In the passage we’re looking at today, Israel’s apostasy is described through five basic areas of conduct.
3 I know all about Ephraim; Israel is not hidden from me. Ephraim, you have now turned to prostitution; Israel is corrupt. 4 “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the LORD. 5 Israel’s arrogance testifies against them; the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin; Judah also stumbles with them. 6 When they go with their flocks and herds to seek the LORD, they will not find him; he has withdrawn himself from them. 7 They are unfaithful to the LORD; they give birth to illegitimate children. When they celebrate their New Moon feasts, he will devour their fields.
Whereas God’s infinite and intimate knowledge of us is normally a comforting thought, here it is terrifying. David, for example, exulted in God’s knowledge of him. In Psalm 139:1-6 he says…
1 You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Thus, later David invites God’s all-seeing eye to peer into his heart, even to see the darkness within him…
23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Thus A. W. Tozer, in his little book The Knowledge of the Holy, says…
That God knows each person through and through can be a cause of shaking fear to the man that has something to hide – some unforsaken sin, some secret crime committed against man or God. The unblessed soul may well tremble that God knows the flimsiness of every pretext and never accepts the poor excuses given for sinful conduct, since He knows perfectly the real reason for it. “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.” How frightful a thing to see the sons of Adam seeking to hide among the trees of another garden. But where shall they hide? “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?… If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day.”
On the other hand, Tozer goes on to point out the positive side of God’s complete knowledge of us…
And to us who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope that is set before us in the gospel, how unutterably sweet is the knowledge that our Heavenly Father knows us completely. No talebearer can inform on us, no enemy can make an accusation stick; no forgotten skeleton can come tumbling out of some hidden closet to abash us and expose our past; no unsuspected weakness in our characters can come to light to turn God away from us, since He knew us utterly before we knew Him and called us to Himself in the full knowledge of everything that was against us. “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.”
The idea of God knowing us and our deeds is carried into the final book of the New Testament, in Revelation 2-3 God says several times…I know you.
In Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus communicates individual messages to seven different churches. Each message begins with the same two words: “I know.” He is the first and the last, the Amen, the holy and true one who walks among his churches, and he knows.
“I know where you dwell.” Jesus described Pergamum as “where Satan’s throne is.” It’s hard to imagine how bad the situation in that city had to be to warrant such a diagnosis and yet, there were saints–men and women who were holding fast to Jesus’ name and refusing to deny his faith. Wherever you are today, Jesus knows.
“I know your works.” Christians sprinkled throughout Asia were faithfully serving, toiling on, patiently enduring. In the eyes of the world, they had “little power,” but Jesus would continue to set before them open doors of opportunity. “Do not fear.” “Hold fast.” “Be faithful.” “I am coming.” Wherever you are serving today, Jesus knows.
“I know your love.” Some had abandoned the love they had at first. Others were lukewarm. Some had the reputation of being alive, but they were dead. Jesus spoke hard-to-hear, straightforward rebukes to many. “Wake up.” “You are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” “Repent.” But notice the heart behind the rebukes: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.” However you have stumbled, Jesus continues to patiently stand at the door and graciously knock with love in his heart for you.
“I know.” Jesus knows how to grant me the right to the tree of life. Jesus knows how to clothe you in white garments, give you a new name, and confess you before his Father. Jesus knows how to keep us from being hurt by the second death.
The emphasis in Hosea 5 is on God himself, “I, I have known…” It is the plaintive cry of a husband, one who deeply and intimately knows his wife, and yet here he sees in her the black treacherous heart. God’s knowledge is never perfunctory and cold, but deep and emotive.
Here God says, “I know all about Ephraim; Israel is not hidden from me.” Nothing escapes God’s attention, no outward pieties can cover over the blackened hearts of unfaithful Israel. His knowledge is all-comprehensive. Hebrews 4:13 says,
13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Derek Kidner reminds us:
To Hosea, of all the prophets, this was crucial; and elsewhere in the Old Testament the deep thrust of God’s knowledge, however painful it may initially be, is seen as something to be welcomed, for it means that He knows the worst, and yet persists with us.
Yahweh knew Israel well; He had not been deceived and fallen into a trap, as the Israelites had. Though they may no longer know God (v. 4), He knows them through and through.
Of course, Israel did not seem to even be trying to hide their harlotries anymore, practicing them on hills and under trees.
Ephraim, you have now turned to prostitution; Israel is corrupt.
Ever since Jeroboam I had installed calf-idols Dan and Bethel, the institutions of Israel had been guiding the people into apostasy and immorality, with the result that they had all become defiled—loathsome to God.
Instead of humbling themselves before Yahweh, they flaunted their worship of false gods. Due to their spirit of whoredom, the Israelites are incapable of either knowing or pursuing their covenant partner.
Theologically speaking, this may be labeled “total depravity,” in the sense that no aspect of the people’s collective personality is untouched by the spirit of spiritual apostasy. Their inner minds lead to visible deeds, which make impossible any sense of repentance or turning to God. It is this state of reprobation that they cannot change and, apart from an act of providential grace on God’s part, can never change. At this stage, no simple appeal to listen will be heard, for they cannot listen. In other words, the call to hear in verse 1 stands as a rhetorical witness against the people. Their inability to heed is part of the complex of hardened rebellion. It is as if they were criminally insane, psychopaths with no conscience, unable to function normally. It takes more than prophetic appeal to reason with such people. Other measures are required to wake them from their deathly stupor.
That near impossibility of return is expressed in these words in Hosea 5:4
4 “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the LORD.
The Bible hold two truths in tension, as it does so often. First, that repentance is always a possibility, and second, that corruption can so enslave a soul that repentance becomes a practical impossibility. This verse focuses on that latter truth.
This “spirit of prostitution” (idolatry) had been first mentioned back in chapter 4:12…
A spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God.
Something deeper is going on than merely the acts of spiritual harlotry. Their very hearts, their inner spirits, had been given over to evil spirits who prompted and promoted, biasing and inclining them to a worship loathsome to Yahweh. They were so ensnared, so addicted to sin, that their hearts were taken over.
Yahweh had been forgotten (2:15); they are totally ignorant of Him; the idea of returning to Him no longer enters their minds. It cannot.
The word Paul used to describe such a condition is “hardening”; and that is exactly what had happened to northern Israel and would in time happen to the southern Israel also. It would happen again when Jesus came. He was rejected by His own.
Speaking of Israel as it existed at this juncture, Smith wrote that, “According to Hosea, return for Israel is now no longer a human possibility.” He also elaborated the basic reasons why this was true: (1) sin robs a man of his faculty for God and of the strength of will to obey God; (2) the whole fabric of the nation’s social, economic, political, and religious life was interwoven with the lustful indulgences of paganism; and (3) there was no longer any true knowledge of God among the people. Without that knowledge, it was impossible to achieve either any communion with God or any kind of human conduct consistent with the terms of their ancient covenant with Jehovah.
That they were unfaithful to “their God” makes the sin all the more grievous. It amplifies their ingratitude. He, whom they would not turn to, still owned them. He, upon whom they turned their backs, still was good to them. But they acknowledged it not.
Albert Barnes notes:
They did not turn to God,
(1) because the evil spirit held them, and so long as they allowed his hold, they were filled with carnal thoughts which kept them back from God.
(2) they did not know God; so that, not knowing how good and how great a good He is in Himself, and how good to us, they had not even the desire to turn to Him, for love of Himself, yea even for love of themselves. They saw not, that they lost a loving God.
And John Trapp sounds this warning:
That is, they are so habituated and hardened in sinful practices, that they are not only disenabled to conversion, but evil affected thereunto: they stand across to all good; to their sinews of iron they have added bows of brass, Isaiah 48:4; to their sin they add rebellion, which is as bad as witchcraft, 1 Samuel 15:23; till at length they lose all passive power also of being converted, and so are transformed, as it were, into so many devils: having by custom contracted a necessity of sinning, they are become incurable; they neither will nor can return to their God
We do well to ask ourselves, “What is the dynamic, energizing power of my life—the reality of God’s Spirit, or an alien spirit hostile to the purposes and knowledge of God?”
Verse 5 points out the primary reason that their hearts are unwilling to turn back to Yahweh. In addition to the spiritual forces of wickedness, it is their pride. Proverbs continually warns us that pride comes before the fall and this is what we see illustrated in Israel’s history in verse 5:
5 Israel’s arrogance testifies against them; the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin; Judah also stumbles with them.
Pride is the sin; stumbling is the consequence. Whether intellectual pride, moral pride, or spiritual pride, the results are the same. Through pride, we think of ourselves as “god” rather than man and do not bow down to Him.
Stumbling here is serious, meaning that they fell. Not only did the Northern Kingdom fall to Assyria in 722 B.C. but they influenced Judah to follow in their footsteps. Judah last another 150 years, but eventually fell to Babylon in 586 B.C. Although Hosea seems to hope that Judah will avoid destruction, he realizes that his hope is vain. This passage anticipates Ezekiel 23.
Their pride will “testify against them” in the court of national opinion as they fall to rival powers.
O, Israel would still be religious. Verse 6 says…
6 When they go with their flocks and herds to seek the LORD, they will not find him; he has withdrawn himself from them.
Amos 5:4-5 contrasts authentic turning to Yahweh with pilgrimages to shrines. There is evidence that the people were very religious during this era. But no matter how many sacrifices they made (Micah speaks of “thousands of rams…ten thousand rivers of oil,” 6:7)…no matter how much they made sacrifice, ostensibly to “seek the Lord,” He would not be found. They were not sincere in their seeking. They didn’t come to Yahweh repenting of their sins.
Israel was treating Yahweh like Baal, redoubling their efforts to bend his will to theirs. Instead of contrite heart, they brought gifts to their gods.
David noted that God didn’t want this. In Psalm 51:16-17…
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
God had withdrawn from them, not in the sense C. S. Lewis spoke of, where God withdraws in sense so that we might learn to trust Him and obey Him without any overt evidences of Him in the universe.
God had withdrawn because…
7 They are unfaithful to the LORD; they give birth to illegitimate children. When they celebrate their New Moon feasts, he will devour their fields.
Israel was faithless, turning their backs upon Yahweh, who had been so good to them, to pursue the Baals. They were acting treacherously. Isaiah 24:16b says it this way:
“The treacherous betray! With treachery the treacherous betray!”
Ultimate betrayal and disloyalty is what they had shown Yahweh.
The repudiation of covenant bonds is akin to the rejection of national loyalty, as in the case of treason. Israel’s action, or our own, was treasonable to the extent that it represented a basic betrayal of loyalty and commitment.
Israel’s treachery resulted in her giving birth to illegitimate children. The metaphor looks back to the prostitution that 5:3 mentions. It also implies that the apostasy of the Israelite culture and their leaders had given rise to a generation that could more accurately be called children of Baal than children of Yahweh. They were “not my people” but Baal’s. The term “illegitimate” is literally “foreign,” which can refer to sexual liaison outside of marriage or, as in the English, another nation or culture. Hosea seems to employ both senses. They were children of apostasy/adultery, and they were children of foreign gods.
They no longer acted like children of Yahweh, so He make that formal—that they no longer belonged to Him.