Thank you for joining me today in our study of Hosea—a love story turned tragic. Yahweh, who had betrothed Israel to Himself in covenant, finds Israel totally and persistently unfaithful. Thus, he must judge them.
Derek Kidner notes…
“If there is one theme that unifies the diversity of this chapter, it is that of Israel’s dangerous self-reliance, with its self-appointed kings, its man-made calf, its expensive allies, its own version of religion, and its impressive fortresses. What God makes of all this, and what kind of test it could survive, these people have not troubled themselves to ask” (Derek Kidner, The Message of Hosea, p. 75).
D. A. Carson says…
PERHAPS THE SINGLE ELEMENT that holds together the various sins condemned in Hosea 8 is human self-reliance.
How about it? When push comes to shove, do you tend to depend upon yourself—your own ingenuity, your own strength, your own efforts? Or do you turn to God—trusting and depending upon Him and His help?
Today we pick up Hosea 8 in verse 7…
7 For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it. 8 Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel. 9 For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone; Ephraim has hired lovers. 10 Though they hire allies among the nations, I will soon gather them up. And the king and princes shall soon writhe because of the tribute. 11 Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning, they have become to him altars for sinning. 12 Were I to write for him my laws by the ten thousands, they would be regarded as a strange thing. 13 As for my sacrificial offerings, they sacrifice meat and eat it, but the LORD does not accept them. Now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins; they shall return to Egypt. 14 For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces, and Judah has multiplied fortified cities; so I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour her strongholds.
Israel had forgotten her Maker. They had put Yahweh out of their minds in favor of the Baals, gods of their own making.
Verse 7 climaxes the condemnation for not depending upon or worshipping Yahweh with a promise that Israel will suffer greatly for her sins.
7 For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.
We reap what we sow. We don’t reap the same day we plant. We reap more than we sow. Israel would sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.
This moral law of action and consequence is just as certain as the physical laws which govern the operation of the universe. Yet we often ignore it.
H. Ronald Vandermey notes: “The two centuries that Israel sowed the wind have yielded two millenia in which she has reaped the whirlwind (cf. 9:17). The divine law of the harvest will be meted out” (Hosea, Amos, p. 53).
Israel will finally learn that God is a God of justice and righteousness and rules a moral universe in which sin has its natural consequences that must be paid. In reflecting on this passage, Kyle Yates has acknowledged: “Unforeseen terrors are in store for the one who has carelessly plunged into sin” (Preaching from the Prophets, p. 77).
But who sows wind? Isn’t that a silly idea? You can’t sow wind.
But that’s just the point.
Israel was sowing nothingness, nothing that mattered, nothing that would last. They were wasting opportunities. By turning first to idols and then to other nations, they were investing in emptiness.
Ironically, they sow the wind by trusting in Assyria for help against Egypt, then (although this is outside the purview of the book of Hosea) they reap the whirlwind as Assyria turns against them and destroys and exiles them.
We see this happen on a personal, and even a national scale, as little sins and offenses snowball and become huge problems and even wars.
Ethan Longhenry comments:
Hosea may have been perceived as a cantankerous lunatic in 752 BCE, but after the whirlwind of 722 it was painfully obvious just how accurate he was (Hosea 14:9). The benefit of hindsight we have regarding the failings of the people of the God before us proves relatively useless to us if we do not apply it in foresight of our current situation. May we seek to ascertain those ways in which we are not really trusting in God but trust in our own strength or in the ways of the world, turn and repent, and be saved in Christ!
In the figure of “sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind” we have two laws in view: the law of the harvest and the law of multiplication. According to the law of the harvest, you reap what you sow. If you sow wheat, you reap wheat; if you sow weeds, you reap weeds; if you sow wind, you reap wind. The law of the harvest operates in the spiritual and moral realms as well as the physical. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). The people of Israel had invested their time and resources and energies into that which would bring no eternal benefits. The folly and futility of their self-centered, idolatrous way of life is succinctly captured in the figure of “sowing wind.”
Am I sowing to the wind? If I made a list of all the things I’ve done this week, how many of them will really matter in eternity?
The law of multiplication means that you get back more than you put in. Sow a few wheat seeds and you reap a field of wheat; sow a few dandelion seeds and you reap a “golden lawn”; sow the wind and you reap a whirlwind! “Whirlwind implies not only more wind; it implies devastating and destructive wind.
Several years ago I was trying to help a young man who had drinking problems and had been involved in domestic abuse, trying to get his life back together. He was complaining that it seemed to be taking so long for things to turn around. I occurred to me, and I told him so, that he had dug a deep pit for himself with all his bad habits, and he wouldn’t be able to climb out with just a few weeks of Bible reading.
We don’t reap the same day we sow. It takes time for the harvest to come in. This is what makes it so difficult. We sow to the flesh, and we don’t reap destruction that day…it may not come for weeks or months, even years. Thus, we grow more emboldened to sin, because we aren’t reaping destruction right away.
On the other hand, we often get discouraged when sowing to the spirit, that we don’t reap life and peace and other good benefits right away. We live in an instant society which expects results quickly, and it is hard for us to stick to tasks that don’t pay off right away. But we must.
Also, we sometimes complain that the sentence doesn’t fit the crime, that we are experiencing judgment that is worse than our sins. Certainly it seems that way. But usually our sin was sown over a long period of time, unfelt by us until we experience the contracted period of judgment.
Hosea 12:1 will again speak of Israel “feeding on the wind.” What does that mean? Have you ever tried to eat a “wind sandwich” or “wind fingers”? Wind will never satisfy our hunger. There is no sustenance and there are no nutrients in wind.
Israel was feeding itself with the “good things” of the “good life” and listening to the words of the false prophets saying, “peace, peace,” but it was all wind. They stuffed themselves with the allurements and attractions of the surrounding pagan nations and filled themselves with the all-too-appealing words of the false prophets. But they ended up empty and starved.
Is it not true that this is also quite possible today? Isn’t it common to fill up on this world’s delights and end up feeling empty? We see it all the time. The woman at the well was a woman who tried to fill her emptiness with husbands. Jesus showed her that even the fact that she had to come to the well to draw water every day was a form of relying on this world to satisfy. Only living water from Jesus could truly satisfy, and she eventually believed that was satisfied.
The remainder of verse 7 says…
The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it.
He’s saying, you are going to look out at your fields, and see nothing grow to maturity. In the end, all your work will produce nothing. And if that weren’t frustration enough, even if you were to get yield from your crops, foreigners would come in a swoop it up and enjoy it instead of you.
This emptiness of fields would come, according to Kidner, either “as the fertility cult of Baal failed its devotees (see v. 7a, b with 2:5, 9), or as the punitive armies stripped the land (v. 7c).
This compact pseudo-sorites has parallels elsewhere. This all indicate that there is no final survivor. For example, Joel 1:4 says…
What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.
Yahweh wants them to know that the frustration they will feel, that nothing in life is working, is due to them “sowing the wind,” depending upon idols and allies to provide life and health and security for them.
Not only will Israel’s crops be swallowed up by invaders, but they would be as well.
8 Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel.
Being “swallowed up” is a figure of judgment, as Satan seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). It speaks of a final end. The cup, which has no value anymore, and is destined to be thrown away, is the first of three images (donkey, paying whore, v. 9) which convey that all their attempts to gain help from other nations will merely make them helpless in the end.
At some point, the nations would no longer be interested in draining away (cup image) the wealth of Israel through tributary payments and would happily discard them once those resources were drained away cf, 7:9; Isa. 1:7).
As long as Israel remained faithful to Yahweh, he made sure that anyone who tried to devour them got devoured themselves, as Jeremiah recounts:
2:3 Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest. All who ate of it incurred guilt; disaster came upon them, declares the LORD.”
Psalm 124 also speaks of God’s protection in this way…
1 If it had not been the LORD who was on our side– let Israel now say–2 if it had not been the LORD who was on our side when people rose up against us, 3 then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us; 4 then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; 5 then over us would have gone the raging waters.
Yahweh longed to be their protection, but they would not turn to Him. They thought they knew a better way, that they could take care of themselves.
Israel, who right now enjoyed a land of their own, and national sovereignty, would soon be “among the nations,” scattered in exile. Those nations from whom they had curried favor, would consider them a “useless vessel.”
Back in 7:16 Hosea had predicted this sad judgment: that they would face derision in the land of Egypt. John Trapp says, “To have Egyptians deride us, and that for sin, is a heavy judgment. So here, to be disdained and vilified by such, as an old broken vessel, fit for none but unclean uses.
And why is this? Verse 9 tells us.
9 For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone; Ephraim has hired lovers.
Emissaries had been sent to Assyria to secure protection. This possibly happened under Menahem (cf. 2 Kings 15:19-20).
Israel had depended upon Assyria for help, instead of turning to Yahweh. They would become useless and foolish because they had failed to depend upon the Lord.
Jamieson points out that…
“Usually foreigners coming to Israel’s land were said to ‘go up‘; here it is the reverse, to intimate Israel’s sunken state, and Assyria’s superiority.”
“The main context here is foreign policy, but the main issue is faith–and fidelity. As the last chapter shows (7:11ff), Israel was gambling on one hunch after another, forever changing sides and (as our verse 10 points out) desperately bidding for influential friendships” (Kidner, The Message of Hosea, p. 80).
Anderson and Freedman also note the geographic reference, saying…
“In relation to the Exodus and Egypt generally, verb usage is commonly “to do down” (to slavery and Egypt) and “to come up” (to freedom and from Egypt.”
Two figures of speech indicate the nature of Israel’s dependence upon foreign powers for protection. First, they are “a wild donkey wandering alone.” This indicates that they were being stubbornly willful in turning away from Yahweh to Assyria. They were like a stubborn ass intent upon following its own path. It will not listen to Yahweh.
The description of Israel “wandering alone” indicates that although Israel had joined itself to Assyria in hopes of remaining independent, they would soon by all alone, with no help from anyone.
Secondly, Israel is compared to a harlot, but even worse than a harlot. Not only did she pimp herself out to other gods and other nations, but she paid them to do so, rather than being paid. She gained no benefit whatsoever from the union.
Ezekiel 16:33 records as an extreme of depravity the situation in which the prostitute pays men to make love to her.
Whereas Yahweh’s nature is to graciously and freely give, the idols and nations demanded payment in order to provide necessities and protection.
David Hubbard says that this verse…
“points to the picture of a people so lonely, so cut off from covenant roots, that they are no longer attractive (cf. “useless vessel” in v. 8) and now have to pay others to give them the attention they crave.:
This corresponds to Jeremiah’s later picture of Judah’s lust combines the two images:
2:24 a wild donkey used to the wilderness, in her heat sniffing the wind! Who can restrain her lust? None who seek her need weary themselves; in her month they will find her.
Hosea points out the reality of what would happen in their dependence upon Assyria…
10 Though they hire allies among the nations, I will soon gather them up. And the king and princes shall soon writhe because of the tribute.
Hiring allies would do them no good whatsoever. Even though Assyria would be the one to conquer them and take them away, it was Yahweh who is ultimately responsible for gathering them up into exile.
The “gathering up” mentioned in verse 10 is not the gathering up of Israel from the nations in salvation (as predicted for some future time in 1:10), but gathering Israel to the nations for judgment.
This verse came about as a result of Tiglath-Pilesar’s foray into Israel in 734 B.C. During the Syro-Ephraimite war against Judah, Ahaz appealed to Assyria for help (the impact for Judah would be felt later).
The Assyrian King, while not really needing it to act, had an open invitation to invade the Northern Kingdom with support from Judah to the South. The Assyrian armies began to deal one by one with the rebellious nations. In 734, Tiglath-Pileser’s armies decimated the Philistine territories along the coast southwest of Judah, cut off any assistance from Egypt to the south, and then turned back north to deal with Israel. By 733 the Assyrians had taken most of the northern territories of Israel and surrounding areas, and were poised to take Samaria, the northern capital (2 Kings 15:29). Later, they would strike further north and ravage the Syrian territories.
It makes sense that, at this point, that Pekah was assassinated by Hoshea who took control of the Northern Kingdom. During the reign of Hoshea, the aristocracy would writhe because of tribute that was due Assyria. When Hoshea (732-724 B.C.) came to the throne, he immediately surrendered the Northern Kingdom to Shalmaneser V (some think this was Shalmaneser IV), the new king of Assyria, and paid tribute (2 Kings 17:1-3). This action probably saved Samaria from destruction, at least for a while, but only put the Northern Kingdom more firmly in the grasp of the Assyrians.
There was no doubt still a faction within Israel that wanted independence. While Hoshea had acted to save what remained of the nation, he eventually saw what he thought was an opportunity to break free of Assyrian control. He made an alliance with Egypt, thinking he could rely on them for military assistance, and withheld tribute from Assyria (2 Kings 17:4). But Egypt at this time was weak and was worthless as a military ally.
As H. Ronald Vandermey says…
Although the imposition of tribute upon the people had led to “suffering for awhile,” a greater suffering was soon coming in the form of activity. (Hosea-Amos, p. 54)
Shalmaneser’s army attacked the reduced Israelite Kingdom in 724, captured most of the land, and took Hoshea prisoner. Only Samaria remained. It was besieged for 3 years, and was finally taken in 721 (2 Kings 17:5-6). The city was destroyed, the northern Kingdom transformed into a province of the Assyrian Empire, a number of the people taken as prisoners or exiles to Assyria, and other people resettled in the captured territory (2 Kings 17:24-34).
The Northern Kingdom had ceased to exist. Even though there were continued prophetic dreams of a restored and unified Kingdom (for example, Ezek 37:18-22) it would forever disappear from history. The writer of 2 Kings gives a long theological evaluation of the fall of the Northern Kingdom, attributing their demise to faithlessness to their covenant with Yahweh in worshipping other gods (2 Kings 17:7-18), which is exactly as Hosea predicted.
David Hubbard summarizes:
They have a habit of dependency on foreign support which they can no longer afford. The proverb of sowing and reaping with which this section began will more than come true in Ephraim’s experience. (Hosea, p. 161)
One wonders what Hosea would say to us today, in the US of A. Would he warn us of turning our backs on him and engaging in worthless lives, even giving approval to wickedness? (This is what a culture does as it goes swirling down the drain, according to Paul in Romans 1:18-32, see esp. v. 32).
If so, we may “reap the whirlwind” ourselves. It is time to turn now and begin sowing to the Spirit, engaging in activities that will have value for eternity.