Hosea 4:1-9 – An Exegesis

Hosea 4:1-9 A Lack of True Faithfulness Leads to Immorality.

Historical Context

Hosea son of Berri was a prophet during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah kings of Judah and Jeroboam in Israel. The time frame for Hosea runs from around 722 BC. to the middle of the 7th century. In 2 Kings 15 one can get a glimpse into the time in which Hosea lived and prophesied. There are five kings of Israel listed in that chapter and while their reigns are limited their deeds are recorded.

Jeroboam was king of Israel for six months and he did evil in the sight of the LORD (2 Kings 15:8-9. He was assassinated by Shallum who only reigned for one month before he was assassinated (2 Kings 15:13-14). Manahem was the one who killed Shallum and not only is he recorded as doing evil in the sight of the LORD (2 Kings 15:18) but it records one of his evil deeds.[1] The people of Tiphsah would not open the gates to let him enter. His response was to sack the city and rip open all the pregnant women. He is also recorded as extorting money from Israel and being evil like those before him. He reigned for roughly ten years before his death. It makes sense that some of his wickedness is recorded because he lived longer than the previous two kings. This would also have been about the time just before Hosea began to prophesy. His son Pekahiah reigned for two years after him and did evil as well. Pekahiah was replaced by Pekah who killed him and did evil as well.

This is the backdrop of the land that Hosea prophesied in. The kings were evil and did horrific acts. The land was fraught with violence and evil. Those who were responsible for leading the nation had failed and this extended to the priest. Hosea did condemn the unjust actions of the people, but a large focus was on the priest and the “false religious practices” of his day.[2]


The section of Hosea being examined is the beginning of a lawsuit oracle or a rîb. The case is laid out with the LORD as the accusing party against the children of Israel.[3] In short, they have broken the commands of God and in doing so He has a legal right to accuse them, reject them, and remove them from the land. The chapter begins with the word hear or shema which means not only to hear but hear, listen and obey. Israel was to hear, listen and obey God and to love Him faithfully according to Deuteronomy 6:4. Their failure to do so forces God to call them again to shema His words. The case begins in 4:1 where God states the people have no truth (‘emeth) and no steadfast love (hesed). These are the two things God has towards Israel and they do not have it towards Him. Moreover, ‘emeth and hesed are two things that are linked.

Emeth and hesed are two separate Hebrew words but they often exist in tandem. ‘Emeth is translated truth and hesed is translated a few different ways in the Bible but usually ends up in some form of faithfulness or steadfast love. This is a divine attribute that God expresses. He is by His very nature hesed. Baruch Levine says that hesed is “an action concept” meaning that one does hesed or preforms it on or towards another person.[4] However, while God has as part of His nature hesed He expects His people to also express hesed. Not only that but they are to express ‘emeth hesed which is true kindness. The accusation against Israel and the priests is that they are guilty of not expressing true kindness and from there the LORD explains how they have failed.

God uses the Ten Commandments as the legal code Israel and the priest have broken. Hosea lists six commands Israel has broken but if one separates the commandments between those that are sins against God and those that are sins against fellow humans it is clear that God is saying that Israel has sinned fully and completely. There is no knowledge of God in the land. Compare this to Exodus 20:2 where God says He is the one who brought them out of the land. The people have forgotten this and because of this, they commit sins. They swear or break oaths, compare to Exodus 20:7 where the people are commanded not to take the LORD’s name in vain which can include breaking oaths.[5] The people lie, compare to Exodus 20:16. They are murders and cause bloodshed, compare to Exodus 20:13. They steal, compare to Exodus 20:15. They commit adultery, compare to Exodus 20:14.

Because of all this the land itself mourns. Compare this to Lev 18:28 where God promises the people that if they go the way of the other nations the land itself will vomit them out. The guilt of the people will cause the land to disappear or be taken away (v3). While the people are guilty, the priests hold the lion’s share of the guilt because it was their responsibility to lead the people in God’s ways. If this is a legal case against the people, then the priest as the leaders are very guilty because they are the representatives of the people. They were to lead the people in God’s ways and instruct them in truth (‘emeth) and they have failed to do this creating the ignorance the people have. Because of this the priests are rejected.

In looking at the charge against the priest Gary Smith suggests that someone might have been trying to quiet Hosea as Amaziah did to Amos.[6] This would give reasoning for Hosea’s strong wording that seems to be more assertive than the text on its own gives a reason for. Without some sort of rebuttal to him, it is questionable as to why Hosea is saying no one should argue against him. Regardless, the picture is clear. God has a complaint against the priests, and He holds them responsible for the current situation in Israel.

