For several chapters now, from Hosea 8 to Hosea 10, Hosea has been showing Israel how they were reaping, and would be reaping, what they had sown. The controlling metaphor throughout this section of Hosea comes from Hosea 8:7 “they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” This is a basic principle of life, repeated by Paul in the New Testament when he tells us we “reap what we sow.”
As in agricultural life, we reap in like kind as we sow (wind and whirlwind; worshipping fertility gods, being childless; relying on other nations for protection and being destroyed by them). We never reap at the same time we sow, which sometimes gives us the illusion that we can get away with it. And we always reap more than we sow.
In Hosea 10 we’ve seen Hosea picture Israel as a vine, planted by God, but yielding bad fruit, in vv. 1-8. Hosea changes metaphors in the last part of this chapter, calling Israel a stubborn calf, in vv. 9-15.
Unfortunately, we were not able to get to verse 8 last week, so although it goes with the previous section, we will deal with it today. Hosea has been talking about the destruction of the nation—losing their homeland, their political leaders and their idols. Then, continuing the devastation of their false religion he says…
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.”
Aven is Bethel, the place where Jeroboam I set up one of the golden calves. The other was in Dan. The Assyrians would also destroy the sites of the idolatrous shrines at “Aven” (wickedness, i.e., Bethel [or Beth-aven, cf. v. 5]), where the Israelites had sinned. Ironically, when the Israelites had entered the Promised Land, the Lord had commanded them to destroy such places (Num. 33:52; Deut. 12:2-3).
Because they failed to obey, God would now use the Assyrians to destroy these idolatrous shrines. The result, due to the exiling of the people of Israel, is that “thorn and thistle” would cover these altars, showing their disuse over a long period of time. Not only would the land be devastated, but idolatry would become extinct in those places. Once busy pagan altars would be “closed for business.”
Interestingly, the first time “thorn and thistle” occur together in the Scriptures is in the original curse upon Adam in Genesis 3:18, “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.”
It is also found in Hebrews 6:8
But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
That is speaking of unbelievers and how their lives will be fruitless and ultimately judged.
The fierce destructive force of the Assyrian army would lead the Israelites to ask for the mountain to “cover us” and the hills to “fall on us.” If you think you’ve heard that before, it is the exact words out of the mouths of unbelievers during the tribulation period, when they begin to experience the judgments of the wrath of the Lamb are poured out in the breaking of the seven seals.
12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Cf. also Luke 23:30)
Thus, both “thorns and thistles” and the desire for mountains to fall upon oneself only occur in judgment of sinners.
Thus, the Israelites end up preferring death to life. Instead of rescue, instead of calling out upon Yahweh to save them, they call to “Mother Nature” to kill them.
Now, in vv. 9-15 Hosea focuses upon Israel’s impending war with Assyria.
This section also opens with a reference to an event in Israel’s past history (cf. 9:10; 10:1; 11:1). Announcements of war punishment (vv. 9-10, 14-15) bracket Yahweh’s indictment of His people for their sins (vv. 11-13). Notice also how Hosea once again looks back historically and geographically, locating their continued sin patterns in Gibeah (v. 9) and Bethel (v. 15).
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.
Hosea, in v. 9, again (as in 9:9) recalls the horrific sin that happened in Gibeah recorded in Judges 19. It was such a despicable sin, so appalling, yet it typified the continued crimes of Israel against one another. Notice how Hosea speaks of past sins “you have sinned” as continuing into the present.
Did Israel consider itself a scene of progressive grandeur? Such is not the case, for current Israelite society is as vile as in those early days in the incident at Gibeah. For immorality, violence, and injustice are rampant throughout the land.
I think Hosea intends to shock Israel. He wants them to face the fact that indeed, they are “that bad.” He doesn’t want them to justify themselves, or minimize what they have done, but to see it as the bald-faced atrocity that it is.
The Lord’s rhetorical question in verse 9 emphasizes the fact that war accompanied the evil acts of that time (cf. Judg. 20). It would do so again. The tribes had gathered together against Gibeah in that earlier episode: this time foreign nations will march against Israel and overwhelm it.
The Israelites had sinned consistently since the days of the atrocity at Gibeah (Judg. 19—20; cf. 9:9; Isa. 1:10). Hosea seems to be calling the Israelites to take up arms, as the tribes had done against Benjamin back in Judges 19-20, to right the wrong that had been done. Hosea asks…
Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah?
Since there was no one to rise up, like Phineas at Baal-Peor, or the Israelites against Benjamin in Judges 20, Yahweh himself would bring another nation to discipline them.
10 When I please, I will discipline them, and nations shall be gathered against them when they are bound up for their double iniquity.
All that happens is by God’s pleasure. Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Ephesians 1:11 says that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will…”
The juxtaposition of God’s pleasure and the nations actions indicate that Yahweh is ultimately in control and the nations do as He desires. God will use Assyria as His instrument of judgment upon Israel. OT prophets frequently linked the first cause (the Lord) with secondary causes (here, the nations).
At the Lord’s chosen time, He would chasten (punish, discipline, cf. 5:2) His people by binding them as prisoners, harnessing them to their sins (cf. v. 11).
What is meant by Israel’s “double iniquity”?
It is possible that it refers to “their original guilt because of their sin at Gibeah and their present guilt because of their sin at Bethel” (Wolff, p. 184). Another view is that it refers to the sin of forsaking God and the sin of forsaking His appointed Davidic kings (Keil, 1:133; Pfeiffer, p. 813). It is also a play off the name Ephraim, which means “doubly fruitful.”
Hosea goes on to say…
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.
Vv. 11-13 is punctuated with agrarian images, again alluding to the issue of fertility. “Ephraim was a trained calf” is another allusion to Israel’s beginnings. The Lord had spared Israel the yoke; she loved to thresh in his field (cf. Deut. 25:4). But that freedom has been abused. Instead of justice and righteousness, Israel “plowed iniquity” (v. 13). And again, they would reap what they had sown, reaping “injustice.”
Derek Kidner notes…
“Threshing was a comparatively light task, made pleasant by the fact that the creature was unmuzzled and free to eat … as it pulled the threshing sledge over the gathered corn” (Hosea, pp. 97-98).
Ephraim had abandoned this comparatively light service in preference for becoming yoked to sin (v. 10). As punishment, Yahweh would yoke the people of both Northern (Ephraim/Jacob) and Southern (Judah) Kingdoms to an enemy who would greatly restrict their movements and force them to do hard work.
Ephraim’s freedom had been misused, so now they would be brought under the yoke of slavery.
Unfortunately, Israel has abused her status with God by its sin and self-indulgence. As McComiskey points out, “She was like a playful, unbridled heifer that enjoyed its freedom from the drudgery of hauling heavy loads. Like the heifer in Hosea’s analogy she had not experienced the strictures of divine law; [but] the nation exulted in the unrestrained liberty of the nature cult.”
In the midst of the judgment in vv. 11 and 13 is another call to repentance. They should cultivate righteousness with a view to reaping the Lord’s covenant loyalty (chesed). The act of “breaking up fallow ground” is what a farmer does when he plows land that has remained untouched for a long time, even forever (cf. Jer. 4:3).
Their hearts had become hardened and needed to be broken. Jesus spoke of seed that fell upon the path and upon the rocky soil. In either case it could not take root because either on the surface or just beneath the surface, the soil was hard and the seed was unable to penetrate there and germinate.
This is a figure for confessing sins and exposing them to God when they have remained unconfessed under the surface of life for a long time.
They were to do this because “now” it was time to “seek the Lord.” They should not wait another moment. Just as Paul says “now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2), so here the act of confession and repentance must be both deep and immediate. They must not wait or it would soon be too late. Not only should their repentance begin now, but it should continue “until’ that time that Yahweh responds to them.
Were they to truly confess and repent, forsaking their sins, God would rain righteousness upon them, delivering them from their enemies.
David Guzik reminds us…
God use of the figures of sowing and reaping remind us that harvest is sometimes a season away. Sometimes people expect to sow sin for years, but to immediately reap in mercy after sowing righteousness for one day. Stick with sowing in righteousness, you will reap in mercy in due time.
Seeking YHWH is sinful Israel’s only hope of avoiding destruction (cf. 10:12; Isa. 55:6-7; Amos 5:4,6). Fortunately, Judah did respond to Yahweh with repentance and would have another 150 years before they were taken into captivity.
However, Hosea points out that Ephraim was not sowing righteousness, but rather “plowing iniquity.” As a result, she was reaping “injustice.”
The last half of verse 13 goes with vv. 14-15, indicating why God would bring the Assyrian army against them.
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.
Trusting in one’s own strength, one’s own self, is always a losing proposition. Despite the “multitude of warriors” “all your fortresses shall be destroyed.” They would experience total devastation.
The identity of “Shalman” in v. 14 is undetermined. “Shalman” may refer to King Shalmaneser III, an Assyrian who conducted campaigns in the West in the ninth century B.C. Another identification of “Shalman” is King Salamanu, a Moabite ruler who was a contemporary of King Hoshea of Israel, whose name appears in a list of kings who paid tribute to the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III. A third possibility is the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser V, who prepared the way for Israel’s captivity by invading the land (cf. 2 Kings 17:3-6).
The location is also undetermined. “Beth-arbel” could refer to the town of “Arbela,” about 18 miles southeast of the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee), or to “Mt. Arbel,” two miles west of that sea.
In either case, the battle had been a bloody one that the Israelites of Hosea’s day remembered vividly. The enemy had slaughtered mothers and their children without mercy.
This was a gruesome aspect of Assyrian exile. The army killed all of the very old and very young who could not travel into exile. This, of course, included pregnant women. This was done to shock and traumatize the population (cf. 13:16).
Hosea closes this oracle with a strong warning that a similar fate awaits God’s people in the Northern Kingdom (v. 15). For their spiritual wickedness, which began and yet continues in the cult religion at Bethel, has become so degraded that Israel must be annihilated. When that day of reckoning would come, cult centers like that of Bethel would be destroyed and Israel would no longer have a king. It was a sober warning, which could be ignored only with deadly consequences.
Leon Wood points out…
“Since her destruction would occur ‘when that day dawns’ (meaning the very beginning of the day of battle), it is noteworthy that Israel’s final king, Hoshea, was taken captive by the Assyrian conqueror Shalmaneser V before the actual siege of Samaria began.” (“Hosea.” In Daniel-Minor Prophets. Vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. p. 211)
Trusting in oneself is the essence of sin. It leads to the pride which keeps us from admitting our need for God’s help or Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Under the New Covenant we have to understand that we cannot trust in our own efforts to gain eternal life or even to free ourselves from our sin patterns. The essence of the Christian life is taking our confidence off of ourselves and put in totally on Jesus Christ alone.