Hosea 4 – Terms of the Charge

Hosea 4 Bible with Theo Orange 70 percent Dark Chocolate

Today’s ChocolateTheo Orange 70% Dark Chocolate

Today’s PassageHosea 4

The word “harlot” appears nine times in this chapter. The passage details Israel’s sins against God, and it’s pretty clear in what light he views their disobedience. He brings numerous charges against Israel, but at their core, they’re all forms of unfaithfulness–ways of giving yourself to things that don’t deserve you because they’re not your all-powerful, all-good Creator.

A number of words from the passage jumped out at me, in some cases piquing my curiousity about the original language, so crack open your Strong’s Concordance and get ready to stumble through some Hebrew.

Our first stop is the first positive charge that God levels against Israel: a thing they did that they should not have done. Hosea writes: “There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery. They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed” (2). The word “swearing” here doesn’t refer to four-letter words or taboo terms. The Hebrew word is אָלָה‘alah, which Strong’s defines as “to adjure, i.e. (usually in a bad sense) imprecate:—adjure, curse, swear.” Properly speaking, it’s a malediction: the people of Israel are wishing ill on others, and then they’re going out and putting their words into action. Swearing and deception are abuses of speech; and murder, stealing, and adultery are the practices that embody our worst words. The result is a vicious circle of violence.

Our second stop pertains to wine. Hosea writes, “Harlotry, wine and new wine take away the understanding” (11). I couldn’t help wondering: what’s the difference between wine and new wine? The first “wine” is יָ֫יִןyayin, which Strong’s notes is “from an unused root meaning to effervesce.” The phrase “new wine” is a single word in Hebrew, תִּירוֹשׁ, tiyrowsh, meaning “fresh, freshly pressed, or new wine.” It seems to me that the distinction is between whether or not the drink has fermented yet. Alcohol gets a second mention in verse 18, where the liquor runs out. I don’t believe the passage’s purpose is to condemn strong drink; at worst, alcohol here is an accessory to Israel’s crimes.

In other words, Israel’s primary sin is the infidelity of idolatry (12-14, 17). It would be misleading to say, “Good heavens, look at Israel, running around drinking and swearing.”

There’s one last word I want to point out, and it’s related to the reason why God is accusing Israel in the first place. Hosea opens the passage with a call to attention: “Listen to the word of the Lord, O sons of Israel, for the Lord has a case against the inhabitants of the land, because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land” (1). The crux of the issue is not knowing God. The word “knowledge” shows up a few verses later: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest” (6). The people and their land suffer because they have thrown out their knowledge of God.

Some people would take this opportunity to draw a distinction between head knowledge and heart knowledge, between knowing about God and knowing God. I don’t think that’s in the spirit of the passage, though. I think this kind of knowledge of God is inherently experiential and practical. It entails knowing facts about God just as much as knowing your wife or husband entails knowing facts about him or her. If you know your wife, you know she likes, oh say, when you bring home flowers for her.

And what does God like? Not murdering, stealing or committing adultery. Not worshipping idols and offering them sacrifices. Not harlotry.


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