Growing up in church, you may have heard someone recite a verse from Hosea, "my people perish for lack of knowledge." The "perish" part is a paraphrase, most translations of the verse say "destroy." Here is how the NIV puts it:

“My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children” (Hosea 4:6).

One of the most beautiful things about the Bible is the way it uses small, seemingly insignificant stories to showcase the glory and vast love of God, our heavenly Father. From the parables Jesus used to illustrate His teachings to the words and lives of the prophets and other historical Bible figures, we can dive deeper and glean important wisdom about our Lord.

The book of Hosea is one such example. On the surface, it seems to be a tale of how God instructed this man of God to take a promiscuous, seemingly unworthy woman, make her his wife, and then keep loving her in spite of her lack of faith and loyalty. But it’s also a metaphor for the incredibly generous and enduring love God has for His people, despite our shortcomings and repeated sins.

In Hosea 4, God levels His charge against the Israelites for the ways they fall short. He expresses His great displeasure at their actions and the consequences they face.

God sums this up in Hosea 4:6, declaring, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.”

What does Hosea 4:6 mean for us today? In short, it is a warning that we are never to ignore God’s truth. We are to hold tight to the Word given to us by the Lord and follow Him despite the temptations and other messages surrounding us in the world today.

What Does It Mean That "My People Perish for Lack of Knowledge"?

Hosea contains important truths for God’s people, not only about His compassion but also about the many ways we humans go astray and hurt Him. We know from Scripture how many times God extended love to the Israelites, giving them second and third chances even when they turned from Him and even sought out other, false gods. They rejected Him, ignored Him, and broke His heart—and yet He loved them still.

Hosea was written by a man named Hosea, one of the 12 minor prophets in the Bible. The others are Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. According to the NIV Study Bible, Hosea was written around 722–721 BC to the Israelites, specifically to those in the northern kingdom. It’s primary theme centers on a love that will not quit: Hosea’s for his unfaithful wife and, most importantly, God’s for us, His unfaithful people.

In Hosea 4:6, God is saying through His prophet that His people have rejected and ignored the wisdom He provided to them. Therefore, He intends to reject the priests and ignore the children of the people as a consequence—He’s upset with us for not heeding His commands, His instructions, and His careful and loving guidance. We were given much information and understanding of His ways and His will through the people appointed, from prophets, priests, and rulers to His holy word itself. And yet we chose to go our own way, not His.

God is not happy with us.

What Else Is Happening in Hosea 4?

Scholars believe Hosea was written after the fall of Samaria, the northern capital. At that time, Jeroboam II was the king, and his son Zechariah was killed, ending the longstanding Jehu dynasty and much stability in Israel. Israel experienced recurring conflict with Syria, their neighbor to the north. During this time, there was fear of war and aggression, and many of the prophets brought warnings about the consequences God’s people would experience at the hands of their enemies because they rejected God’s ways.

The intended audience would have understood the warnings would likely include attack by the Assyrians and perhaps total annihilation.

In this chapter, God brings a charge against Israel and then informs them of the consequences. He tells the people that they are unfaithful and have no love. They murder, steal, lie, and commit adultery, and there is much bloodshed. The land is suffering because of this. People blame the priests, but they are ignoring the priests, so it’s everyone’s fault. In short, they have rejected His word and wisdom, so He’s angry with them—not only the people but the priests, too. The priests led the people astray and will be punished, as well.

God says they will not find contentment in anything. Their sins won’t comfort them. They’ll eat but not be full, engage in prostitution but not be satisfied or benefit in any way (Hosea 4:10). They’ll be confused and stubborn and stumble.

He’s also displeased with their sacrifices, which aren’t truly sacrificial at all, for they are made in comfort under the shade.

And in the end, God says, “A whirlwind will sweep them away, and their sacrifices will bring them shame” (Hosea 4:19).

Why Was There a Lack of Knowledge?

The people lack knowledge for two reasons: one, the priests aren’t guiding them well and teaching them in corrupt ways that disregard God’s true meaning (Hosea 4:7-8). And two, the people and priests choose to ignore or outright reject God’s commands. They consult idols and are unfaithful to the Lord (Hosea 4:12).

What Does This Verse Mean for Us Today?

While it’s been thousands of years since this book was written, Hosea’s warning still applies to us today. Instead of reading and adhering to God’s word, the Bible, we listen to other teachers—some of whom might be false. We don’t read His word for ourselves but instead rely on pastors and others to tell us what is the truth.

Or perhaps worse, we hear the Word but decide to heed our own will, comfort, and desires rather than what God wants. We know He wants us to follow His ways, but instead we cave to the whims of the flesh and engage in immorality or other sinful behavior. We let the devil get a foothold (Ephesians 4:27), and the slippery slope to sin begins.

Today, we can see this as a call to action, to morality, to wisdom, and to obedience. We must remember the words of Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In conclusion, we can learn a lot about the warnings God gives His people in Hosea 4:6. May we remember to obey God and accept His knowledge in spite of what others say or what we prefer to do.

As Jesus told the people, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

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Jessica Brodie author photo headshotJessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.