When I was in my early 30’s, a dermatologist discovered I had basil cell skin cancer on my forehead which needed to be cut away. I remember the day he remarked, “Oh, you are really young for this. You will likely have problems with skin cancer the rest of your life.” He was right. I have had so many pieces of skin cut off of my face and body over the last eighteen years I have lost count. So, I make an appointment twice a year to make a visit my dermatologist.
I tell you, I do not like calling his office for an appointment. In fact, I often put off calling for days and sometimes weeks because it is uncomfortable for me. I enjoy this doctor as a friend, but I still do not like calling to see him because I have a good idea as to what is going to happen. He will examine me very closely on various parts of my skin and, invariably, he will discover some spots he will be concerned about. Then he will set up a time for me to come back where he will slice off small pieces and send them to a lab. Then there will be a period of waiting. After a couple of weeks a fall appointment will be scheduled, the nurse will lead me to the examination room and she will say something to the effect, “The doctor will be with you shortly to discuss the results.” Then my stomach will have a little catch. Finally, the doctor will come in and share the results. Sometimes they will be negative and sometimes positive. I am hesitant to call the dermatologist because I am concerned he might disrupt my peace.
If this whole process is so uncomfortable, why do I still schedule appointments at all? Why do I call the doctor? I need frequent examinations and excisions in order to remain healthy. I know if I catch skin cancer early it can be treated and removed.
What is true of my body is also true of my soul. I was born with a diseased soul and you were also. David, in Psalm 51, says,
5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
From the moment there was a conception in the womb of our mothers, there is the conception of a sinner and of a diseased soul. Our nature soul-sickness is so serious, God tells us we are born separated from Him, that He will not hear us when we pray. We are born dead in our sins, blind to His glory.
The good news of Jesus teaches us the answer to our soul-disease is a personal connection with God’s Son Jesus, one which comes through faith in Him. The Bible says, “In Christ, we who were once dead in our sins, are made alive to God,” and “old things have passed away and we have become new creations in Christ.” What a wonder and a joy the Gospel is!
Yet, the Bible also teaches the source of the Christian’s disease, our sinful flesh, has not been irradiated and removed. Our flesh continues to act, even within the Christian, to introduce to it cancers of sin into our Christ-washed soul. Because of the active nature of our flesh, we know we will still have problems with sin taking root in us for the rest of our life, the rest of the time we live here on earth, and only after we die and see Christ face-to-face will that problem be completely resolved.
Listen to how God describes this war between His Spirit that dwells within us and the flesh still indwelling in part of us,
Galatians 5:17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other…
That is the description of the Christian life.
God instructs us to open our heart to Him for examination to catch these sins early, before they grow deep and ruin the whole; to cut them out as soon as we catch them and not delay. David understands this. In Psalm 139, he writes this wonderful prayer which ought to be a part of everyone’s life,
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
We are not expert enough to discern problems within our own soul. We need a Physician, someone who is a expert and that someone is God’s Spirit. David asked the Holy Spirit to examine his life. I wonder, how often do we pray like this? When was the last time we took some moments and prayed to the Lord, asking the Lord to search your heart, to uncover idols which you are unaware, to uncover selfish thoughts, sinful habits, unworthy attitudes of which we are not conscious?
We often do not take time to ask God to do this because we do not want our peace disturbed. We are hesitant. We delay. We put our need out of mind. We are concerned such an examination will uncover something disturbing. We reason, “Maybe everything will be okay if I just let it be,” but it will not be “okay” for sin, when it takes root, grows and deepens and then destroys. Sin in our soul must be cut away by Christ if we are to live and sometimes that cutting is very, very painful.
One of the reasons we lack spiritual power in our own life and spiritual fruit in the life of the church, I believe, God’s people are not taking time for self-examination and repentance. God’s people of Hosea’s day are spiritually diseased with idolatry, ingratitude, immorality, violence, and materialism and they did not know it. They were unaware because they refused to seek the Lord’s appraisal of their life.
J.C. Ryle, one of my favorite pastors of old, asks the question, “Do we ever think about our soul at all? Thousands of English people, I fear, cannot answer this question satisfactorily. They never give the subject of religion any place in their thoughts, that is their relationship with God. From the beginning of the year to the end they are absorbed in the pursuit of business and pleasure and politics and money or self-indulgence of one kind or another. Death and judgment, eternity, Heaven and Hell and the world to come are never calmly looked at and considered. They live on as if there they are never going to die, never going to rise again, never going to stand at the bar of God, or receive an eternal sentence.”
