Recommitted to God’s Ways
Hosea 4:1–4; 7:1, 2; 12:1–9; 14:1–3; 2 Kings 15:8–10
Hosea 4:1–4; 7:1, 2; 12:6–9; 14:1
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Describe the conditions that Hosea saw in his society.
2. Compare and contrast the conditions of Hosea’s society with conditions today.
3. Identify one area in his or her own life to conform to God’s ways.
How to Say It
Beth-aven. Beth AY-ven.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, June 4—The Fourth Generation (2 Kings 15:8–12)
Tuesday, June 5—Repentance Brings Blessing (Hosea 14)
Wednesday, June 6—God’s Love for Israel (Hosea 11:1–5)
Thursday, June 7—God Cares (Hosea 11:6–11)
Friday, June 8—A Nation Sins (Hosea 4:1–5)
Saturday, June 9—Evil Deeds Remembered (Hosea 7:1–7)
Sunday, June 10—Return to Your God (Hosea 12:5–10)
Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.”
Why Teach this Lesson?
Your students need to know that sin is bad for them. Spiritually, physically, emotionally—sin is harmful in all areas. Sin damages relationships, life perspectives, and finances. Any way you look at it, sin works against us in the long run. On the other hand, God’s way is the best way to do anything.
If those facts seem obvious, we should pause and ask ourselves why people keep on sinning. Often it’s because sin seems to be profitable, at least in the short run. Your students need “the long view” of life in order to commit or recommit themselves to God’s ways. That is what Hosea will teach us today.
A. Order in the Court
Have you ever noticed how many courtroom dramas are on TV? From Perry Mason in the 1950s and 1960s to today’s Law & Order, this is an enduring staple of secular entertainment. An entertainment-oriented culture even looks upon such shows as Court TV as a source of reality-based amusement.
Hosea wasn’t a scriptwriter for a courtroom drama. His book wasn’t designed to be entertaining. Hosea wasn’t a lawyer, but he could have been. Much of his teaching is like an indictment that would be presented in court. It is a bill of particulars confronting Israel for sinfulness.
Hosea’s focus in both the positive and negative sections of his book is on the relationship between God and his people. The prophet Amos talked about God, Israel, and the surrounding nations, but Hosea largely focused on the theme of God and Israel. (In this context, Israel refers to the northern kingdom of God’s divided people as distinct from the southern kingdom of Judah.)
B. Lesson Background
To put Hosea’s words in context, it will be helpful to understand what the people of Israel had done to their religion. In some cases they had rejected God and their traditions outright. In other cases they had merged the religion of the one true God with a regional religion that worshiped a god named Baal (Hosea 2:8). This greatly disturbed Hosea and the other prophets.
Hosea probably began his prophetic ministry just as Amos’s ministry (last week’s lesson) was drawing to a close. Hosea thus prophesied between about 760 b.c. and the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 b.c.
This period of time seemed like a golden age to the people living in it (compare Isaiah 2:7; 3:16). Yet Hosea saw it, as did Amos and Isaiah, as anything but a golden age. Yes, there was prosperity, but the rich took advantage of the poor. Yes, there were religious observances, but they were corrupted.
Hosea’s name means “salvation,” and he certainly preached that the people were in need of that! Yet the people did not see themselves as vulnerable. “Salvation from what?” they probably asked themselves. The relatively stable reigns of Uzziah in the south and Jeroboam II in the north bred complacency.
But the prophets of God were not fooled. Just as Amos had seen the truth, so did Hosea. As a patriotic dweller of the north, he warned the people of the problem. And his warning would later prove to be valid.
In some ways Hosea is the most intriguing prophet in the Old Testament. Hosea’s tumultuous family life, as noted in Hosea 1:2–11; 3:1–3, became almost a metaphor of what was happening between God and his people. God had commanded Hosea to marry a woman who would prove to be unfaithful. This was so that Hosea’s family could be an example of God’s willingness to love and take back his faithless people. Thus Hosea’s own family became a kind of object lesson of human faithlessness and God’s forgiveness.
The book of Hosea itself can be studied in three divisions. The first division, chapters 1–3, describes the personal information about Hosea and his family life.
The second division is chapters 4–13; this contains the oracles, or sermons, of Hosea. These messages are very tough condemnations of what was going on in Israel. The lesson for today is taken primarily from this section.
