The Knowledge of God
When men lack the knowledge of God, it is usually because they do not understand the revelation of His character as expressed in the law. They may read the law and even memorize it, but they have no revelation of it. God is Spirit, and to know Him requires a spiritual enlightenment, not merely a soulish understanding of the Scriptures.
Paul discusses this in 1 Cor. 2:6-8, saying,
6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
If the religious leaders in Jerusalem had understood the wisdom of God, Paul says, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” We might add also that if Paul himself, while studying under Gamaliel in his early life, had understood the wisdom of God, he would not have persecuted the church. Paul knew by experience the lack of godly wisdom even in those who had memorized the Torah. Paul continues, saying in 1 Cor. 2:9, 10,
9 but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 For to us God revealed them through His Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.
In other words this wisdom of God is not perceived through the eyes and ears of man in a normal classroom setting, but “through His Spirit.” The wisdom of God is foolishness to the soulish mind of man, regardless of how intelligent he is. Paul concludes in 1 Cor. 2:14,
14 But a natural [psukikos, soulish] man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised [anakrino, “judged, discerned, or understood”]
Bible study is what the soul does. The soul is also called the old man, the fleshly man within, that is, the carnal mind. One can only know the wisdom of God through the mind of our (human) spirit, which is our true point of contact with the spiritual or heavenly realm. The Holy Spirit of God teaches us the wisdom of God through the human spirit. This is why it is important to hear His word and not merely to read the Bible. Fleshly eyes cannot see. Fleshly ears cannot hear.
Those who are limited to Bible study, not having ears to hear and eyes to see, are no different from the rulers of that age who sought for the Messiah, but “crucified the Lord of glory.” Paul identified the main cause of such blindness in his follow-up letter. 2 Cor. 3:12-14 says,
12 Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, 13 and are not as Moses, who used to put a veil over his face that the sons of Israel might not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.
The blindness, or lack of understanding, is caused by an Old Covenant veil through which men study the Bible, trying to see truth and wisdom, but being hindered by the veil. The veil is lifted when one sees and hears with a New Covenant perspective, by which power the Holy Spirit unveils the eyes of our understanding. Perhaps the main key to the knowledge of God is to know that the New Covenant is based upon the promises of God, rather than well-intentioned vows of men.
Why the Land Mourns
Hosea 4:3 says,
3 Therefore the land mourns, and everyone who lives in it languishes along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky; and also the fish of the sea disappear.
To mourn had more connotations than wailing for the dead at a funeral. It also meant to repent and even to fast. For example, the Day of Atonement was a day of fasting and mourning and repentance. When Jesus said in Matt. 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” He referred not only to general sadness, but moreso to those who fasted and prayed. These would be given the Comforter, that is, the Holy Spirit. This promise was given in Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort, O comfort My people, says your God.”
Hence, when Hosea tells us that the land was mourning on account of a lack of the knowledge of God, he painted a word picture of fasting. There was a famine in the land, a famine of hearing the word (Amos 8:11, 12), because few men understood the wisdom of God. The Holy Spirit was not imparting revelation of the word, because few studied the law and those who did studied it through their soulish minds that were blinded by an Old Covenant veil.
Not only the people, but the entire creation groaned in travail. The prophet says that the beasts, the birds, and the fish all suffered when men lacked the knowledge of God. Men were supposed to be stewards of God’s creation, exercising dominion according to the mind of God. But when men ruled by their own soulish understanding, death reigned. Spiritual pollution gave rise to earthly pollution, and sin brought many animals to extinction.
The Cause of Stumbling
This problem in the time of Hosea was not limited to the leaders or to the priests. The people themselves lived under the same Old Covenant handicap. So the prophet says in Hosea 4:4-6,
4 Yet let no one find fault, and let none offer reproof; for your people are like those who contend with the priest. 5 So you will stumble by day, and the prophet also will 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 also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
He tells the people not to blame the priests or try to reprove them for their lack of understanding, because the Israelites have the same problem. Not only do the people stumble, but the prophets as well. The great stumbling block is Christ and His purpose or mission. 1 Cor. 1:23 tells us,
23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness.
They did not stumble at the idea of a messiah, but at the idea that He would come to be crucified. The stumbling occurred long before the Messiah arrived, because the same lack of knowledge was evident throughout the time of the Old Covenant. By their actions, the generation that crucified the Messiah only proved their lack of divine wisdom and understanding.
