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Hosea 5:1-7

Lesson Focus:

Our sin moves and keeps us far from God. We are unable to return without the help of God.

Lesson Outcomes:

Through this lesson students should:

  1. Recognize that we often blend our worship of God with the worship of other things that we hope will provide and take care of us.

  2. Recognize that it is hard to see those things that we worship alongside God.

  3. Be encouraged to enter into periods of prayer and discernment alone and corporately so that these objects of worship might be revealed to them.

Catching up on the story:

Chapters two and three ends on a positive note as God offers hope and assurance of his redeeming love. Israel will once again be called God’s people. He will enter into a covenant relationship with them that will be characterized by righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness. Israel, for her part, will need to live in those ways toward God and others, too.

By the time we get to chapter four, the tone changes yet again. God brings an indictment against Israel for her lack of loyalty and faithfulness. Israel’s sins are said to even affect the land, which now cries out to God. Hosea begins to lay some of the blame on the priests, who have not led the people well. They have not properly educated them concerning the covenantal fidelity that God desires. As a consequence, Israel has completely forgotten God’s law and so God will forget them. Israel will be left to try and satisfy her desires using only her own abilities.

The Text:

Hear This! 5:1-2

This chapter begins with three distinct imperatives: here, give heed (pay attention, NIV), and listen. The voice of God is the one who issues these imperatives and each imperative is directed at a certain segment of the population. The first imperative is directed at the priests. The second imperative is directed at the “house of Israel.” Normally, this phrase denotes the entire Israelite population, but some scholars wonder if it might more narrowly be directed at the elders of Israel or other community leaders because of the specific focus of the other two imperatives. It may not matter because Hosea has and will be intentional about laying blame on everyone in Israel. The third imperative is directed at the king.

It is important to note that in Israel there was no separation of church and state. Both the royalty and the priestly class derived their origin and authority from God. The king needed the priests to legitimate his programs and the priests needed the king to help legitimate their power, especially as they moved away from faithfulness to God’s covenant. Both the king and the priests led Israel into believing that they could serve both Baal and God.

The priests, the people, and the king are all called to listen to what will come next. The judgment that God is about to speak is against them. Literally, the text says that this judgment belongs to the priests, the people, and the king. What follows is a description of what the priests and the king have been for the general population. They have not been, as God had intended them to be, a source of protection and positive guidance for Israel. Instead, what follows is a description of hunting traps. Israel’s civil and religious leadership has been like that of a predatory hunter. In order to serve their own needs and desires, they have spread a net, dug a deep pit and laid a snare to catch the passing prey.

There is some disagreement about the nature of the three places named Mizpah, Tabor, and Shittim. These towns are randomly spread out throughout Israel. Some scholars believe that they were chosen because of how they sounded within the framework of Hosea’s poetry. Others believe that each of these cities contained a shrine of some sort at some point in Israel’s history. Both may be true, but what is important is that the picture generated by these places points to the comprehensive nature of Israel’s defilement. The sin of civil and religious leadership has not spared one corner of Israel. The whole nation has been affected by the leadership’s sin. The whole “house of Israel” has been led to sin. This will result, declares God, in discipline for all of Israel. The “I will punish” of verse two can have a few varied meanings. The NRSV translates it as “punish,” while the NIV renders it “discipline.” Another possibility is “place in shackles.” All three senses taken together help us gain a clearer picture of God’s intention. Israel and her leaders will certainly be punished. This punishment, however, is not entirely punitive; it is also instructive and restorative. Part of this discipline will involve captivity to Assyria.

You Can’t Play Hide and Seek… 5:3-7

God continues to speak as we move down the chapter. Ephraim is another name used for Israel. Israel may believe that she has hidden her sin from God, or that she has not committed any sin, but God reveals that he has been watching the entire time. God has seen Israel’s unfaithfulness even if Israel is unwilling or unable to see it for herself.

We return to the image of sexual infidelity again. God charges that Israel has played the whore and now she is defiled. Being clean was an important issue in Israel. Much of the covenant stipulations that God had given to the people dealt with issues of cleanliness. The cleanliness was not so much for cleanliness’s sake, but so that Israel could be the type of people God intended her to be: a people set apart in the world. If she was to remain faithful to God then she must keep herself from certain things. The priest’s job was to help educate and inform the people about what would defile them and what would not. Not only that, but the priests were to direct the sacrifices which were meant to cleanse the people on a regular basis. The priests have not been doing their job. Indeed, they have not just not been doing their job in keeping Israel from defilement, they have actively engaged in practices that have brought about defilement.

Verse 4 is really the center of the passage. Israel’s deeds keep them from returning to God. The depth of Israel’s sin and unfaithfulness has left them blinded to the possibility of living life in any other way. The sin and unfaithfulness that was prominent in Israel became business as usual; it was the way they always had done it. The verse continues as God declares that the “spirit of whoredom/prostitution” is within them. This does not mean that an external force is controlling them, but that their current style of life has caused them to orient themselves in this direction. You probably know someone who has the spirit of deceit. It’s not they that are being controlled by an evil spirit, but that they have lived with falsehood and untruth for so long that they know no other way of being. This is what has happened to Israel. They have lived in ways that were contrary to God’s covenant for so long that they now no longer know how to live in any other way.

