on Hosea 4 :1
The Lord hath a controversy - ריב rib, what we should call a lawsuit, in which God is plaintiff, and the Israelites defendants. It is Jehovah versus Israel and Judah.
But when has God a controversy with any land? - Answer. When there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. These refer to the minds of the people. But wherever these righteous principles are wanting, there will soon be a vicious practice; hence it is added,
on Hosea 4 :1
Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel - The prophet begins here, in a series of pictures as it were, to exhibit the people of Israel to themselves, that they might know that God did not do without cause all this which He denounced against them. Here, at the outset, He summons, the whole people, their prophets and priests, before the judgment seat of God, where God would condescend, Himself to implead them, and hear, if they had ought in their defense. The title "children of Israel" is, in itself, an appeal to their gratitude and their conscience, as the title "Christian" among us is an appeal to us, by Him whose name we bear. Our Lord says, "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the work's of Abraham" John 8:39; and Paul, "let every one that nameth the name of Christ, depart from iniquity" 2 Timothy 2:19.
For the Lord hath a controversy - God wills, in all His dealings with us His creatures, to prove even to our own consciences, the righteousness of His judgments, so as to leave us without excuse. Now, through His servants, He shows people their unrighteousness and His justice; hereafter our Lord, the righteous Judge, will show it through the book of people's own consciences.
With the inhabitants of the land - God had given the land to the children of Israel, on account of the wickedness of these whom He drave out before them. He gave it to them "that they might observe His statutes and keep His laws" (Psalm 105 ult.). He had promised that His "Eyes should always be upon it from the beginning of the year unto the end of the year" Deuteronomy 11:12. This land, the scene of those former judgments, given to them on those conditions (see Deuteronomy 4:1, Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 6:21-25, etc.), the land which God had given to them as their God, they had filled with iniquity.
Because there is no truth, nor mercy - "Truth and mercy" are often spoken of, as to Almighty God. Truth takes in all which is right, and to which God has bound Himself; mercy, all beyond, which God does out of His boundless love. When God says of Israel, "there is no truth nor mercy," He says that there is absolutely none of those two great qualities, under which He comprises all His own Goodness. "There is no truth," none whatever, "no regard for known truth; no conscience, no sincerity, no uprightness; no truth of words; no truth of promises; no truth in witnessing; no making good in deeds what they said in words."
Nor mercy - The word has a wide meaning; it includes all love of one to another, a love issuing in acts. It includes loving-kindness, piety to parents, natural affection, forgiveness, tenderness, beneficence, mercy, goodness. The prophet, in declaring the absence of this grace, declares the absence of all included under it. Whatever could be comprised under love, whatever feelings are influenced by love, of that there was nothing.
Nor knowledge of God - The union of right knowledge and wrong practice is hideous in itself; and it must be especially offensive to Almighty God, that His creatures should know whom they offend, how they offend Him, and yet, amid and against their knowledge, choose that which displeases Him. And, on that ground, perhaps, He has so created us, that when our acts are wrong, our knowledge becomes darkened Romans 1:21. The "knowledge of God" is not merely to know some things of God, as that He is the Creator and Preserver of the world and of ourselves. To know things of God is not to know God Himself. We cannot know God in any respect, unless we are so far made like unto Him. "Hereby do we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him. Every one that loveth is born of' God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love" 1 John 2:3-4; 1 John 4:7-8.
Knowledge of God being the gift of the Holy Spirit, he who hath not grace, cannot have that knowledge. A certain degree of speculative knowledge of God, a bad man may have, as Balaam had by inspiration, and the Pagan who, "when they knew God, glorified Him not as God." But even this knowledge is not retained without love. Those who "held the truth in unrighteousness" ended (Paul says Romans 1:21, Romans 1:18, Romans 1:28) by corrupting it. "They did not like to retain God in their knowledge, and so God gave them over to a reprobate," or undistinguishing mind, that they could not. Certainly, the speculative and practical knowledge are bound up together, through the oneness of the relation of the soul to God, whether in its thoughts of Him, or its acts toward Him. Wrong practice corrupts belief, as misbelief corrupts practice. The prophet then probably denies that there was any true knowledge of God, of any sort, whether of life or faith or understanding or love. Ignorance of God, then, is a great evil, a source of all other evils.
on Hosea 4 :1