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
Symbolically, adultery is used to express unfaithfulness to God, and we can easily see this in Israel's idolatry. God is represented as the husband of His people. Ezekiel 16:15-59 gives a graphic description of Israel's spiritual adultery, and Hosea 1:1-2 shows the same symbolism in Hosea's marriage. We can fall into spiritual adultery by relying on the world and its false teaching rather than God.
Martin G. Collins
The Seventh Commandment
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
Undoubtedly, the fount of Israel's despicable behavior is what Paul concludes in Hebrews 3:12: "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God."
Israel, despite the fact that God voluntarily revealed much about Himself to her, simply does not believe what He says. The fruit of unbelief is betrayal expressed as departing from the relationship. However, an "evil heart of unbelief" is quite general. To begin, we need to explore one particular step in the process of sin beyond the "evil heart of unbelief."
In addition, we need to understand that our subject is not women who have been forced by their cultures into prostitution. Such a circumstance is far more understandable; women trapped in such a situation are truly victims and elicit our pity. We will be exploring those women who were free to pursue other courses in life yet deliberately chose to prostitute themselves, whether in service at a pagan temple as part of the worship of a god or in making a living. Israel deliberately chose to prostitute herself.
A prostitute is "a person, usually a woman, who provides sexual activity in exchange for material security." Dictionaries also define prostitution as "debasing oneself for personal gain," and this usage applies to either gender. Additionally, it is "a misuse of one's gifts, talents, or skills," and this too applies to either gender.
Because of these usages, in its broadest sense, prostitution is not confined either to sexual activity or to women alone. The selling of sex by a woman is only its best-known form. A prostitute is anybody who, as we would say today, "sells himself out" or makes compromises for personal gain. The gain does not have to be in the form of money. However, biblically, its descriptions and examples are confined to the illicit sexual activity of women because of Israel being symbolized as a woman.
A female prostitute is generally distinguished from an adulterer due to her lack of discrimination in choosing her partners. This lack of discrimination is important because it reveals a mindset, an attitude, that approaches what we today might call an "airhead," one who seriously ignores the harsh realities of sin. The attitude also exposes a stubborn addiction to gambling on sin's outcome. The prostitute usually justifies the sin because of her immediate needs.
All sin follows a pattern. The actual act is the next to the last step in a process that, once it starts, often does not take a great deal of time to complete. James 1:13-15 shows:
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
Here, simply stated, is the process of sin:
1. Temptation triggers desire.
2. Desire stirs the yearning for gratification.
3. Failure to consider the end and to discipline oneself prompt the sinful act.
4. The sinful act brings forth death.
Repeated frequently enough, this process becomes habitual. The Bible pinpoints the source of sin in another way in Matthew 15:18-20:
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.
This is another way of saying that it is within mankind's nature to sin. However, this does not justify sin because man's nature can be disciplined far better than mankind exhibits.
If sin is to be stopped, these two areas simply must be dealt with, or sin will continue unabated. The carnal mind—man's normal nature—is at war with God (Romans 8:7), and it is not subject to God's law because, out of sheer unbelieving stubbornness, it will not permit itself to submit completely. This is why God says that He will give us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26).
The Bible uses the word heart to represent all the internal intangibles of human personality. Today, we might say this heart is what makes us "tick." It is the spirit in that heart that lures us—indeed, drives us—to conduct ourselves in a way that is hostile to God. The Bible shows the prostitute having a specific spirit or heart driving her.
God says in Hosea 4:12: "My people ask counsel from their 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." He adds in Hosea 5:4, "They do not direct their deeds toward turning to their God, for the spirit of harlotry is in their midst, and they do not know the LORD." In a context like this, the Bible uses spirit to indicate an immaterial force or power, an attitude, leaning, inclination, outlook, position, propensity, or proclivity to move, act, or conduct oneself in a certain manner or direction.
In Hosea 5:4, the conjunction "for" shows the direct connection between the people's sinful, idol-worshipping conduct and "the spirit of harlotry." This spirit is one of the intangibles that comprise human nature, and its direction of conduct is to be disloyal and unfaithful to Israel's commitment to God ratified in the Old Covenant, in which she vowed, "All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient" (Exodus 24:7).
Remember, what we are considering is something the entire nation is guilty of, both men and women. We are looking at the streetwalker-type of prostitute only because the Bible provides a clear picture of what motivates her. Once we grasp her motivations, we can extrapolate them to illustrate the whole nation—and ourselves individually because we have participated in the same system, and its drives linger in us.
This, of course, is not to accuse anyone of being a streetwalker. Recall that two of the definitions of prostitution are "abasing oneself for personal gain" and "abusing one's gifts, talents, and skills" for the same. For instance, biographers of famous personalities, especially of artists, occasionally write that their subjects felt they had prostituted their gifts to become wealthy.
This is what God implies in Amos 3:2: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." He expected more and better from them than from any other nation. In terms of the knowledge of God and their access to instruction in the way of life that would produce the most and best toward physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, no other nation came even close to what Israel had because God had chosen them to be His people. Nevertheless, in following the examples of pagan nations who did not know God, Israel frivolously prostituted herself for what she considered personal gain.
Have we not all debased ourselves by indiscriminately accepting the personal gain of the immediate gratification of an unlawful desire, and in the same process, ignored or consciously shoved aside our knowledge of the truth of God? Once we have knowledge of the truth, thus removing our ignorance of God, His way, and His law, if we did not prostitute ourselves, there would be no sin in our lives. The sad truth is that we do not discipline or control ourselves, but instead, we indulge ourselves, and sin occurs. We have prostituted ourselves. We must do better.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Nine): Babylon the Great
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 4:12: