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In Hosea 4:11 (ESV), God seems to condemn drinking wine:

They shall eat, but not be satisfied;
they shall play the whore, but not multiply,
because they have forsaken the Lord
to cherish whoredom, wine, and new wine,
which take away the understanding.

This question is less likely to rise from the NLT:

They will eat and still be hungry.
They will play the prostitute and gain nothing from it,
for they have deserted the Lord
to worship other gods.

“Wine has robbed my people
of their understanding..."

Which is a better rendering? (If the NLT's is better, an answer the second question becomes apparent.) Is there reason from the context to think that what is being criticized is excess of drinking wine (cf. verse 18), or does this passage support total abstinence?

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How weird! Hosea 4:18 just turned up in my answer to my shields of the earth question. –  Jon Ericson May 22 '12 at 20:05
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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

No, the prophet is not teaching that the Israelites are in sin because they are drinking wine. The picture is not one where everyone is sitting down to a nice meal together and giving thanks to God, but God is angry because they had a little wine. The picture is not temperance, but intemperance (esp. 4:18). It is a picture of the Israelites engaged in revelry and idolatry similar to Exodus 32.

I won't judge between the ESV and NLT; they have different philosophies of translation. But I don't think either translation changes the broader picture too much. The issue is that they are forsaking God in order to pursue their own pleasures and idols.

In terms of exegetical support for this, Isaiah 22:13 gives a similar rebuke. God chastises the people for saying, "Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die!" His complaint there isn't that the people should abstain from beef or lamb or eating(!). So here in Hosea: the problem isn't wine per se, but a hedonistic abandonment of God's rule.

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They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the Lord to cherish whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding.

It should be clear that this is in the genre of riddle. In riddle, the answer must be known and applied back to the verse. This is not eisegesis since you are not putting your own meaning to it, but applying the answer the author intended.

Using the methods of SP:

Eating relates to learning or the word. Clean animals ruminate/meditate upon the word and it produces a separated/holy walk/life. Swine are undiscerning in what they eat. Dogs return to what they have rejected.

The word of God satisfies, and therefore they are eating something other than the word of God.

Imagery of the whore is common for following after other gods.

Their union with a whore is not fruitful. In contrast, God's union with a virgin produces fruitfulness. So they are spiritually dead.

Water, the Word of God, becomes wine when the axe is removed. Yes that is a riddle too. The Word destroys and gives life. It contains both the Holiness of God which burns up all dross, and the Love/Grace of God which gives life. When judgement is removed from the water, it becomes wine.

Old wine is the grace that all men experience. Though they are sinners, God does not immediately destroy them, but is patient and long-suffering.

New wine is the grace of the gospel where Christ has been made sin for us, and we are made the righteousness of God. In the new wine God is not merely being patient with our sin, but he has removed it.

Three things are said to take away understanding, because there are three ways to understand: we may hear, see and walk.

Hearing is recognizing God's voice but not understanding his words. Following after false god's makes it such that you cannot distinguish God's voice.

Seeing is understanding the words of God. Old grace, long-suffering of sin, makes it such that though you understand God's Holiness from the words, you do not believe it at heart, and so heartless religion follows.

Walking is understanding the Word such that you live it and it lives in you. But even this grace can deaden our understanding when we lose sight of the cross. Easy beliefism leads to licentiousness, as Paul warned against (Rom 6.1).

God's warning in Hosea is sadly applicable today.

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See Paul's warning to Timothy as a parallel passage: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/1730/… –  Bob Jones May 26 '12 at 17:29
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Allepo Codex and Masoretic, Hos 4:10:

Achlu v'lo yisbau / They ate and were not satisfied

hiznu v'lo yiphrotsu / They whored but did not multiply

ci et YHWH azavu lishmor / because YHWH they abandoned to keep (follow)

Hos 4:11

Znut v'yayyin v'tirosh / Whoring and wine and fresh wine

yikach lev / will take away the heart (attention or understanding)

Hos 4:12

Ami b'atso yishal / My people his own advice asks

u'maklo yagid lo ci ruah znunim / and his staff (stick) will speak to him because a spirit of whoring...

Note 1

If the verse break between 11 and 12 is after "Ami" (my people) then the end of 11 is:

yikach lev ami / will take away my people's heart (attention or understanding)

and the start of 12 is:

b'atso yishal u'maklo yagid lo / his own advice asks and his staff will answer him

This appears to be the reading of the NLT, apparently reading against the traditional verse breaks.

Note 2

yiphrotsu from end of second line of verse 10 is the same word as used in Exodus 1:12 for "increased". Same root as "Perets" in Gen 38:29 meaning to break out or expand. NLT's "gain nothing from it" is surprising considering the many other occurrences of this word in connection to population growth.

Note 3

No prophet speaks out against drinking wine per se. Wine drinking occurs throughout the OT and is accepted as normal, as in Psalms 104:15. However, the prophets and Proverbs speak out against excessive wine drinking or inappropriate wine drinking and the death of the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, related in Leviticus 10 is attributed in the oral tradition to drinking while performing the Temple service.

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