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(This is an initial outline and observations on Hosea 4:1-3)
Hosea 4:1–3 (ESV)

4 Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel,
for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
and no knowledge of God in the land;
2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Therefore the land mourns,
and all who dwell in it languish,
and also the beasts of the field
and the birds of the heavens,
and even the fish of the sea are taken away.


This text consists of four parts:

First, a command

Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel,

Second, the basis of the command

for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.

Third, the substance of the “controversy”:

There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
and no knowledge of God in the land;
2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.

Fourth, the results of bad acts (which are the substance of the controversy):

3 Therefore the land mourns,
and all who dwell in it languish,
and also the beasts of the field
and the birds of the heavens,
and even the fish of the sea are taken away.

I. The command: Hear or Listen to the word of the Lord.

A. What is it to hear/listen

1. It is not bare auditory reception.
2. It is hearing coupled with response: there must be an acknowledgement which goes beyond a passive “hearing”.

B. What is meant by the “word of the Lord”?

II. What is meant by a “controversy”?

A. Translations:

ESV: controversy
NET: covenant lawsuit
HCSB/NASB95: case
NIV/NIV84: charge

B. What do we make of this?

1. A legal proceeding.

2. The covenant between YHWH and Israel

III. What is the substance of the charge

A. What Israel has not done

1. The specific elements

a. no faithfulness

i. This element is often found in conjunction with hesed/steadfast love

Genesis 24:27 (ESV)
27 and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.”

Genesis 24:27 (ESV)
27 and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.”

2 Samuel 2:6 (ESV)
6 Now may the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you. And I will do good to you because you have done this thing.

See, also gen. 24:48-49

ii. It is a characteristic of God

Exodus 34:6–7 (ESV)
6 The Lord passed befor
e him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

2 Samuel 7:28 (ESV)
28 And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant.

Jeremiah 10:10 (ESV)
10 But the Lord is the true God;
he is the living God and the everlasting King.
At his wrath the earth quakes,
and the nations cannot endure his indignation.

iii. It is an aspect of God’s goodness

Isaiah 38:19 (ESV)
19 The living, the living, he thanks you,
as I do this day;
the father makes known to the children
your faithfulness.

Isaiah 42:3 (ESV)
3 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

Isaiah 61:8 (ESV)
8 For I the Lord love justice;
I hate robbery and wrong;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

Jeremiah 32:41 (ESV)
41 I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.

iv It is an element of true worship/life before God

Joshua 24:14 (ESV)
14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.

1 Samuel 12:24 (ESV)
24 Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you.

1 Kings 2:1–4 (ESV)
When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, 2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, 3 and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, 4 that the Lord may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’

2 Kings 20:3 (ESV)
3 “Now, O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Isaiah 10:20 (ESV)
20 In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.

v. It is what God requires:

Ezekiel 18:5–9 (ESV)
5 “If a man is righteous and does what is just and right— 6 if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, 7 does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 8 does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, 9 walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God.

(This has multiple parallels to Hosea 4:1-3)

v. It is truth in communication

1 Kings 22:16 (ESV)
16 But the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?”6 And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom,

vi. It is security in the social world:

2 Kings 20:19 (ESV)
19 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”

vii. God condemns its lack among his people:

Isaiah 48:1 (ESV)
Hear this, O house of Jacob,
who are called by the name of Israel,
and who came from the waters of Judah,
who swear by the name of the Lord
and confess the God of Israel,
but not in truth or right.

Isaiah 59:14–15 (ESV)
14 Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
and uprightness cannot enter.
15 Truth is lacking,
and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.

Jeremiah 9:4 (ESV)
4 Let everyone beware of his neighbor,
and put no trust in any brother,
for every brother is a deceiver,
and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer.

b. no steadfast love

This is the goodness of relationship between human beings and between human beings and God:

1. joint obligation between relatives, friends, host and guest, master and servant; closeness, solidarity, loyalty: a) חֶסֶד and בְּרִית (שֹׁמֵר הַבְּ׳ וְהַח׳ Dt 79, with שָׁמַר 712); בּ׳ comes about by a ceremony ח׳ results from the closer relationship between two people, the obligations are largely the same; ח׳ וֶאֱמֶת Gn 2427.49 and אֱמוּנָה וְח׳ Ps 8925 lasting loyalty, faithfulness; עָשָׂה ח׳ to show loyalty Gn 2123 Jos 212 Ju 124 835 1S 156 208 2S 38 91.7 102 Ru 18 1C 192; b) ח׳ exists between a son and a dying father Gn 4729, a wife and a husband Gn 2013 (cf. Jr 22 || אַהֲבָה), relatives Ru 220, guests Gn 1919, friends 1S 208 2S 91, people who do each other a service Ju 124, king and people 2S 38 2C 2422; c) > esp.: אִישׁ ח׳ confidant Pr 1117, cj. אִישׁ חַסְדְּךָ your faithful servant Dt 338 (alt. favourite) אַנְשֵׁי ח׳ the godly Is 571; מַלְכֵי ח׳ loyal kings 1K 2031; אִישׁ חַסְדּוֹ each one’s faithfulness Pr 206; d) community > protection Ps 1442 (prp. חָסְנִי), > favour Ezr 29.17 (חֵן וָח׳), ח׳ לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ the favour of the king Ezr 728; תּוֹרַת ח׳ kind teaching Pr 3126; charm (of flowers) Is 406 (cf. MHb. חסודה lovely, cj. חֶמְדּוֹ); —2. ח׳ in God’s relationship with the people or an individual, faithfulness, goodness, graciousness: a) ח׳ י׳ Ps 335 10317, ח׳ אֱלֹהִים 2S 93 Ps 5210; ח׳ עֶלְיוֹן 218; לְעוֹלָם חַסדּוֹ Jr 3311 Ps 1361-26 1005 1061 1071 1181-4.29 Ezr 311; cj. Ps 44 (rd. חַסדּוֹ לִי) and 122 (rd. חֶסֶד), בְּחַסְדְּךָ in your faithfulness (to me) 14312; mercy חָפֵץ ח׳ :: אַף Mi 718; b) עָשָׂה ח׳ to show faithfulness with עִם Ru 18, with לְ Ex 206 and above (→ 1a); שָׁמַר ח׳ Dt 79 Da 94 and נָצַר ח׳ to keep faithfulness Ex 347 זָכַר ח׳ to remember Ps 983, עָזַב ח׳ מֵעִם to withdraw faithfulness Gn 2427; c) God is רַב ח׳ abounding in faithfulness Ex 346 Nu 1418 Jl 213 Jon 42 Ps 865.15 1038 Neh. 917; —3. pl. חֲסָדִים, חֲסָדַי etc. the individual actions resulting from solidarity: a) (of people) godly action, achievements: by Nehemiah Neh 1314, Hezekiah 2C 3232, Josiah 3526; b) (God’s) proofs of mercy Gn 3211 Is 637 Ps 892 Lam 322; חַסְדֵי דָוִיד mercies shown to David Is 553 2C 642; רַחֲמִים וַחֲסָדִים Ps 256; —Ps 523 rd. חָסִיד, Pr 2028b rd. בַּצֶּדֶק (?).

Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 336–337.

c. no knowledge of God in the land

Joshua 4:23–24 (ESV)
23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”

1 Kings 8:59–60 (ESV)
59 Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, 60 that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.

Isaiah 5:11–14 (ESV)
11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
that they may run after strong drink,
who tarry late into the evening
as wine inflames them!
12 They have lyre and harp,
tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts,
but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord,
or see the work of his hands.
13 Therefore my people go into exile
for lack of knowledge;
their honored men go hungry,
and their multitude is parched with thirst.
14 Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite
and opened its mouth beyond measure,
and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down,
her revelers and he who exults in her.

Isaiah 11:2 (ESV)
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Jeremiah 9:5 (ESV)
5 Everyone deceives his neighbor,
and no one speaks the truth;
they have taught their tongue to speak lies;
they weary themselves committing iniquity.

Ezekiel 38:16 (ESV)
16 You will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the land. In the latter days I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

Malachi 2:7 (ESV)
7 For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.
(God will condemn the priests for not teaching in the remainder of Hosea 4)

Proverbs 1:7 (ESV)
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Which implies that the people addressed by Hosea do not have the fear of the Lord; rather, they are “fools”
Proverbs 1:29 (ESV)
29 Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the Lord,

2. Why are these particular things important?

A. These are the prerequisites for serving God and for living rightly in society. There can be no right action before man or God without right knowledge of relationship to God (knowledge of God).

B. We can think of these as a summary of the covenant obligations: Knowledge of God and right life before God and with men. Or,

Mark 12:28–34 (ESV)
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

(Note also “hearing”).

B. What Israel has done?

1. there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.

2. Details of these elements:

a. Swearing

1 Kings 8:31–32 (ESV)
31 “If a man sins against his neighbor and is made to take an oath and comes and swears his oath before your altar in this house, 32 then hear in heaven and act and judge your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness.

Hosea 10:4 (ESV)
4 They utter mere words;
with empty oaths they make covenants;
so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds
in the furrows of the field.

Matthew 5:33–37 (ESV)
33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

James 5:12 (ESV)
12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

b. Lying

כָּחַשׁ (kā·ḥǎš): v.; ≡ Str 3584; TWOT 975—1. LN 23.142–23.184 (qal) be thin, become lean, i.e., lose body weight as an indication of lack of health (Ps 109:24+), see also domain LN 86.1–86.3; 2. LN 17.20 (nif) cringe, cower, i.e., bow in submission, but in fear and not in respect or relationship, as an extension of lying or not being truthful in the relationship (Dt 33:29+); (piel) cringe, cower (Ps 18:45[EB 44]; 66:3; 81:16[EB 15]+); (hitp) cringe, cower (2Sa 22:45+); 3. LN 33.251–33.255 (piel) lie, deceive, i.e., to not tell the truth by speaking lies, or acting in deception (Ge 18:15; Lev 5:21[EB 6:2],22[EB 6:3]; 19:11; Jos 7:11; 24:27; 1Ki 13:18; Isa 59:13; Jer 5:12; Hos 4:2; Zec 13:4+), see also domain LN 72; 4. LN 57.37–57.48 (piel) fail, lack, i.e., not have enough of a quantity of items (Hos 9:2; Hab 3:17+); 5. LN 34.31–34.39 (piel) disown, i.e., to no longer be in association, and so be unfaithful (Job 8:18; 31:28; Pr 30:9+)

James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

Leviticus 19:11 (ESV)
11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.

c. Murder

Exodus 20:13 (ESV)
13 “You shall not murder.

Numbers 35:30–34 (ESV)
30 “If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. 31 Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death. 32 And you shall accept no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the high priest. 33 You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34 You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.”

d. Adultery

Exodus 20:14 (ESV)
14 “You shall not commit adultery.

Jeremiah 23:9–14 (ESV)
9 Concerning the prophets:
My heart is broken within me;
all my bones shake;
I am like a drunken man,
like a man overcome by wine,
because of the Lord
and because of his holy words.
10 For the land is full of adulterers;
because of the curse the land mourns,
and the pastures of the wilderness are dried up.
Their course is evil,
and their might is not right.
11 “Both prophet and priest are ungodly;
even in my house I have found their evil,
declares the Lord.
12 Therefore their way shall be to them
like slippery paths in the darkness,
into which they shall be driven and fall,
for I will bring disaster upon them
in the year of their punishment,
declares the Lord.
13 In the prophets of Samaria
I saw an unsavory thing:
they prophesied by Baal
and led my people Israel astray.
14 But in the prophets of Jerusalem
I have seen a horrible thing:
they commit adultery and walk in lies;
they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that no one turns from his evil;
all of them have become like Sodom to me,
and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.”

(There are multiple parallels with Hosea 4-5)

C. The list of what has and has not been done roughly parallel the Ten Commandments

IV. The Results of the Sin

A. De-creation:

1. Zephaniah 1:2–6 (ESV)
2 “I will utterly sweep away everything
from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.
3 “I will sweep away man and beast;
I will sweep away the birds of the heavens
and the fish of the sea,
and the rubble with the wicked.
I will cut off mankind
from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.
4 “I will stretch out my hand against Judah
and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;
and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal
and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests,
5 those who bow down on the roofs
to the host of the heavens,
those who bow down and swear to the Lord
and yet swear by Milcom,
6 those who have turned back from following the Lord,
who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.”

2. This is a specific instance of the general curse of the Fall:

Genesis 3:17–19 (ESV)
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

Romans 8:19–22 (ESV)
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

3. When God brings judgment, he removes his blessing – which entails even the existence of the created order.

B. Common Grace is implied here. Discuss that doctrine?

V. Use

Use 1. Israel’s fault was first not listen. Therefore, we must know how to listen rightly. Hebrews 3-4

Use 2. Why did Israel fall into this sin? Because they stopped hearing, they stopped listening to the word of the Lord.

a. Why does one stop listening?

1. Idolatry (Ps. 115/Mark 4:9)
2. Trials and riches: Mark 4:1-20
3. Heb. 3:12-13

Use 3. Why does God call Israel to hear if he has convicted Israel of crime and has already pronounced sentence? God’s pronouncement of judgment is first meant to sound an alarm to bring sinners to repentance. Jonah 4

Ezekiel 18:21–23 (ESV)
21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?

Repent and believe

Mark 1:14–15 (ESV)
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”