I believe one of the reasons we lack spiritual power in our own life is because we are not taking time for self-examination and repentance. How about you? Are you the kind of Christian who calls the Great Physician for His examination of your life? Or, are you the kind of Christian who avoids this work of God’s Spirit? The answer reveals much about the person we are and the person we are becoming. We will never begin to grow in Christ-likeness without a growing awareness of our own sin for we are naturally blind to our own sin. We need God’s Spirit to help us to see.
The Book of Hosea calls for us to open our life to the Lord’s examination. God offers to be our Surgeon, our Great Physician, but we must acknowledge our sin and our need of Christ to provide us with our cure. We must remember from our previous studies of Hosea Chapters 1 through 3, God exposes Israel’s spiritual adultery through the life of Hosea and his family. Hosea is married to Gomer, a prostitute. Hosea represents God and His faithfulness, perseverance, forgiveness, and loving kindness. Gomer represents the people as she dishonors her husband, turns from him, seeks after other men, and then, ultimately, is restored in right relationship in the covenant of marriage through Hosea’s conquering love.
These three chapters contain sobering notes of sharp discipline mixed with sweet notes of spiritual restoration. At the end of Chapter 3, we read,
5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.
All of this is going to happen. Again, in Chapter 4 of Hosea, God sets aside symbolic language and He speaks very plainly about the sins and idolatry of Israel. He calls us to pursue a “personal knowledge of Himself.” We must not be content with ritual interaction with God or doctrinal affirmation about God. God created us for a love relationship with Himself and that is why God chose marriage to be the metaphor that represents our relationship with God. God is not a distant God; He is a close-up God who invites us into deep, intimate knowledge of Him. The main idea, I believe, presented in Hosea 4 is this: we find joy by pursuing a personal knowledge of God.
In Verse 1, we find the language of a courtroom: God charges His people with failing to know Him. God is the prosecuting attorney in Verse 1. He presses His case against Israel for her crimes against Him,
1a Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.
Oh how often do we turn away from God’s Word? How often do we neglect listening to God as He speaks to us through His Word? How often do our Bibles rest upon some end table of our home, after coming home from church on a Sunday, and sit there until Sunday morning of the next week? Hosea tells us to “hear the word of the Lord”. This is the means of our salvation and by which God awakens our soul so we can have life.
Then Hosea tells us the “Lord has a controversy”. The New International Version, NIV, says it is “a charge to bring against you”. The New American Standard Bible, NASB, tells us it is “a case against you”. These are very strong words: case, charge, controversy. This is the courtroom language of an indictment. The Lord is taking the people to court and challenging them publically with their crimes against Him. What they wanted to remain in secret is going to be told from the rooftops. The charge is threefold,
1bThere is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land…
There is no faithfulness, no trustworthiness, no promise keeping, no truthfulness. They are speaking words with no value. There is no steadfast love; no devoted kind of faithfulness. Finally, he says there is no knowledge of God and no intimate relationship with Him.
Each of these charges is very serious and damning, but it one-third of these charges which takes special focus in Hosea’s prophesies,
2:13 And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the Lord.
4:6a My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge…
5:4 Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the Lord.
6:6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
This theme of the lack of the knowledge of God rides over and over. God is condemning His people for not knowing Him.
How are these people to know God? God has revealed Himself to them through His Spirit by His Word. God let His people know who He is by making a revelation which became inscripturated for them in His Word. He made specific, propositional, objective statements about Himself to describe His person and communicate His workings. He revealed Himself to Israel as the “covenant keeping God” when He formed Israel into a Nation through Abram. He revealed Himself to Israel as the redeeming God when He delivered His people out of slavery in Egypt. He revealed Himself to Israel as the Holy God when He gave them The Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. He revealed Himself to Israel as the merciful God when He gave them the sacrifices by which their sins could be atoned and they could draw near to Him. With all of this knowledge God was pouring into them, this revelation, Israel turned their backs on God’s revelation and they lost the knowledge of God. They decided to follow manmade ideas about God instead of the revelation God had given to them. That is the reason why He says,
6a My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…
The objective truth about God was being distorted in Israel, even as it is in our own day regarding who God is and what He is about. Through this distortion, this objective life of God and the Spirit is being strangled. If we do not have the objective revelation of God, we cannot experience this objective life of God. That is why God revealed Himself; so that we can know Him through that revelation and have life in Him.