In verse 5 Hosea declares that the prophets, as well as the mothers and children of the priest, shall suffer because of the priest’s sins. They have failed to instruct the people how to live in the ways of God. Their duty was to communicate the truth of the Torah and offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. Their failure to teach led to ignorance or lack of knowledge (v 6) and now their sacrifices are meaningless. Later in verse 8, God says the priest feed on the sins of the people or as Smith says they “encourage the people to exchange” God’s glory for idols.[7] They have not only sinned and failed to do their job creating an ignorance that causes calamity but they encourage it and in doing so they invite judgment on all of Israel.

The priest for their sins, failure to carry out their duties, and self-focus shall be punished. They have been more concerned with sacrifices which they enjoyed than with carrying out their duties and instructing people how to live holy before a holy God (Lev 20:26). They shall be repaid for their deeds (4:9) and punished. For their failure, the priest and the nation as a whole shall be judged and sent into exile.

Modern Application

At this point, a simple question arises: What does this have to do with the church today? It is a fair question when discussing judgment, the failure of religious leaders, and national sinning. One could say that the issues that arise in the American church or the world are divine judgment caused by sinful or ignorant leaders, but this may be a bit extreme because the church does not exist as a nation, as Israel did, but as a universal fellowship since her creation.

The church exists to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She is commanded by Christ to make disciples of all people and part of this includes teaching people to observe or keep what Christ said and did and evangelizing them. Instead of looking at Hosea 4:1-6 as a national passage in today’s context it might be better to look at it as a warning for local congregations and local pastors.

One such area that could be examined is how does the church responds to issues like social justice? It is not a leap to go from priests failing, people being ignorant of God’s commands and people being judged by God because social justice issues are listed side by side in God’s accusations against Israel (see 4:2). The evils that the people commit are idolatry and injustice. The church exists as a body of believers and priests and because of this, the entire body of Christ is responsible for carrying out the commands to actively teach and engage in social justice issues.[8] No community of believers exists that are free from engaging in service. However, leaders are responsible for instructing their congregations in the ways of righteousness and moving them towards good works (Eph 4:11-12).

With that in mind and the strong emphasis from Hosea, one can also see that leaders are to lead their people into the fight for social justice and community care. A failure to lead people to action is to create inaction which leads to ignorance, apathy, and ultimately sinful behavior. All of God’s people are now part of the priesthood but there still exists in the church some who are called to pastor or shepherd God’s flock. Leaders must understand their calling and responsibility. Teaching the word or preaching on Sunday is only one part of the equation. There must also be an action. The priests of Hosea’s day only wanted to offer sacrifices and it could be argued that it was because they received a portion of the meat. God’s leaders are put into place to lead and this goes beyond Sunday sermons.

In 2 Thes 3:8 Paul talks about how he did not take anything without paying for it to set an example for the people. Some have taken this too far and suggested that pastors and leaders not be paid for their service but that contradicts the biblical teaching on providing for teachers (cf. 1 Tim 5:17-18). Leaders of the church are to be compensated for their service, but they are to work for it. This work is not simply instruction but an example. Leaders are called to imitate them as they imitate Christ (1 Cor 11:1).

For churches that have leaders who fail to provide proper instruction and examples, they may face issues. It may not be a national judgment, but they could have issues that affect congregational growth, suitability, and continued health of local churches. Leaders must rise to the challenge and lead in word and deed. They must be willing to do hard things in times of prosperity and in times when there is immoral public leadership. They must imitate Christ.

[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scripture is taken from the ESV.

[2] J. Gordon McConville, Exploring the Old Testament, A Guide to the Prophets, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press 2002, 137.

[3] Moon, J. N. (2018). Hosea. London, England: IVP Academic. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=2248771&site=ehost-live

[4] Levine, B. A. (2013). On the concept ḥesed in the Hebrew Bible. The Living Pulpit (Online)22(3). Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.elibrary.johnsonu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001981654&site=ehost-live

[5] Enns, P. (2000). Exodus. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Academic. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.elibrary.johnsonu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1524691&site=ehost-live

[6] Smith, G. V. (2001). Hosea, Amos, Micah. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Academic. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.elibrary.johnsonu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1524740&site=ehost-live

[7] Ibid.

[8] Wieland, A. (2016). Social justice and the mission of the church. Journal of Latin American Theology11(1), 99–102. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.elibrary.johnsonu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLAn3961199&site=ehost-live



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