God is here proceeding in his controversy both with the priests and with the people. The people were as those that strove with the priests (Hos. 4:4) when they had priests that did their duty; but the generality of them lived in the neglect of their duty, and here is a word for those priests, and for the people that love to have it so, Jer. 5:31. And it is observable here how the punishment answers to the sin, and how, for the justifying of his own proceedings, God sets the one over-against the other.
I. The people strove with the priests that should have taught them the knowledge of God; justly therefore were they destroyed for lack of knowledge, Hos. 4:6. Note, Those that rebel against the light can expect no other than to perish in the dark. Or it is a charge upon the priests, who should have been still teaching the people knowledge (Eccl. 12:9), but they did not, or did it in such a manner that it was as if they had not done it at all, so there was no knowledge of God in the land; and because there was no vision, or none to any purpose, the people perished, Prov. 29:18. Note, Ignorance is so far from being the mother of devotion that it is the mother of destruction; lack of knowledge is ruining to any person or people. They are my people that are thus destroyed; their relation to God as his people aggravates both their sin in not taking pains to get the knowledge of that God whose command they were under and with whom they were taken into covenant, and likewise the sin of those who should have taught them; God set his children to school to them, and they never minded them nor took any pains with them.
II. Both priests and people rejected knowledge; and justly therefore will God reject them. The reason why the people did not learn, and the priests did not teach, was not because they had not the light, but because they hated it—not because they had not ways of coming to the knowledge of God and of communicating it, but because they had no heart to it; they rejected it. They desired not the knowledge of God’s ways, but put it from them, and shut their eyes against the light; and therefore “I will also reject thee; I will refuse to take cognizance of thee and to own thee; you will not know me, but bid me depart; I will therefore say, Depart from me, I know you not. Thou shalt be no priest to me.” 1. The priests shall be no longer admitted to the privileges, or employed in the services, of the priesthood, nor shall they ever be received again, as we find, Ezek. 44:13. Note, Ministers that reject knowledge, that are grossly ignorant and scandalous, ought not to be owned as ministers; but that which they seem to have should be taken away, Luke 8:18. 2. The people shall be no longer as they have been, a kingdom of priests, a royal priesthood, Exod. 19:6. God’s people, by rejecting knowledge, forfeit their honour and profane their own crown.
III. They forgot the law of God, neither desired nor endeavoured to retain it in mind, nor to transmit the remembrance of it to their posterity, and therefore justly will God forget them and their children, the people’s children; they did not educate them, as they ought to have done, in the knowledge of God and their duty to him, and therefore God will disown them, as not in covenant with him. Note, If parents do not teach their children, when they are young, to remember their Creator, they cannot expect that their Creator should remember them. Or it may be meant of the priests’ children; they shall not succeed them in the priests’ office, but shall be reduced to poverty, as is threatened against Eli’s house, 1 Sam. 2:20.
IV. They dishonoured God with that which was their honour, and justly therefore will God strip them of it, Hos. 4:7. It was their honour that they were increased in number, wealth, power, and dignity. The beginning of their nation was small, but in process of time it greatly increased, and grew very considerable; the family of the priests increased wonderfully. But, as they were increased, so they sinned against God. The more populous the nation grew, the more sin was committed and the more profane they were; their wealth, honour, and power, did but make them the more daring in sin. Therefore, says God, will I change their glory into shame. Are their numbers their glory? God will diminish them and make them few. Isa. their wealth their glory? God will impoverish them and bring them low; so that they shall themselves be ashamed of that which they gloried in. Their priests shall be made contemptible and base, Mal. 2:9. Note, That which is our honour, if we dishonour God with it, will sooner or later be turned into shame to us: for those that despise God shall be lightly esteemed, 1 Sam. 2:30.
