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Hosea, prophet of mercy—Chapter 17: Eating sin

Dec 12, 2016

Hosea tells Israel that because they had forgotten the law of God, He will forget their children. This, of course, was fully illustrated by his own situation. His harlot wife, representing Israel, had forgotten the law regarding adultery, and so her children were named prophetically to show how God was to judge the children of Israel. Hosea 4:7 then says,

7 The more they multiplied, the more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame.

Ephraim carried the Birthright, which was originally set forth as the Fruitfulness Mandate in Genesis 1:28, “be fruitful and multiply.” But the divine intent was not to reproduce children in the image of sinful flesh, but children in the image of God. Israel had indeed multiplied, and their population had greatly increased, but yet the divine intent remained unfulfilled, because “the more they multiplied, the more they sinned.” In other words, the more they fulfilled the Fruitfulness Mandate in a biological manner, the worse the problem became in God’s eyes.

Hosea implies that their reproduction rate was a matter of pride to them, for he says, “I will change their glory into shame.” They gloried in their increase of physical children, thinking that they were blessed by God with the Birthright’s promise. However, God was not pleased at all and promised to “change their glory into shame.” God is satisfied only with the sons of God, who are begotten by His Spirit through the incorruptible seed of the word (1 Peter 1:23-25).

Sin and Sin Offerings

The prophet continues in Hosea 4:8,

8 They feed on the sin [khataw, “sin” or “sin offering”] of My people, and direct their desire toward their iniquity.

The Hebrew word khataw has a double meaning. It means “sin,” but it is also the word translated “sin offering.” A sin offering was to be offered on account of sin. The prophet uses this word with that in mind, and so he paints a picture of lawless people going to the temple to offer sin offerings. Leviticus 6:26 and 29 says of the sin offerings,

26 The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. It shall be eaten in a holy place, in the court of the tent of meeting… 29 Every male among the priests may eat of it; it is most holy.

When the priest ate the sin offering, he was consuming the sin of the sinner who offered this sacrifice. In this, he was playing the role of Christ, our great High Priest, who also became the sin offering (Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ played the dual role of priest and offering, for we read again in Hebrews 9:11, 12 that He entered the heavenly temple as the High Priest and offered there His own blood upon that altar.

Sin offerings in themselves are of no effect apart from genuine faith, for “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Rituals in themselves have never atoned for sin. In fact, God got tired of the blood of animal sacrifices, saying in Isaiah 1:11,

11 “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats.”

The Israelites in Hosea’s day continued to offer sacrifices, worshiping in the temple, but their lack of faith in God was evident by their lawlessness at home. Hence, when they offered their sin offerings, the priest did not consume the sin of the sinner, but fed on the sin. In other words, instead of consuming (or eliminating) the sin through the sin offering, they merely found sustenance in the sin by feeding the flesh. Thus, the entire purpose of the sacrificial system was thwarted, because of their lack of faith, and their faithlessness was evidenced by their lawless attitude and behavior.

So also the “desire” of the Israelites was directed toward their iniquity. In other words, their desire was to sin or to retain their inner condition of iniquity, which is rooted in mortality, or death. Iniquity is the inner condition of the heart which causes men to sin outwardly. The Apostle Paul links iniquity with death, telling us in Romans 5:12 that because of Adam’s original sin, “death spread to all men,” making all men mortal, “by which [eph ho] all sin.”

Many translations disagree with Paul, not understanding that our mortality causes us to sin. So the NASB renders Romans 5:12, “death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Such a translation reverses the cause and effect, as if our own sin caused us to become mortal. That is obviously not true, because we are all born mortal before we had opportunity to sin.

To summarize, Hosea tells us that the Israelites’ failure to retain the knowledge of God had resulted in their carnality in thinking that they were fulfilling the terms of the Birthright by their increase in physical population. Further, their lack of faith while offering sacrifices only fed their iniquity and increased their sin. In short, Hosea tells Israel that she was an adulteress.

Like People, Like Priest

The prophet continues in Hosea 4:9, 10, saying,

9 And it will be, like people, like priest; so I will punish [pakad, “visit”] them for their ways, and repay them for their deeds. 10 And they will eat, but not have enough; they will play that harlot, but not increase, because they have stopped giving heed to the Lord.

The Hebrew word translated “people” is am, which is the essence of Ammi (“My people”) and Lo-ammi (“not My people”). The implication is that the priests were like the people in their faithlessness and their lack of knowledge of God’s mind, will, and character. For this reason God has visited them. To visit is a legal concept that indicates a full investigation to see what judgment is applicable to the situation.

