4 Yet let no one contend,
and let none accuse,
for with you is my contention, O priest.
5 You shall stumble by day;
the prophet also shall stumble with you by night;
and I will destroy your mother.
6 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.
7 The more they increased,
the more they sinned against me;
I will change their glory into shame.
8 They feed on the sin of my people;
they are greedy for their iniquity.
9 And it shall be like people, like priest;
I will punish them for their ways
and repay them for their deeds.
10 They shall eat, but not be satisfied;
they shall play the whore, but not multiply,
because they have forsaken the Lord
to cherish 11 whoredom, wine, and new wine,
which take away the understanding. – Hosea 4:4-11 ESV
When the northern kingdom of Israel was formed, shortly after God had split Solomon’s kingdom in two, Jeroboam, the newly appointed king of Israel, made the fateful decision to create his own religion. He ordered the creation of two idols made to resemble a calf and set up shrines and temples dedicated to their worship in the towns of Dan and Bethel. And to assist his people in their worship of their new gods, Jeroboam created his own priesthood, sacrificial system, and calendar of annual religious festivals. All of this was intended to keep the people of Israel from returning to Jerusalem and worshiping Yahweh.
Now, God focuses His anger on these false priests, charging them for their complicity in the spiritual decline of the nation. While everyone else would be casting blame and pointing the finger of accusation against one another, God made it clear that He was holding these pseudo-spiritual leaders responsible for the sorry state of affairs in Israel.
Don’t point your finger at someone else
and try to pass the blame!
My complaint, you priests,
is with you. – Hosea 4:4 NLT
None of these were qualified to be priests in Israel, because they did not meet the requirements established by God.
Jeroboam … ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. – 1 Kings 12:31 NLT
God had ordained that every man who served as a priest over Israel was to be from the tribe of Levi. God had established the Levitical priesthood with His appointment of Aaron, the older brother of Moses, as the first high priest (Exodus 28:1–3). Aaron’s sons served alongside him as the priests in Israel during the 40 years they were in the wilderness. But their priestly role was carried on by their descendants, long after the Israelites settled in the land of Canaan. After Solomon completed the construction of the temple in Jerusalem, he relocated the Ark of the Covenant from the tabernacle to the new holy of holies. And with it came the entire sacrificial system established by God, overseen by the Levitical priesthood.
But the priests Jeroboam had set up in Israel were not Levites. Not only that, they did not worship and offer sacrifices to Yahweh. In God’s eyes, they were nothing more than fake priests worshiping false gods and leading the people of Israel to commit spiritual adultery. God warns these men that they will regret the role they have played in Israel’s downfall.
“So you will stumble in broad daylight,
and your false prophets will fall with you in the night.” – Hosea 4:5 NLT
They, along with the equally guilty false prophets, would pay dearly for their sins. They would become like blind men stumbling around in the daylight. Once revered for their spiritual insight, they would find themselves living in a world of spiritual darkness, incapable of seeing or understanding anything. Their companions, the false prophets, who had set themselves up as the spokesmen for their false gods, would be equally inept and incapacitated. Rather than their nights being filled with dreams and visions from their false gods, these men would simply stumble around in spiritual blindness. And Jesus leveled a similarly stinging rebuke to the religious leaders of His day.
“They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.” – Matthew 15:14 NLT
The priests and prophets of Israel did not represent God because they had not been sent by God. And these men were guilty of placing more emphasis and importance on the nation of Israel than they did on the God of Israel. Hosea refers to Israel as “your mother,” a direct reference to a statement by God in chapter 2.
“But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—
for she is no longer my wife,
and I am no longer her husband.” – Hosea 2:2 NLT
The religious leaders of Israel had led the people to believe that the nation (their mother) was all that was important. The significance of their identity was to be found in their existence as a nation. But they failed to recognize and remember that they been created by God for His glory. It was God who had made of them a great nation, in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). Yet, these false priests had promoted a form of nationalism that replaced the sovereignty of God with the sanctity of the state. Yet, God told them, “I will destroy Israel, your mother” (Hosea 4:5 NLT).
The bottom line was that the entire nation had forgotten and, as a result, had forsaken God. They no longer recognized Him as their God. In fact, they had no knowledge of God because the priests and prophets of Israel were too busy promoting the worship of false gods. True priests were supposed to acts as mediators between God and the people. They were to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the people and administer His atonement and forgiveness in exchange. But these men had been too busy offering sacrifices to non-existent gods that were powerless to provide forgiveness for sin or protection from God’s pending judgment.
God makes it clear that He is holding these false priests and prophets responsible. They will be held accountable for the destruction of the nation.
“My people are being destroyed
because they don’t know me.
Since you priests refuse to know me,
I refuse to recognize you as my priests.” – Hosea 4:6 NLT
The reason the people were ignorant of God was that the priests and prophets had no relationship with Him. Of all people, they should have recognized that their idols were nothing more than figments of their own feeble imaginations. They knew their gods were lifeless and powerless. They were fully aware that their prayers and religious rituals produced no tangible results because the gods to whom they prayed and offered sacrifices were statues made by human hands. But they willingly kept up the charade because they enjoyed the power and prestige that came with their roles as priests and prophets.
When King Jeroboam had established his false religion and set up his counterfeit priesthood, it had all been intended to mirror the system originally ordained by God. There were temples, altars, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, and priests. But what was missing was God Almighty. They had all the trappings of a religious system but had neglected to include the one thing that could set them apart from all the other pagan religions in the world: The worship of Yahweh.
God cannot be replicated or replaced. And yet, that was exactly what they had tried to do.
“They have exchanged the glory of God
for the shame of idols.” – Hosea 4:7 NLT
When you take God out of religion, all you are left with is a man-centered set of rituals that end up benefiting no one but those in charge. And that is exactly the accusation God levels against the priests of Israel.
“When the people bring their sin offerings, the priests get fed.
So the priests are glad when the people sin!” – Hosea 4:8 NLT
Guilty people need forgiveness. Forgiveness requires sacrifice. Sacrifice involves the offering of lambs and bulls. And the priests get to eat was leftover. But because the sacrifices were being offered to false gods, the only ones benefiting from the entire process were the priests. They got fat and happy while they allowed the people to live under the false delusion that their sins had been forgiven.
And these men who should have been setting an example of righteous living were actually encouraging a lifestyle of immorality and spiritual infidelity. They used the sacrificial system like a get-out-of-jail-free card. Any sin could be atoned for by offering sacrifices. And this cavalier attitude toward sin fostered a sense of complacency among the people that led to an increase in transgressions and an intensification of God’s condemnation. And the priests led the way.
“…what the priests do, the people also do.” – Hosea 4:9 NLT
And God lets them know that everyone will end up paying for their sins.
“So now I will punish both priests and people
for their wicked deeds.” – Hosea 4:9 NLT
All their sacrifices and prayers will do them no good because “they have deserted the Lord to worship other gods” (Hosea 4:11 NLT). Priests, prophets, princes, and paupers will all pay the same price. Each will suffer the consequences for their abandonment of God. But God will hold the religious leaders to a higher standard and place on them a greater burden of guilt because they should have known better.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.