Hear this, O priests! Take heed, O house of Israel! Give ear, O royal house! For the judgment is against you because you have been a snare at Mizpah and a net spread out on Tabor.
Hosea 4., however, Judah was addressed as occupying a different position, morally and religiously, from Israel; whereas here the southern kingdom is represented as sharing in Israel's guilt and condemnation. It would appear, therefore, that when the warning of Hosea 4:15 was uttered, Judah's defection was already beginning.
I. THE NATURE OF SIN. It is a "dealing treacherously against Jehovah" (ver. 7), the rightful Spouse of the soul, who expects from his people that faithfulness which a wife owes to her husband. It is also "whoredom" (ver. 3); for infidelity to the marriage covenant leads to the cherishing of many objects of sinful desire. It is also "pride" (ver. 5) - that deeply rooted self-will which is the secret spring of idolatry. Sin in all these forms dishonors God and grossly defiles the soul.
II. THE ROOT OF SIN. Sin is not merely an outward work. It is not confined to acts of the will. The root of it is "the spirit of whoredoms" (ver. 4). This spirit has its seat at the very center of man's being. The Apostle Paul calls it "the law of sin" (Romans 7:23, 25). It is the controlling principle of the unregenerate life, and it often leads the believer captive even in spite of his renewed nature. "The spirit of whoredoms" dominates the soul like a demon, and the sinner serves it as its slave. Satan lays hold upon this spirit as his helper in his constant assaults upon the minds of men. And only the Holy Spirit can impart adequate strength to prevail against it.
III. THE CONTAGIOUSNESS OF SIN. The condition of Israel at the time to which the prophet here refers graphically illustrates this. Hosea saw that the national life was leavened with iniquity. The pyramid of the commonwealth, from apex to base, was honeycombed with idolatry and impurity. The national sin was shared by:
1. The priests. Instead of being the spiritual guardians of the people, they were as snares and nets to entrap them. Ministers of religion become such:
(1) By neglecting teaching, as the priests of the ten tribes had done (Hosea 4:1).
(2) By preaching unsound doctrine. So, in 'The Pilgrim's Progress,' the Flatterer, "a black man clothed in white," led Christian and Hopeful into his net.
(3) By living inconsistent lives. So the wickedness of Eli's sons made many unbelievers.
2. The courts. The princes, too, were men-trappers - "sportsmen rather than watchmen" (Jerome). Jeroboam L had been such. He "drove Israel from following the Lord, and made them sin a great sin" (2 Kings 17:21). Ahab had been such, in introducing the worship of Baal and Asbtaroth (1 Kings 16:30-33). Menahem was such, for his reign was steeped in cruelty, and he laid his help upon King Pul of Assyria rather than upon the God of Israel (2 Kings 15:19). Even the princes of Judah were becoming such; they were removing the landmarks between the worship of Jehovah and idolatry (ver. 10). Our rulers in like manner entrap the British nation into sin, when they promote immoral legislation upon pleas of expediency or state policy (e.g. the attempted state regulation of vice in the army, and the patronage of the opium trade between India and China).
3. The entire Hebrew nation. The people of both kingdoms foolishly fell into the snares and nets which were spread for them. They were full of "pride" (ver. 5) and vain confidence. They despised prophetic instruction, and became contumacious and refractory in their sin.
IV. THE HEREDITY OF SIN. Had Israel continued faithful to the national covenant with Jehovah, he would have begotten children to God, instead of "strange children" (ver. 7), who did not belong to the home, and did not spring from the marriage union. But a godless nation is composed of godless parents, who bring up godless children. Infants who have done no evil yet inherit evil, and may bring with them into life terrific predispositions towards it. The iniquity of the fathers is visited upon the children. It is comforting, however, to remember that good traits descend by inheritance as well as bad ones. God's way of regenerating the world is to maintain his Church in it, and to cultivate thereby the heredity of holiness. There is a sense in which grace does run in the blood (Exodus 20:6; Psalm 112:2; 2 Timothy 1:5). The children of Christian parents are not "children of wrath" (1 Corinthians 7:14; Acts 16:31).
V. THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN. Ephraim's "whoredom" was detected (ver. 3). It lay exposed every moment to the eye of God. He penetrated all the fair excuses which the people made to themselves for it. "The pride of Israel doth testify to his face" (ver. 5), i.e. he shall be openly convicted of it, and condemned for it. The punishment is to be:
1. Immediate. (Ver. 7.) "A month shall devour them." Destruction shall overtake them as swiftly, so to speak, as the moon shall wane. Already the sword of vengeance is hanging over their beads by a single hair.
