************ Sermon on Hosea 4:4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 28, 2003
"The Right Kind of Criticism"
There was a woman married to a man who criticized everything and praised nothing. This poor woman tried her best to please her ultra-critical husband, but failed regularly. Breakfast was the worst time of the day. If she gave him scrambled eggs, he wanted them fried; if they were fried, he wanted them scrambled. One morning, with what she thought was a stroke of genius, the wife scrambled one egg and fried the other and placed the plate before him. Anxiously she waited for his approval. "Oh no!" he groaned, pushing the plate away. "You've fried the wrong egg."
Hosea reminds us that the Lord does not like a critical spirit. He especially despises any criticism and complaints Israel made of her leaders:
(Hosea 4:4) "But let no man bring a charge, let no man accuse another, for your people are like those who bring charges against a priest. "
Criticism of a nation's leaders is nothing new. It happened in Israel, when she criticized her priests; and it happens today when we criticize the President, Congress, the Supreme Court, Governor, or whatever. Turn on one of the late night shows and you wonder what the opening monologue would say if our leaders couldn't be criticized. In a sin-filled world criticism of leaders is perhaps the price we have to pay for democracy and freedom.
Yet, speaking the Word of the Lord, Hosea lets us know that God's people should not adopt this kind of critical, complaining attitude.
Having said that, what does Hosea now proceed to do? The surprising thing is that Hosea begins to criticize the priests. He rebukes the people for criticizing the priests yet he does the same thing himself. The prophet is quite merciless in his criticism. He throws the book at the priests, as it were. Hosea says:
-they have rejected knowledge
-they have ignored the law of God
-they sinned against God
-they exchanged Glory for something disgraceful
-they feed on the sins of the people
-they relish wickedness
The Lord's resulting judgment is devastating: "I reject you as my priests."
What was Hosea up to? Why is it that he can criticize Israel's leaders while the people have to keep quiet? Is this fair? Is it hypocritical?
I Right and Wrong Criticism
A What Hosea did was something completely different from the usual grumbling and complaining. In his criticism, Hosea was speaking out against sin. It made no difference to Hosea whom the guilty were. Whether they were leaders or followers, if they were sinning Hosea spoke out against them. No one who took the wrong path in doctrine or life was spared – not even the priests.
Like Hosea, no one should remain silent about sin, especially the sin of one's leaders. When leaders go astray, the people need not, may not, and must not remain silent. Yet, that's not what was happening in Israel. Not a word of criticism was said against the sins of the priests. No one paid any attention to how the priests lived, nor did any one seem to care. The people had no objections at all to the participation of the priests in the calf-worship at Dan and Bethel. Everyone was silent about it; everyone seemed to think it was fine. After all, this was a beautiful excuse for their own sins. What better way to excuse your sins than to point out that the leaders do it too?
B This does not mean the people said only complimentary things about their priests. As Hosea makes clear, the people did criticize their priests. What they criticized was the judgments of the priests. So that you can understand this, I have to give you some background information.
According to the law of Israel, the priests also served as judges. No one in Israel was allowed to be his own judge and jury. If two men in Israel were locked in a dispute, they were to
(Deut 17:9-12) Go to the priests, who are Levites, and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict. (10) You must act according to the decisions they give you at the place the LORD will choose. Be careful to do everything they direct you to do. (11) Act according to the law they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left. (12) The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the LORD your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel.
In Hosea's day, the people did not take this decree seriously. Time and again these binding decisions of the priests were resisted. Time and again these binding decisions of the priests were disobeyed. Time and again these binding decisions of the priests were criticized.
So, then, the people criticized their priests. But they criticized them for the wrong thing.
C Those who were so quick to criticize the priests did not like to hear their own sins denounced. When the people did wrong, they did not want anyone to point it out; they didn't want to hear a complaint or gentle admonition or a reference to their sin from anyone. Hosea refers to this in a rather sarcastic tone when he said, "But let no man bring a charge, let no man accuse another ..." And, anyone who dared to say something about the sin of the people, was quickly jumped on.
There certainly was plenty to criticize the people for. The picture Hosea painted was sad indeed:
(Hosea 4:1-2) "There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. (2) There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed."This is hard to believe: murder, robbery, and adultery were the order of the day. And woe to anyone who dared to say or do anything about it!
The reason, the cause, for this is not hard to find. Some say these awful conditions were a result of the political and economic unrest after the time of Jeroboam II. These are the same people who say the violence and decadence of our culture is because of poverty, prejudice, ill-equipped schools, white-flight to the suburbs, etc. But these are not the reasons, they are only the symptoms. The reason for sin and immorality, says Hosea, is because there is "no acknowledgment of God in the land" (4:1). The reason for sin and immorality is because people don't know the Lord. Or, as he puts in another place, "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge" (verse 6). That was true at the time of Hosea and it is true today as well. As long as people don't know and acknowledge the Lord, no amount of education or money or programs will improve morality or get rid of social evils.
The people of Israel had so much sin in their midst. But they did not tolerate anyone pointing out that sin to them.
D Furthermore, those who were so quick to criticize the priests were not critical of themselves in the slightest. But, then, those who don't put up with the criticisms of others never engage in self-criticism either. Jesus condemned this sort of double-mindedness. Jesus has no use and no toleration for those who can so quickly judge others without first judging themselves. You know what He said:
(Mt 7:3-5) "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (4) How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? (5) You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.Jesus point is clear, isn't it? Jesus doesn't say that we must not judge. What He says is that all judgment must start off with self-judgment; all criticism must start off with self-criticism; all fault-finding must start off with looking at our own faults. Those who fail to do this are nothing but hypocrites.
Topic: HypocrisyImagine that: faulting people for violations without ever once seeing their own violations. This is the sort of thing Jesus warned against.
All of us should appreciate the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland. That's where good firemen go to become better firemen. Thousands of them each year -- career and volunteer firefighters -- go to the National Fire Academy to learn the latest in fire prevention, firefighting and fire department management. While on that campus a recent class in fire prevention was challenged to a competition. Students at the National Fire Academy were sent forth to see which student could find the most fire code violations in any one building -- they could choose any building. The winner of the competition found and confirmed 180 separate fire code violations in one building.
By the way, he discovered that building without leaving the campus.
E The people of Israel kept quiet about sin in their midst. They did not tolerate anyone pointing a finger of accusation. They never engaged in self-criticism. The Lord, however, could not and did not keep quiet. Listen to verse 1:
(Hosea 4:1) Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites, because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land ... Through Hosea, the Lord levels His criticism against people and priest, follower and leader.
Not only that, but He also makes His judgment known. He said,
(Hosea 4:3) Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying. These words point to the final judgment.
A Are things any better today than they were in Hosea's time?
Let's admit, first of all, that too many of God's people like to "criticize the priests." I know that is not the case in Trinity, but in many homes Sunday dinner is "roast preacher" or "roast consistory." Many pastors and elders and deacons and leaders work their hearts out day and night, and no one ever says a word of praise or thanks. But as soon as something goes wrong, or something comes up that people don't like, then they come crawling out of the woodwork with complaints or criticism.
B Sometimes, a sermon has to step on some toes. Sometimes an elder has to deal with very specific sins. That makes some people mad or uncomfortable. How dare the preacher do that? Or, that is none of the elders' business.
People forget that when they join the church they give the church the right to stick her nose into their affairs. People forget that when they join the church they agree to submit to the admonition and discipline of the elders.
C Another thing: how many people today actually engage in honest self-criticism? We don't want criticism from others; and, we don't even want to criticize ourselves. That is why people can sit at the Lord's Table with an unresolved conflict in their life. That is why people can sit at the Lord's Table with an unconfessed sin in their life. That is why people can abuse drugs or alcohol or their spouse on Saturday and come to the Lord's Table on Sunday.
There is a right kind and a wrong kind of criticism. The right kind starts with ourselves. We fall down on our knees before God. We confess our sins. We ask for His grace. Then, humbly and carefully, we deal with the failings of others.
The wrong kind starts with others, especially our leaders. We run them down, we chew them up, we fail to support and honor and obey.
Which kind is to be found in your life? Which kind is to be found in your circle?
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