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Hosea 4 contains a condemnation of the priests of Israel for failing to instruct the people about the covenant:

Hosea 4:6 (ESV)

            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.

(A minority of commentators take “I reject you from being a priest to me” as a reference to Israel generally. Even if one were to grant that unlikely point, the remainder of the chapter explicitly singles out the priests for condemnation in their work.)

The pastor of a Christian congregation thus faces a challenge with such a text: How can I preach this passage to a contemporary congregation?  The passage cannot be understood and applied exactly on Hosea’s terms, because no one alive today is an Israelite existing in the Northern Kingdom prior to the Assyrian invasion.

Consider the condemnation in general:  The people who claim to be the people of God do not have a proper knowledge of God.  That lack of knowledge has led to a host of sins (detailed by Hosea) which sins invite the covenant curses coming upon the people.

That same principle applies directly to the people of God today. Our lives directly reflect our knowledge of God.  Hosea explicitly states in 4:1 that a lack love is conjoined to a lack of knowledge of God. In 6:6, Hosea says that God desires such love and knowledge. How then does one obtain the knowledge?

The primary way such knowledge is conveyed in both the OT and the NT is through public instruction. Hosea contains a sharp rebuke of priests who fail to perform their function. The Scripture repeatedly condemns those who take the responsibility of instructing and then fail to rightly perform that function.

From that one could draw various applications: 1) The duty of pastors to rightly teach; 2) the obligation of Christians to be taught; 3) the condemnation of those who fail in this task; 4) the responsibility of Christians toward poor teachers (even if they are not “false” teachers); 5) the responsibility to obtain such knowledge.

James Montgomery Boice took a radically different tact in handling this passage.

To apply this passage to his congregation, Boice went through Romans 1:18, et seq.  Boice argues by analogy based upon Paul’s proposition concerning human knowledge of God in Romans 1:18, et seq. (which I have posted in the margin):[1]


How pointedly this all comes down to us! Here we think of the first chapter of Romans—indeed, we can hardly fail to think of it—for the argument brought against Israel in Hosea 4 is precisely the argument that Paul brings against the race as a whole in his great doctrinal epistle. We may even go further. The similarity of ideas and even verbal echoes between these two chapters indicate that Paul probably had Hosea’s chapter in mind as he penned his own indictment of the gentile nations….

Paul is saying three important things in these verses. First, God has given a revelation of himself to all people from which, however, all have departed.

James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, Paperback. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 1:43.

What Boice has done is define the indictment of Hosea 4 in general terms:  Human beings are liable before God for rejecting the knowledge God has given them. That does not mean that the information God has given to humanity generally is the same as the information God gave to Israel in particular:

There is a difference here between Paul’s words to the Gentiles and Hosea words to the Jews, for the Gentiles had less knowledge of God than Israel had. Nevertheless, there is an important similarity, for each has departed from that knowledge, however little or great that knowledge was. In the case of the Gentiles, Paul claims only that there was a knowledge of God’s “eternal power and divine nature.”  That is, the Gentiles knew even without the law of Israel (which they did not possess) that God existed and that he was all-powerful. Israel possessed the bulk of the Old Testament and therefore had great knowledge. She knew God as the holy one of the Law and the faithful one of the covenant. To turn from such knowledge was great sin than the sin of the Gentiles. Nevertheless, the sin was the same in nature and the judgment equally justified. (1:43).

General proposition: Human beings are liable to God for rejecting such knowledge of God as they possess.

Application to all humanity: All human beings have sufficient knowledge to know the existence of a Creator, and thus have a duty to worship their Creator as their Creator.

Application to Israel: Israel possessed the knowledge granted to all humanity and possessed additional knowledge, “the law of your God” (Hosea 4:6).

Note, we cannot argue in the opposite direction: One cannot argue that Israel is responsible for not knowing the law of their God on the ground that God has granted a general revelation of God as Creator to all humanity. Israel is responsible for knowing the terms of the Mosaic Covenant because God specifically and verbally gave Israel the terms of the Covenant. Likewise, Paul does not contend that all people are responsible for knowing the Mosaic Covenant; only that all people are responsible for not responding rightly to such revelation as they have received.

For these reasons, Hosea does not rely upon general revelation to support his charge against the people. Rather, Hosea lays the chief blame upon the priests who did not teach the people the content of the covenant.

Boice then lists out the moral effects upon a people which flow from a rejection of the knowledge of God. Boice does not address the reason which Israel in the context of Hosea rejected knowledge of God, and, therefore, does not answer the question of the priest’s responsibility.

While Boice’s exposition is possible, it seems to have drained the bite out of Hosea’s prophecy, because Boice has place the problem “out there”. Those people outside suffer this moral degradation due to a lack of knowledge. That is true, but Hosea didn’t point at the Assyrians: he pointed to Israelites.

While Boice is an admirable preacher, it seems he failed in part to deliver as pointed as the text requires.



[1] , which reads as follows:

Romans 1:18–32 (ESV)

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.