There is a phrase that you hear used occasionally, “my people perish for lack of knowledge.” Normally it is used by a charismatic referring to Christians who are living defeated lives because they either deny the gifts or the power of the Holy Spirit.

They are right in a way. Jesus did come that we might “have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) and we do have the same power that raised Christ from the dead within us. Those things are true.

But that is not to what this particular verse is referring.

The phrase is the King James translation of Hosea 4:6. It begins:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.

Then it continues:

Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also will reject you from being a priest for Me.

If we read no farther than this, you might still accept the interpretation of the verse as a denial of the gifts of the spirit. If we reject the fullness of God, which includes the fullness of His  Holy Spirit, how can we possibly be in fellowship with Someone when we reject part of who He is?

But if we read on and finish verse six, we begin to get an inkling of what this passage refers to. The verse ends.

“Because you have forgotten the law of your God,

I will also forget your children.”

Let’s look at how different translations handle this passage:

King James Version

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.

New American Standard

My people are ruined for lack of knowledge!

Since you have rejected knowledge,

I will reject you from serving as my priest;

Since you have forgotten the law of your God,

I will also forget your children.

Young’s Literal Translation

Cut off have been My people for lack of knowledge, Because thou knowledge hast rejected, I reject thee from being priest to Me, And thou forgettest the law of thy God, I forget thy sons, I also!

English Standard Version

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;

because you have rejected knowledge,

I reject you from being a priest to me.

And since you have forgotten the law of your God,

I also will forget your children.

New International Version

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.

New Living Translation

My people are being destroyed

because they don’t know me.

Since you priests refuse to know me,

I refuse to recognize you as my priests.

Since you have forgotten the laws of your God,

I will forget to bless your children.

Amplified Bible

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge [of My law, where I reveal My will].

Because you [the priestly nation] have rejected knowledge,

I will also reject you from being My priest.

Since you have forgotten the law of your God,

I will also forget your children.

Good News Translation

My people are doomed because they do not acknowledge me. You priests have refused to acknowledge me and have rejected my teaching, and so I reject you and will not acknowledge your sons as my priests.

I’m including The Message here just because I know many people like to use it. Eugene Peterson didn’t even attempt to translate by verse, this is his rendition of verses 4-10. (Have I mentioned before that I hate The Message.)

“But don’t look for someone to blame.

No finger pointing!

You, priest, are the one in the dock.

You stumble around in broad daylight,

And then the prophets take over and stumble all night.

Your mother is as bad as you.

My people are ruined

because they don’t know what’s right or true.

Because you’ve turned your back on knowledge,

I’ve turned my back on you priests.

Because you refuse to recognize the revelation of God,

I’m no longer recognizing your children.

The more priests, the more sin.

They traded in their glory for shame.

They pig out on my people’s sins.

They can’t wait for the latest in evil.

The result: You can’t tell the people from the priests,

the priests from the people.

I’m on my way to make them both pay

and take the consequences of the bad lives they’ve lived.

They’ll eat and be as hungry as ever,

have sex and get no satisfaction.

They walked out on me, their God,

for a life of rutting with whores.

What Does the Word “Perish” Actually Mean

So what does it actually mean to “perish” in this context? Does it mean that a person will physically die? The definition of the word “perish” in English means “to suffer death, typically in a violent, sudden, or untimely way.” Another definition is to “suffer complete ruin or destruction.
The King James translates this passage as “my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

The original Hebrew word in the passage is “damah” which means to “cut off, cease, perish, bring to silence, liken, destroy, undone, utterly cut down. It is Strongs H1820.

This same word is also used in Psalm 49:12

Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not; he is like the bests that perish.

Isaiah 6:5

Then said I, Woe is me! For I am undone (damah): because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

Isaiah 15:1

The burden of Moab. Because in the night Ar of Moab is laid waste, and brought to silence (damah); because in the night Kir of Moab is laid waste, and brought to silence (damah).

Jeremiah 6:2

I have likened (damah) the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman.

Jeremiah 14:17

Therefore thou shalt say this word unto them; Let mine eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease (damah); for the virgin daughter of my people is broken with a great breach, with a very grievous blow.

Jeremiah 47:5

Baldness is come upon Gaza; Ashkelon is cut off with the remnant of their valley; how long will though cut thyself?

Lamentations 3:49

Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission.

Hosea 4:5

Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother.

Hosea 10:7

As for Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon the water.

Hosea 10:15

So shall Bethel do unto you because of your great wickedness: in a morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off.

