In Hosea 4:6 there is an often quoted curse made by God against Israel that goes as follows: “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.” This is a serious curse to make, and one we ought to take seriously and not only look at historically about physical Israel, which was soon to lose its position as priesthood and go into captivity, but take it as a warning to ourselves and to what sort of failings lead God’s people to lose His protection as well as their place of honor as kings and priests. Given the high stakes of what occurs when God’s people lack knowledge, we ought to be very careful both to understand what is being meant by knowledge, how serious this warning is given how often it is repeated as an element of the Bible in some fashion, and also that we take the appropriate steps necessary, like prayer and fasting and repentance, to acquire this knowledge in our lives.
What is meant by knowledge here? When we read the word knowledge, we tend to automatically assume that what is meant is intellectual knowledge. Intellectual knowledge is relatively trivial to obtain. If we need some sort of intellectual knowledge in our lives, we can pursue formal or informal education, we can read books, or we can find people who are knowledgeable and learn from them. When we take this verse out of its context, we have the tendency to put into it the sort of knowledge that we consider ourselves possessing in abundance, that is relatively easy and painless to obtain, unless we are trying to repay student loans, and which we feel others need more of. When the Hebrew Bible speaks of knowledge, however, it tends to use one of two words: nakar and yada’. Nakar speaks of knowledge in terms of recognition or understanding. Yada’ speaks of knowledge as intimate understanding through reflection or experience. The Greek word ginosko, which is often used for knowledge in the New Testament as well as the Septuagint, also significes approval of the one known by the person knowing. None of these types of knowledge is merely knowing a fact, but both require that head knowledge to be connected to behavior. What is known in the Bible is determined in large part by our actions and their context.
This larger context is made plain when we look at the l larger passage of which Hosea 4:6 is a part, Hosea 4:1-6: “Hear the word of the Lord, you children of Israel, 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.”
When taken in its larger context, this warning becomes even more ominous, especially if it is a warning we read as pointed at ourselves. The lack of knowledge of Israel towards God’s ways was in evidence because of a lack of mercy and truth in the land, because language was coarse and dishonest, because crime, including the lack of faithfulness in marriage and lack of restraint in personal conduct including violence, was rampant. Where these same conditions exist, this same warning is applicable. In light of these serious failings, the land and the creatures of the land will mourn, because sin pollutes the land  and brings its inhabitants into judgment. Even more ominously, these sins are of such a serious nature that God forbids those who would normally rebuke the populace, the priests and prophets, because they too will be going into captivity with their nation on account of their own hardness of heart. God promises that the religious establishment (mother) of Israel will itself be destroyed because of its corruption, and that God will remove Israel from being His priests and kings on the earth. This prophecy came to pass within a generation of being given by Hosea, and we would be immensely foolish if we claimed to take the Bible seriously and did not take this warning to heart for ourselves.
Having said this, let us view this passage as a beginning and not as an ending. If the knowledge in question here is knowledge of the heart and not merely of the head, what implications does this have for us? Is the warning of Hosea to Israel about heart knowledge being shown through relationships with God and other other people, related to our conduct towards them, towards our high concern for truth (rather than slander) and mercy (rather than condemnation), with the practical fruits of outgoing love and concern relevant to us today? How serious of a problem is the wrong kind of knowledge in the Bible? After all, if something is important to God, we can assume that it will be something that is mentioned in different places, or something that is defined so pointedly and clearly that it does not require a great deal of repetition, but can be referenced offhand, like those sins mentioned in places like Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and Revelation 22. It is that larger context that we will turn to next, so that we may better understand the extent of the problem of the lack of knowledge that destroyed the people of ancient Israel and that threatens us today.
 See, for example: