An All-Pervasive Problem

12 My people inquire of a piece of wood,
    and their walking staff gives them oracles.
For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray,
    and they have left their God to play the whore.
13 They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains
    and burn offerings on the hills,
under oak, poplar, and terebinth,
    because their shade is good.
Therefore your daughters play the whore,
    and your brides commit adultery.
14 I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore,
    nor your brides when they commit adultery;
for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes
    and sacrifice with cult prostitutes,
and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.

15 Though you play the whore, O Israel,
    let not Judah become guilty.
Enter not into Gilgal,
    nor go up to Beth-aven,
    and swear not, “As the Lord lives.”
16 Like a stubborn heifer,
    Israel is stubborn;
can the Lord now feed them
    like a lamb in a broad pasture?

17 Ephraim is joined to idols;
    leave him alone.
18 When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring;
    their rulers dearly love shame.
19 A wind has wrapped them in its wings,
    and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices. Hosea 4:12-19 ESV

This passage is both satirical and sardonic. Having established the guilt of the people of Israel, God now exposes the absurdity of their decision to forsake Him, the one true God, for idols made of wood and stone. The God who created the universe and had graciously chosen to create them through an old man with an elderly, barren wife, was not good enough for them. They preferred the false gods that they had fashioned with their own hands and turned to these non-existent, lifeless objects for help, wisdom, protection, and provision. None of it made sense. Idolatry was a waste of time and produced nothing of lasting value. Even the psalmist pointed out the ludicrous nature of idolatry and all those who practice it.

Their idols are silver and gold,
    the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
    eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
    noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
    feet, but do not walk;
    and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:4-8 NLT

They would chisel a block of stone and then pray to it for assistance. They would cut a limb from a tree and declare it to have special properties to divine the future. And as crazy as that may sound, it was nothing compared to the immoral behavior that accompanied their idolatry and superstition.

God accuses them of being led away by “a spirit of whoredom” (Hosea 4:12 ESV). In other words, they were driven by a deep-seated desire to practice spiritual adultery. The prophet Jeremiah provides a rather graphic description of Israel’s seemingly uncontrollable urge to pursue anything and everything other than God. They were like an animal in heat, completely incapable of controlling their basest urges.

“You are like a restless female camel
    desperately searching for a mate.
You are like a wild donkey,
    sniffing the wind at mating time.
Who can restrain her lust?
    Those who desire her don’t need to search,
    for she goes running to them!” – Jeremiah 2:23-24 NLT

Just a few verses later, Jeremiah records God’s backhanded complement that was meant to expose the egregious nature of their infidelity. They had become so adept at their immoral behavior that they could be considered experts at the art of unfaithfulness.

“How you plot and scheme to win your lovers.
    Even an experienced prostitute could learn from you! – Jeremiah 2:33 NLT

Everywhere God looked, He could see evidence of their shocking behavior. From the mountaintops to the hills and in the shade of every available tree, they had erected sacred shrines to their various false gods. Idolatry was ubiquitous in Israel.

They set up sacred pillars and Asherah poles at the top of every hill and under every green tree. They offered sacrifices on all the hilltops, just like the nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them. So the people of Israel had done many evil things, arousing the Lord’s anger. Yes, they worshiped idols, despite the Lord’s specific and repeated warnings. – 2 Kings 17:10-12 NLT

They virtually flaunted their faithlessness in God’s face. They evidenced no shame. They showed no remorse. They uttered no confessions. They refused to repent. And it aroused the Lord’s anger.

One of the things God makes painfully clear is that their idolatry had led to far more sinful behavior than simply false worship. By failing to acknowledge Yahweh as the one true God, they had allowed themselves to be deeply influenced by the enemies lies. He had convinced them that they were fully autonomous and the masters of their own fates. They would do as they pleased, without fear of retaliation from God. But the end result was that the next generation had become dissatisfied with the mere worship of false gods. They had taken their idolatry to a whole new level, supplementing their devotion to their of false gods with sexual pleasure in the form of worship. Young men and women were guilty of engaging in sexual sin as part of their pagan religious practices.

God flatly states, “your daughters turn to prostitution, and your daughters-in-law commit adultery” (Hosea 4:13 NLT). But how could He indict them when the men of the community were just as complicit and deserving of condemnation.

“But why should I punish them
    for their prostitution and adultery?
For your men are doing the same thing,
    sinning with whores and shrine prostitutes.” – Hosea 4:14 NLT

But God is not saying He will allow them to go unpunished. He is simply stating that everyone was worthy of His divine discipline. The problem was widespread and there was no one who didn’t deserve and wouldn’t experience God’s wrath.

“O foolish people! You refuse to understand,
    so you will be destroyed.” – Hosea 4:14 NLT

In verse 15, God expresses His desire that the southern kingdom of Judah not follow the example of their northern neighbors. He begs Judah to not emulate Israel’s pattern of idolatrous behavior. With a simple play on words, God accuses Israel of having turned the city of Bethel into a city of wickedness. In Hebrew, Bethel means “house of God,” but God refers to it as Beth-haven, which means “house of wickedness.” These people had polluted everything in the land with their immoral and idolatrous behavior.

They were undeserving of His goodness and grace because they were more like a stubborn and headstrong heifer than a compliant and docile lamb. Their ongoing resistance to God’s leading was going to leave them in a state of spiritual hunger and thirst. And this spirit of rebellion and resistance pervaded every aspect of society, from the bottom all the way to the top.

“When the rulers of Israel finish their drinking,
    off they go to find some prostitutes.
    They love shame more than honor.” – Hosea 4:18 NLT

A steady diet of idolatry had led to a litany of other problems, each contributing to the moral decline of the nation. And it even permeated the upper echelons of the governmental and religious hierarchy. But God was about to deal a devastating blow to their pride-filled and promiscuity fueled way of life. He had reached the limits of His patience.

“So a mighty wind will sweep them away.
    Their sacrifices to idols will bring them shame.” – Hosea 4:19 NLT

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson