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Hos 4:12-14 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. 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. 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.
It is common in scripture to equate adultery with idolatry. This is because both are forms of unfaithfulness. Both make relationships impure. Both begin with seemingly small and innocent acts that “aren’t really all that bad.” Both are sins that feed on selfish human desires. Both destroy trust. Both are destructive behaviors that lead to great personal loss. Both delude the guilty person into thinking they are the victim when in reality they were willing participants. Hosea appears to be mixing metaphors in this passage. It is worth noting that cult prostitution was integral with idol worship. It is easy to lure women into these cults for the pay they received for their services, particularly if they could assuage their personal guilt by believing their prostitution served some deity. It was easy to lead men into the cults if their physical desires were sufficiently sated. Sexual and spiritual sins both fed a huge and powerful industry in the ancient world.
It would seem like idols serve no practical purpose at all. Although they were dumb bits of wood and metal, the manufacture of idols created a huge business for craftsmen. These craftsmen, in order to remain employed, wanted to see idolatry grow. Salesmen who traded in these idols wanted to promote idolatry to make easy money. Cult priests wanted idols to create the illusion of purpose so they could make their money in the trade of human pleasures. False religion based on idol worship provided income at all these levels. The junk bonds of temporary pleasure drove the expanding market until the bubble burst. A culture deluded by this fakery spent its material fortunes and its moral high ground leaving it far more vulnerable than it could comprehend it was too late.
Hosea equates whoredom with idol worship when he says it is a spirit of whoredom that leads the people astray. Those spiritual unfaithfully to God with idols are like women who have sex with whomever they like. Hosea mentions that they do their evil in shady places. Israel’s girls are led into sin through participation in cult prostitution and idolatry, but they will not be punished alone. The men who visit them are equally guilty in sexual and spiritual sins. The women are not excused; Hosea is actually saying their punishment will be shared with their men. Finally Hosea says that these are people who lack understanding and as a result it will be their ruin.
There are numerous practical applications for these lessons today if we substitute for idols the pleasures we pursue in place of a right relationship with God. We chase wealth, the next great job, the next quick money deal, the next lottery ticket, or whatever else that pleases us. We want to look and be sexy, have the best clothes, and the fastest car. Women want to be hot and men want hot women. Our marriages have become almost as disposable as our contact lenses. Morality without an absolute standard is without understanding and leads to ruin.