26 January 2013

Hosea 4:1-14

"Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel; For the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land." (v. 1)


The first three chapters of Hosea are distinctive for the way they interweave prophecy with the material of Hosea's own life and family. However, in the remaining chapters it is noticeable that such autobiographical material largely disappears, for all that some of the key themes (for example of faithlessness, adultery and the longing for reconciliation) remain.

There now follows a series of prophetic utterances as God brings an "indictment", a charge against the people of Israel: "there is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land". This is evidenced in the way the commandments are ignored and "swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out" (v. 2).

Moreover it is not just the people of Israel who are guilty; so too are their religious leaders, their priests and prophets (verses 4-5); indeed, "the more they increased, the more they sinned against me" (v. 7) as they "feed on the sin of my people" and are "greedy for their iniquity" (v. 8). The consequence is that they too shall be punished: "it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways" (v. 9).

The next section continues with Hosea's condemnation of false religious practices, of consulting a "piece of wood" or divining rod (verse 12) and making sacrifices and offerings on the hills or under the trees (verse 13). What is noticeable in this closing section is the way some of his earlier themes, of adultery and faithlessness, return; as "your daughters-in-law commit adultery" (v. 13) while the men "go aside with whores and sacrifice with temple prostitutes" (v. 14). However, the end result is the same: "thus a people without understanding comes to ruin" (v. 14).

To Ponder

  • Throughout this passage Hosea is very critical of popular cultic practices, what we might call 'folk religion'; is this a position we should adopt today? Why?
  • Hosea is also critical of priests and prophets, but appears to insist that they should not be judged to a different but to the same standard as other people. To what extent is he right in this - or should religious leaders be subject to a higher standard? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

Stephen Wigley is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Wales Synod. He is married to Jenny, a priest in the Church in Wales, and they have two teenage sons, David and Andrew.