared they had forsaken Him in order to burn such incense (2 Kgs 22:17). The Lord said of these people, “My people have forgotten Me, they have burned incense to vanities” (Jer 18:15). Thus the people sought to appease those who were no gods at all, assigning to them dignity by burning incense to them on the tops of mountains and in high places.
“Under the oaks and poplars and elms.” Even in their idolatry, the people sought for fleshly convenience. Not only did they burn incense on the tops of the mountains, and upon the hills, they selected convenient places to do it – “under the oaks and poplars and elms.” Elsewhere the prophets made mention of this practice. Jeremiah said they went “upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot” (Jer 3:6). Ezekiel said of them, “upon every high hill, in all the tops of the mountains, and under every green tree, and under every thick oak, the place where they did offer sweet savor to all their idols” (Ezek 6:13). It is said of king Ahaz, “And he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree” (2 Kgs 16:4).
THE SHADOW IS GOOD. Because the great oaks, poplars, and elms, offered shade to the people, and temporary comfort, they offered to the trees what they should have offered to God. The convenience that had been given to them by God Himself was thus ascribed to trees – a sin of the greatest magnitude.
APPLICATION. Although these practices still continue in some of the darker continents, they have taken a different form in our country. The “oaks, poplars, and elms” of our day include education, entertainment, convenient religion, patriotism, sports, wealth, pleasure, and the likes. For some people, these things are perceived as offering shade that eases the monotony of their lives. They therefore burn the incense of time to them. They offer their wealth to them, as well as the focus of their lives.
THEREFORE. As a result of their unfaithfulness, succeeding generations would be impacted. “Therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses shall commit adultery” (Hosea 4:13). The flagrant disobedience of Israel had produced an environment that would encourage sin – sin of the lowest order. The idea is that while the fathers were off sacrificing in the tops of the mountains, and burning incense on the hills, their wives and daughters turned to immortality and impurity. Make no mistake about this, a disregard for the truth, and unfaithfulness to God, breeds all manner of iniquity, and brings an avalanche of transgression.
When there is an increase of sin, and growing expressions of iniquity, it is the result of seeds sown in previous generations. Sin started in the garden, but proliferated throughout the entire world, and among all peoples. We ought to be able to see that the general disinterest in the truth of God among professing believers has produced an unparalleled crop of iniquity in this generation. Thus evil men “wax worse and worse” (2 Tim 3:13). When God and the things of God are neglected, Satan gains the advantage.
WHEN GOD DOES NOT PUNISH, AND FALLING IS SURE
“ 4:14 I will NOT punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses when they commit adultery: for themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots: therefore the people that doth NOT understand shall fall.”
I WILL NOT PUNISH. There comes a time when such a level of degeneracy exists that God does not punish it in this world. This is not a blessing, but a curse. It is imperative that those who imagine God always retrieves wayward souls consider this.
The words “I will not punish” mean that God will not correct the conduct of these wayward ones. As the Scripture says, “Those who honor Me I will honor, but those who despise Me will be disdained” NIV (1 Sam 2:30). The same type of thing is declared by Malachi. “But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the LORD of hosts. Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept My ways, but have been partial in the law” (Mal 2:8-9). Those, therefore, who had subjected the name of the Lord to disgrace, will themselves be disgraced before the people – the heathen people.
Here is a woe that is infinitely worse than the chastening of the Lord, which is indeed grievous. It is far better to be “punished” by the Lord, than to be left to our own devices. When God ceased to make any effort to correct the wandering Gentiles, He turned them over to their own devices (Rom 1:24,26,28). When Israel refused to hearken to the voice of the Lord, and wanted nothing to do with Him, He also turned them over to their “own heart’s lust” (Psa 81:11-12). In both of these cases, the consequences were disastrous.
Ultimate Punishment. It is not, of course, that such willful sin will never be punished. Rather, it is not punished in this world. However, let no person suffer from the delusion that sin that is unpunished in this world will never be punished. In such a case, the punishments that are worthy are treasured up until “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” at which time it will be poured forth (Rom 2:5). Those who appear to be getting by with their waywardness are actually walking in “slippery places,” and may slide into perdition at any moment (Psa 73:18).
I understand it is not fashionable to speak in this manner – particularly in a spiritually lethargic generation. However, when men choose to neglect God, giving credit and honor to other priorities, they must know that this is God’s manner.
SEPARATION. The language is so strong, it is almost abrasive to the soul: “For the men themselves go apart with harlots and offer sacrifices with temple prostitutes.” NASB The words “they themselves” refer specifically to the men who left their wives and daughters behind to sacrifice and burn incense to other gods, and generally to all of the people. Thus, the condition falling upon the wives and daughters was owing to the waywardness of the fathers and husbands. They had separated from the Lord, so the Lord separated from their wives and daughters. Therefore, those who affirm that God will never leave you, no matter what you do, have contradicted the Lord’s own revelation of Himself – and He does not and cannot change (Mal 3:6; Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29). In fact, it is this quality of unchangeableness that compels us to trust Him.
WHEN MEN FALL. Earlier the prophet said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6). Here the same truth is stated another way: “the people that doth not understand will fall.” Other versions read, “will be trampled,” NKJV “are ruined,” NASB and “will come to ruin.” NIV The point is that those who honored other gods did not, in fact, have any understanding. Their conduct confirmed this was the case. Therefore, they would participate in the same destiny as the erroneous gods they served – they would fall.
Not only, therefore, do we become like the one we worship and serve, we also will share their destiny. It is said of idolaters, “They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them” (Psa 115:8; 135:18). In the case of the Lord Jesus Christ, those who serve Him, availing themselves of His great salvation and faithful provision and protection, will be “like Him” (1 John 3:2), and will be “ever with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:17).
Falling, or being trampled by the enemy, does not occur randomly or by chance. It is the result of departing from the Lord. Strictly speaking, God does not leave people because they fall, but they fall because they have left Him. It is not possible to give oneself to iniquity without first withdrawing from the Lord. This casts a different light on “fallen leaders” and the likes, than is normally presented to the religious masses.
Thus we have seen in this text kingdom principles that are still in operation. This is so because they reflect the nature of the God of the kingdom, who Himself is unchanging.