As we move on to verse 5 the imagery shifts just a bit to that of a courtroom. Even when Israel is called to testify and give an account on her own behalf, her pride keeps her from recognizing her own misdeeds. Her presumption of innocence in light of the evidence provided against her brings about her own judgment.

There is a sense that Israel is blind to her guilt because she has persisted in her sacrifice this entire time. She has mixed worship of other gods with Yahweh. Israel drives her flocks of sheep and herds of goats to the shrines set up for worship. These sacrifices, however, will not bring them closer to God. God himself has withdrawn himself from her.

It may be hard for us to imagine that God would intentionally hide from his people. There is a two-part answer to this question. First, Israel, as we have already said, has by her own actions removed herself from God’s presence. She has moved far away from God. Second, God withdrawing himself and his protection and provision from Israel was a condition of the covenant. This rejection recalls the curses attached to disobedience to the covenant found in Deuteronomy 31:18 and 32:20. This is not what God desires, but the result of God allowing Israel to choose which way she will go.

So What?

Part of the problem that Israel had was that she had blended her worship of God with her worship of Baal. As we have discovered in previous weeks, Israel began to believe that the good gifts that she had received were due to someone or something other than God. All the while Israel had not totally abandoned her belief in God. She wanted to have her cake and eat it too. Her priests, the ones who were supposed to guide her in the way that she would go, failed to keep Israel on track. Rather, they supported the interests of the king and other leaders.

If we are honest, we can be like Israel in wanting to blend our worship of God with something else. There are many things that we can attach to our worship of God: money, status, work, family, America, violence, drugs, and alcohol, to list just a few. For example, somehow we begin to believe that we can worship money and God. Like Israel, we can engage in vigorous worship, singing our hearts out, attending Devotion Groups, doing personal devotions, while the rest of the time we are devoted to making all the cash we can. We begin to experience the same deception from which Israel suffered. We become blind to the fact that we have committed ourselves to that other thing which we believe will provide for us. It moves us further and further away from God. Soon enough we are unable or unwilling to believe that we are not the Christians we should or ought to be.

Our sin persists and it keeps us from returning to God. The things that we have sought after, the things we hoped would give us what we need and want, enslave us so that we find it near impossible return to God. We may seek God in the sanctuary, we may worship with hands stretched to the sky, but we move no closer to God. The good news is, and Hosea tells us this over and over again, that it is not God’s intention to leave us so far from him as to never return. The hope of Hosea is that God will again whisper our name, somehow cutting through our enslavements and self-deceptions so that we might truly understand and confront our sins, repent and begin our movement back toward God.

Critical Discussion Questions:

  1. What does God look like in this text/Who is God in this text/What is God doing in this text?

  2. God is all-knowing and holds us accountable. God is calling the leaders of Israel to account for their failure at protecting and providing for the nation. He also explains that Israel’s deeds were not hidden from him; he knows what they have done and how that has created a great distance between them.

  3. What does holiness/salvation look like in this text?

  4. Holiness looks like focused belief and worship of God without blending it together with anything else. It also means allowing God to open our eyes to see the things that we have worshiped alongside God. We can be so consumed by our current way of life and worship that we fail to recognize that we are not living and worshiping faithfully.

  5. How does an encounter with this story shape who we are and who we should become?

  6. It’s hard to recognize, at times, how our sin has blinded us and kept us from God. More often than not we want to be close to God, we desire it, but feel like he is a long way off. We fail to see how our actions and the things we really worship keep us from truly worshiping God. Only as we invite the Holy Spirit into our midst to convict us and open our eyes will we truly begin to move back toward God.

Specific Discussion Questions:

Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.

  1. Why would God specifically call out the priests and the king as reasons for punishment on Israel?

  2. God describes the priests and king as being a snare, net, and large pit for the people of Israel. Why would God describe them that way? What do these things say about how the priests and king have treated Israel?

  3. Why does God say that Israel’s deeds have not been hidden from him? What might this say about how Israel perceived her own actions?

  4. In verse four we hear these words, “Their deeds did not permit them to return to their God.” What does this mean? Have you ever felt like your deeds have kept you from returning to God? What was that like? Did you know which deeds were keeping you far from God?

  5. Verse five speaks of a “spirit of whoredom” which is another way of speaking about their general tendency toward infidelity. It does not mean that an evil spirit was controlling them. Have you ever known someone who has had a “spirit of_____” controlling them? Was it hard to speak with them about this “spirit” that dominated their life?

  6. Part of Israel’s problem is that she had blended worship of Baal in with her worship of God. This blending caused her to live in unfaithful ways. It also moved her far away from relationship with God, yet she persisted in her worship. Have you ever found yourself worshiping something alongside God? How has that affected your relationship with God?

  7. Is there anything you are now worshiping along side your worship of God? If you cannot think of anything, enter into times of prayer and confession with another person or group of people so that if there is anything it might be revealed to you. Faithful participation in a Small Group and joining a Spiritual Formation Group would be helpful in this regard.