A major key to understanding the application of both Hosea and Amos to us is that both prophets prophesied in Israel, the ten northern tribes, in an era similar to that in which we live, that is, in a last generation before a major national calamity. In their case, it was just before the people of Israel fell to the invading Assyrian armies, were removed from their homeland, and scattered to the four winds, never to return.
Historical records and archeological findings show that Israel was quite prosperous at the time, a major power in the world. Simultaneously, the nation was morally rotten to the core, and social injustice was the order of the day throughout the land. The Israelites of that time were literally getting drunk, as Amos reports them drinking wine by the bowlful (Amos 6:6). Yet a far more spiritual drunkenness guided their conduct. In addition, they practiced the ritual harlotry of the pagan religions they had adopted.
However, the lesson for us is spiritual. God is saying that at the end time, it will be as if a demonic power has seized the nation, destroying loyalty to God in a spiritual drunken frenzy, during which the people will think themselves totally in control.
Even as drugs destroy a person's capacity to think clearly, break down resistance to evil, and so becloud the mind that he becomes morally stupid, so does the spiritual drunkenness that results from a person allowing himself to drink in this world's ways. Escape into the fantasies of this world's attitudes and conduct deprives a person of his understanding, removes inhibitions, inspires false confidence - even bravado, plays havoc with modesty and restraint, and destroys loyalty within relationships.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Be There Next Year
The Hebrew word zanah, translated as "harlotry," is not the word used to indicate a single act of adultery. Instead, it means "sexually wanton," meaning something done repeatedly as a way of life. Ultimately, it is understood spiritually to signify idolatry. Hosea 4:11-12 defines it in this manner: "Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart. My people ask counsel from the wooden idols, and their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, and they have played the harlot against their God."
By linking zanah, harlotry, with wine and new wine, God is showing that this spiritual harlotry has addictive power. "Enslave the heart" illustrates that this faithless spirit bends the heart to obey its desires, and in the process, it destroys discretion and understanding. Recall that Psalm 119 repeatedly states that meditating on God's Word and obeying His commandments give understanding, indicating a major way in which we come to know God. However, if a person practices faithlessness, loss of understanding results. No constructive wisdom ever results from breaking any of God's commands.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Seventh Commandment
Undoubtedly, the Israelites of Hosea's day were literally getting drunk and involved in harlotry, but for us today the application is spiritual. At the end time, God predicts, His people will be deceived by a force near demoniacal in its deceptive power. Because of their closeness to the world, they will share the great harlot's attitude, "drunk with the wine of her fornication" (Revelation 17:2).
Hosea's word-picture illustrates the effect a drug like alcohol has on a person's mind. Under the influence of alcohol, one's reactions slow, even though the person thinks he has better control. Most fatal accidents in the United States involve automobiles and roughly half of them occur with at least one driver under the influence. In driving while intoxicated, one's ability to make right decisions is severely hampered. Alcohol obscures judgment. When one cannot think clearly, a sound judgment is nearly impossible.
Linked to this inability to make sound judgments is the destruction of inhibitions, modesty and restraint. In addition, alcohol produces a false sense of security and confidence, so people do silly and senseless things while drunk and regret them along with their hangovers.
The same process occurs to a person drunk with the wine of the wrath of this spiritual prostitute. The attitude of this world deprives people of their spiritual judgment and removes their spiritual inhibitions. Their resistance to evil weakens, and they will begin to do things that they vowed they would never do. Like a drunken man's fidelity to his wife is destroyed by wine, so is a Christian's loyalty to God when he imbibes of this world's attitudes. His judgment is shattered.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
Everyone understands the addictive and destructive power of alcohol in wine and new wine. It can affect a person's mind (heart) insofar as he will lose the right perspective of situations he encounters and, with it, his discretion. Alcohol has the power to enslave the heart. It also has a subtle quality to draw a person into dependence on it while promoting the destruction of his will.
Amazingly, God lists harlotry (faithlessness) alongside wine and new wine, teaching us that it can affect us the same way! This fact is not nearly so well known. Faithlessness is every bit as enslaving and destructive as drug addition, and it has ensnared far more people in its entangling web than have ever been addicted to a drug.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Seventh Commandment (1997)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Hosea 4:11: