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Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.

Hosea 4:6

Hosea was a prophet of God to the northern kingdom of the ten tribes. His ministry was quite lengthy. He began to prophesy during the reign of Jeroboam II, of the house of Jehu, and he continued his ministry until Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC. That is a period of about 65 years.

The spiritual climate in Israel was deplorable. The nation had, over many generations, forsaken the Lord. This had resulted in horrible sins. These are described in the beginning of chapter 4. The land was full of swearing and lying and killing and stealing and committing adultery (v. 2). In other words, every sin imaginable was being committed openly and shamelessly. And what was the cause of it all? There was no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land (v. 1). It all came down to the latter: there was no knowledge of God in the land. All the abominations that filled the land found their source in the fact that there was no knowledge of God in the land.

So we read, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

What a horrible thing to happen to a nation or a people—to be destroyed for lack of knowledge.

If a church today will be spared the same destruction, she must learn from Israel’s demise.

There was a terrible lack of knowledge in the land of Israel. The people no longer knew the Lord. This means, first, that there was an appalling ignorance in Israel about the Lord. The people no longer knew the Lord’s virtues, His will for their lives, His promises of salvation, the great works of salvation He had done for the nation in times past. Consequently, the people did not know the Lord spiritually either. The true knowledge of God is more than an intellectual comprehension of some truths about God. It is above all a personal knowledge of love. It is the intimate knowledge that is found in a personal relationship between those who are companions and friends. To know God in this personal, intimate way requires that one first know the truth about God. But since that was lacking in Israel, so too was there a sad lack of any personal knowledge of God.

And there was no excuse for this lack. For the Lord had clearly revealed Himself to Israel.

Israel was the chosen people of God, with whom He had established His covenant. That’s why the Lord identifies Israel as “my people.” As their covenant God the Lord had given to Israel the law, which is also mentioned here by Hosea. This law was more than the Ten Commandments. It included also the ceremonial laws that had been given at Mt. Sinai to instruct Israel how to worship the Lord around the tabernacle. The law also included the civil laws that organized Israel into a nation. These laws, when followed by Israel, provided many wonderful pictures of the works of salvation which God would perform in the coming Savior. The term “law” includes also the word of the prophets, who always labored and prophesied in the context of the law. Through the law, therefore, the Lord had revealed Himself to Israel as the God of their salvation so that they could know him—not only know about Him, but know Him personally and intimately as their covenant God.

But Israel had rejected this knowledge; she had forgotten the law!

Israel despised the true knowledge of God. She despised what God had revealed about Himself through the law. She despised the intimate knowledge of God that this revealed truth afforded in the covenant. And so she rejected it.

Israel forgot God’s law. Rejecting knowledge, Israel no longer cared for the revelation of God. She ignored the law. The word of God no longer found a place in her life. The families of Israel didn’t meditate on it. Parents no longer taught it to their children. The priests, whose calling it was to teach the true knowledge of God, also ignored the word of God.

This rejecting of the knowledge of God had a long history to it. It all began when the ten tribes separated from the house of David under Jeroboam. It was from the house of David that the Christ was to come, the very Christ proclaimed in the law. To separate from the house of David, therefore, was to reject the true knowledge of God. This is what the ten tribes did. In freeing themselves from oppression under the foolish Rehoboam, who had answered them harshly, the ten tribes had rejected the true knowledge of God, forgot God’s law, and went their own way.

Israel continued this course by worshiping the golden calves. To keep Israel from worshiping at the temple in Jerusalem, Jeroboam instituted the worship of the golden calves. This was violation of the second commandment. Jeroboam convinced the people that they could worship the Lord just as well through his golden calves as they could in the temple in Jerusalem. But the true knowledge of God was not to be found with the golden calves; it was to be found only at the temple in Jerusalem. The worship of the golden calves was a rejection of the true knowledge of God. For the sake of their own independence, the ten tribes willingly walked in this way of rejection.

The worship of the golden calves eventually gave way to Baal worship during the time of Ahab. Baal worship was not a pretended attempt to worship the Lord through another means. It was the worship of another god. This the people gladly followed, as they rejected the true knowledge of God.

So it was that by Hosea’s time the true knowledge of God was gone from the land. The law had long ago been forgotten.

We see the same thing in the church world today.

The average church member today has little knowledge of the history of the Bible. There is also a gross ignorance of the main teachings of Scripture as set forth in the Reformed creeds. Very few understand the TULIP doctrines of grace set forth in the Canons of Dordt. Of those who do understand them, perhaps only a minority believe and confess them. It’s difficult today to find church people who can discuss the truths of Scripture in any depth or who even consider doctrinal matters and issues to be of any real importance.

How did this come about?

It wasn’t always this way. The knowledge of God used to flourish in many churches that have over the years lost it.

What happened? What explains the lack of knowledge so evident today?

It all begins with a willingness to embrace false teachings that elevate man and allow for world conformity. Usually these errors seem to be trivial and of little consequence. But there is no standing still in error. The church must either repent of its error and turn back to the truth or it will develop in its error. Most often the latter is what happens. And the more a church embraces false teachings, the more she comes to despise and reject the true knowledge of God. With that she also forgets the law and Word of God, ignoring what God has revealed about Himself and the way of salvation in Jesus Christ. Parents no longer teach the Word to their children. Families no longer meditate on the Word. Nor is the Word proclaimed anymore from the pulpit. The end result is that the true knowledge of God is almost gone; and in its place are the wisdom of men and worldly living.

Hosea speaks of Israel’s destruction.

That destruction was, first of all, political. After a time of prosperity under Jeroboam II, the political and economic situation in Israel deteriorated rapidly. There were internal feuds, and there were political rivals who sacrificed the interest of the nation for their own. Of the six kings who succeeded Jeroboam II only one died a natural death. The rest were assassinated. During this time Assyria made increasingly heavy demands on Israel for tribute money. Finally, Assyria came and led the nation away into captivity. Israel as a nation was cut off.

But worse, Israel was also destroyed spiritually. Israel was the covenant people with whom God lived as Friend, to whom He revealed Himself and gave His promises, in whom He worked His salvation. With the breakup of thenation, however, Israel lost its place in the covenant. The few faithful that had been found in the nation were called out by God by the godly Hezekiah king of Judah. The people who were taken into captivity no longer enjoyed the covenant blessings of God and were spiritually lost.

What explains this destruction?

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

The Lord goes on to explain.

“Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee.” As we have seen, Israel despised and rejected the true knowledge of God. For that reason, the Lord also despised Israel and rejected her as His people. What a horrible thing to be despised and rejected by the Lord!

But the Lord has more to say.

“Seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” What a terrible thing, for the Lord to forget you. This means that He no longer loves you or cares for you. When you call to Him, He will not hear. He will ignore you when you are in distress. Because Israel forgot the law of their God, the Lord forgot them. And, more seriously, He also forgot their children, that is, their future generations. There would be no more remembrance of Israel by the Lord in the future.

Here we learn how the Lord deals with people who through apostasy no longer know Him. He cuts them off spiritually, so that they lose their place in the covenant. No, the Lord never cuts off from the covenant individuals whom He has chosen and saved in Christ. But He does cut off generations, who through departure no longer know Him. They are rejected and cut off from the covenant. Their children are forgotten.

This has happened repeatedly in the history of the church. We see this terrible thing happening also today in the church world. There are churches that have departed so drastically from the Lord and from His Word that they no longer know the Lord. They are cut off. They may thrive numerically and financially. But spiritually they have been rejected by God. He no longer works His salvation in those churches. Their children will be forgotten.

For the church to avoid such disaster it is necessary that she be faithful to the Word of God in doctrine and in life, rejecting all philosophies and practices of sinful man. The Word of God must be taught. It must be preached faithfully from the pulpit. It must be taught to the children in catechism and in the schools they attend. And the Word must be the center of each home. In short, the Word must be loved and embraced.

The church and people who so embrace the Word of God will find God’s covenant blessings. So will their children to the third and fourth generations.