Hear the word of the LORD, you children of Israel: for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land…
The introduction to the Book of Hoses consists of a symbolical narrative, contained in Hosea 1-3. The body of the book is occupied with discourses, which are full of mingled reproaches, threatenings, and promises. Hosea 4. evidently reflects the condition of the nation during the interregnum which followed the death of Jeroboam II. The key-word of the first strophe (vers. 1-5) is the word "controversy" (ver. 1), used in the sense of a legal action - a suit at law. Jehovah represents himself as prosecuting Israel for breach of contract.
I. THE SUMMONS. (Ver. 1.) A solemn covenant had been concluded at Sinai between God and the chosen nation. It had the Decalogue for its basis, and it had been ratified by sacrifice (Exodus 20-24.). But the people of the ten tribes had infringed the covenant, and exposed themselves (taking the figure of the passage) to legal proceedings for breach of contract. The summons, however, was not served without extreme provocation. For the Lord is not litigious. He is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy" (Psalm 103:8). We shall see from the indictment that almost every obligation of the sacred compact had been violated.
II. THE INDICTMENT. (Vers. 1, 2.) It is a tremendous one. There are two weighty counts in it, and together they show that by this time the very bonds of society in Israel had been dissolved.
1. Religion was dead. (Ver. 1.) "No truth." "Truth" may here be taken to cover the entire masculine side of the religious character, and to include all such strong virtues as veracity, faithfulness, integrity, righteousness, immutability. To love truth is one of the first duties of religion. "Igor mercy." This word represents the feminine side of piety, and includes such graces as pity, clemency, kindness, sympathy. These fatal defects were due to the lack of" knowledge of God in the land." Mercy and truth are glorious perfections of the Divine nature, and their existence as virtues of social ethics depends upon right conceptions regarding him. But Israel had lost the knowledge of Jehovah. The calf-shrines had been her ruin. The image-worship had destroyed the spiritual service of God. And the failure of the heart knowledge led to the failure of head-knowledge also, and that in turn to the loss of all virtue. How sad that there should be "no knowledge of God in the land." For was it not the land of Immanuel, and were not its citizens "a people near unto him"? How dreadful such an indictment against the nation of whom the psalmist exultingly sings, "In Judah is God known: his Name is great in Israel" (Psalm 76:1)!
2. Immorality was rampant. (Ver. 2.) The sin of Jeroboam I., in setting up the golden calves and encouraging the systematic violation of the second commandment, had become the fruitful source of disobedience to the whole moral Law. It had paved the way for the deeper apostasy of Baalism (1 Kings 16:31); and, the first two commandments being overturned, little respect was any longer paid to the others. Ver. 2 presents a picture of the eleven years which followed the death of Jeroboam II., when the forces of revolution and anarchy were struggling for the upper hand. Then the land was full of perjury and violence. All kinds of evil broke forth like a flood. The third commandment, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, were alike disregarded. One deed of blood trod upon the heels of another; assassination following assassination, and slaughter avenging slaughter. The character of the people, and of their prophets and priests, was hopelessly bad. Reproof would be in vain (ver. 4). The men of Israel were as contumacious as those who refused to obey the priest when he gave judgment in Jehovah's Name (Deuteronomy 17:12). Indeed, the sin of the whole kingdom, which began with the renunciation of the Aaronical priesthood, may be symbolically described as that of" striving with the priest." And now, at last, even the very mercy of God had to be withdrawn from the nation.
III. THE JUDGMENT. (Vers. 3-5.) The Lord does not cite and plead in vain. He is "justified when he speaks, and clear when he judges." The punishment of Israel's sin is to be universal and very terrible. The judgment is to fall upon:
1. The soil. (Ver. 3.) The threatening here is that of a universal drought. The very ground is to be cursed because of the people's guilt. The famine is to be one of fearful severity. In a sense, the soil of Palestine may be said to be lying under that visitation yet. Canaan is naturally "a fruitful land; ' but God has turned it "into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwelt therein."
2. The lower creatures. Animal life is to decline by reason of the drought. The brute creation shall be reduced to an extremity of hunger on account of the people's sin.
3. The people themselves. They are to be punished with:
(1) Loss of health. "Every one that dwelleth therein shall languish "-the physical frame losing strength and tone, and "joy being withered away from the sons of men" (Joel 1:12).
(2) Loss of food, due to the breaking of the two staffs of life - the failure of the harvests and the destruction of the animals.
(3) Loss of grace (ver. 4). Expostulation with the people would be useless. They hated reproof. God's Spirit had ceased to strive with Ephraim; he was "joined to idols" (ver. 17). The men of Israel were so desperately wicked that it was "impossible to renew them again unto repentance."
(4) Loss of life (ver. 5). "Evil shall slay the wicked." The people of the ten tribes, with their false prophets, are to perish in their sins. The slaughter is to be continuous, neither day nor night being free from it. It is also to be indiscriminate, and at last universal. And the loss of temporal life is only the shadow of deeper spiritual loss, beyond in eternity.
4. The nation as such. (Ver. 5.) "I will destroy thy mother." The Israelitish state was the "mother" of the people; and already, by reason of the family wickedness, she is driving fast along the highway to destruction. These closing words, indeed, are her funeral knell.
CONCLUSION. Two lessons of this passage are specially prominent, viz.
(1) the essential connection between religion and morality;
(2) the inevitable connection between national sin and national suffering. Wherever the right knowledge of God is wanting, there sin and Satan are sure to triumph. Ancient Greece gave to Europe the glorious beginnings both of political and intellectual life and was herself resplendent with the choicest triumphs of literature and art; yet some of her wisest philosophers countenanced the practice of unmentionable vices. The sun never shone upon a more brilliant company of scholars, poets, philosophers, orators, jurists, and litterateurs, than that which adorned the court of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome; yet during the Augustan age the Roman people were plunging into depths of moral degradation which ultimately led to the ruin of the empire. On the other hand, when the general overthrow of the continental monarchs took place in 1848, and the throne of Great Britain remained as stable as ever, M. Guizot said one day to Lord Shaftesbury, "I will tell you what saved your empire. It was not your constable; it was not your army; it was not your statesmen. It was the deep, solemn, religious atmosphere that still is breathed over the whole people of England." For nations, knowledge of God and acceptance of his salvation are necessary, in order to the prevalence of that righteousness which is the source of national stability. And for each citizen in like manner, "This is life eternal, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent." - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.