Charles Dickens begins his novel The Tale of Two Cities with the line
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
There were many characteristics of Hosea’s generation to suggest that it truly was the “best of times” in Israel. It was a time of financial prosperity, religious zeal and the rise of the first generation of Israel’s prophets—Amos and Hosea.
But it was also the worst of times. Both Amos and Hosea were written off as “fools” and “madmen” (Hosea 9:7) and Amos was banished to Judah (Amos 7:12). Their wealth had often been gained at the expense of the poor and their worship was at best mere external formality and at worst devotion to false gods.
We find many of the same conditions in our nation today.
Thus, it was really a time to “seek the Lord” (Hosea 10:12).
Thank you for joining me today in our study of the book of Hosea—a tragic love story between Yahweh and Israel, mirrored by the tumultuous relationship between faithful Hosea and Hosea, who prostituted herself among lovers just like Israel did with false gods and untrustworthy allies.
Back in Hosea 8 Hosea had used a metaphor that went like this…
“they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind…” (8:7)
Like Paul in Galatians 6:6, you reap what you sow. You reap in like kind as you sow; you don’t reap in the same season than you sow; and you tend to reap even more than you’ve sown.
And since then we have seen Hosea employ the reality of this spiritual principle over and over again. In the very areas that they sinned, they will reap judgment. They worshiped fertility gods, their crops and their children will be taken from them. They allied themselves with foreign nations for protection and those very nations will ravage them.
Today, as we begin Hosea 10, that metaphor is continued. The frightful predictions recorded in the 10th chapter bring to a close the section of Hosea that etches in the mind of his readers the justice of Almighty God.
Let me read the whole chapter.
1 Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. 2 Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will break down their altars and destroy their pillars. 3 For now they will say: “We have no king, for we do not fear the LORD; and a king–what could he do for us?” 4 They utter mere words; with empty oaths they make covenants; so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field. 5 The inhabitants of Samaria tremble for the calf of Beth-aven. Its people mourn for it, and so do its idolatrous priests– those who rejoiced over it and over its glory– for it has departed from them. 6 The thing itself shall be carried to Assyria as tribute to the great king. Ephraim shall be put to shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his idol. 7 Samaria’s king shall perish like a twig on the face of the waters. 8 The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, “Cover us,” and to the hills, “Fall on us.” 9 From the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel; there they have continued. Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah? 10 When I please, I will discipline them, and nations shall be gathered against them when they are bound up for their double iniquity. 11 Ephraim was a trained calf that loved to thresh, and I spared her fair neck; but I will put Ephraim to the yoke; Judah must plow; Jacob must harrow for himself. 12 Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. 13 You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors, 14 therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed, as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle; mothers were dashed in pieces with their children. 15 Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, because of your great evil. At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off.
In some ways Hosea will seem like a broken record, picking up themes he has presented before. The overall point is that judgment is certain and it is imminent. One last time Hosea appeals to them “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you” (10:12) but it would not happen. The people would not listen.
Again, Hosea will point out two geographical sites—Bethel (called Beth-aven or Aven, cf. on 4:15) and Gibeah (cf. on 9:9) just as the prior section, 9:10-17, turned on the events at Baal-Peor (9:10) and Gilgal (9:15).
David Hubbard notes:
Hosea is keen on naming time and place in his documentation of Israel’s history of sin. His conviction seems to be that Israel will understand neither the genesis of their rebellion nor its gravity unless they will see themselves as extensions of their past. (Hosea, p. 181).
Thomas Constable summarizes:
The allusion that opens this series of messages is similar to the ones in 9:10, 10:9, and 11:1, in that it refers to Israel’s early history. A mood of loss of confidence and protection marks this section. As so often occurs in Hosea, evidences of covenant unfaithfulness begin the section followed by announcements of punishment for unfaithfulness. In this one: announcement of the fate of the nation’s cultic symbols (altars, idols, sacred standing stones, and high places) gives way to announcement of judgment on Israel’s political symbol (the king).
The two primary themes from Hosea’s concern in this chapter are (1) broken altars (10:1-8) and (2) a broken nation (10:9-15).
As in 9:10, Israel is initially presented as a surprise and delight. 9:10 pictured Israel as “grapes in the wilderness” and “first fruit on the fig tree in its first season.” Here in 10:1 Israel is pictured as a “luxuriant vine that yields its fruit.”
The grapevine was a common figure for Israel. Yahweh had planted Israel in Canaan as a vine and had blessed it with fruitful prosperity (cf. Ps. 80:8-10; Jer. 2:21; Ezek. 19:10-11). This example suits Hosea’s repeated pattern that Israel got off to a good start but then went wrong.
Isaiah, too, would describe Judah as a vine.
1 Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
Jeremiah, a later prophet, used the same figure of speech, as he described the nation as a “ degenerate vine.” Ezekiel, on four or five occasions, used the symbol of the vine, and that in most remarkable ways. Describing Israel as a “luxuriant vine” would at first seem quite flattering to Israel, but sarcasm dripped from Hosea’s mouth.
Israel and Judah (together in the exodus account) should be before Yahweh as a nation alive and vibrant and growing, that would produce the good fruit of righteousness and devotion to Yahweh. Instead, Israel and Judah both produced bad fruit—wild grapes, poisonous fruit. Israel produced fruit for himself, not for the Lord.
Duane Garrett explains:
“A vinter does not look for a vine to yield fruit for the benefit of the vine but for the benefit of the harvest he will receive. A vine that yields fruit “for itself” is only taking up space that should be used by productive plants, as Jesus’ parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:7. Thus Israel is a destructive vine in that it takes up valuable soil, crowds out productive plants, and gives benefit only to itself and not to its owner” (Hosea-Joel, p. 206).