The final section is chapter 14. It deserves its own designation because a bit of hope is introduced. Even so, no more than 10 percent of this book deals with God’s blessings. The book is overwhelmingly a message of condemnation.
I. Serious Charges (Hosea 4:1–4)
A. Absence of Goodness (v. 1)
1. Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
because the Lord has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
The opening phrase hear the word of the Lord begins the indictment. What follows is a bill of particulars about things the people are lacking. We may call these “sins of omission.”
First, the Lord says there is no faithfulness. The word used for faithfulness carries the idea of fidelity, honesty, or reliability (compare Genesis 24:49; 47:29; Exodus 18:21; Joshua 2:12, 14).
Neither is there any love in the land. The word used here is one of the most beautiful and interesting words in the Old Testament. It is sometimes translated mercy, kindness, goodness, etc. (example: Jeremiah 9:24). The Hebrew words translated faithfulness and love in this passage occur together (translated in various ways) in dozens of other Old Testament passages. One interesting example is Exodus 34:6: “The Lord, the Lord … abounding in love and faithfulness.” What the Lord himself abounds in is precisely what his people disdain!
Third, Hosea says there is no acknowledgment of God. This describes lack of an intimate mindfulness of God and his requirements. In place of this acknowledgment the people have substituted meaningless ritual.“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
What Do You Think?
Though Christians claim to be faithful, what are some ways in which it may appear that we are unfaithful? How can we do better?
Do we see any of these omissions in our own age? Faithfulness is scoffed at. There is too little merciful love. While there are few genuine atheists in the world, there is still a dearth of the acknowledgment of God. God has made knowledge of himself available, but many suppress it (Romans 1:18–23).
B. Presence of Wickedness (v. 2)
2. “There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Visual for Lesson 2
Use this visual as a discussion starter by asking, “What do tree rings and the dating of the prophets have in common?”
Here Hosea describes the presence of serious sins. We would call these “sins of commission.” He describes a decay that is illustrated by the people’s ignoring basic morality and decency, such as what is prescribed in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17; Deuteronomy 5:6–21).
At least four of those commandments are mentioned here by use of the words lying and murder, stealing and adultery. The word cursing probably does not refer to using obscenities but to pronouncing a curse on someone. Break all bounds is the idea of violating boundaries (compare 1 Samuel 25:10).
This corrupt society can trace its problems to a single cause: the rejection of God. The kinds of qualities that are missing (v. 1) are foundational to a healthy society. The sins that are present inevitably serve to weaken a society. Since Hosea is a resident of the land, this must fill him with both anger and sorrow.
Peter Cartwright (1785–1872) spent several decades as a frontier Methodist circuit-riding preacher, first in Kentucky and then in Illinois. In 1856 he wrote his autobiography, which has become a classic on the history of frontier religion.
Cartwright was still a child when his parents moved from Virginia to Kentucky, much of which was untamed wilderness at the time. Logan County, where his parents settled, was known as Rogue’s Harbor. It was the home of many individuals who came to escape justice or punishment. Law could not be enforced. Murderers, horse thieves, highway robbers, and counterfeiters formed a majority of the population. Honest citizens tried to prosecute them, but the outlaws just provided alibis for each other and always escaped justice.
Finally the law-abiding citizens formed a group known as the Regulators to establish their own code of bylaws. One day the two groups met in town and a battle ensued, fought with knives, pistols, and clubs. Many were wounded, some were killed. The rogues were victorious and drove the Regulators out of town.
Sound like a nice place to live? It is similar to the situation Hosea described: a community of killing, lying, adultery, and murder. That is the result of a community that does not know God. When there is no knowledge of God, morals and social stability disappear just as quickly as the outward formalities of religion. This may lead you to reflect on how much knowledge of God remains in your city. —J. B. N.
C. Presence of Mourning (v. 3)
3. “Because of this the land mourns,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field and the birds of the air
and the fish of the sea are dying.
The faithlessness of God’s people is to be punished by a drought—that is a secondary meaning of the word mourns in this context. This same Hebrew verb is used in Jeremiah 4:28; 12:4; Joel 1:10; and Amos 1:2. Also notice Hosea’s description of an environment in the process of ruination. All creatures that live in the land will waste away or, literally, wither. Even the fish are threatened.