In Luke 19:44 the people of Jerusalem did not understand the time of their visitation, an investigation that had begun with John the Baptist and continued with Jesus Himself. We also read in 1 Peter 2:12 about “the day of visitation,” where believers should show forth godly behavior” in order to avoid divine judgment.

When God’s visitations are set up for the purpose of determining judgment or acquittal, the people are judged in accordance with their deeds. The judgment always fits the crime and is measured out precisely in terms of double restitution (Exodus 22:4) or the death penalty for crimes where restitution is not possible.

Hosea says first in verse 10 that “they will eat, but not have enough.” This seems to be the judgment for eating sacrifices without genuine faith. The meal is insufficient to satisfy the law’s requirement for justification. The sacrificial meal of the sin offering has no spiritual nutrition or sustenance. Hence, the people will continue to “eat,” but they will continue to hunger. This is probably a veiled reference to the famine of hearing the word (Amos 8:11, 12). Since they had forgotten the law and had rejected the knowledge of God, their eyes would be blinded, and they would then not be able to find (understand) His word, even if they sought it from sea to sea.

Secondly, the prophet tells us that “they will play the harlot, but not increase.” This has to do with the Birthright once again. The people were supposed to be fruitful and multiply, but it was not possible to bring forth the sons of God through harlotry. Hosea paints the vivid word picture of a harlot having an abundance of sexual partners, but never bringing forth Ammi, “My people.”

The sons of God are not begotten by harlotry, that is, by spiritual adultery. When people think that they are the sons of God by virtue of their physical genealogy, they commit spiritual adultery. It is only when the Holy Spirit begets Christ in us that we can truly bring forth Christ in us, and by identifying with that New Creation Man, we have the power to become the sons of God.

The Spirit of Harlotry

Hosea 4:11 says,

11 Harlotry, wine, and new wine take away the understanding [leb, “heart”].

The Hebrew word translated “understanding” is leb, which literally means “heart.” It has to do with the contrast between performing rituals and having a genuine heart of faith toward God. It also speaks of the contrast between carnal understanding and genuine understanding. Just as an excess consumption of natural wine can reduce one’s understanding, so also the wine of Babylon can prevent us from understanding the heart of God.

Hosea 4:12 continues,

12 My people consult their wooden idol, and their diviner’s wand informs them; for a spirit of harlotry has led them astray, and they have played the harlot, departing from their God.

They were consulting false (or man-made) gods to obtain spiritual knowledge. In essence, this was like Gomer desiring other men to satisfy her sexual appetites. The prophet calls this “a spirit of harlotry.” This spirit is present whenever we try to obtain information or knowledge from false gods, or even when we pray according to the idols of our own heart. There is only one way to become a son of God and that is through Jesus Christ.

Hosea 4:13 says,

13 They offer sacrifices on the tops of the mountains and burn incense on the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is pleasant. Therefore your daughters play the harlot, and your brides commit adultery.

The prophet was referring to the common practice of building temples and places of worship on the top of mountains, where trees grew. The shade was pleasant there, and the elevation gave the impression of spiritual elevation. These hills were often the site of asherah, “groves,” or “high places,” where the Canaanites worshipped Baal.

Their worship in the groves involved adultery, because in Baal worship, before women could be married, they were required to be “purified” by a Baal priest. This was accomplished by having sexual relations with the priest, who represented Baal. This often resulted in pregnancy, and the first-born son of the woman was then dedicated to Baal as a “son of God.” The child was then burned alive as a sacrifice. Halley’s Bible Handbook references this briefly on page 157,

“So, Canaanites worshipped, by immoral indulgence, as a religious rite, in the presence of their gods; and then, by murdering their first-born children, as a sacrifice to these same gods.”

We might add further that Baal worshippers also believed that sin offerings ought to be eaten by the priests. This is the origin of the term cannibal, or canna-baal, “priest of Baal.” We may denounce those ancient priests for their cruelty, until we realize that in America alone, since 1973 our own priests of Baal have sacrificed more than 50 million babies in very cruel and painful ways, and their tissue has been sold to pharmaceutical companies to be used since 1979 in cosmetics and in vaccines. Hence, we have become a nation of cannibals, not in the old way, but in new and scientific ways that are more acceptable.

Yet all of this is inspired by the spirit of adultery, as Hosea tells us. Because we have so little knowledge of God and have cast aside His law, we now worship Baal in new and improved ways.


This is part 18 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Hosea." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Hosea


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Dr. Stephen Jones


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