“An attempt to make something that is not the case appear true,” is the definition that popped up when I spoke the word “pretense” into my phone. Sounds like “pretend” to me. When I was a child, I played a lot of pretend games. Put me on a bike and it became a horse or a race car. Put a stick in my hand and it became a rifle or a sword. Give me some marbles and they could become a conquering army. Look at Hosea’s whole statement: “Though Israel is a prostitute, may Judah avoid such guilt. O Judah do not join with those who worship me insincerely at Gilgal and Beth-aven. Their worship is mere pretense as they take oaths in the LORD’s name.” (Hosea 4:15) This is where the NASB, a more literally correct translation differs significantly. Here is what the NASB says: “Though you, Israel, play the harlot, do not let Judah become guilty; also, do not go up to Gilgal, or go up to Bethaven, and take the oath: ‘As the LORD lives!’” I know. This is getting technical. It can’t all be milk. As it is said, “let’s unpack this.”
First, Israel is setting a bad example for Judah, her sister nation to the south. God’s fear is that Judah will pick up Israel’s evil idolatrous ways. Judah had a more centralized worship because Solomon’s temple was in her capital, Jerusalem. Israel constructed places of worship to Baal throughout the north. When the temple was built, everyone understood that it would represent the presence of God on earth. The Most Holy Place is where God’s glory would dwell and where atonement for sins would be centered. This God-ordained worship was designed to represent true and sincere worship. “As the LORD lives” was an oath taken, often frivolously, to give lip service to His presence. Such an oath was hollow and meaningless when said in the presence of lifeless idols. The irony is clear. How can one speak of a living LORD while worshipping a non-living piece of wood or stone?
Now convert this to a marriage/prostitute relationship motif. Love, which is equivalent to worship when expressed by a man to his wife is real and meaningful. But love expressed to a harlot by a married man is a pretense, “an attempt to make something that is not the case appear true.” A man’s ecstatic utterance of “love” while in the arms of a prostitute is meaningless. The physical intimacy while with a prostitute is not real. Too many men make believe they are in love with their sugar-baby so they can justify the sex. Israel was pretending that worship of Baal was really worship of the LORD. God feared that Judah would follow suit.
Paul wrote, “I am jealous for you (Corinthian church, God’s people) with the jealousy of God Himself. For I promised you as a pure bride to one husband, Christ. But I fear that somehow you will be led away from your pure and simple devotion to Christ, just as Eve was deceived by the serpent.” (2 Corinthians 11:2-3) Keep reading and you will see that these first century Christians were making the same mistake as the 8th century Israelites. They were turning to a different Jesus while pretending it was the real Jesus. Substituting one thing for another does not change reality. The stick in my hand as a child was a stick. No matter how wild my imagination was, it will never be a rifle. No matter how much we want to think that our choices of perceived happiness is really God’s will for my life, at the end of the day it is too often merely “my choice” and not God’s. “Love not the world or anything in the world” is still the standard. Baal will never be God. My lifestyle will never be God’s way until my lifestyle becomes God’s way. Anything else is pretense.