Isn’t it interesting that God associates judgment for sin as being the occasion for general decline even in the realm of nature? Paul speaks of creation groaning as a result of sin (Romans 8:20–22).
D. Absence of Integrity (v. 4)
4. “But let no man bring a charge,
let no man accuse another,
for your people are like those
who bring charges against a priest.”
At first glance, the first two lines of this verse may make us think that God is forbidding the readers to reprove one another with regard to the moral decay. The idea, rather, is that finger-pointing and blaming others will not solve the problems. Great revivals begin not when we put the spotlight of the sins of others but when we dare to indict ourselves.
The last two lines are also a bit difficult. Is Hosea condemning his readers for being the kind of people who would dare to bring charges even against a priest? Considering how angry Hosea is toward the priests, that is not likely (Hosea 4:6–9; 5:1; 6:9; 10:5). Many commentators say the verse should be seen as an encouragement to confront the priests. Under this theory, it might be read as, “Your people should be as they who bring charges against a priest.” A different theory is that this is another reference to finger-pointing, as in, “Any problems are the fault of the priesthood, not me!”
II. Spurned Offer (Hosea 7:1, 2)
A. Healing Was Rejected (v. 1)
1. “Whenever I would heal Israel,
the sins of Ephraim are exposed
and the crimes of Samaria revealed.
They practice deceit,
thieves break into houses,
bandits rob in the streets;
The name Ephraim is another way to refer to the northern kingdom of Israel. Ephraim is a prominent tribe in the northern kingdom. Adding the word Samaria to the mix serves to emphasize the entirety of the 10 tribes that are situated north of Judah. God is saying to them that he is willing to heal all Israel. But as God makes this attempt, the sins of the people become even more apparent.
The primary way God attempts to heal Israel is by sending them prophets. Rather than causing the people to repent, the work of the prophets just reveals more and more sin and guilt. The prophets are persecuted (Amos 7:10–13) not welcomed (compare Acts 7:52).
What Do You Think?
What are some ways that you rejected the healing that God desired to provide? How did you turn this around?
The last part of the verse speaks of people being robbed inside their own houses as well as while out on the city streets. While practicing deceit may be a sneaky, somewhat hidden crime, other kinds of banditry are all too clear. There is no social justice anywhere.
B. Repentance Was Rejected (v. 2)
2. “… but they do not realize
that I remember all their evil deeds.
Their sins engulf them;
they are always before me.”
What Do You Think?
What factors can cause us to think we can hide our sins from God? How do you avoid this trap?
The people of Israel erroneously assume that God does not know or care about the evil they are doing. How often human beings have deceived themselves into thinking they can hide their sins from God! Yet God does not suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. Nor does he have a faulty memory (Leviticus 26:42; Psalm 105:8).
III. Stern Command (Hosea 12:6–9; 14:1)
A. Turn for a Blessing (v. 6)
6. But you must return to your God;
maintain love and justice,
and wait for your God always.
This verse follows a discussion of Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel (Hosea 12:2–4; compare Genesis 28:10–22; 35:1–15). Hosea is highly critical of what has been going on at Bethel. See Hosea 10:5, which refers to Beth Aven, a sarcastic name for Bethel. While Bethel means “house of God,” Beth Aven means “house of wickedness.”
What Do You Think?
In what areas do you need to repent? How did you receive God’s blessings at a time you repented?
In Hosea 12:4, the prophet reminds his audience that Bethel was once a holy place. The people need to return to the kind of religion first celebrated there.
To return to your God involves repentance. The people are also to wait on God. Why the delay? They need for God to bless them again. They need the blessing that God once gave to Jacob.
What Do You Think?
What are some ways that God has provided for you? for your church?
Axels or U-Turns?
Normally the words return and turn brings to mind a change in direction. But not all turns are alike. In figure skating there is a maneuver known as an axel, named after Norwegian figure skater Axel Paulsen (1856–1938). The axel features a jump with a turn in the air that results in the skater still going in the same direction upon landing. It is just for show. Though the axel takes a good deal of skill, it does not result in a change of direction.
Curves on an interstate highway sometimes do not take any effort on the part of the driver. The road may be banked sufficiently for the car to change direction almost by itself. The turn is done by the road conditions, not by the driver.
