1 Hear the word of the LORD, children of Israel, for the LORD has 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, lying, killing, stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood touches blood.
3 Therefore, the land shall mourn, and everyone who dwells in it shall languish, with the beasts of the field and with the birds of heaven. Even the fish of the sea shall also be taken away.
4 Yet let no man contend, nor reprove another, for your people are as those who contend with the priest.
5 Therefore, you shall fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with you in the night, and I will destroy your mother.
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you, so that you shall be no priest to me. Seeing you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children.
7 As they were increased, so they sinned against me; therefore, I will change their glory into shame.
8 They eat up the sin of my people and they set their heart on their iniquity.
9 And it shall be, as the people, so shall be the priest. And I will punish them for their ways and reward them for their doings.
10 For they shall eat and not have enough. They shall be guilty of lewdness and shall not increase, because they have ceased to take heed to the LORD.
11 Lewdness, wine, and new wine take away the heart.
12 My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declares to them, for the spirit of lewdness has caused them to err, and they have gone astray from under their God.
13 They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks, poplars, and elms, because their shade is agreeable. Therefore, your daughters shall be guilty of lewdness and your spouses shall commit adultery.
14 I will not punish your daughters when they are guilty of lewdness, nor your spouses when they commit adultery, for they themselves are separated with prostitutes and they sacrifice with harlots. Therefore, the people who do not understand shall fall.
15 Though you, Israel, play the harlot, yet do not let Judah offend, and do not come to Gilgal, neither go up to Beth-aven, nor swear, 'The LORD lives.'
16 For Israel slides back as a backsliding heifer. Now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place.
17 Ephraim is joined to idols. Leave him alone.
18 Their drink is sour. They have been guilty of lewd deeds continually. Her rulers have thoroughly loved shame.
19 The wind has bound her up in her wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices."
John Gill's Chapter Summary:
This chapter contains a new sermon or prophecy, delivered in proper and express words, without types and figures, as before; in which the people of Israel are summoned to appear at the tribunal of God, to hear the charge brought against them, and the sentence to be pronounced upon them, and which would be executed. They are charged with sins of omission and commission; with lack of truth and mercy to men, and with ignorance of God; with swearing, lying, murder, theft, and adultery (Hosea 4:1-2), the punishment threatened is the sword, famine, and pestilence; which should affect the whole land, and all creatures in it, men, beasts, fowls, and fishes (Hosea 4:3), then the priests and false prophets are threatened with falling into calamities along with the people, and with rejection from their office, and forgetfulness of their posterity, and a taking away their glory from them, because of their striving with the true prophets; their rejection of knowledge; forgetfulness of the law of God; covetousness, adultery, and drunkenness (Hosea 4:4-11), then the discourse is turned to the people again, who are charged with divination and idolatry, which is spiritual adultery; and therefore, by way of retaliation, their wives and daughters would be left to commit adultery and fornication (Hosea 4:12-14), and the chapter is concluded with advice to Israel not to tempt Judah to sin; or to Judah not to do the same, after the example of Israel, who were backsliders, idolaters, left of God and alone; guilty of bribery, and similar shameful things, and would be suddenly filled with shame (Hosea 4:15-19).
[v.1-2] - From Robert Hawker's Commentary: "Here is an awful account of sin in some of the deadly branches of it. But the most awful part of it is, that it is Israel, the Israel of God, that is here spoken of. Sin is sin in any nation, and the crimes here enumerated are horrible wherever they are found. But when God's people are the first in the transgression, this makes sin exceeding sinful. Reader! do not overlook this; it is a sad proof which the whole world daily affords of our fallen nature, in the mass of corruption everywhere abounding."
[v.1] - "the LORD has a controversy" - From John Calvin's Commentary: "Since, then, the Prophet was sent to the children of Israel to warn them of a great and fatal danger, God had still a regard for their safety: and doubtless this warning prevailed with many; for those who were alarmed by this denunciation humbled themselves before God, and did not harden themselves in wickedness: and the reprobate, though not amended, were yet rendered twice less excusable."
[v.2] - From John Calvin's Commentary: "He speaks here of their contempt of the second table of the law; for by this the impiety of men is sooner found out, that is, when an examination is made of their life: for hypocrites vauntingly profess the name of God, and confidently arrogate faith to themselves; and then they cover their vices with the external show of divine worship, and frigid acts of devotion: nay, the very thing mentioned by Jeremiah is too commonly the case, that 'the house of God is made a den of thieves' (Jeremiah 7:11)."
[v.3] - "shall languish" - This may also be read as, "shall be cut off," or, "shall be destroyed."
[v.4a] - "It is a proof of irreclaimable wickedness, when men close their ears and harden their hearts against all salutary counsels." —John Calvin
[v.4b] - "those who contend with the priest" - This may also be read as, "those who rebuke the priest."
[v.5a] - From John Calvin's Commentary: "It is evident enough that Hosea speaks not here of God's true and faithful ministers, but of impostors, who deceived the people by their blandishments, as it is usually the case: for as soon as any Prophet sincerely wished to discharge his office for God, there came forth flatterers before the public, — 'This man is too rigid, and makes a wrong use of God's name, by denouncing so grievous a punishment; we are God's people.' Such, then, were the Prophets, we must remember, who are here referred to; for few were those who then faithfully discharged their office; and there was a great number of those who were indulgent to the people and to their vices."
[v.5b - "I will destroy your mother" - From John Calvin's Commentary: "The term, mother, is to be taken here for the Church, on account of which the Israelites, we know, were known to exult against God... Hence when the Prophet saw that the Israelites made a wrong use of this falsely-assumed title, he said, 'I will also destroy your mother,' that is, 'This your boasting, and the dignity of Abraham's race, and the sacred name of Church, will not prevent God from taking dreadful vengeance on you all; for he will tear from the roots and abolish the very name of your mother; he will disperse that smoke of which you boast, inasmuch as you hide your crimes under the title of Church.'"
[v.6a] - "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" - From John Gill's Exposition: "This is not to be understood of those who are the Lord's people by special grace; for they cannot be destroyed, at least with everlasting destruction; God's love to them, his choice of them, covenant with them, the redemption of them by Christ, and the grace of God in them, secure them from such destruction: nor can they perish through lack of knowledge; for though they are by nature as ignorant as others, yet it is the determinate will of God to bring them to the knowledge of the truth, in order to salvation; and that same decree which fixes salvation as the end, secures the belief of the truth as the means; and the covenant of grace provides for their knowledge of spiritual things, as well as other spiritual blessings; in consequence of which their minds are enlightened by the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, and they have the knowledge of God and Christ given them, which is life eternal. But this is to be understood of the people of the ten tribes of Israel, who were nationally and nominally the people of God, were so by profession; they called themselves the people of God; and though they were idolaters, yet they professed to worship God in their idols; and as yet God's 'Lo-ammi' (Hosea 1:8) had not taken place upon them; he still sent his prophets among them, to reprove and reform them, and they were not as yet finally rejected by him, and cast out of their land. These may be said to be 'destroyed', because they were threatened with destruction, and it was near at hand, they were just upon the brink of it; and because of the certainty of it, and this 'through the lack of knowledge': either in the people, who were ignorant of God, his mind, and will, and worship, and without fear and reverence of him, which was the cause of all the abominations they ran into, for which they were threatened with ruin; or in the priests, whose business it was to teach and instruct the people; but instead of teaching them true doctrine, and the true, manner of worship, taught them false doctrine, and led them into superstition and idolatry; and so they perished through the default of the priests in performing their office; which sense is confirmed by what follows [in this verse]."
[v.6b] - "Because you have rejected knowledge..." - Hosea is in this sentence addressing the priests, or those who were tasked with the teaching and giving of God's word. To put it another way, he is addressing those who use the office of priest/pastor as a social status and a means of wealth and comfort rather than using it for its intended purpose, that is, to give the people the sound teaching of God in His word.
[v.6b] - "Seeing you have forgotten the law of your God..." - From John Calvin's Commentary: "Now this fault was doubtless what belonged to the whole people; there was no one exempt from this sin; and this forgetfulness was fitly ascribed to the whole people. For how did it happen, that the priests had carelessly shaken off from their shoulders the burden of teaching the people? Even because the people were unwilling to have their ears annoyed: for the ungodly complain that God's servants are troublesome, when they daily cry against their vices. Hence the people gladly entered into a truce with their teachers, that they might not perform their office: thus the oblivion of God's law crept in."
[v.9a] - "And it shall be, as the people, so shall be the priest." - From John Calvin's Commentary: "The Prophet here again denounces on both [the people and the priests] a common punishment, as neither was free from guilt. 'As the people,' he says, 'so shall be the priest,' that is, 'I will spare neither the one nor the other; for the priest has abused the honor conferred on him; for though divinely appointed over the Church for this purpose, to preserve the people in piety and holy life, he has yet broken through and violated every right principle: and then the people themselves wished to have such teachers, that is, such as were mute. I will therefore now,' the Lord says, 'inflict punishment on them all alike. As the people then, so shall the priest be.'"
[v.9b] - This verse was originally worded, "And there shall be, like people, like priest..." It was modified for readability.
[v.10] - "because they have ceased to take heed to the LORD" - "No one can continue to keep faith with God, except he observes his word and remains under its tuition." —John Calvin
[v.12a] - "stocks" - That is, "wood," or in other words, "idols," or, "fictitious gods."
[v.12b] - "from under their God" - That is, from under the government of God. From John Calvin's Commentary: "When we abide then under the government of our God, and with fixed eyes look on him, then we chastely preserve our faithfulness to him. But when we follow idols, we then play the wanton and depart from God."
[v.15] - "Beth-aven" - From John Gill's Exposition: "Beth-aven is the same with Bethel, the name Jacob gave it (Genesis 28:17), signifying the house of God; but when Jeroboam set up one of his calves here, the prophets, by way of contempt, called it Beth-aven, the house of iniquity, or the house of an idol."
[v.16a] - "a backsliding heifer" - In this verse, backsliding can mean to be undisciplined, unruly, or uncontrollable.
[v.16b] - "in a large place" - That is, in a spacious place. A possible meaning to this is that God would allow the people to feed in a spacious enough place that they would simply gorge themselves. "It is a dreadful punishment, when the Lord does not abate the intemperateness of men, but allows them to waste away without any limits or moderation" (John Calvin). Another possible meaning is that God would put them in such a spacious place that they would always be wandering about without a shepherd and without a flock to return to, either by being dispersed or led into exile, which later happened.