V. The priests ate up the sin of God’s people, and therefore they shall eat and not have enough. 1. They abused the maintenance that was allowed to the priests, to the priests of the house of Aaron, by the law of God, and to the mock-priests of the calves by their constitution (Hos. 4:8): They eat up the sin of my people, that is, their sin-offerings. If it be meant of the priests of the calves, it intimates their seizing that which they had no right to; they usurped the revenues of the priests, though they were no priests. If it be meant of those who were legal priests, it intimates their greediness of the profits and perquisites of their office, when they took no care at all to do the duty of it. They feasted upon their part of the offerings of the Lord, but forgot the work for which they were so well paid. They set their heart upon the people’s iniquities; they lifted up their soul to them, that is, they were glad then people did commit iniquity, that they might be obliged to bring an offering to make atonement for it, which they should have their share of; the more sins the more sacrifices, and therefore they cared not how much sin people were guilty of. Instead of warning the people against sin, from the consideration of the sacrifices, which showed them what an offence sin was to God, since it needed such an expiation, they emboldened and encouraged the people to sin, since an atonement might be made at so small an expense. Thus they glutted themselves upon the sins of the people, and helped to keep up that which they should have beaten down. Note, It is a very wicked thing to be well pleased with the sins of others because, in some way or other, they may turn to our advantage. 2. God will therefore deny them his blessing upon their maintenance (Hos. 4:10): They shall eat and not have enough. Though they have great plenty by the abundance of offerings that are brought in, yet they shall have no satisfaction in it. Either their food shall yield no good nourishment or their greedy appetites shall not be satisfied with it. Note, What is unlawfully gained cannot be comfortably used; no, nor that which is inordinately coveted; it is just that the desires which are insatiable should always be unsatisfied, and that those should never have enough who never know when they have enough. See Mic. 6:14; Hag. 1:6.
VI. The more they increased the more they sinned (Hos. 4:7), and therefore though they commit whoredom, though they take the most wicked methods to multiply their people, yet they shall not increase. Though they have many wives and concubines, as Solomon had, yet they shall not have their families built up thereby in a numerous progeny, any more than he had. Note, Those that hope any way to increase by unlawful means will be disappointed. And therefore God will thus blast all their projects because they have left off to take heed to the Lord; time was when they had some regard to God, and to his authority over them and interest in them, but they have left it off; they take no heed to his word nor to his providences; they do not eye him in either. They forsake him, so as not to take heed to him; they have apostatized to such a degree that they have no manner of regard to God, but are perfectly without God in the world. Note, Those that leave off to take heed to the Lord leave off all good, and can expect no other than that all good should leave them.
VII. The people and the priests did harden one another in sin; and therefore justly shall they be sharers in the punishment (Hos. 4:9): There shall be, like people, like priest. So they were in character; people and priest were both alike ignorant and profane, regardless of God and their duty, and addicted to idolatry: and so they shall be in condition; God will bring judgments upon them, that shall be the destruction both of priest and people; the famine that deprives the people of their meat shall deprive the priests of their meat-offerings, Joel 1:9. It is part of the description of a universal desolation that it shall be as with the people, so with the priest, Isa. 24:2. God’s judgments, when they come with commission, will make no difference. Note, Sharers in sin must expect to be sharers in ruin. Thus God will punish them both for their ways, and reward them for their doings. God will cause their doings to return upon them (so the word is); when a sin is committed the sinner thinks it is gone and he shall hear no more of it, but he shall find it called over again, and made to return, either to his humiliation or to his condemnation.
VIII. They indulged themselves in the delights of sense, to hold up their hearts; but they shall find that they take away their hearts (Hos. 4:11): Whoredom, and wine, and new wine take away the heart. Some join this with the foregoing words. They have forsaken the Lord, to take heed to whoredom, and wine, and new wine. Or, Because these have taken away their heart. Their sensual pleasures have taken them off from their devotions and drowned all that is good in them. Or we may take it as a distinct sentence, containing a great truth which we see confirmed by every day’s experi 4fdf ence, that drunkenness and uncleanness are sins which besot and infatuate men, weaken and enfeeble them. They take away both the understanding and the courage.