Mutually Profitable Ignorance?
(Hosea 4:6) My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.
(Hosea 4:7) As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame.
(Hosea 4:8) They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.
(Hosea 4:9) And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings.
It is a general observation that the lack of knowledge can be a destructive force. Ignoramuses commonly do not prosper and just as commonly bring trouble on themselves by poor judgment. But our text today focuses on destruction stemming from a specific lack of knowledge: “...no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land” (HOS 4:1). Such warnings should provoke Christians therefore to “...grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ...” (2PE 3:18) for it is that knowledge that saves one from the self-destruction that awaits the unlearned:
(2Pe 3:16) As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
The context of our text today shows that the priesthood was part of the problem. The Levites (DEU 33:8-10) especially the priests of Aaron's line, were to teach Israel God's statutes (LEV 10:8-11): “...the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth...” (MAL 2:7). But the priests had been delinquent in their duty of teaching and reproving. This may have been because of the obstinacy of the people who were so sotted with their own lusts that reproofs were fruitless:
(Hos 4:4) Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest.
The priests were part of the high court of Israel: “...by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried” (DEU 21:5). To defy their judgment was a capital offense (DEU 17:8-13). So universally hardened had the people become that they would snuff at a potential death sentence and it may be observed that when all the people oppose the court, the court is effectively neutered. This principle of popular resistance was ironically used by God to frustrate the wicked designs of Israel's high court against Christ (LUK 20:19; LUK 22:2) and the apostles (ACT 5:24-28): they feared the people. If the delinquency of the priests in Hosea's day to teach the Law was owing to the people's ungodly indifference to it, the people's error did not justify the priests' error. Then, as now, the word must be preached “...instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort...” (2TI 4:2). The Apostle Paul himself said, “...necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1CO 9:16).
Muzzling oneself out of the fear of man is a snare (PRO 29:25) which not only sets a man of God up for future manipulation (for if he folds once, he can be folded again or blackmailed), but also for confounding by God: “Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them” (JER 1:17). But there was more than the priests' muzzling at issue in our text: “They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity” (HOS 4:8). The priests were profiting by the iniquity of the people so much that they had set their hearts on it. It appears that the priests, like the degenerate priests Hophni and Phinehas in Samuel's day (1SAM 2:12-17), had exploited the perks of their office and found a way to make themselves “...fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel...” (1SAM 2:29).
According to the Law, the priests were to eat of the sin offerings of the people:
(Lev 6:24) And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
(Lev 6:25) Speak unto Aaron and to his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering: In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the LORD: it is most holy.
(Lev 6:26) The priest that offereth it for sin shall eat it: in the holy place shall it be eaten, in the court of the tabernacle of the congregation....
(Lev 6:29) All the males among the priests shall eat thereof: it is most holy.
This system of rendering payment to the “clergy” for sin had a potential for corruption. What was apparently happening is that the priests were not discouraging the people's sins by full disclosure of the Law, its demands of personal holiness and the judgments of God against wilful, presumptuous sinners. In Jeremiah's day, lies had been substituted for truth and the priests had capitalized on it:
(Jer 5:31) The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?
This all speaks of a mutually profitable arrangement: the priests might speak about sin and the necessary payment of a sin offering but command no repentance. After all, if the people repented of sin, they might not bring sin offerings. So, the people were content with a “dumbed-down gospel” which enabled them to have a form of godliness through sin offerings which materially supported their priests. John the Baptist (born in the priestly line), turned this system on its head with the very first command of his gospel: “...Repent...” (MAT 3:1-2) while the corrupt religious leadership had “...taken away the key of knowledge...” (LUK 11:52) and had the gall to say, “...this people who knoweth not the law are cursed” (JOH 7:49), bringing horrendous destruction for lack of knowledge upon multitudes at the hands of Roman armies. Such was the end of a people with a history of saying to their teachers, “...Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits” (ISA 30:9-10).
The similarity of that corrupt relationship between priest and people with Catholicism is hard to ignore for it too is manifestly a “play, then pay” system which capitalizes on a poorly informed people. For that matter, the similarity between this and too much of modern Christianity is hard to ignore: the theme of a compromised gospel which brings in big dollars from people who love a compromised gospel is very common. The golden calf of false worship has become a cash cow. The mutuality will, though, not insulate it from judgment: “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished...” (PRO 11:21). Read HOS 4:9 carefully, and remember that those who reject the naked truth for pleasurable deception are promised strong delusions and damnation (2TH 2:9-12).
The Apostle Paul said, “...I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you...repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (ACT 20:20-21). What is always needed is ministry that is spiritually profitable to the people to turn them from sin, not materially profitable to the ministry by facilitating their sin.