28 January 2013

Hosea 4:15 – 5:7

"With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find him; he has withdrawn from them." (v. 6)


The eighth-century prophet Hosea is probably best known for his marriage to the prostitute Gomer, which functioned as a prophetic allegory of God's relationship to the northern kingdom of Israel (Hosea chapters 1-3). Just as the prophet's marriage to Gomer was followed by her adultery, so God's faithfulness to Israel is followed by Israel's spiritual infidelity - though, in both cases, a future restoration takes place.

By the time we reach chapter 4 of Hosea, prophetic word has replaced prophetic sign, and Hosea identifies idolatry as the chief cause of Israel's faithlessness. In Israel (also referred to as Ephraim), this took the form of worshipping local gods known as Baals at places such as Gilgal and Bethel (described by Hosea as Beth-aven, the 'house-of-wickedness'). The language of "whoredom" associated with idolatry may be offensive to modern ears, but emphasises that Israel's worship of false gods violated their intimacy with God. For the prophet, nothing could be worse than rejecting the love of God in favour of dead idols.  

The use of shepherding imagery emphasises God's care for Israel (verse 16). The Lord desires to lead the people into a broad pasture, but the flock are stubborn and prefer the narrow pastures of idolatry. The reference to drinking and "sexual orgies" (v. 18) relates to elements in the worship of the Baals, including sacred prostitution.

In chapter 5, Hosea focuses his indictment on the leaders of Israel, including its "priests" (v. 1). By encouraging the worship of other gods, they have led the people astray. The Lord allows no rivals, and so 'seeking the Lord' while worshipping idols is worthless. It is impossible to serve two masters.

To Ponder

  • Why does the prophet see 'spiritual idolatry' as so dangerous?  
  • What idols demand worship in twenty first-century Britain?

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the Discipleship Development Officer for the Methodist Church and an Associate Lecturer at Cliff College. He lives in Derbyshire with his wife Ali and their two sons.