Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away. – Hosea 4:1-3 ESV
God now begins to list His accusations against Israel. The remaining chapters will contain messages containing clear indications of Israel’s guilt and God’s coming judgment. But they will also be mixed with messages concerning God’s hope and Israel’s future restoration. The judgment Israel faced was a result of the sins of the people. God was not being unfair or capricious. They were only getting what they justly deserved. But their future restoration would be totally undeserved, a result of God’s mercy and grace.
As if in a courtroom setting, God begins to list out all the offenses for which the nation Israel was guilty. In this case, He will list out the overall charges and then expand on them in later chapters. All of the charges leveled against Israel by God have to do with breaking their covenant with Him. He first accuses the Israelites of faithlessness. When God made His covenant with Israel through Moses, He had clearly told them, “Therefore, be careful to obey every command I am giving you today, so you may have strength to go in and take over the land you are about to enter. If you obey, you will enjoy a long life in the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors and to you, their descendants—a land flowing with milk and honey!” (Deuteronomy 11:8-9 NLT). Obedience would bring God’s blessings.
But if they failed to keep God’s covenant by obeying His commands, they would experience cursings. “But be careful. Don’t let your heart be deceived so that you turn away from the Lord and serve and worship other gods. If you do, the Lord’s anger will burn against you. He will shut up the sky and hold back the rain, and the ground will fail to produce its harvests. Then you will quickly die in that good land the Lord is giving you” (Deuteronomy 11:16-17 NLT). At this point in Israel’s history, their rebellion against Him had reached an unacceptable level. They had proven themselves completely unfaithful and unwilling to obey the commands of God as outlined in the Mosaic covenant. As a result, they faced His judgment, just as He had warned.
But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you: Your towns and your fields will be cursed. Your fruit baskets and breadboards will be cursed. Your children and your crops will be cursed. The offspring of your herds and flocks will be cursed. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will be cursed. The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me. – Deuteronomy 28:15-20 NLT
God had given them fair warning, now He was going to fulfill His promise of coming curses. The most telling accusation against the Israelites was that God claimed there was no knowledge of Him in the land. They had forgotten all about Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Instead, they had turned to false gods, including the two golden calves that Jeroboam had ordered to be made. They had also turned to Baal, the god of the Canaanites. But God, the only true god was a distant memory to them. But they were not only guilty of failing to love God, they had broken God’s command to love one another. They had disobeyed the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV).
God accused them of “swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery” (Hosea 4:2a ESV). These are relational sins committed against one another. God went on to say, “they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed” (Hosea 4:2b ESV). Failure to love God is always accompanied by an inability to express love to one another, because God is love. His laws were designed to motivate the Israelites to defer to one another in love. But if you choose to disobey God, you will end up turning inward, focusing all your attention on yourself in an attempt to fulfill your own selfish passions and desires.
Their rejection of God was going to cause the land to reject them. The land of milk and honey would become unyielding and unproductive. Just as God had warned them:
Your towns and your fields will be cursed. Your fruit baskets and breadboards will be cursed. Your children and your crops will be cursed. The offspring of your herds and flocks will be cursed. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will be cursed. – Deuteronomy 28:16-19 NLT
The blessings of the land would be turned to cursings. They would learn that rejection of God always has consequences, especially for the people of God. Of all people, we should know better. Having experienced His love, redemption, provision, blessings and unmerited favor, we should have a desire to express gratitude through willing obedience. When we have enjoyed the benefits of His love, why would we ever choose to turn our backs on Him and risk undergoing the removal of His blessings? But that is exactly what Israel had done and what so many of us as Christians do each and every day. Obedience always brings blessings. We enjoy His favor and rest in His love. Not because of our obedience, but as a result of how God has designed our relationship with Him. Obedience is a sign of trust. It reveals that we believe Him for who He is and what He has promised to us. We trust in His promises, so we willingly obey His commands. Obedience does not make us righteous before God, but it is a response to our having been declared righteous by Him. When we forget all that God has done for us, we run the risk of forgetting God. God had warned the Israelites that this could and would happen.
The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. – Deuteronomy 6:10-13 NLT
Forgetting God is dangerous and always a distinct possibility for each and every one of us.