Obadiah 1:5

If thieves came to thee, if robbers by night, (how art thou cut off!) would they not have stolen till they had enough? If the grape-gatherers came to thee, would they not leave some grapes?

Zephaniah 1:11

Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people are cut down, all they that bear silver are cut off.

Looking at these verses, we can see that the word sometimes refers to physical death such as in Zephaniah 1:11, but it can also mean a separation and a cutting off, something is brought to an end.

What is the Meaning of “Lack of Knowledge?”

We’ve defined the consequence, so what is the cause. What does it mean that someone has a “lack of knowledge” Hosea’s context?

Let’s begin again with the definition of the word in English. Knowledge is

Facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education, the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

Another definition is: “Awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.

The word for “knowledge” in Hosea 4:6 is  “da’ath” (Strongs H1847) which translates as “knowledge, cunning, (ig)norantly, know(ledge), (un)awares (wittingly.)

It is used many times throughout the Old Testament, but the first is in Genesis chapter 2 when the tree of knowledge of good and evil is referenced in Genesis 2:9 and Genesis 2:17.

What Does Hosea 4:6 Actually Mean?

God did not just give instructions to the children of Israel and Jesus did not only speak in parables, God also speaks through the lives of his people, they themselves are His Story, and Hosea is one of the most extreme examples of this.

Hosea prophesied during the time of the Divided Kingdom and both the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah not only did not follow God, but they were placing their trust in foreign alliances. Not only were their rulers corrupt, but their people were as well.

To illustrate how utterly despicable God found their actions, God chose Hosea to be a prophet and told him to marry a prostitute. As Hosea’s wife whored herself out to others transgressing against a husband who had given her an opportunity for a true loving relationship and communion in marriage with a home of her own, so had Israel prostituted herself transgressing a loving God who had chosen her for His own people and brought Israel into their own land.

Not only was Israel placing their trust in other countries and worshiping pagan gods, but the people themselves were corrupt.

The chapter begins with a listing of Israel’s offenses:

Hear the word of the LORD,

You children of Isreal,

For the LORD brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land.

“There is no truth or mercy

Or knowledge of God in the land.

By swearing and lying,

Killing and stealing and committing adultery.

They break all restraint,

With bloodshed upon bloodshed.

Therefore the land will mourn;

And everyone who dwells there will waste away

With the beasts of the field

And the birds of the air;

Even the fish of the sea will be taken away.

Now let no man contend, or rebuke another

For your people are like those who contend with the priest.

Therefore you shall stumble in the day;

The prophet also shall stumble with you in the night;

And I will destroy your mother.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.

Because you have rejected knowledge,

I also will reject you from being priest for Me;

Because you have forgotten the law of your God.

I also will forget your children.

The more they increased,

The more they sinned against Me;

I will change their glory into shame.

They eat up the sin of My people;

They set their heart on their iniquity.

And it shall be; like people, like priest,

So I will punish them for their ways,

And reward them for their deeds.

For they shall eat, but not have enough;

They shall commit harlotry, but not increase;

Because they have ceased obeying the LORD.

Breaking Down Hosea 4

Hosea chapter 4 is basically the 8th century BC version of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Johnathan Edwards.

“The lack of knowledge” is referring to their lack of knowledge of the ways of God. God’s people should seek truth and love mercy. Instead, there was lying, killing, stealing and committing adultery. (verse 1).

Israel had been chosen by God to be his special people, they were to be a light to the rest of the world . . . but instead they acted like everyone else around them. They were to be God’s representatives on earth, evidence that Yahweh was the holy and righteous God, superior to all the pagan deities. They were to show that life could be different and that living in obedience to the One True God brought not only happiness and prosperity to the individual, but was the true strength of the nation.

But the Israelites were no different than the people around them. They were just as corrupt. They did just the same things. The difference was that they believed their “special status” as the chosen of God would give them a pass. They didn’t even recognize their own sins.

Then comes Hosea with his tramp of a wife and words saying, “This is you Israel . . . And judgment is coming.”

The Consequences of the Spirit of Harlotry

In verse twelve, Hosea writes that it is the spirit of harlotry that “the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray and they have played the harlot against their God.” When the Bible talks about a spirit “causing” or operating in a situation, it does not mean that the individual is operating passively like a pawn on a chessboard. Just as we choose to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we choose to allow unclean and unholy spirits room in our lives.

