Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest. You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame.
They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity. And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds. They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the Lord to cherish whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding. – Hosea 4:4-11 ESV
God held all of the people of Israel responsible for their sin, but He had a special word of accusation against the spiritual leaders of Israel. The priests and prophets, while not actually men appointed by God, were still going to be held accountable because of their claim to be representatives of God. The priests of Israel were actually unsanctioned by God, because they had been appointed by Jeroboam after the kingdom split in two. He had created his own gods and appointed his own priests. They were not Levites, as God had commanded. So these were actually false priests leading the people in the worship of false gods. So God held them to a higher standard and leveled more severe charges against them. The same was true of the false prophets who were claiming to bring messages from the false gods they worshiped. These men were supposedly speaking new revelations from their gods, giving the people of Israel divine direction. But they were simply misleading the people. The revelations they received, if indeed they received any, were most likely demonic and most definitely not from God.
God’s main accusation against the priests was that they were leading the people away from Him, not toward Him. The people’s knowledge of God was actually diminishing, not increasing. God said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge” (Hosea 4:6 ESV). The priests were not seeking after the one true God, so the people were becoming increasingly ignorant of God and His ways. The priests were not teaching the laws of God, so the people were breaking them without even knowing it. And all of this was leading to their destruction, both spiritually and physically.
As priests, these men were to be promoting godliness and the worship of God. They were to be leading the people into a deeper understanding of and appreciation for God. But God said, “The more priests there are, the more they sin against me. They have exchanged the glory of God for the shame of idols” (Hosea 4:7 NLT). They were leaving God out of the equation. They had replaced Him with false gods and the peoples sins were actually increasing, not decreasing. And God even accused the priests of wanting the people to sin more, because the more they sinned, the more sacrifices they had to bring to repent of their sins. And the more sacrifices the people made, the more portions of those sacrifices they got to eat as their priestly payment. They were actually getting fat and happy off of the sins of the people. “When the people bring their sin offerings, the priests get fed. So the priests are glad when the people sin!” (Hosea 4:8 NLT).
There was evidently a common saying among the Israelites that said, “And what the priests do, the people also do” (Hosea 4:9a NLT). These so-called spiritual leaders were actually setting the standard for sin. They were leading the people into idolatry, immorality, and sins of all kinds by their very actions. Which led God to declare, “So now I will punish both priests and people for their wicked deeds” (Hosea 4:9b NLT).
One of the saddest results of turning from God and seeking false gods is that the blessings you seek never come to fruition. The benefits you hope to derive from your false god never appear. The satisfaction you want remains illusive and unattainable. And God told the people of Israel, “They will eat and still be hungry. They will play the prostitute and gain nothing from it, for they have deserted the Lord to worship other gods” (Hosea 4:10-11a NLT). If you make money your god, you will never have enough of it to make you happy or bring you satisfaction. If you make popularity or beauty your god, there will always be someone more popular and more beautiful than you are. If you place your hope and trust in an individual, they will inevitably let you down. Whatever you end up worshiping in place of God will always let you down. It is incapable of delivering what you seek.
While the Israelites were guilty of worship golden calves and idols made of wood, our false gods are more sophisticated and subtle. Ours take the form of people, careers, material things, money, politicians, success, entertainment, and even self. And sadly, in our culture, there are those claiming to speak for God who encourage the worship of these false gods. They claim to speak for God, but actually direct people away from Him by encouraging actions and attitudes that are opposed to His will. These false preachers and pastors promote happiness over holiness. They downplay the topic of sin and portray God as some kind of self-help guru who exists to meet all your personal desires. They preach inclusion and tolerance at the expense of God’s holiness and man’s need of repentance and salvation from sin. They teach the love of God as some kind of syrupy, sweet, all-accepting idea where God never opposes sin and never condemns the sinner. In essence, they emasculate God, turning Him into a doddering grandfather in the sky who doles out blessings on any and all, free from judgment and mindless of the idea of accountability. But this is not the God of the Bible. And like the false priests and prophets of Israel, the pastors, teachers, evangelists and prophets of today who lead people away from the one true God, will be held responsible by God for their actions.