Then there is a U-turn. This is a 180-degree change of direction. It occurs only when the driver takes a very deliberate action. There is nothing happenstance or accidental about it. It is a conscious effort by the driver to follow a new course.
When Hosea urged the people to turn back to God, he was not talking about a showy axel that would impress others. Nor was he talking about a situation where the people were turned merely by force of external circumstances, without any conscious effort on their part. Hosea confronts his audience (and us) with the need to make a deliberate change of direction—a U-turn. —J. B. N.
B. Turn for Perspective (vv. 7, 8)
7. The merchant uses dishonest scales;
he loves to defraud.
The Hebrew word translated merchant is literally Canaanite. Canaanites are known as shrewd traders, thus the translation merchant captures the sense very well. Canaanites inhabited the promised land before the Israelites arrived (Exodus 3:8). Greedy merchants are known for their dishonest balance scales. This is very offensive to God (Deuteronomy 25:13–16; Proverbs 11:1; 20:23). The children of Israel think they are quite superior to the previous inhabitants of the area, but the message is that they have become the same as them. They love to defraud.
8. Ephraim boasts,
“I am very rich; I have become wealthy.
With all my wealth they will not find in me
any iniquity or sin.”
In a state of arrogant pride, Ephraim believes itself to be rich and righteous. The people are indeed rich in a material way in the manner of unjust merchants. Not only do they see themselves as rich, they do not see that they had committed any sin. “What harm did we do in accumulating these riches?” the Israelites ask themselves. They have so manipulated the laws that they can maintain that technically they are not guilty (compare Mark 7:9–13). They will not find in me any iniquity is an arrogant, self-righteous confidence. Yet God knows better (Amos 6:1–7). Several decades after Hosea writes, the message to Jerusalem to the south will be about the same (Zephaniah 1:11–13).
C. Turn or Face Judgment (v. 9; 14:1)
9. “I am the Lord your God,
[who brought you] out of Egypt;
I will make you live in tents again,
as in the days of your appointed feasts.”
The word tents refers to the tents that the Israelites lived in while in the wilderness wanderings after they had left Egypt. Thus the Lord promises a severe reduction in Israel’s standard of living: they will give up their cozy houses for tents.
The appointed feasts here probably includes the Feast of Tabernacles. During this festival, people set up booths or tents as a reminder of wilderness wanderings (Leviticus 23:33–44). How sad: the Israelites will return to tents not as a memorial but as a punishment.
1. Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God.
Your sins have been your downfall!
Be glad that the book of Hosea has a fourteenth chapter! It is in this chapter that hope is restored. That hope is more evident in the verses that follow (not in today’s text). There are only seven “blessings sections” in Hosea, and this is one of them. If the people return to God, he can help them walk in the right paths.
This is a note of hope in an otherwise very dark book. Yet it is not the only note of hope. Remember that in Hosea’s own experience he bestows forgiving love to an errant wife (Hosea 3). Thus Hosea uses his own life as an example that God also can forgive the people who have been unfaithful to him.
Hosea taught that evil can become pervasive. Evil affects the fabric of society. We see in Hosea God’s sense of hurt, betrayal, and disappointment. God suffers when his people sin. Hosea also discovered and taught that God is both holy and merciful. God thundered against sin, but he could be warm and forgiving to the repentant sinner.
Here is where we need to remind ourselves of Hosea’s marital situation. Hosea sought out his wife, bought her out of prostitution, and took her back into his household (Hosea 3). Hosea could not understand how Israel could so callously choose not to love the God who had loved them so much.
Combining his own personal insight and hurts with God’s revelation, Hosea realized the depth of the meaning of unfaithfulness. Unfaithfulness toward another human and toward God can be forgiven, but it takes sincere repentance and profound love. Hosea’s love for his wife was a picture of God’s love for his people. No Christian looking at this can fail to see that Jesus did something similar for us. He paid a price to bring us back home. He did this even though we did not deserve it. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
This is why some commentators say that Hosea begins to put into our minds what will come into sharper focus in the New Testament: the doctrine of grace. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
Thought to Remember
Forgive me, O God, for breaking your heart. That fact would be overwhelming to me if not for the message of your grace. Even in your anger there is love, and even in the midst of pain you can pardon. In the name of Jesus, who embodied this truth, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing