Join us as we study through Hosea verse by verse. Our discussion questions, teaching points, and applications can help you or your small group get the most out of this book as you grow in understanding and obedience.

Inductive Bible Study Guide For Hosea 4 – In Depth Questions and Applications

I. God accuses Israel (1-3)
II. The people and their leaders lack knowledge (4-6)
III. Idolatry and harlotry are rampant (7-19)

I. God accuses Israel (1-3)

Discussion Questions

  • What does it mean that the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land (1)?
  • What was his accusation toward the people? What kind of problems did they have?
  • What good comments does He make about them?
  • What does it mean that they “break all bounds” (2)?
  • How does this effect the land and the animals? How can people’s sin have this effect on nature?
  • What do you think God might say about the inhabitants of your country today? How does it compare with the time of Hosea?
  • Does God also accuse you when you sin? Explain your answer.

Teaching Points

1. The Lord has a controversy with the people of the land – Here we see one of the key themes of the book of Hosea. In simple terms, God has a problem with the Jews. He is unhappy with them.Their character, choices, and behavior all displease Him. In fact, you can go through this whole chapter and not find one single complement. There is not one single area of their life that God looks favorably on. Sin has completely corrupted them.

2. The list of their sins is long – All of the following sins are mentioned:

  • Faithlessness
  • Lack of love
  • No knowledge
  • Swearing
  • Lying
  • Murdering
  • Stealing
  • Adultery
  • Rebellion
  • Violence

What a terrible list! Many of these sins are direct violations of the Ten Commandments. It is easy to look at this list and think about how wretched the nation of Israel was at this time in history. But what about you? If God were to write a list of your sins, what would it look like? Which of these sins might be on it? What others sins would be listed there?

Our list of sins is long. But praise be to God that those sins were nailed to the cross and “Paid For by the Blood of Christ” is written over your list of sins, covering it forever.

Application: Spend a moment to consider your own sins. Think of any sins you have committed this week, even today. Take a moment in silent prayer and ask God for forgiveness. Ask Him to change these areas of weakness into areas of strength.

3. Sin affects all aspects of God’s creation – In this verse is a bit of a shocking claim. Israel’s sin affects the land, the animals, and even the fish of the sea. Hosea says that “even the fish of the sea are taken away.”

In a general sense this reminds us of the importance of position as stewards of creation. When the head of creation (people) sin, it affects creation itself. Sin always affects others. When parents divorce, the children suffer. When a company owner embezzles money and the company goes bankrupt, employees lose their jobs. We can see this easily in the modern day world today. When factories dump chemicals into water, it kills animals and hurts the environment. If a person carelessly leaves a fire unattended it can destroy an entire forest.

It is not hard to find examples in the modern world where the sin of the steward affects all of nature. But it is less easy to understand how the Jews’ sins specifically affected, land, animal, and fish during the time of Hosea.

Question for discussion: How did the Israelite’s sins cause the fish to be taken away?

The answer that comes to mind is that this must be a divine you “reap you sow” situation where God Himself intervenes in nature to make it reverse providentially work against the Israelites. The land, animals, and fish were the means God provided to take care of them. But when they sinned the land was depleted. It was not abundant, but withheld its fruit.

Haggai 1:10 – Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withhold its fruit.

In chapter 3:21-23 we saw that when the Israelites obey God fully then He will bless the land and its crops. But we see in 4:3 that when they disobey “even the fish of the sea are taken away.” That is an amazing thing to think about. God can and will Himself intervene in nature to cause the fish to swim in the other direction when disobedient sinful Israelites come.

And we know that God has the power to do this and has done it. When the disciples fished all night in their own strength they caught nothing. However, when Jesus told them to cast the net on the other side their nets were immediately full (John 21:6).

The takeaway is this: sin affects every aspect of your life and livelihood. God can providentially work on your behalf causing “all things to work together for good” (Romans 8:28) and shower you with blessings from above. Or He can work against you and cause your labors to be fruitless (Haggai 1). Do not mistake Him for a silent or neutral observer.

2 Chronicles 16:9 – For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth so that He may support those whose heart is completely His.

II. The people and their leaders lack knowledge (4-6)

Discussion Questions

  • What does it mean “let no one contend and let none accuse?” (4)
  • Who specifically does God have a problem with in verses 4-6?
  • What is the key problem mentioned in these verses?
  • Why did the people lack knowledge?
  • Can a person be blamed for ignorance?
  • In your country is there a good excuse for a lack of knowledge about God?
  • Then if a person in a country with access to the Bible and church is ignorant, what are the reasons for this?
  • Share several ways that you can increase in and embrace knowledge?
  • How can leaders help those under them to grow in knowledge?
  • What consequences would they face for their willful ignorance?

Cross-References

Proverbs 18:15 – An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.

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

Proverbs 15:14 – The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.

Psalm 119:66 – Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.

Jeremiah 23:1 – Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.

Proverbs 11:14 – Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 29:2 – When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.

Teaching Points

1. Let no one contend and let no one accuse – God has made known the core issue He has with the people in verse 1-2. They could respond in different ways. One normal way to respond would be to contend.

To contend – Basically this means to argue. The people could have argued with God’s verdict. We all have seen it when people are accused of something and instead of humbly admitting their wrongdoing they respond by arguing. Perhaps they justify their sin, rationalizing it away. Perhaps they offer excuses. Perhaps they directly deny the charges. People’s natural sinful nature to deny and deflect when confronted with their own sin goes all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden. That brings us to the next point.

To accuse – Another respond to being confronted with sin is to accuse others. Adam implied an accusation against God of wrong when he said “the woman you gave me.” Then he went on to accuse the woman “she gave me of the fruit and I ate.” Instead of humbly accepting responsibility for what he had done wrong, Adam contended and accused.

And we often do the same thing.

Here in Hosea God is telling the people that he doesn’t them to respond in this way. There is nothing they can say in their defense.

If contending and accusing is not the right response (and it isn’t), then what is?

The only correct response is to take responsibility for their sin and humbly confess.

Application: How do you respond when people accuse you of wrongdoing? Is your first reaction to argue, to shift blame, to instead accuse them? God wants us to be teachable. We should calmly listen when others point out our sins. First meditate and consider the merit of the charge. And if it is correct, humbly repent.

Proverbs 13:18 – Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.

2. God’s problem is largely with the leaders – While all of the people had sinned, in these verses God specifically calls out their leaders. The priests and prophets were charged with leading the people spiritually. It was their task to shepherd the souls of the nation, to act as a moral conscience, to properly teach God’s laws, and to keep the people on track following the Lord.

But they had grossly failed. Under their watch, the people of the land committed the most horrid of abominations, completely forsaking God and His righteous commands in exchange for chasing after false gods and the wicked immorality they promoted.
Needless to say God was not happy. And the leaders were not going to escape His wrath. The priest was going to stumble by day and the prophet would stumble by night. In short, whatever they pursued would not be successful. It is interesting to compare this verse with what God would do for those who obey Him.

Isaiah 40:31 – But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

God also says that He is going to destroy “your mother.” This is the same phrase used in 2:2 and probably refers to the Israelite nation, of which each individual was like a child.

Application: Are you a leader? You may consider that you are, but if you are a parent, a boss, a ministry leader, or a teacher you are a leader. You need to take your role seriously and shepherd those God has put under your watch.

3. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge – Here is an interesting phrase. Is God a callous God who simply destroys those who don’t know any better? Of course not!

We have to dig a little bit deeper to understand this phrase. And we do this by asking the question, “why did the Israelites lack knowledge?” It is not because knowledge was not available to them. God entrusted the Scriptures to them. He sent them His prophets.

Take for example the list of their sins in verses 1-2. Did they do these things because they didn’t know any better? No. In fact, many of these things were expressly forbidden in the Ten Commandments. They are things that every little Jewish boy and girl should have been taught from the time they could toddle around. The knowledge was available. God made sure to send prophets to fill in the gap and teach directly to the people when priests may not have done their jobs.

So the problem then is that the people “rejected knowledge.” They didn’t want it. When it was right there for the taking they closed their eyes and ears and ran in the other direction. Why?

Proverbs 1:7 says that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

But the people did not fear God. And they didn’t want any part of His rules. Nor were they interested in His wisdom. Again why?

John 3:19 – Men loved the darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil.

Simply put, the people did not want knowledge from God because they preferred doing the foul sins allowed and promoted by the false gods and their prophets. Many of the temples of those false gods for example employed men and women as prostitutes. It was considered an act of worship to engage in sex with one of these temple workers. And they liked it. They preferred the lies of these false gods, which permitted such indulgences, to the truth from God.

Application questions: Is a lack of knowledge about God a problem today? How about in the church? How can we make sure that we do not lack knowledge? How can we help build up our own knowledge and the knowledge of those we lead or influence?

III. Idolatry and harlotry are rampant (7-19)

Discussion Questions

  • What key words are repeated in verses 7-19?
  • What are the main sins that accuses the people of?
  • What do you learn about people in verse 7?
  • What is their mindset toward verse 8?
  • What examples do you see if this in your society?
  • What can you learn from verse 10 about contentment?
  • What is the problem with offering sacrifices in these places? (13)
  • Would the women escape punishment? (14)
  • Why does God say that he would not punish the daughters?
  • Who does Ephraim represent? (17)

Cross-References

1 Timothy 6:6-8 – Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

Philippians 4:11-12 – Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Luke 12:15 – And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Psalm 37:4 – Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Galatians 5:19-21 – Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Exodus 20:3-6 – You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

1 John 5:21 – Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

Teaching Points

1. The more they increased the more they sinned against me – Sin can feed on numbers. In Genesis God told people to spread throughout the earth (Genesis 9:7). One reason that people have a tendency to multiply sins when they congregate together.

Of course they didn’t obey, instead gathering together and building the Tower of Babel.

Here we see the same problem. As Israel increased, so did their sin against God. What is it about numbers that causes sin to abound?

Perhaps their numbers made them proud or emboldened them.

Interestingly, for believers who are dedicated to obeying God, numbers can have the opposite effect. Felowshipping with other believers can keep us accountable and on track. If you hang out with evil people you will become like them, but if you hang out with godly people, they will also influence you.

2. They are greedy for their iniquity – This phrase shows their heart. Pursuing sinful pleasures, they want more and more. A little taste is not enough.

3. They shall eat, but not be satisfied (10) – A very enlightening verse, this phrase shows us the problem of trying to satisfy oneself apart from God. It is impossible. They try to pleasure themselves through worldly and immoral pursuits, but it is never enough. Sin is like that. It is a black hole.

At the beginning a person may just want a taste. Soon their sin gives birth to a hunger for more. It is an appetite that can never be satisfied. Drugs, alcohol, thrill seeking, sex: all of these work the same way. People may start off with a little, but soon greedily pursue more and more, becoming more dissatisfied and unhappy each step of the way.

James describes it like this in 1:14-17 – But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

People are deceived into thinking they can satisfy their own desires by pursuing the world. In reality good gifts that can truly satisfy our desires come from God alone.

Jesus told the women at the well to drink of the “living water.”

John 4:10, 13-14 – Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.

The woman had been living a life of immorality being with five different men. But she was still thirsty. Only Jesus could genuinely quench her thirst. And He can quench yours today.

Application: Is there something in this world that you have set your heart on and are pursuing? Perhaps it is sinful or perhaps it is not in and of itself sinful. But when you set your heart on it, it can become an idol and will never satisfy you. Only God can satisfy. Think for a moment about what desires may have become too important or even an idol to you. Now take it to God and admit to Him that pursuing this yourself can never satisfy you. Ask Him to fill you with His joy and commit to turning to Him for contentment rather than the world.

4. My people inquire of a piece of wood – They have turned to deaf and mute idols instead of the living God. What a foolish trade!

5. They sacrifice on mountains and under trees – God had commanded them to Leviticus 17:2-4, Deuteronomy 12:5-7) bring their sacrifices to the Tent of Meeting (first the tabernacle and later the temple.) An official place under the supervision of the priests would help to ensure that their worship of God remained pure. Instead the people went to offer sacrifices everywhere, just as in the native cultic religions of the people’s in the land. It resulted in syncretism, where many local religious rituals and teachings were mixed together with worship of God.

In these verses, the sacrifices being made are almost surely to those idols and not to God at all. So it was not just a sin of the wrong location, but a sin of worshiping the wrong god, which was idolatry.

6. I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore – God was going to judge the whole nation, men and women. That has already been established in the first three chapters of Hosea. However, the men may wish that God would punish their unfaithful wives and daughters. But the men themselves were doing the same things and they should have been setting a better example. Hypocritically they wanted to mete out judgment to the women, though they were in the wrong themselves. The men of the land had two standards, one for themselves and one for their wives. And God was not going to support their double standard system.

7. Let not Judah become guilty (verse 15) – Exodus 23:2 – You shall not follow a crowd to do evil.

8. Verses 16-18 – A few final notes on these verses:

  • Israel is stubborn. Her stubbornness resulted in a loss of blessings from God. Hosea compares it to a stubborn heifer. The cow owner may give up trying to take a stubborn cow to the pasture and instead let it fend for itself. Israel should have been like a meek lamb instead of a stubborn heifer!
  • Ephraim is joined to idols – Ephraim is another term for the Northern Kingdom. Ephraim was the largest and most powerful tribe in that kingdom.
  • Leave him alone – Sometimes God allows people to go their own way and fully experience the consequences of their own sin (Romans 1:18-32). We should be grateful for His discipline which brings us back to the right way!
  • They shall be ashamed. Eventually their sins would cause them shame and guilt.
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