Start with a general indictment, before the specific. Verse 1 sums up infidelity, unkindness, and ignorance of God. Verse 2 riffs through half of the 10 commandments, lumped together as ‘bloody deed touches bloody deed’. That’s a stylized lawless frontier vision of violent anarchy.
The third verse says the land is dying – the beasts, the fish, and the birds – this is drought and ecological disaster to creation, consequences of human sin. This is a state of sin, not merely a collection of specific sins – there’s no point in litigating one offence at a time among us, when things get so bad, says verse 4.
I don’t know if the closing phrase in v.4 is telling you litigation is pointless when the priests (cops and legal system) are corrupt, or just confuses our role as advocates for justice, for which we are not ourselves fit.
The next chunk, v5-10, is in the second person ‘you’ plural, addressing the priests who ‘stumble’ with the prophets, and destroy the people by denying them the teaching they owe everybody in the nation. The priests were no less ignorant of God than the people, so were unkind and unfaithful, equally guilty, the priests parasitically feeding off the sins of the people.
The hinge verses, 10-11, appear in English translation as ‘prostitution’, though I tend to read the semantic field as more like the Greek word ‘porneia’ which makes the connection with pornography, objectification, reducing humanity to productivity to be used or abused, not loved and cherished.
The argument gets clearer as the religious ritual sins are clearer, listed for a couple of verses of references to the Baal fertility cults of Palestine. We tend to see the idolatry of the fetish objects, rather than the signified: productivity. We need not linger on the prurient if we glimpse issues of which ‘goods’ are chased!
What if we associated this with a celebrity culture of consumption, using technology and carbon fuels as our slaves to create a leisure culture? Then Hosea is acknowledging that young women get condemned for participating, but that God won’t punish them since the root is the men’s participation.
By verse 15, we get the reference to Judah in the south, which some scholars contest as a later editorial addition to the original Hosea. I don’t mind who wrote it, since the message is ‘as Israel, so next Judah… then southern Ontario’. The adultery is not xenophobia, but adultery flirting with competing goods to Yahweh’s goods of love and justice, compassion, grace and mercy.
We are warned away from Gilgal, though it used to be OK as a shrine that Elijah and Elisha used, and warned away from the shrine Hosea calls Beth-Aven. That’s a cheap shot at Beth-el, ‘house of God’ – he’s calling it ‘house of deceit’. It’s tough shepherding Israel, and even the shrines get turned into ‘comfortable pews’, too closely associated with the current generation of luxury. It’ll pass.
Hosea Chapter 4
1 Hear the word of the LORD, O people of Israel; for the LORD has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land.
2 Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing.
4 Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest.*
5 You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night, and I will destroy your mother.
6 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.
7 The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; they changed* their glory into shame.
8 They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity.
9 And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways, and repay them for their deeds.
10 They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply; because they have forsaken the LORD to devote themselves to
11 whoredom. Wine and new wine take away the understanding.
12 My people consult a piece of wood, and their divining-rod gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have played the whore, forsaking their God.
13 They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains, and make offerings upon the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters play the whore, and your daughters-in-law commit adultery.
14 I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with whores, and sacrifice with temple prostitutes; thus a people without understanding comes to ruin.
15 Though you play the whore, O Israel, do not let Judah become guilty. Do not enter into Gilgal, or go up to Beth-aven, and do not swear, ‘As the LORD lives.’
16 Like a stubborn heifer, Israel is stubborn; can the LORD now feed them like a lamb in a broad pasture?
17 Ephraim is joined to idols— let him alone.
18 When their drinking is ended, they indulge in sexual orgies; they love lewdness more than their glory.*
19 A wind has wrapped them* in its wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their altars.*