2. Sudden. (Ver. 8.) The invasion of the Assyrian power as the rod of the Divine anger is announced with an injunction to sound horn and trumpet. For the prophet already sees the drawn sword of Jehovah in the conqueror's hand.
3. Certain. (Ver. 9.) The punishment "shall surely be." God is as true to his threatenings as to his promises.
4. Terrible. "Israel and Ephraim shall fall (ver. 5). "A month shall devour them" (ver. 7). "Ephraim shall fall (ver. 5). "A month shall devour them" (ver. 7). "Ephraim shall be desolate (ver. 9). I will pour out my wrath upon them like water" (ver. 10). The whole nation became wasted with misery and was plunged headlong into destruction. The story of the decline and fall of the Hebrew monarchies illustrates very vividly the doom of sin.
VI. HOW THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN MAY BE AVERTED. Even this dark passage is not altogether without some hopeful suggestion.
1. A false expedient. (Ver. 6.) The festivals and worship of the Mosaic Law were still observed at the idol-shrines of Bethel and Dan. So Ephraim, when his doom began to overtake him, endeavored to pacify the Divine anger by bringing costly sacrifices of Socks and herds. But, although the people sought the Lord thus, they did "not find him;" for they came in a spirit of slavish fear, and did not bring the sacrifice of a contrite heart and an obedient will.
2. The eight way. (Ver. 4.) God is waiting to be gracious; but he requires of sinners a willingness to "frame their doings to turn unto their God." We must gladly allow the Holy Spirit to regenerate and purify our souls. The only use of the external sacrifices of the Law was to typify the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Sacrifice for sin; and to symbolize the "living sacrifices" which men offer to God when they yield themselves wholly to his service. - C.J.
Hear ye this, O priests; and hearken, ye house of Israel; and give ye ear, O house of the king; for judgment is toward you.
1. When God comes in ways of judgment, He expects we should seriously incline our minds to what He is doing. We should not only "hear," but "hearken," and "give ear." We are bound to hearken and to give ear to God's commanding word; but if we refuse it, He will have us to hear and give ear to His threatening word; and if that be refused, He will force us to hear and give ear to His condemning word.
2. Generality in sins is no means to escape God's judgments. With men "one and all" is a word of security. Men think, I do but as others do, and I shall escape as well as they. With men this is somewhat, with God it is nothing; though all sorts offend, yet there is never a whir the more security thereby unto any.
3. The priests have usually been the causes of all the wickedness in, and judgments on, a nation.
4. The people will usually go the way the king and priests go. But they are not to be excused on this ground.
5. Kings and princes must have sin charged upon them, and be made to know that they are under the threats of God, as well as others. The charge is not on evil counsellors, but on the house of the king itself. Evil princes may be as great a cause why there are evil counsellors, as evil counsellors why there are evil princes. Evil counsellors usually see what the design of a prince is, and what is suitable to his disposition, and they cherish that with their wicked counsels.
6. Though kings are to be reproved for sin, some due respect ought to be shown to them.
7. When God pleads against us, let us not disregard. If we do so when He begins to plead His cause with us, if we neglect it because judgment is not upon us, it will proceed to a sentence.
(E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
1. There is no rank, but they will be found to have guiltiness to lay to heart, in a time when God pleads a controversy with a land.
2. As the Word of God doth reach and oblige all ranks of persons, be in what eminency they will; and as the Lord's faithful servants must preach against the sins of all, without respect of person; so the general overspreading of sin is no way to escape judgments, but rather to hasten them.
3. When God is coming against a people in judgment, it concerns them to be very serious in considering what He saith from His Word; and He will at last force audience and attention from the most stubborn.
4. The Lord's contending with His people by His Word is not an ordinary challenge, as of one displeased only, but the judicial procedure and sentence of the Supreme Judge.
5. God may testify much of His anger against a people, in the teachers and rulers He gives them, as being fit means to ripen them for judgment.
6. Subtle snares and insinuations are more dangerous for drawing men wrong than open violences.
7. It is a great sin in men when they prove a snare to others, or by their insinuations, example, or policy, draw them to sin against God.
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