What is the Spirit of Harlotry?

by | Jun 28, 2019 | Bible Study | 0 comments

The prophet Hosea had a word of warning for the people of Israel, one that was brought with a vivid illustration of how the Lord viewed their worship. We are familiar with God using visions and dreams to speak to his people, but prophets were also often instructed to perform physical acts symbolizing either the listeners’ spiritual state, the coming judgment, or the promised restoration. This is true in the Book of Hosea.

​Backstory on the Book of Hosea

The book of Hosea is considered one of the twelve “minor” prophets in the Old Testament. It is not called “minor” because it is in any way less important, but simply because it is shorter than the books considered “major” prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel.)

Hosea was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel and is believed to have ministered during the final days of the northern kingdom from 753 BC to 715 BC when his book was written.

The LORD gave this message to Hosea son of Beeri during the years when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were kings of Judah, and Jeroboam, son of Jehoash was king of Israel. (Hosea 1:1 NLT)

The northern kingdom of Israel was larger, more prosperous, and more powerful than the southern kingdom of Judah. During this time of seeming safety and prosperity they had become spiritually and morally decadent. They mixed their worship of Yahweh with worship of Baal, violated civil laws for how the poor were to be treated, and had courts that were completely corrupt.

Context of Hosea’s Prophecies

God’s instruction to Hosea was to marry a prostitute. This was to be a sign to the Israelites that this was the way they had acted towards God.

When the LORD first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, he said to him, “God and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the LORD and worshipping other gods.” (Hosea 1:2)

The story of Hosea’s heartache with his wayward wife and the prophetic declarations made in through the lives of his children is an interesting study in itself, but that is not our focus today. There are a few things I would like to highlight.

The first is that Hosea did not mince words when it came to the wrong actions and behavior of his hearers.  As they say, he “called a spade a spade,” or in this case, a whore a whore.

The second is that Hosea announces that God’s covenant with Israel is broken as Jeremiah does later with Judah.

“But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband.” (Hosea 2:1 NLT)

The warning is that Israel will be stripped bare if they do not repent.

The final thing I would like to highlight that civil and economic injustice was a big part of the reason judgment came to Israel.

There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
  no knowledge of God in your land.
You make vows and break them;
  you kill and steal and commit adultery. (Hosea 4:1 NLT)

It is because of this unrighteousness, these false and unjust acts, that Hosea says “my people perish for a lack of knowledge.” Some people like to use this in the context of not knowing the promises or power of God, but that is taking this particular passage out of context. (More on that in this article)

Prophecy: From God to Master

The Jewish people, both those of the nations of Israel and Judah, went from a people chosen by God, that received God’s oracles and his presence in the Temple, to one that was exiled and banished from the promise. Not only does Hosea pronounce the divorce, but he also prophesies that the Jews would go from knowing their God and his name to calling him “master.” After issuing a judgment, Hosea then declares the restoration of communion writing:

When that day comes,” says the LORD,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’
    instead of my master.” (Hosea 2:16)

During Hosea’s day, the Jews still said the name of the Lord. That is not true today. By the time the Septuagint was translated 200 years before Jesus was born, the Jews replaced “Yahweh” with “Adonai,” which means “master” … just as Hosea prophesied centuries before.[i]

This is still the practice today. The claim is that mispronouncing the Divine name would be a violation of the second commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

This is a complete misunderstanding and trivialization of that commandment. The second commandment is about living with integrity as God’s imager. Do not say that you follow him but live like the world … the exact message of Hosea.

The Spirit of Harlotry: Hosea 4

But Hosea 4 is the passage that really stood out to me in this reading, specifically:

12 My people ask counsel from their wooden idols,
And their staff informs them.
For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray,
And they have played the harlot against their God.
13 They offer sacrifices on the mountaintops,
And burn incense on the hills,
Under oaks, poplars, and terebinths,
Because their shade is good.
Therefore your daughters commit harlotry,
And your brides commit adultery.

14 “I will not punish your daughters when they commit harlotry,
Nor your brides when they commit adultery;
For the men themselves go apart with harlots,
And offer sacrifices with a ritual harlot.
Therefore people who do not understand will be trampled. (Hosea 4:12-14 NKJV)

The people have rejected the voice of the Living God and turned to “wooden idols.” This betrayal of God, this harlotry, has put the people, as well as their descendants under a “spirit of harlotry.” A deceiving spirit that causes people to think there is safety and prosperity in something other than God (similar to what Jesus warned about as the “leaven of Herod.”) This spiritual adultery has a physical outworking in rampant adultery among the people.

Worshipping In Our Own Way

Not only did the Israelites mix their worship of God along with other pagan gods, but they also worshipped in their own way. The Jews were to offer sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. These instructions were very explicit.

Instead, they began to “burn incense on the hills” and “under oaks, populars, and terebinths” because it was easier, more pleasant, and “because their shade is good.”

The Israelites decided it was just “them and God” and that they don’t need community in the same way that many people today decide that it is just “me and Jesus” and that they don’t need a church fellowship.

This attitude is dangerous for a number of reasons. At the time of Hosea, before sacrifice and resurrection of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Temple was where the actual presence of God came. There was no true fellowship, no true communion and Sabbath rest, outside of it.

The second purpose of the Temple sacrifices and offerings was support of the priest and Levites, supporting that stewarding of God’s presence.  Those offerings were also to be distributed to the poor of the land. It was a way of distributing God’s justice and provision on earth. The lonely individual sacrifices on a hill did nothing and provided nothing beyond that perfunctory offering.

The third purpose is that those set holy days in Jerusalem were a time of fellowship and coming together. It was to build community among the people as well as communion with God. This is the same reason the writer of Hebrews tells us not to forsake Christian fellowship.

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25 NKJV)

Atonement, Sin and Iniquity

The other thing that stood out to me about the passage in Hosea 4 is that a “people who do not understand will be trampled.” We can experience judgment for actions that are not our own. Sometimes that is generational and sometimes it can be through other associations.

If there is an area in your life where you believe you should be having victory but aren’t, for examples addictions that can’t be broken no matter the amount of repentance or effort, recurring problems in your family, or inability to improve in health or finances regardless of effort, it could be a generational judgment (or curse.)

This is what is referred to as “iniquity.” In the 1992 presidential election, Ross Perot spent millions of dollars of his own money (way before YouTube) educating the American people on the difference between the “debt” and the “deficit.” When we spend more that we make or bring in, the difference is the deficit. When we continue to do that year after year, the total of our deficits is our “debt.”

When we individually do wrong, that is our “sin.” In the time under the Mosaic laws, individual sins required individual sacrifices to atone for (make right) those sins. Then once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) a sacrifice was made for the nation for all unintentional sins that had not been atoned for. This blood sacrifice was a covering, it shielded the person and the nation as a whole from judgment.

Under the Mosaic law, there were some sins that no animal sacrifice could atone for and the punishment was death. The transgression exceeded what that animal life could propitiate.

Many people misunderstand this. They look at all the sacrifices in the Old Testament and think that was salvation. It was not. Salvation has always been through faith.

And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. Genesis 15:6 NKJV

What the animal sacrifices and blood atonement did was cover the sin, sanctifying the space creating a space for God’s presence, protecting the Israelites from the judgment those actions incurred. It pushed back the judgment.

When those individual sins (the deficit) weren’t atoned for, the cumulative sins were the iniquity of the people: for individuals, for families, and for the nation. It was this built up iniquity that brought the judgment resulting in the exile of Israel and Judah.

Breaking Generational Bondage

The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New are the same. God didn’t change and neither did his laws. What changed at the cross is that we now have a remedy, regardless of the offense and no matter how deep the iniquity:

13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14 NKJV)

But the requirement is that we must repent of that wrong:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NKJV)

It may be that you come from a family with generations of built-up iniquity. It may be that you have yoked yourself with a group that has brought judgment upon you.

If you have confessed your sins, laid yourself before God, and you still aren’t seeing a light of relief from the thing that has you in bondage, then it is time to look beyond your individual life and look at your family and associations (organizations, church, city, country, etc.)

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the issue, confess and repent of it (using Daniel 9 as a model), then pray the opposite. In the case of the spirit of harlotry, pray that God sends the spirit of purity and truth.

This Bible study is part of the One Year Chronological Bible study which we completed in 2019.


[1] The Editors of Encyclopaedia, “Yahweh,” Encyclopedia Britannica, last modified January 3, 2020, accessed October 21, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Yahweh.

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