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Hosea 4 presents a turning point in the prophecy. From this point, the Lord delivers a series of prophetic pronouncements against his people. There is less narrative than in the opening three chapters. Some interpreters have gone so far as to suggest that the distinction is so sharp that we must assume the two sections were written by two different authors. While there is no overwhelming reason to assume that, the difference in tone is difficult to miss.

In chapter 4 (or, really, in chapters 4–6), Hosea presents an accusation against Yahweh’s people and warns them of the punishment that will flow from it. The accusation, in essence, is that the people, though claiming a relationship with God, did not really know him. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me” (v. 6). The relationship they thought they had was spurious.

The sad reality is that, though they did not know God, they thought they did. They had deceived themselves. The question before us is, how do we avoid the same deception? How do we know whether we truly know God? What is the fruit of knowledge that Israel lacked that we should look for in our own profession of knowing God. In the opening verses of chapter 4, Yahweh points to three fruits of a vibrant relationship with him. We do well to consider these fruits.

First, a relationship with God is marked by “faithfulness and steadfast love” (v. 1). “Faithfulness” demands that we be firm in our commitment to God and his word, reliable in our responsibilities before him, and honest in what we say. It implies that we know the truth and give ourselves to it completely. “Steadfast love” carries implications of interpersonal relationships with God’s people. It requires us to maintain a devoted and compassionate relationship with those who are also in relationship to Yahweh.

Can these things be said of your relationship with God and with his people? (Let us remember that our relationship to God’s people is a litmus test of our relationship to him, for how can we love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love our brothers and sisters in Christ, whom we have seen?) Are you steadfastly committed to the truths of God’s word and faithful in fulfilling your obligations before him? Are you compassionately devoted to a loving relationship with the people of God with whom you live in relationship? Are your relationships in the church meaningful and compassionate?

Second, a relationship with God is marked by behaviour consistent with his will. It was evident that Israel lacked a relationship with Yahweh because “there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed” (v. 2). We cannot legitimately claim to have a relationship with God if we are characterised by behaviour that dishonours him.

It goes without saying that we all sin and fail God in many ways. As a church, we pray a prayer of confession each Sunday precisely because we recognise the need to confess our sins. But there is a difference between sinning as a believer—and confessing that sin—and living a life characterised by behaviour that dishonours God. If the general trend of your life is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery, you have good reason to question whether you are in relationship with him. A good tree brings forth good fruit, and a person rooted in Christ brings forth behaviour that is decidedly Christlike.

Third, since a relationship with God is broader than the individual, a relationship with God is often marked by communal blessing. I do not mean to promote a form of prosperity gospel here, but the languishing of the land referenced in v. 3 is evidence of God’s curse upon his people for failing to obey their covenant. God gave both covenant blessings and covenant curses. The people did not earn his blessing by their obedience, but blessing was the freely-given evidence that he was pleased with their behaviour. Similarly, the lack of abundant blessings served as a warning that he was not pleased with their behaviour.

It is generally true that God blesses those who walk faithfully with him. If we lack God’s blessing on our lives and in our churches, it may well be evidence that we are not in right relationship with him.

As you meditate on Hosea 4 this morning, ask God to help you evaluate the health of your relationship with him. If you lack the evidence of that relationship, repent, and ask for grace to walk before him in faithfulness and steadfast love.