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 on Hosea 5-6 – Religious Ritual Cannot Bring You to God

Outline:

I. God will discipline Israel for her unfaithfulness (5:1-12)
II. No one but God can help them (5:13-6:3)
III. God sees their hearts and will judge them (6:4-11)

I. God will discipline Israel for her unfaithfulness (1-12)

Discussion Questions

  • Who does Hosea address with this message in chapter 5? (1)
  • What does it mean that the “revolters have gone deep into slaughter?” (2)
  • What does verse 3 teach us about God’s character?
  • How can someone’s deeds keep them from God? (4) What does this teach us about the nature of sin and how it effects a person’s relationship with God?
  • If they were seeking after God (6) then whey did they not find Him?
  • Were they really seeking after God? If not, what were they doing? What other verses in these two chapters refer to their seeking after God? What verses indicate they were not seeking after God? What does this teach us about people?
  • How is God going to deal with them because of their sin?
  • What principles can we learn from this that we can apply to our own attitude when we go to church?
  • Share something you learn from this passage about the heart.
  • Share something you learn from this passage about religious rituals.

Cross-References

Hebrews 4:13 – And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Proverbs 15:3 – The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.

Luke 12:2 2- Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.

Isaiah 59:2 – But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

Psalm 101:7 – No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes.

Isaiah 29:13 – And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.

Teaching Points

1. All levels of society were guilty and responsible – The priests, the house of Israel, and the house of the king are all mentioned in verse 1. The spiritual leaders, the political leaders, and common citizens were all guilty and all would be likewise judged by God.

Society was corrupted from top to bottom. It is normal for people to blame each other. The priests could blame the nobles. The nobles could blame the priests. And they could both blame the people. When Saul was confronted by Samuel for disobeying God’s command he said it was the people’s fault.

In society, every person must take responsibility for their own actions. And here we see that God holds every person responsible. He says that the judgment “applies to you.” That is to each one of them.

Application: Division and hatred is common in many nations today. Many online comments are focused on attacking others. Next time instead of stepping into the fray and arguing, ask yourself how you can improve. What are your responsibilities toward your neighbor, toward your family, and toward the government? And are you doing them? Are you part of the solution or part of the problem?

2. Nothing is hidden from God – In verse 3 God says, “I know Ephraim and Israel is not hidden from me.

God sees all. Every action, every thought, every word: they are all laid bare by the perfect and infinite knowledge of God. The fool says in his heart, “there is no God.” Sin thrives on isolation. The darkness is a haven for wickedness because the sinner believes that nobody will see him. But God always sees.

How should the knowledge that God always sees change your behavior?

Of course the obvious answer is don’t sin because He knows! But for believers it can also be a comfort that He always sees. He knows the struggles you face and He wants to help you.

Application: So next time you face temptation, remember God is watching. He is ready to help you defeat it if you will only pray to Him and ask Him for strength.

3. Sinful deeds create a separation from God that cannot be bridged through religious ritual –

Verse 4: “Their deeds will not allow them to return to God.”

Isaiah 59:2 – But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

God is holy. He cannot accept people who spit in His face by routinely breaking His righteous laws. This is not because of a lack of love, but because of His just character, which cannot bend.

And at the same time they were zealously pursuing harlotry. In verse 11 it says that they were determined to go after filth. God could not have a close relationship with people chasing after sin like this and people did not want to have a real relationship with God because they preferred the momentary pleasure of sin.

But notice that they didn’t completely reject even the appearance of following God. In verse 6 it says that they “will go with their flocks and herds to seek the Lord, but they will not find Him.”

How can this be? Does God reject people who earnestly seek Him?

He does not.

Jeremiah 29:13 – You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

The answer to this seeming dilemma is that they did not seek Him with all their heart. They were not earnest. While they continued to go to the temple and offer sacrifices, it was only the appearance of seeking God. Their heart was not in it. It was a rule. A tradition. A habit. Culture. It was not genuine love or repentance. And because they did not genuinely turn to God, He did not accept them. Verse 6 says that He has “withdrawn” from them.

God is not interested in eloquent speech. When King Nebuchadnezzar became prideful and exalted himself, God turned him into a wild beast for seven years. At the end of the that time as a beast he “raised his eyes toward heaven” and God immediately restored him (Daniel 4). Nebuchadnezzar did not make a speech. He did not even make a sacrifice. But in his heart he repented. God acknowledged that repentance and he was restored. Nebuchadnezzar could have offered one hundred thousand animal sacrifices to God and stood and made an impassioned speech about the Lord, but if he didn’t truly repent God would not have accepted Him.

The problem with Israelites is that they were not yet truly repentant. In their culture they had lingering traditions of worshiping God and paid Him lip service. But their hearts did not belong to Him.

The lesson for us is clear. Many parts of the world, especially Europe and the United States, are quite similar to the Israel of Hosea’s time. There is a lot of religion. People generally identify as Christian (Europe increasingly less so). Religious rituals are commonplace. Baptisms and christenings and Christian weddings are the norm.

In 2019 my family visited relatives in Europe. We saw the huge cathedrals. Statues and stained glass windows abounded. And yet the church was practically dead. Was the religion dead? No. Even in Austria the Catholic church automatically deducts 10% of salary from their members bank accounts. Schools have religious classes. But there are very few real believers. Religious ritual does not bring people close to God.

I fear that the United States is not far behind. In the South, religious culture is dominant. Many people grow up going to church and attending religious functions. But in some cases it is like a club. For some people it is tradition. Habit. Culture. Rules. But they may be pursuing the world while going to church and talking like a Christian on Sunday. Religious ritual does not bring people close to God.

Only Jesus can do that. Are you a follower of Jesus or are you a Christian in name only? Do you have one foot in the world and one foot in church? It is time to commit yourself fully to the Lord, to forsaking the world and following Jesus in obedience no matter what the cost.

4. God will pour out His wrath on them – He says in verse 10 “I will pour out my wrath like water.”

One theme repeated throughout this chapter (and the book) is God’s judgment. Almost every single verse mentions God’s judgment in some form (1, 2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15). Here are some of the ways He is going to judge them and some of the words used:

  • Judgment applies to you.
  • I will chastise all of them.
  • He has withdrawn from them (separation from God is the ultimate punishment).
  • The new moon will devour them with their land.
  • Ephraim will become a desolation.
  • I will pour out My wrath like water.
  • Ephraim is crushed in judgment.
  • I am like a moth to Ephraim and rottenness to the house of Judah.
  • I will [like a lion] tear them in pieces.
  • I will go away.

God is not happy. He is going to judge them.

Being the recipient of God’s wrath is a terrible place to find yourself. The only thing worse than temporary separation from and punishment by God is eternal separation and punishment.

Here are two questions you should ask yourself and each person in your Bible study.

#1 – If you were to die tonight, are you sure that you would go to heaven?

#2 – If God were to ask you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?

5. People are determined to go after filth – Verse 11 highlights to total depravity of man. It is quite similar to Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Application: The things of the world are at best temporary and at worst, filth. Spend your time, your energy, your talents, and your money pursuing Jesus, the pearl of great price. What is one thing you can give up this week that is distracting you from Jesus? What is one way you can pursue Him this week?

II. No one but God can help them (5:13-6:3)

Discussion Questions

  • Where did Israel turn to for help?
  • What are some places that people today turn to for help instead of to God?
  • What could Assyria do for them?
  • Compare and contrast verse 15 and verse 6.
  • What does Israel resolve to do in 6:1?
  • What did they believe God would do on their behalf?
  • Would God respond as they expected?

Cross-References

Proverbs 8:17 – I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.

1 Chronicles 16:11 – Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!

Psalm 9:10 – And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Jeremiah 29:12-14 – Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Isaiah 55:6-7 – Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Teaching Points

1. They turned to Assyria, but they could not help –

Hosea 5:13 – When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his wound, then Ephraim went to Assyria, and sent to the great king. But he is not able to cure you or heal your wound.

Assyria was the most powerful kingdom at this time in history. But Assyria could not help. Obviously they could not solve Israel’s sin problem, but they couldn’t and didn’t solve any other problems. In fact, Assyria would soon turn on Israel, conquer it, and send all its people into captivity!

When you think about it, it is quite interesting. Israel had a spiritual problem. The spiritual problem was the root of all their problems. And yet they turned to something physical for help. It seems so obvious to us that Assyria cannot help. Is Assyria going to help them turn back from idols? Of course not. Is Assyria going to encourage them to turn to the Lord? Of course not.

And yet many people today do the same thing. They have a spiritual problem which causes stress, worry, guilt, shame, and fear. But rather than turning to God they turn to the world. Rather than solving the root of their problems by addressing the spiritual issue, they turn to worldly band-aid solutions that can never hope to cure their wounds.

Here are a few examples:

  • I am stressed about my job so I will eat chocolate. Chocolate and coffee can never really solve problems!
  • I feel guilty so I will grab a beer to drowned it out.
  • I am upset about marriage problem so I will “escape” by going hiking.
  • I am angry about broken relationships so I will talk to a psychologist.
  • I am unhappy with my life so I will devour self-help books.

The list goes on and on. Just as Assyria could not solve Israel’s real problem, so worldly solutions cannot solve your problems. We need real healing. We need spiritual healing. We need to go to the right source for help.