What distinguishes Christian worship from the worship of false gods? The distinguishing marks of true worship are not our religious rituals, not our zeal in worship, or our devotion to the cause. That is not what distinguishes us for every false religion possesses these same things. The worship of Baal possessed religious ritual. The worship of Baal possessed zeal in worship. The worship of Baal possessed tremendous devotion to the cause. What distinguishes Christian worship from all other kinds of worship, from all false worship, is the Gospel, the revelation of God, the message of the doctrines given to us by God which describe His person and His workings with man.
It is infinitely saddening to me to hear some evangelical say, “Christianity rests in life and not in doctrine. We should not focus upon doctrine but on the Spirit, on love, on religious warmth. Doctrine divides so let us set it aside and focus upon the things we agree about in the Spirit.” I do not doubt some error by thinking of doctrine of only a set of cold facts and doctrine itself sitting in isolation from authentic faith is a value. I do not doubt some error in that, but listen to the Word of the Lord, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge.”
The doctrines of God connect us to God so we can know Him personally and truly. There is no knowledge of God apart from sound doctrine and the people of Hosea’s day left Scripture and when they did so they left the knowledge of God and a personal relationship with God. They would have argued their relationship with God is going great. They would have said, “It is fantastic! We have never been closer to the Lord,” but they would have been wrong about that and that is why God is bringing an indictment, a public case against them, to prove to them they are guilty of a lack of knowledge.
D.B. Warfield is right when he says, “To be indifferent to doctrine is to be indifferent to Christianity.” That is why, in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, there is such an emphasis on doctrine and teaching. It is absolutely true doctrine is not the only component necessary to knowing God, but it is the foundational component.
There are two components essential to knowing God in intimate relationship. The first is true knowledge and the second is authentic faith. True knowledge is a proper understanding of the revelation God has given to us about Himself and that revelation is found in His Word. Secondly, authentic faith is a personal commitment and trust in the God who reveals Himself to us. Both are essential to knowing God and both are lacking.
Listen carefully to God’s charge against Israel one more time,
1b There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land…
Before we move from here, we must ask our self, “Do I know the Living God? Do I know Him personally as He reveals Himself in sacred Scripture? Do I connect with Him through the means He has chosen for me to connect with Him?”
The Israelites thought God would not mind if they added a little bit of Baal worship into the mix of their relationship with God. God tells them He did mind and that it is spiritual idolatry and He will not abide in it.
Secondly, God reveals three miserable consequences to a lack of the knowledge of God. The first is the depravity in the hearts of individuals,
2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Notice this list of morally depraved actions mirror the last half of The Ten Commandments: thou shall not murder, thou shall not commit adultery, thou shall not steal, thou shall not bear false witness, thou shall not covet. Jesus taught us the commandments of God can be summed up with two commandments,
Matthew 22:37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and strength)…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
These are the two tables of the Law. The first half of The Ten Commandments deal with loving God. The last half of The Ten Commandments deal with loving people. What happens when people do not know God? They stop loving one another.
Notice the text carefully, because there is…
1b no knowledge of God in the land; 2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery…
God is giving to us the cause and the connection. Because people reject God they reject one another. Because people turn from God they turn from one another. Because people abuse God’s name they abuse one another. Do you want to know why there is murder, violence, stealing, and all the rot in the culture? It is because there is no knowledge of God. Hosea traces all of these moral problems we experience in our culture to the root source: the rejection of the knowledge of God. Invariably, when a culture or nation does not know God in right relationship, that culture or that nation reflects their lack of their knowledge of God through moral collapse.
I would say we are not on the brink of moral collapse in the Unites States. We have collapsed in the United States and we are experiencing it. It is interesting how man is so desirous to trace back our social problems of swearing, lying, murder, stealing, stealing, and adultery to a thousand other sources, “We have these moral problems because of a lack of economic opportunities,” “We have these moral problems because there are too many guns, too many guns, too many drugs, too much alcohol, and too many gangs,” “We have these moral problems because there is not enough quality schools.” The list is endless that man points to as he explains the miserable social problems we are experiencing in America. I am not belittling any of the issues which are brought up, but the Bible teaches none of these are the source of our moral problems.
Why do we have moral problems in our nation and in our communities? Here is God’s answer: Because there is no knowledge of God in the land. Our only hope in dealing with the swearing, the deception, murder, stealing, and adultery in our land is to introduce the knowledge of God to the people. Church, this is our calling; this is our mission, this is our purpose. If we do one hundred other things, take care of orphans, open solid schools, provide after school training programs, offer family counseling, initiate job programs, feed the hungry, and tend to the sick all of these are right and good and important, but if we do all these things and fail to introduce our nation to the knowledge of God through the Gospel, we have failed God’s calling and all of it will be fruitless.
The individual application is this: how about you? Do you have a problem with swearing, lying, stealing, sexual immorality, or anger toward others? Are any of the sins listed in Verse 2 a problem for you? If you say, “Yes, pastor, some of these are terrible problems for me,” pursue the knowledge of God. It is the only answer and it is a thorough and complete answer.
If you say, “No, pastor, none of these sins are a problem for me,” I would call you to ask God to search you so that you will have eyes to see where the sins habits which corrupt your soul lie. The Bible tells us sin is a problem for everyone of us. John says,
1 John 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If any of those sins are not a problem, it is not because we are no pure, but it is because we are blind.
God reveals three miserable consequences to a lack of knowledge: depravity in the heats of individuals, corruption in the spiritual leadership and ruin for the entire nation,
4 Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest.
God is saying, “Let no one argue back to Me about My charge. I do not want to hear your excuses. I do not want you to point fingers. And, priests, especially you, you cannot say, ‘It is the people who are not obeying God. It is the people who are doing wrong.’ My contention is with you, priests, so do not accuse, do not point fingers, do not contend, do not argue.”
I want you to know, when I come before you on a Sunday morning and lay heavy words against your soul, and I know Hosea has some heavy words, it is my commitment, first, to lay them against my own soul. I desire to be a pastor who does not contend or accuse. I will not shift my central focus away from my sin to others in the church or others in the world. There is too much of that and it does not help us and it does not lead us to the knowledge of God. Only when spiritual leaders take the log out of our own eyes will we be able to see clearly enough to take the splinters out of other’s eyes. I encourage you to pray for your pastors, pray for me, and pray for your elders that we would not contend and we would not accuse but that we would seek the Lord with all our heart. That is what we need.
Speaking to the priests, Hosea tells them,
5 You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother.
The priests were given the sacred responsibility to lead people to God through the sacrifices and through prayer. The prophets were given the sacred responsibility to lead the people to God by proclaiming God’s Word and telling the truth to them, but both the priests and the prophets failed their calling before the Lord. They stumbled by participating in false worship. They stumbled by the moral depravity corrupting their hearts. They stumbled by refusing to speak the truth because they had people who had itching ears and they were willing to scratch them so the people would give them accolades. The people did not know God because the religious leaders did not know God. That is Hosea’s message,
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me.
The principle we learn is that spiritual leaders must first pursue the knowledge of God before they can encourage others to so. We cannot impart to others that which we do not possess.
Let me make an application for moms and dad. I believe every mom and dad in a Christian home is a spiritual leader to their children. The most important duty we have in leading our families, and this should be the central focus before we think about all the things we want to teach our children, is simply the duty to walk with God. If we do not know God our children will suffer for our lack of knowledge. Consider the indictment,
7 The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame.
We need to understand, religion is not waning in Israel at this time of spiritual decline. No, religion is thriving. The priests were not faithful to God; they encouraged idolatry. They refused to confront sin. The priests in this day, however, were very popular and the worship services were full. The more priests there were, Hosea says, the more the people sinned. We would think it would be the opposite, but that is not what is happening. The more religious activity there was, the more sin there was.
Spiritual decline does not depend upon the destruction of religion, but on the corruption of religion. God does not celebrate religion in general. Our cultural values today teach us all religion must be celebrated as a positive good for our country, but this is not what God says. False religion is never a blessing to any people. The more false religion multiplies and the more we have these kinds of priests, the more sin we have,
8 They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity.
They enjoy people’s sins because the more the people sin the more sacrifice they bring and the more sacrifice they bring the more they monetarily benefit. The priests are taking advantage of other people’s sin for personal profit. One of the hallmarks of false teachers is the love of money and that certainly was true in Hosea’s day,
9a And it shall be like people, like priest…
The principle is that people receive the kind of spiritual leadership they demand. The people wanted spiritual leadership that would tickle their ears, tell them what they wanted to hear and they got it. God sends the kind of leaders to people the people desire. If the people are immoral, God will send an immoral leader. If the people abandon God’s Word, God will send leaders who abandon God’s Word. If the people love the doctrines of humanism, God will send spiritual leaders who teach the doctrines of humanism.
I believe this is one of the reasons why it is so difficult in the United States to find a church that simply teaches God’s Word. Why is it very rarely, in my observations and the observations of many, that on Sunday after Sunday in church after church, God’s Word is rarely opened and explained and expounded upon? Hosea’s answer: like people, like priest. There are still exceptions to this rule and I thank God for that in our country. We need to pray that God would send a spirit of revival to His church so this teaching of God’s Word would become common.
10a They shall eat, but not be satisfied…
What God is going to do is cause all of their pursuits for joy and the things of this world to be unsatisfying. They will have a hunger which is never satisfied. They will have a thirst which will never be quenched. That is what happens when we pursue false gods. We are always on the verge of finding purpose and finding joy, but we never really embracing it. Only Christ can bring us such joy.
The last of the three consequences is the ruin for the entire Nation,
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.
Everything is in utter ruin and everything is destroyed. That is where this Nation was heading. The Nation of Israel is somewhat on a military and economic high at this point, but Hosea is telling them it is not lasting; they are in a state of decline and they will hit bottom. It will come to utter ruin. I believe there is such an application for the United States in this.
Third, God calls His people to know Him,
15 Though you play the whore, O Israel, let not Judah become guilty. Enter not into Gilgal, nor go up to Beth-aven…
We must remember the Nation has been divided after Solomon died. Solomon’s son is the leader of two Tribes in the south called Judah and Jerusalem is there. In the north, a king by the name of Jeroboam rules and he rules over the ten Tribes and the prominent Tribe of the ten Tribes is Ephraim. Ephraim is a reference to all of Israel.
Hosea is telling Israel even though they are spiritually unfaithful, they should not let Judah, the southern kingdom, be infected by Israel’s spiritual disease. There is still some faithfulness in Judah and that is why their demise is more than a century after the northern kingdoms demise.
When Jeroboam took the throne, because Jerusalem was way down in the south, it was going to be very inconvenient for people to go and worship God. Even though God told them they were to worship Him in Jerusalem, it was too inconvenient so they were going to set up two centers of worship so it will be convenient for people to worship. There would be one in Gilgal and one in Beth-El, but they are told not to enter into Gilgal.
The reason is two-fold. First, they were to separate themselves from false worship. Turn away from such places where the worship of God rejects the truth of Scripture.
To make a modern application, I would tell you to choose a church home where the Gospel is preached and lived. If we participate in this sort of false worship we will fail to pursue the true worship of God,
17 Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone.
We cannot align ourselves with people or churches that reject the truth of God, that reject the Gospel. Religious pluralism is not a biblical value. God does not smile upon various religious groups who get together and say, “We are all kind of in agreement so let us worship God together.” No, we are not to go to Gilgal, to Beth-el, or Ephraim because all of Israel are joined to idols. Leave them alone and turn away. If you want to know God separate yourself from false worship.”
Is there any means by which idols have grabbed hold of your heart in your life? God tells us if we want to pursue the knowledge of His person we must separate our self from those idols of false worship. This may not be in a church or in a temple. It may be in a workplace. It may be in a context of a social environment where there are shrines of false idols of sex, money, power, and self. The first thing we must do, if we really want to know God, is to turn away from false gods because there will be no knowledge of God until we do that.
Second, we need to seek the Lord with all our heart. God is not hiding from us and He is not far from any one of us. This is what Jeremiah the Prophet tells us,
29:11 “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
Friend, I do not know where you are in your life, but I do know God is not far from you. If you turn away from your idols and you seek the Lord you will be found. That is His promise. I want you to think about what God has done to fulfill that promise. He sent His Son to take on human flesh, to walk among us and to be one of us so as to represent us as our High Priest. Then He died upon a cross and He shed His own blood so that through the shedding of the blood of God’s own Son our soul could be washed of the offenses and charges and the case God has against us to make us guilty and condemned before Him. That case could be completely removed because of the justice God requires as a result of the guilt of those crimes has all be satisfied in Jesus and it has all been paid for in Jesus, God’s own Son.
Now God simply calls us to turn from our idols, to repent of our sin, and to embrace Jesus as our Savior and our Lord,
Deuteronomy 4:29 …you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart…
 New International Version (NIV)
 Isaiah 59:2a
 2 Corinthians 5:17
 New Living Translation (NLT)
 New Kings James Version (NKJV)