Hosea 4:9-14 And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds. 10 They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the LORD to cherish 11 whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding. 12 My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. 13 They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters play the whore, and your brides commit adultery. 14 I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes and sacrifice with cult prostitutes, and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.
On an exciting morning where we have commissioned a new pastor it seems appropriate to spend some time in a text describing what’s at stake in taking on the reigns of leadership; in accepting the call to shepherd this flock. Our passage for this morning is very relevant for Mike, and all Christian leaders, as it holds up, high and clear, the consequences of failing to lead as he should. The heart of this passage (and sermon), therefore, is to answer three questions: 1) What was the heart of Israel’s offense against God, 2) What led Israel to such an offense, and 3) What would result from Israel’s offense? In other words, Hosea meant to answer address the consequences of God’s leaders refusing to lead for God’s purposes in God’s ways. In order not to end on such a harsh note on this day of celebration, I’ll close the sermon by offering eight, very brief, biblical results of good leadership. Let’s pray, then, that God would grant us many years of faithful service from Pastor Mike, all the leaders of Grace Church, and all the leaders of Christ’s Church around the world.
LIKE PEOPLE, LIKE PRIEST
To this point in chapter 4 we’ve seen that, on account of spiritual adultery, all Israel (including her priests) will experience the mourning, languishing, and disappearance of the land (4:3). We also saw that all Israel will be destroyed (4:6). In addition we saw that the priests will stumble (4:5), have their mother’s destroyed (4:5) and children forgotten, and be rejected from serving in the priesthood (4:6).
Last week (in 4:4-8) we saw how loving it was/is of God to reveal all of this to his people and how He is particularly concerned with how His leaders, the priests, respond to this expression of his love.
All of that brings us to new answers to familiar Hosea questions.
What was the heart of Israel’s offense?
As I mentioned in the introduction, our text for this morning was primarily intended to answer three specific questions. It doesn’t do so, however, in a straight line. Instead, in typical Jewish/Hebrew fashion, the text takes a particular shape. In this case it takes a V shape. First and last, Hosea named the consequences that Israel and her priests are facing for their actions. That is, in 9-10a and 13b-14 Hosea answers the question: What would result from Israel’s sin? Then, second and forth, Hosea described the specific sind of Israel. In other words, in 10b-12a and again in 12c-13a Hosea answers: What was the heart of Israel’s offense? And finally, third, Hosea gave the reason for their offense. That is, in 12b he answers the question: What led Israel to commit such an offense?
To make Hosea’s message easier to follow, I mean to be more linear in this sermon. That is, I will ask each question in order and then point you to Hosea’s answers wherever they may be in the text.
With that, what was the heart of Israel (and her priests’) offense against God? We find the answer in vs. 10, 11, 12, and 13.
10 they have forsaken the LORD to cherish 11 whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding. 12 My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles… and they have left their God to play the whore.”
13 They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth…
If you’ve been with us for any length of time, these are familiar charges. Israel and her priests had forsaken the LORD. They did so—they abandoned faithfulness to God—for the sake of whoredom and wine. Their whoredom (spiritual adultery) increasingly led them to trust (not in God, but) in foreign nations, fake gods, and even sticks for protection, provision, and knowledge. This led them to worship things, in ways, and in places that defied God’s commands. That’s the essence of v.13. The priests were primarily in charge of the Israelite sacrifices; providing instruction on the sacrifices, receiving them, and offering them to God as God had commanded. And yet, having forsaken the LORD, they were instead joining the Assyrian practices, for the Assyrian gods (Baal), for the Assyrian purposes (fertility and abundance), and in the Assyrian places (on mountains).
And all of this was compounded by the fact that their love for wine above God led them to greater and greater ignorance.
What, then, was at the heart of Israel and her priests’ offense against God? Hosea answered this in a simple, concise way at the end of v.12, “They have left their God to play the whore.”
Mike, we charge you in the presence of the Triune God, to remain faithful to God and to refuse to forsake God for anything, ever, for any reason. We charge you to know and teach and lead by the Word of God and not sticks, staffs, or anything else. While other may go astray, we charge you to remain faithful in the power of the Holy Spirit of God, upheld by the prayers of these people of God.
And that leads to the second question…
What led Israel to commit such an offense?
If you’ve thought at all about the story of the bible, or if you’ve thought at all about your own experience in life, you must have asked yourself, why would God’s people do such a thing. What leads us to leave the glory and love and goodness and provision and protection and truth and beauty which uniquely and infinitely belong to God; especially for things that can only provide an appearance of those things temporarily? We’ve done that from the beginning. Why?
The bible gives a number of answers to that question. Ultimately, the answer is idolatry of self; pride. The bible also speaks of blindness, deceit, death, ignorance, forgetfulness, and more. In vs. 12 and 13 we see two more specific answers.
12 My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray…
Israel and her priests had left God for other lovers—they left God to play the whore—”for a spirit of whoredom had led them astray? They played the whore because they were deceived by a spirit of whoredom. What does that mean? We’re not entirely sure except to say that all people are led by something. We were made to be led to goodness and glory by following the Spirit of God. When we reject the Holy Spirit as our guide, as the Israelites had done, we will necessarily (even if unknowingly) begin to following another spirit; we can’t not. Their actions betrayed the fact that they had chosen to follow a spirit of whoredom, of harlotry, of spiritual adultery, since that is where they were led.
But there’s another reason that the Israelites and priests forsook God. Look at v.13.
13 They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good.
As ridiculous as it seems (and is!), the Israelites traded in the One who created the heavens and earth for a bit of shade. That’s not a metaphor. They left God and all his blessings, and consequently took him on as an enemy and all his curses, because the trees of Baal provide good shade.
We must wake up to this, Grace. We are all following something—and many of us, at times at least, have forsaken God for something as ridiculous as shade. So what spirit are you following? The fruit of your life will tell you. Are you following the spirit of comfort? Of sex? Of security? Of the praise of others? Of children? Of relationships? Of education? Of religion? Of shade? Following the Holy Spirit of Jesus alone leads us to where we must go. And so we charge you, Mike, follow and call us to follow the Holy Spirit alone. Resist the temptation to follow any other spirit, for any other reason. He alone leads us to that for which we were made.
What would result from Israel’s offense?
Finally, then, should Israel and the priests fail to repent, what would result? The answer is given in 9, 10, 13, and 14. Look at v.9.
And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.
Like people, like priest. When the people go astray, so will the leaders. And where the leaders go astray, so will the people. There are times when “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). And there are times when leaders will “have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15 Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing…” (2 Peter 2:14-15).
When this happens, their fate (the fate of people and priest) will be the same. God will repay each for their misdeeds. What will God’s payment look like,
10 They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply…
This might not seem like such a terrible punishment, but for anyone who has ever experienced even a hint of it, you know that this is one of the most horrible promises, one of the most terrifying judgments, God has made. This is the stuff straight of the worst horror movies…not the silly gratuitously gory kind; the deeply psychologically disturbing kind.
Imagine having a baby that you cannot feel love for. Imagine having a cancer which the normal treatment cannot touch. Imagine having friends but not being able to laugh. Imagine going to sleep but finding no rest. Imagine having the ability to purchase anything you want but being unable to find joy in any of it. Imagine planting seeds that never sprout. Imagine standing by a fire but never getting warm. Imagine reading your bible and never experiencing the loving presence of God. And, as Hosea proclaimed, imagine never having a lack of food (which their sacrifices were to ensure) but always being hungry and engaging in marital relations without the ability to procreate (which was the entire point of their cult harlotry).
In other words, imagine God’s world not producing for you what God designed it to produce. That would be absolutely maddening. That’s the worst possible punishment that I can imagine. Grace, that’s hell! All of God’s presence with none of his blessing! Everything there that is needed for civilization, fruitfulness, and fellowship, but only chaos, famine, and isolation.
But there’s more. Look at vs.13-14
13 …Therefore your daughters play the whore, and your brides commit adultery. 14 I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes and sacrifice with cult prostitutes, and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.
Israel played the whore and insodoing, taught her children that life is whoring. Therefore, her children too will play the whore. You daughters will commit adultery; physical and spiritual, Hosea proclaimed. There will be a type of reprieve for them (v.14 says) since they are only doing what their fathers taught them, but in the end they will all end up with the same fate, “a people without understanding shall come to ruin.”
Mike, once again, your calling is high and noble. By taking on the role of pastor you gain access to blessings that are not available anywhere else. But you also open yourself up to divine scrutiny unavailable anywhere else. More is offered and more is expected. There is more joy at stake and more pain. Look, with your eyes wide open, at what resulted from the sin of the priests and the people. You are willingly taking on the role and responsibility of a shepherd of God’s people. Do not take it lightly and do not imagine it as anything other than spiritual war, with consequences any less severe than we read in our passage for this morning.
LIKE PRIEST, LIKE PEOPLE
Let’s not be too quick to move from that gravity, but let’s also not be too slow to get to the gladness. While we’ve just seen clearly the consequences of failing to lead well, the bible also paints many pictures of the results of good and godly leadership. I want to close this morning by very quickly holding out eight of them for you.
- Good leaders give watched souls and gain great joy. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
- Good leaders give good preaching, teaching, and vision and gain double honor. “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17).
- Good leaders give more good leaders and gain divine peace. “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9; see also 2 Timothy 2:2).
- Good leaders give a good example and God’s Word and gain God’s commendation. “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).
- Good leaders give service and gain greatness. “Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…” (Matthew 20:25-26).
- Good leaders give hard work and Truth and gain God’s approval and confidence. “…present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
- Good leaders give ministry-equipping and gain the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ! “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” Ephesians 4:11-13).
- In short, good leaders give much and gain much. “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48).
Mike, pastoral ministry is a spiritual amplifier…every part of your life will be louder…both the good and the bad, the rewards and the consequences. And to this we commission you. But we do so in the full knowledge that it is God who will love you sufficiently to love others. It is God who has revealed to you sufficient Truth for life and godliness. It is God who will supply you with strength sufficient for exactly the right number of seconds of pastoral ministry. It is God who will give you sufficient disgust for sin. It is God who will cause your eyes to turn to the cross when you do sin, and point others there when they stumble. It is God who is working, right now, all things for your good. And it is God who will keep you from falling.
And all of this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.