Application: There may be a problem in your life that you have been seeking the wrong solution in the wrong place. Spend a moment to pray to God. Tell Him that He is the only solution. Ask Him for help.

2. No one can rescue them from God’s judgment – In verse 14 God compared Himself to a lion and said that after he took them away there would be “none to deliver.” Assyria could not deliver Israel from God’s hands. Amazingly, God actually used Assyria (the one they were turning to for help) as His instrument of judgment.

3. Their guilt would remain until they genuinely repented – How long was this situation going to go on? How long until God would relent and forgive them? The answer is simple. God would relent when they truly repented and earnestly seek Him.

Remember that they already pretended to seek Him. Sometimes they talked of God or even offered sacrifices. But God saw their heart. When there was a heart change, He would willingly welcome them again.

It reminds us of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The father waited each day for his son to return. He was very willing to forgive and welcome his son back. But his son had to make the choice to give up the world and return to his father. Once that happened, the father forgave him immediately.

4. In the future, there will be a time of genuine repentance for Israel – It is easiest to understand 6:1-3 as a still future decision to turn to the Lord that Israel has not yet made. It is prophesied here and in other books that one day it will happen. It will be a truly beautiful day when the long prodigal son comes home. And God will welcome them and come to them like a lovely spring rain watering the parched earth.

III. God sees their hearts and will judge them (6:4-11)

Discussion Questions

  • What does it mean in verse 4 that their love is “like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away?”
  • Because they were fickle, what did God do?
  • What principle can we learn from verse 6?
  • How can we apply this truth today?
  • What do we learn in verses 8-12 about the people?
  • Describe the nation of Israel in one word.

Cross-References

1 Kings 18:21 – And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.

Matthew 9:13 – Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

1 Samuel 15:22-23 – “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,  as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”

Teaching Points

1. They are fickle –

Verse 4 – “Your loyalty is like a morning cloud and like the dew which goes away early.”

At times Israel may have attempted some self-reformation. Perhaps after a prophet’s warnings they would publicly declare their allegiance to God. We know this was the case after Elijah’s challenge to Baal. The people killed Baal’s prophets and appeared to have a revival. But after that most turned back to worshiping Baal and many more were killed by Jehu. This too may have led to a short-term uptick in religion. But none of these apparent revivals lasted.

Nowadays it is also common for people to turn to God after a catastrophe in their life, only to slowly forget about Him as things get back to normal. After September 11, 2001 there was a spike in church attendance. But it only lasted for a while.

In similar manner, people may attempt to turn over a new leaf. Rejecting their lifestyle, they throw themselves into church. But if the Holy Spirit has not regenerated their heart, they too will fail.

God was still going to judge them because they were fickle and were not truly committed to following after Him.

2. God prefers love and not religious ritual – Verse 6 is famous and was quoted by Jesus in Matthew 9:13. Some translation render this “steadfast love.” Others render it “loyalty.” After going through Aramaic and then Greek and then back to English (Jesus spoke Aramaic which was translated to Greek for the New Testament and then that was translated to English), Matthew 9:13 quotes this word as “mercy.”

Whichever word is chosen, the point remains. God cares about the motivations of the heart more than the outward actions. People could offer sacrifices to him every day of the year, but if they didn’t love Him and were not loyal to Him, then these would be meaningless.

The sacrifices were not the end goal. It wasn’t about the rules of offering sacrifices. These were meant to show people the seriousness of their sin and point them to God for forgiveness. Sacrifices should have instilled in them a profound knowledge of and appreciation for God’s mercy. But that had become a mere external rule to follow. The idea seems to have been, “Go, do your sin. Then come back and offer a sacrifice. Everything will be fine.”

God is saying, “everything is not fine.” The heart of worship is so important. Jesus said to worship in “spirit and in truth.”

Application Questions: How could this principle apply today? What rules might people follow externally without their hearts being committed to God? What are some religious rituals which we can compare to sacrifices? How can you make sure your heart is in the right place before worship/church, etc.?

3. They are faithless – Verses 7-10 describe more of Israel’s treachery. Bloody. Violent. Lustful. Faithless. Breakers of the covenant. There is nothing to good to say about them at all.

4. God will one day restore them – Slipped in at the very end of this chapter is a glimmer of hope. God will one day restore the fortunes of His people. Their rebellion will not last forever. His judgment will not last forever. One day they will return to Him and one day He will accept them.

Application: Think of one person you know who like the Israelites is rebelling against God. Perhaps you think that there is no way back for this person, that he is “too far gone.” But God can change hearts. He can save the most vile of sinners. Resolve to pray regularly for this person’s salvation, trusting that God can change them.

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