This week in our study we covered chapter 4 of the book of Hosea. In this chapter we turn from the marriage of Hosea and Gomer which was the topic of chapters 1-3, and we now focus specifically on God’s judgement against Israel: his accusation against them and the just punishment that he will therefore deliver.
He begins his “lawsuit” against the inhabitants of Israel by declaring that:
There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
and no knowledge of God in the land —Hosea 4:1
This threefold accusation bears the image of the marriage metaphor of the first three chapters. Just as faithfulness, steadfast (committed) love, and knowledge are necessary between a husband and wife, they are vital to the covenant relationship between the living God and the people he has called to be his own. Tim Chester comments:
Steadfast love is the commitment to the spirit of the marriage relationship as well as the letter of the marriage vows. God’s people were not being true to the letter of their covenantal relationship, nor to its spirit. They did not keep or acknowledge their obligations to God, nor did they love him.
But instead of loving the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and their neighbors as themselves (Matthew 22:36-40), the people of Israel have turned to the pagan gods of the nations around them and given themselves to all manner of sins. Their actions were not only to their own detriment, but their sins also led to the defilement of the land. The corruption of the Fall led to the decay of all creation at the beginning of history, and the consequences of Israel’s sins led to the mourning of the land as well as the languishing of all who lived in it (Hosea 4:2).
Hosea then turns to point his accusation specifically at the priests.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children. — Hosea 4:6
The priests who should have been teaching, preaching, and exhorting the people to know their God were not only complicit in their rejection of the knowledge of God, but they had willfully forgotten his law. God will therefore reject them and their children—meaning, the hereditary Levitical priesthood would come to an end in the nation of Israel.
Tim Chester quotes the Puritan John Flavel who, citing Hosea 4, applies the warnings therein to Christians today who might take lightly the knowledge of Christ, highlighting three ways we can do this:
- Treating it lightly
- Ignoring its directions
- Failing to know more of Christ
To the people that sit under the doctrine of Christ daily, and have the light of his knowledge shining round about them: Take heed ye do not reject and despise this light. Firstly, when you despise the means of knowledge by slight and low esteem of it … Secondly, you despise the knowledge of Christ, when you despise the directions and loving constraints of that knowledge; when you refuse to be guided by your knowledge, your light and lusts contest and struggle within you. [Thirdly] take heed that you rest not satisfied with that knowledge of Christ you have attained, but grow on towards perfection … And it is the sin, even of the best of saints, when they see how deep the knowledge of Christ lies, and what pains they must take to dig for it, to throw by the shovel of duty, and cry, Dig we cannot. To your work, Christians, to your work!
The failure of the priests points us to our need of a better priest, a priest who will not serve his own interests, but will provide for us not only a better sacrifice, but instruct us in the true knowledge of God. God appointed his Son Jesus Christ to be our Great High Priest who became the source of eternal salvation for all who believe in him (Hebrews 5:1-10), and perfectly reveals the Father (John 14:9), making him known to us as no earthly priest can (John 1:18).
The priests in Hosea’s day became a false clergy, who “reinforced prevailing cultural identities in order to build a following.” Forgetting the Lord their God didn’t mean they worshipped nothing, but when they forsook the true worship of God their understanding was darkened, their hearts hardened, and they were given over to sensuality and the futility of idolatry. We examined how ludicrous was the idolatry of Hosea’s day, which followed the ‘prevailing cultural identities’ of the pagan nations around them. Isaiah described the folly of one who would plant a tree, manage its growth, harvest it and use part to carve an idol and the rest to cook dinner (Isaiah 44:9-20).
Idolatry today doesn’t necessarily take this form, but is still just as deluded when we, Christians, who have the full revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ, and illuminated to us by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures of our Bibles, will still choose to rely on anything other than our God for security and peace. Employment, reputation, education, our children, our spouse, our comfort, beauty, fitness….. the list goes on. This is why we must strive to know Christ, through the Word, as John Flavel exhorted in the quote above, not taking it lightly, ignoring its directions, or “throwing by our shovels and crying, ‘Dig we cannot!’” Together with the Apostle Paul we must “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
Sisters, the root of all blessing and life is a living relationship with God and the salvation that comes only through his Son, Jesus Christ.
To your work, Christians, to your work!
This is the official end of my summary of this week’s class. However, an article caught my eye this morning as I turned on the laptop to write, and I’m copying much of it here for you. The timing after what we learned this week is rather on point. The ludicracy of the idolatry displayed is staggering. This, some 2,750-ish years after Hosea and Isaiah wrote of the idiocy of pagan worship practices, simply boggles the mind. This is not from a satire website, but from the Washington Examiner—friends, this is News, a record of actual events. Even worse is the defense given by the Seminary for what took place. See if you can spot the parallels to what we learned from Hosea, Psalm 115:4-8, and Isaiah 44:9-20.
‘Absolute Theological Bankruptcy’: Union Theological Seminary students confess climate sins to plants
By Jon Brown, September 18, 2019
Students at Union Theological Seminary prayed to a display of plants set up in the chapel of the school, prompting the institution to issue a statement explaining the practice as many on social media mocked them.
“Today in chapel, we confessed to plants,” the nation’s oldest independent seminary declared Tuesday on Twitter. “Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor. What do you confess to the plants in your life?”
“We’ve had many questions about yesterday’s chapel,” the statement read in part. “In worship, our community confessed the harm we’ve done to plants, speaking directly in repentance. This is a beautiful ritual.”
“We are in the throes of a climate emergency, a crisis created by humanity’s arrogance, our disregard for Creation,” the statement continued. “Far too often, we see the natural world only as resources to be extracted for our use, not divinely created in their own right—worthy of honor, thanks and care. We need to unlearn habits of sin and death. And part of that work must be building new bridges to the natural world. And that means creating new spiritual and intellectual frameworks by which we understand and relate to the plants and animals with whom we share the planet.”
Encouraging churches to turn from “theologies that encourage humans to dominate and master the Earth,” Union asserted that “we must birth new theology, new liturgy to heal and sow, replacing ones that reap and destroy.”
“No one would have blinked if our chapel featured students apologizing to each other,” the statement went on. “What’s different (and the source of so much derision) is that we’re treating plants as fully created beings, divine Creation in its own right—not just something to be consumed. Because plants aren’t capable of verbal response, does that mean we shouldn’t engage with them? So, if you’re poking fun, we’d ask only that you also spend a couple moments asking: Do I treat plants and animals as divinely created beings?”
Confessing to the plants was “just one expression of worship here at Union,” a spokesperson for the seminary told the Washington Examiner. “Union Theological Seminary is grounded in the Christian tradition, and at the same time deeply committed to inter-religious engagement. Union’s daily chapel is, by design, a place where people from all the wondrous faith traditions at Union can express their beliefs. And, given the incredible diversity of our community, that means worship looks different every day!”
“One day, you may come in to find a traditional Anglican communion, another day you may enter into a service of Buddhist meditation or Muslim prayer,” the spokesperson continued. “Another, you may find a Pentecostal praise service or a silent Quaker meeting. We create a home where people can worship side by side, in traditions similar to and very different to their own. Through this process, we learn from our neighbors and discern our own faith more deeply.”
 Tim Chester, Hosea: The Passion of God (Scotland, UK: 2014) 83-84.
 John Flavel, The Fountain of Life,’ Works Volume 1, Banner of Truth, 1820, 1968, 41-2. Quoted in Chester, 92. (final exclamation mark mine- how could I not?)
 Richard D. Phillips, sermon on Hosea 4:1-6, Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville, S. C.