A Tale of Holy Love, Unfaithfulness, Justice, Mercy, and Grace
Corrupt spiritual leaders. Rampant idolatry. A divine controversy. It appears that Israel was not in a good place. She had been unfaithful to her God and fickle in her love. However, the crux of the issue, the central theme around which God’s controversy and Hosea 4 is built upon, and the reason for God’s contention with the priesthood was the lack of spiritual knowledge and understanding among the general populace. We touched on this topic briefly last week when analyzing God’s controversy with Israel, but it’s time to revisit and focus solely on this fundamental subject.
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; … and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.”
~Hosea 4:6a, 14b
Knowledge and understanding—two vital qualities Israel was lacking. Both deal with a mind and heart attitude towards God, but though they may seem synonymous, they possess subtle differences in their meaning.
The Hebrew definition is “knowing, learning, discernment, insight, and notion.” While this word in its basic sense means to know, it carries the implication of both head knowledge and heart knowledge. In one sense, this knowledge can mean wisdom and discernment, which comes from gleaning head knowledge. However, it can also mean knowledge through experience, relationship, or encounter. This is the knowledge of the heart.
Israel’s problem was that they didn’t have a head or heart knowledge of their God. They were completely ignorant to His ways and clueless to who He was. They were uninterested in acquiring knowledge about Him and dispassionate about getting to know Him experientially. In short, they did not know God, they did not try to know, and they did not want to know.
And this broke God’s heart.
“To discern, to perceive, to observe, to pay attention to, to be intelligent, to be discreet, to understand; in the causative sense, to give understanding, to teach; in the reflexive sense, to consider diligently.” Thus reads Dr. Spiros Zodhiates’ definition for the Hebrew word understanding used in Hosea 4:14b. Although the definitions for knowledge and understanding overlap somewhat, it is clearly evident that they don’t mean the same thing. Basically, understanding is the life application of knowledge. It’s taking the head and heart knowledge and applying them to life situations. It also has a sense of thinking deeply on something and becoming so familiar and knowledgeable about it that one could teach it to another.
Understanding is what all knowledge needs to become. Without understanding, knowledge is just a bunch of facts, data, and information. We need to know, so we can understand. We need to learn, so we can gain wisdom. We need to gain insight, so we can rightly discern truth from error. In short, knowledge is knowing what to do, and understanding is knowing when to do it.
God is ultimately the only One who can give understanding. However, we cannot even hope to attain this crucial characteristic unless we do our part and seek after knowledge—both informational and experiential.
Israel was lacking in both knowledge and understanding. They knew not the ways of God and did not understand the importance of knowing them. They did not grasp the severity of their sin or even attempt to acknowledge the evil of their actions. They were woefully ignorant to the concept of sin and completely clueless to the God they thought they served.
So God’s holy anger was roused. His righteous justice was provoked. And destruction was coming upon Israel for their lack of knowledge and shortage of understanding.
We Serve the Same God as Israel
Though under a new covenant without the burden of the law, we still worship and follow the same God whose heart was grieved over the Israelites’ lack of knowledge of Him. Therefore, we must take heed to the same warning God gave Israel: people without understanding shall come to ruin.
Are we a people without understanding? Are we ignorant to the ways of the Lord and to His words? Are we clueless to God’s character, who He is, and what He requires? Do we allow the Holy Spirit lead us into great depths of understanding and wisdom? Do we know how to take what we’ve learned and apply it to our lives, knowing what to do and when to do it?
While God holds the spiritual leaders partially accountable for the ignorance of the people, it is ultimately the individual’s responsibility to seek out the truth. It is up to you to open your Bible and get to know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is up to me to seek after a relationship and experiential knowledge of the living God. It is up to each one of us to ask for the Holy Spirit’s direction in applying what we know and becoming a people of understanding.
Now is the time. As the prophet Isaiah warned:
“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.”
So, let’s get to work right now. Time is short and there is much for us to learn. Therefore, let us strive to know God in both our heads and our hearts and prayerfully seek the wisdom and understanding that only comes from Him. May we immerse ourselves so fully into the pursuit of God that the knowledge and understanding of Him becomes our heart’s greatest desire. Then we can join the Apostle Paul in declaring:
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”