A spiritual stronghold is a wrong thought about ourselves, other people, or God. A stronghold can also be created by wrong actions. For example, when we choose to respond to a situation angrily, that is all us and our choice, but we open the door to the spirit of anger. As we continue to give way to anger in situations, that spirit of anger becomes entrenched, binding us to it. It can become so intertwined with a peron’s personality that the person can get to a point where they have completely given over that area of their life to that spirit of anger. The progress of spiritual harassment to demonic oppression is

An open door => Making room => Under Control

This is why the Bible says you are a slave to sin (2 Peter 2:19)

At this point in the cultural life of Israel, wrong actions and pagan worship had become so commonplace, so accepted in society, that many of its citizens didn’t even know that what they were doing was wrong. Everyone did it. In verse fourteen, Hosea writes, “therefore people who do not understand will be trampled.”

Many did not recognize what they were doing was wrong because their rulers were leading them astray and their priests weren’t telling them any differently, but regardless, the consequences of God’s judgment would affect them just the same whether they understood why or not.

Earlier in the chapter, Hosea prophesied the judgment that would befall them because of their sin. Their glory would be turned into shame (verse 7), they would “eat, but not have enough,” representing lack and insufficiency, and would “commit harlotry, but not increase” representing infertility and the inability to reproduce. (verse 10).

To put it simply, they would not prosper.

In Deuteronomy 28, as God gave Moses instructions for establishing the nation of Israel, he also gave them a promise of blessing along with a warning. The first part of the chapter lists the ways God would bless them individually and as a nation if they listened to His voice.

It is an “if and then” promise, one conditional on their actions.

But the second half of the chapter gave a list of curses that they would experience if they did not continue to follow the right path. God said “a blessing or a curse is before you today . . . Choose life.” (Deut 30:19)

Hosea’s warning of the judgment that was coming echoes the warning of Deuteronomy 28. Israel had made their choice and the time for the consequences of those wrong choices had arrived. Even though many of its citizens did not know any better, they would still suffer the consequences.

A Promise of Redemption

Hosea’s message was not only offensive but one that threatened Israel’s very identity as the chosen people of the Most High God. He named his second son Lo-Ammi as a prophetic act against Israel in agreement with God’s word to them:

“For you are not My people,

And I will not be your God.” (Hosea 1:8)

Hosea foretold the Exile, that Israel would return to the wilderness (Hosea 2:14) but with that judgment also came a hope.

Israel was already exiled from their God, they just didn’t realize it in their comfort. The Spirit of the Lord had already left them. (Hosea 5:4-6)

But when their comfort was removed and they had no one left to turn to, Hosea promised that the Lord would comfort them. God allowed Israel to be conquered and expelled from the land so that her people would be humbled and would finally call out to God in sincerity and truth.

A remnant of Israel returned from the exile that followed shortly after this time, just as they returned to Israel in 1948 after a diaspora of almost two thousand years. Neither of these is the future restoration Hosea prophesied in chapter two.

The promised restoration is the one that is still yet to come. It is the restoration of Isaiah 35 and Zechariah 12:10.

And it shall be, in that day,

Says the LORD,

That you will call Me “My Husband,”

And no longer call me “my Master.[1]

For I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals,

And they shall be remembered by their names no more.

In that day I will make a covenant for them

With the beasts of the field,

With the birds of the air,

And with the creeping things of the ground.

Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth,

To make them lie down safely.

“I will betroth you to Me forever;

Yes, I will betroth you to Me

In righteousness and justice,

In lovingkindness and mercy;

I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness,

And you shall know the LORD.

“It shall come to pass in that day

That I will answer,” says the Lord;

“I will answer the heavens,

And they shall answer the earth.

The earth shall answer

With grain,

With new wine,

And with oil;

They shall answer Jezreel.

Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth.

And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy.

Then I will say to those who were not My people,

“You are My people!”

And they shall say, “You are my God!” Hosea 2:16-23




[1] The interesting thing about this stanza is that “Master” is how modern Judaism refers to God. The modern Jewish interpretation of the second commandment, not to take the name of the Lord in vain, is a concern over mispronouncing it. They do not say the word “Yahweh,” saying that to do so is to profane the name of the Lord, ignoring the fact that the original Hebrew writers must not have seen any problem calling God by the name He had identified Himself to them by. They even write the word “God” without the vowel (G-d) to make extra sure not to transgress in this way.

(I hope it’s clear from this article that God’s concern is about obedience to Him and a humble heart . . . Not enunciation.)

When reading Scripture, Jews will say “Adonai” meaning “Master,” instead of saying Yahweh. When Hosea’s prophecy is fulfilled, this practice will be replaced with true communion and fellowship.