7 The more priests there were,
the more they sinned against me;
they exchanged their glorious God for something disgraceful.
8 They feed on the sins of my people
and relish their wickedness.
9 And it will be: Like people, like priests.
I will punish both of them for their ways
and repay them for their deeds.
10 “They will eat but not have enough;
they will engage in prostitution but not flourish,
because they have deserted the Lord
to give themselves 11 to prostitution;
old wine and new wine
take away their understanding.
12 My people consult a wooden idol,
and a diviner’s rod speaks to them.
A spirit of prostitution leads them astray;
they are unfaithful to their God.
13 They sacrifice on the mountaintops
and burn offerings on the hills,
under oak, poplar and terebinth,
where the shade is pleasant.
Therefore your daughters turn to prostitution
and your daughters-in-law to adultery.
14 “I will not punish your daughters
when they turn to prostitution,
nor your daughters-in-law
when they commit adultery,
because the men themselves consort with harlots
and sacrifice with shrine prostitutes—
a people without understanding will come to ruin!
15 “Though you, Israel, commit adultery,
do not let Judah become guilty.
“Do not go to Gilgal;
do not go up to Beth Aven.
And do not swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives!’
16 The Israelites are stubborn,
like a stubborn heifer.
How then can the Lord pasture them
like lambs in a meadow?
17 Ephraim is joined to idols;
leave him alone!
18 Even when their drinks are gone,
they continue their prostitution;
their rulers dearly love shameful ways.
19 A whirlwind will sweep them away,
and their sacrifices will bring them shame.
(Hosea 4:7-19 NIV)
As we have seen in the previous verses of chapter 4, the Lord has held all of Israel accountable for their words and deeds (vv. 1-3), and the priests in particular (vv. 4-6).
In today’s passage, we see the Lord focusing on the priests, but also holding the people accountable as well.
In verses 7-10, the Lord points out that the priests have not only led the people astray to worship other gods, but they have profited from their idol worship. The priests have used their influence for personal gain. The Lord says that there will be consequences for their actions.
Drunkenness (v. 11) and idol worship to many gods (vv. 12-13a) are rampant among the people – they go far and wide to worship multiple gods. The people go to really nice places (some type of resorts, as indicated by the shade trees) to participate in the worship of these idols. The Lord uses the analogy of prostitution to show how the people have given their hearts away to many gods instead of staying true to the One True God.
The Lord then uses this same theme to transition from the prostitution of the heart to prostitution of the body (vv. 13b – 14). Both women and men are guilty of engaging in the immoral cultic sexual practices associated with many of these false gods and their religions.
In verse 15, the Lord warns the southern kingdom of Judah not to follow in the wayward steps of the northern kingdom of Israel. In verse 16, the Lord points out that Israel is like a headstrong cow, a stubborn heifer that is hell-bent on forcing her own way, choosing to rebel against her master.
In verses 17-19, the Lord summarizes the charges against Israel (also called Ephraim, another name for Israel, based on the largest of the ten tribes in Israel). They have chosen idol worship, drunkenness, and immoral sexual practices as their way of life, rather than honoring God and glorifying Him with their choices.
The people have become inwardly focused on themselves and their selfish desires, rather than focused outwardly on the Lord and others. They are reveling in their shame, but in the end, they will be ashamed of their way of life. In the final analysis, their life will self-destruct and end in ruin.
So how does all this apply to us?
Whether a leader or a follower, we are all responsible and accountable for our thoughts, words, and actions, just as the people of Israel were for theirs.
We need to ask ourselves the same question: WIll we live inwardly focused on ourselves, or outwardly focused on the Lord and on loving others?
The choice is before each of us, every day… may we choose wisely.