The Failure of the Prophets
There were many prophets in the land, but only a few who truly were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Those who wrote the Scriptures were enlightened in ways that other prophets were not. It is self-evident that there were many prophets who functioned under an Old Covenant mindset, for these were the prophets who stumbled by night (Hosea 4:5). It is important to note that these are not labeled false prophets, but are only called prophets.
We should also note that the classic false prophet in the Old Testament was Balaam, yet some of his prophecies were recorded in Num. 23:18-24 and again in Num. 24:3-9 and 15-19. Can a so-called false prophet give true prophecy? Certainly. His problem was not a lack of the prophetic gift, but that he had subjected that gift to his greed and rebellion. There are many such prophets even today. Many of their prophecies are true and ought to be recognized, even if they speak through an Old Covenant veil. But we need not follow those prophets.
In Ezekiel 14 we read how “some elders of Israel” came to Ezekiel, hoping that he would get a word from God that would confirm their own soulish beliefs or desires. Before they arrived, God spoke to the prophet and posed a question to him in Ezekiel 14:3,
3 Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all?
The answer is that God would indeed speak to them, but that He would answer them according to the idols of their heart. In other words, He would tell them what they wanted to hear, so that they would act upon it, stumble, and fall. Their motive was not to know the mind and will of God, but to try to convince God to give them what they wanted. Like children who pester their parents until they get their own way, men try to coerce God into giving them the desires of their own hearts. So God often gives people the answers that they want, so that they will learn the consequences of their own desires.
Ezekiel 14:9 says,
9 But if the prophet is prevailed upon to speak a word, it is I, the Lord, who have prevailed upon that prophet, and I will stretch out My hand against him and destroy him from among My people Israel.
The prophet stumbles and is judged along with the people. Just because a word is given to a prophet does not mean the people will benefit by that word. Normally, such a word is technically true, but it is given in such a way that men will surely misunderstand it and will misapply it to their own destruction.
Yet the real question is how God can be justified in doing this. Obviously, the people were at fault for trying to impose their carnal will upon God. They ought to have prayed to know His will and then pray that His will might be done. But instead, they pray to establish their own will or to obtain their own desires. If God says no, they often pray more earnestly to change His mind.
Like children, such people lack wisdom. But the question comes down to whether men should bear witness to God, or if God should bear witness to the carnal minds of men.
This is really about the law of witnesses. By two or three witnesses, every matter is established (Deut. 19:15). But if false witnesses arise, they are judged according to the damage that they thought to inflict upon others (Deut. 19:18, 19). A false witness is not only one who commits perjury or one who falsely accuses others. A false witness is one who pretends to bear witness to God, but in fact desires God to bear witness to him.
Such false witnesses do damage to others and to creation itself, for they act according to the idols of their hearts. The amount of damage, then, that they inflict upon others is measured back to them. That is how the people fall into the ditch, and the prophets fall with them.
So Hosea 4:5 tells us that the people “stumble by day, and the prophet also will stumble with you by night.” It was presumed that the prophets were receiving prophetic dreams at night. This portrays a continuous problem, day and night.
God also says in Hosea 4:5, “and I will destroy your mother.” Who is their mother? This brings us back to the original theme of Gomer, Hosea’s wife, who was the mother of three children who represented the people themselves. Hence, the mother is Israel as a nation, and her children are the Israelites (as individuals).
Hosea 4:6 concludes,
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
There were Aaronic priests in Israel who had forgotten the law and had no revelation of the law from the Holy Spirit. But the nation itself was also supposed to be a kingdom of priests to minister to the rest of the world (Exodus 19:6). It was the job of the nation as a whole to receive the revelation of the knowledge of God and to share it with the other nations. But instead, they hoarded it for themselves, thinking that other nations were less capable of understanding the higher principles of the law. Worse yet, in their blindness, the priestly nation itself lacked the revelation of the law, so their spiritual pride had no solid basis whatsoever.
Hosea says that they had “rejected knowledge.” They did not reject soulish knowledge They rejected spiritual knowledge that is acquired only through one’s spirit (or spiritual man, the inner man, the New Creation Man). The solution is to learn the law of God with unveiled eyes, so that we may receive the true knowledge of God, His will, and His New Covenant plan for the earth.