A few months ago while I was in church, I heard our Pastor mention very quickly a short phrase that caught my attention—mainly because I don’t remember ever hearing or reading it before. It wasn’t part of the thrust of his message; it was just something he cited to make his point. Sometime later I heard it again somewhere, so I decided it was time to look it up.
There are four words found almost hidden, tucked away back in the fourth chapter and ninth verse of a lesser-known prophet by the name of Hosea. Interestingly enough, however, both times I heard this verse it was quoted (or rather, misquoted) in the reverse order of how it is actually recorded in the Word of G-d. I understand why, perhaps, my Pastor and other brother on the radio got it confused because the normal way we think, speak and comprehend a leader to govern, rule, guide or pilot us would be viewed and correctly spoken the way they did, “like priest, like people.” Their words reflect and imply that the way the priest or leader thinks, acts and speaks is the way those he presides over will likewise do. Certainly that is the hope and expectation if it is holy.
However, I said earlier that they misquoted the phrase. I mentioned that they, unintentionally, got it backwards. Hosea 4:9 says, “LIKE PEOPLE, LIKE PRIEST.” This is a totally different viewpoint, a completely different angle and there is a reason G-d’s prophet spoke them in the order he did. The Lord is revealing to us through Hosea that the ways in which the people—the governees (the governed), not the governors—think, speak and act are often mimicked by their leaders. Clearly in such cases the “leaders” relinquish their role. What are they, then, if not leaders? Followers? No. They become, via improper action or lack of action altogether, impotent and for all practical purposes, useless (feeble, unfit, worthless, ineffectual). They EMASCULATE themselves.
In the case of Hosea the Lord says, “there is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed…yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest.” The leader has not led or governed or set the example, but allowed the people to do whatever their sinful hearts and desires imagined. And, often, he has followed them.
In the book of 1 Samuel and the 15th chapter Almighty G-d reveals to Samuel (another prophet) and he relays to King Saul, that because of all the Amalekites did to Israel as they came out of Egypt Saul was to “devote them all to destruction.” ALL. So the king summons 210,000 men to wipe them out. Their instructions were, “Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” But Saul took Agag (the Amalekite king) alive and kept the “best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs,” while only the “despised and blemished” were devoted to destruction. Because Saul did not obey the Lord’s commandments, G-d rejected him as king. Saul reported to G-d’s prophet saying, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” This was untrue and Samuel responded, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of oxen that I hear?” A few verses later we see Saul’s lack of leadership and authority revealed in these words, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” Fear and disobedience led to “LIKE PEOPLE, LIKE PRIEST.” The people sin and, through lack of governance, the ordained and divinely- given authority, the ruler follows suit.
A very infamous example is found in the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew 27: 11-26. Pontius Pilate, who was Governor of Judea (the larger province which included Jerusalem), acquiesced to the religious ones and the crowd of Jews they had stirred up against our Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible records his lack of authority in verse 24, “So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing (his emasculation), but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying [in a face-saving effort] ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’” Even in this instance, the leadership lacked and led to another prophetic fulfillment of Hosea’s words, “LIKE PEOPLE, LIKE PRIEST.” Even today we are already seeing the beginnings of a terrible but predictable harvest of bad fruit in the lives of children and young adults who, through their own rebellion and their parents’ (especially fathers, and in their absence) lack of exercising authority, are living out the prophetic cry, “LIKE PEOPLE, LIKE PRIEST.” The children do whatever they want, parents don’t rebuke or discipline or guide them, and so they relinquish their lead to their offspring.
Now let’s see yet another example that the Spirit has just opened my eyes to. It is extremely relevant, has eternal consequences- both for good and for bad- involves both the believer and unbeliever, and we can see its beginnings, as well as modern-day applications and ramifications, in Ezekiel chapter three. The Lord G-d, in caring greatly for His wayward sheep, assigns His prophet authority and oversight- and this is where every believer needs to take note, sit up straight and pay attention. The Father calls Ezekiel (and you and me as His sons and daughters, born of water and the Spirit) to be what the Bible calls “a watchman.” Notice the successive verses:
Verse 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the House of Israel. Whenever you hear a Word from My mouth, you shall give them a warning from Me.”
Verse 18) “If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’ [in your sins], and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his [eternal] life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.”
Verse 19) “But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.”
Verse 20) “Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand.”
Verse 21) “But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.”
It is important that these two items are mentioned before the specific command, both to Ezekiel (as a man of G-d who speaks and models His Word) and to us (those of us who have been and will yet be truly saved by grace through faith): One, that we have been made watchmen over each other (both Jew and Gentile). And Two, whenever- and only then- we hear from the Holy Spirit (so we have to be listening, be attentive, be discerning), we speak the Lord’s Word to them graciously, with the love of G-d in our hearts, boldly, courageously and with no obstruction from the enemy or his agents who seek to silence us through the fear of offending someone. Today, that is his most powerful, effective and pervasive tactic; it is almost paralyzing. If you read again verses 18-21 collectively and straight through, you will see the absolute necessity of being obedient to the authority of Christ in you. If you become emasculated, the result is someone’s death eternally. But if you are cooperative and rely, as you always should, on the strength of G-d, you might witness the saving power of the Almighty. Isn’t that the Great Commission?
We are talking about “LIKE PEOPLE, LIKE PRIEST.” The world is unsaved. The world is lost. The world is dead it its sins, as we once were. If we, like Pilate, wash our hands of the matter at hand (especially of another’s salvation) and seek only our own business and welfare- and, dare I say, comfort- we will become ineffective. Our witness will suffer, our Light will fade, and our salt will lose its taste and preserving essence. The sins of the world all around (THE PEOPLE) will rub off on us (THE PRIESTS), rendering us to be more like them; then the Father will take issue with us as He admonishes in Hosea 4:4. Let us not fall prey to watering down the Gospel to make it more palatable, less offensive, or both. And, believe me, it can be a very strong and persistent temptation.
How many people are attending churches today who truly are yet unsaved? Time and time again we hear altar calls which lack the substance and do not produce conviction because there is no foundation, which is Christ. They are invited to stand on Him who is the foundation (for there is no other), but they have not been sufficiently taught anything about that Rock in order for them to follow after Him or trust Him or to hold onto Him as an anchor when the storms come. How many people have “accepted Christ” without the necessary knowledge of dying to self, walking away from sin, carrying one’s Cross or the costs associated with true and committed discipleship? Now, praise G-d and bless His holy name that we can have peace, joy, forgiveness, eternal life, fellowship, prayer, His precious promises and so much more!!!
But let us submit ourselves to Jesus, let us present our bodies (including our mouths, lips and tongues) to Him as living sacrifices and let us be true leaders and turn the phrase around. Let us not give up- voluntarily or otherwise- our ordained positions of rule, of governing, of husbands and fathers and wives and mothers, of teachers, pastors, elders, deacons, police and elected officials and ALL the body of Christ who are Ministers. May we resist and change the growing tide and tradition of “LIKE PEOPLE, LIKE PRIEST.”
God bless us, give us grace, convict us, empower us, save us and save others. It’s not too late, but the night is upon us and the hour draws near!