Hear this, O priests! Pay attention, O house of Israel! Give ear, O house of the king! For the judgment is for you; for you have been a snare at Mizpah and a net spread upon Tabor. And the revolters have gone deep into slaughter, but I will discipline all of them. I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from me; for now, O Ephraim, you have played the whore; Israel is defiled. Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the Lord.
The pride of Israel testifies to his face; Israel and Ephraim shall stumble in his guilt; Judah also shall stumble with them. With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find him; he has withdrawn from them. They have dealt faithlessly with the Lord; for they have borne alien children. Now the new moon shall devour them with their fields. – Hosea 5:1-7 ESV
Everyone is guilty. Priests, people and king are all culpable for what is about to happen to Israel. There is no one who can escape the coming judgment of God by claiming innocence. The religious and governmental leaders were all guilty of orchestrating the downfall of the entire nation, having established policies that encouraged idolatry and led the people away from God. But like dumb sheep, the people willingly followed, satisfying their base desires and fulfilling their sinful passions, with no regard to the will or wrath of God. The corporate mindset had become one of spiritual rebellion and everyone was involved. Justification of their actions was the order of the day. And Hosea made the foreboding pronouncement, “their deeds do not permit them to return to their God” (Hosea 5:4 ESV). They had become so infected with “the spirit of whoredom” that repentance was impossible for them. They no longer knew God. Their lifestyle of sin had virtually erased His memory from their minds.
The imagery in this passage is one of hunting. Hosea described nets being spread and slaughter taking place. It is as if the priests and the king had purposefully set out to capture the people of Israel and slaughter them like prey. And others had joined in the hunt, capturing the helpless people in their nets of idolatry and rebellion. But God was going to hold them accountable. He was going to discipline them all. Because nothing is hidden from His eyes. No activity takes place on this planet that He does not see and to which He will hold all accountable. The people may forget God, but He does not forget them.
Things had gotten so bad, that even Judah, the southern kingdom, would eventually be infected by the sinful actions of Israel. They too would end up rebelling against God and suffering His discipline and judgment. At the last minute, the people of both nations would attempt to worship God and repent of their sins, but it would prove too little, too late. Their repentance would not be based on a love for God, but simply a fear of His coming judgment and a desire to escape it. But Hosea warns, “With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find him; he has withdrawn from them” (Hosea 5:6 ESV). They had gone too far. God knew their hearts and He was able to see through any attempt on their part to feign repentance. He was not going to accept their last-minute sacrifices and pleas for forgiveness, because He knew their hearts were not in it. Their actions would not be motivated by a love for Him, but out of a fear of punishment. As God had said of the people of Israel, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT).
This was all a heart issue. The sinful practices of the people of Israel flowed from their hardened hearts. They no longer had any love for God. Their hearts had been stolen away by false gods and the promises of pleasure, happiness, satisfaction and contentment those false religions promised. They loved themselves and their own pleasure more than they loved God. And as a result, they had proven unfaithful to God. Just as Gomer had left Hosea and given herself to other men, Israel had left God and given themselves to false gods. And now they would face the punishment of God. But we must always remember that one day God was going to restore them. Just as He commanded Hosea to buy back Gomer from her life of prostitution, God would redeem Israel from their slavery to sin. Not because they deserved it, but because God is loving, gracious and faithful. He would keep His promises to Israel, in spite of them. Their unfaithfulness would do nothing to diminish His faithfulness. And we too can always count on the faithfulness of God. His redemption of us has nothing to do with any merit on our part.
But the saddest statement in this entire passage is that they knew not the Lord. Despite all He had done for them over the years, the people of Israel had no real knowledge of or relationship with God. Yes, they had an intellectual knowledge of who He was, but there was no intimacy or personal relationship. They didn’t understand His greatness or appreciate His goodness. They had long ago forgotten all the incredible miracles He had done on behalf of their forefathers. God had become just another god among the many that they worshiped. And the sad reality is that we are guilty of the same thing. There are those today who claim to be worshipers of and believers in God, but they have no real knowledge of Him. Their understanding of Him is of the text book variety, provided to them second-hand and with no personal experience involved. They know about Him, but it is an impersonal and experience-depleted knowledge. The book of Judges portrays a similar situation in the life of the people of God. “And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10 ESV). A whole new generation came on the scene that was devoid of any real knowledge of God. Their parents had failed to teach them the truth about God, including His incredible power to deliver them and provide for them. So they turned to other gods. Their ignorance of God led them to rebel against Him. And the same pattern is repeating itself today. Each generation must tell the next about the greatness and goodness of God.
For he issued his laws to Jacob; he gave his instructions to Israel. He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them—even the children not yet born—and they in turn will teach their own children. So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands. – Psalm 78:5-7 NLT