The emphasis of verse 1 in chapter 10 seems to be that God blessed Israel to produce fruit in the sense of material prosperity and that prosperity caused them to multiply and improve “altars.” The prosperity of this age is reflected not only in the prophetic literature of Amos and Hosea, but also in the historical narratives of 2 Kings and in archaeological discoveries.
But these altars were not locations of true, genuine worship of Yahweh, but rather places where they would devote their worship and their wealth to the Baals. These altars to false gods proliferated and took people’s hearts away from worshiping the only true God, Yahweh.
Here, as in most sin, Yahweh and Israel are at cross-purposes—Yahweh’s abundant grace is squandered and misused to sin.
Hubbard translates verse 1b
As God multiplied Israel’s fruits
Israel multiplied (cf. 8:11) [their pillars] at their altars.
As Yahweh multiplied good to His land.
Israel made the pillars better.
While Yahweh outdid Himself in working for the betterment of the land, all that excess bounty was poured by Israel into the adornment and decoration of the pillars whose purpose in Hosea’s time had become largely pagan (cf. on 3:4).
Judgment is anticipated in Hosea’s play upon the Hebrew participle translated here as “luxuriant.” It would appear that the prophet is employing a double entendre here, for the more normal understanding of the Hebrew word carries with it meanings such as “barrenness” or “emptiness.” Accordingly, Hosea emphasizes the fact that although Yahweh blessed His people abundantly, they have consumed His benefits on selfish ends. Worse, they have attributed their successes and prosperity to Baal. Therefore, their commitment toward these ends has violated the covenant with the Lord again and again, and they can expect His judgment. They have been “abundantly blessed” but will now be made “barren” due to God’s judgment (vv. 1). (Richard Patterson, Hosea 10 at bible.org)
Thus, Yahweh swears to tear down those altars…
2 Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.
Like the Philistine god Dagon falling down before the Ark of the Covenant, so the altars and pillars dedicated to the worship of Baal will be torn down and desecrated.
Although Israel’s prosperity had abounded, it had also been abused. Their hearts were false, so their worship turned in the wrong direction—to Baal rather than Yahweh. Through the law, Israel had received a sense of what was right, but that sense was met by an overwhelming love for doing what was wrong.
Israel’s altars had become places of sinning (Hosea 8:11) so that Amos would indicate Yahweh saying, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies” (Amos 5:21).
The heart is the control center of our life. It is the place, biblically speaking, where our thoughts, affections and decisions take place.
Hosea describes their hearts as “false.” This is a word that can mean “divided” or “slippery” in the sense of deceptive. David, in Psalm 86:11, cries out for an “undivided heart.” He asks God to “unite my heart to fear your name.”
17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
The false heart, whose working will be amplifies in verse 4, underscores the depths of the sin—not accidental but premeditated.
Anderson and Freeman note that “Hosea, unlike Elijah, does not find in Israel indecision, a ‘limping between two different opinions’ (1 Kings 18:21). The people had quite made up their minds, as vv. 3 and 4 show. They had formally renounced Yahweh, and given allegiance to another god” (Hosea, p. 552).
This is not to say that the Israelites deliberately set out to misuse and abuse worship, but their hearts were “slippery” and “smooth,” and their religious activities became warped and twisted.
J.Vernon McGee applied this to our worship today when he said:
“My friend, you cannot go to church on Sunday and sing, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow,’ then walk out, and on Monday morning go to your work and take His name in vain—lose your temper and use His precious name to damn everything that irritates you. That kind of divided living is exactly the same kind of divided heart that brought judgment upon Israel.”
Doubtless, worshipers of Hosea’s generation saw nothing wrong with combining features of Baalism with the worship of the Lord; no more than contemporary persons deliberately set out to compromise and adulterate contemporary religious life. But thoroughly sincere persons may be thoroughly wrong. (Hosea and His Message, p. 68).
Hear that last sentence again, for it bears repeating: “Thoroughly sincere persons may be thoroughly wrong.”
That is just as true with religious experiences today. They must be tested against the authority of the Word of God instead of against the whims of experience. Anything can “feel good,” at least for a moment, but true worship is defined by the Scriptures.
As Solomon reminds us:
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. (Prov. 14:12)
It was just as Moses had warned in Deuteronomy 8:11-14
11 Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statues, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…
A theme of Hosea is that Israel had forgotten Yahweh, they did not think of Him. The paid Him no attention. When it came to their blessings, they thought Baal had given them. The more blessings Yahweh gave them, the more they worshiped Baal.
Abundance is risky; God’s people could not handle it. That is why Agur wisely prayed (cf. Prov. 30:7–9)…
7 Two things I ask of you; deny them not to be before I die: 8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying [the kind of hearts that Israel presently had]; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me [my daily bread], 9 lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
Paul warns against the same sin in Galatians 5:13: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
Sometimes as Christians we take the liberty and blessing God gives and use them in ungodly ways.
Israel had this divided, insincere heart and expressed it on the altars of idolatry. Now, He will break down their altars.
“Now GOD will do in judgment what they should have done in contrition, ‘break down their altars, and spoil their images’” (Adam Clarke)
Israel will “bear their guilt” and pay for their sins. How thankful we should be that we do not have to bear our guilt, for Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24) and “became a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13) so that all our sins could be forever forgiven.
And let’s carry the image of chapters 9 and 10 further into our lives today. Are we bearing fruit, good fruit, for Jesus Christ? He is the Vine and we are the branches. We only bear fruit as we stay attached to Him, as we consistently trust His promises and obey His commands. We stay connected to the Vine by fellowship with Him in the Word and prayer and then allow Him to live His obedient life through us by faith.
Galatians 2:20 says…
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Trust Jesus to live His life through you as you offer your body to Him and renew Your mind in His Word (Romans 12:1-2).