A. The analysis of Israel’s sinful state.
1. (1-2) Israel’s empty vine.
Israel empties his vine;
He brings forth fruit for himself.
According to the multitude of his fruit
He has increased the altars;
According to the bounty of his land
They have embellished his sacred pillars.
Their heart is divided;
Now they are held guilty.
He will break down their altars;
He will ruin their sacred pillars.
a. He brings forth fruit for himself: God blessed Israel with material abundance, but they spent it on themselves and their own idolatrous desires (he has increased the altars). Israel enjoyed the blessing of God, but used those blessings in ungodly ways.
i. Paul warns against the same sin in Galatians 5:13:For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh. Sometimes as Christians we take the liberty and blessing God gives and use them in ungodly ways.
b. Their heart is divided; now they are held guilty: Because Israel had received blessing, they were more responsible than ever to use it wisely. Because they used God’s bounty in wicked ways, God would break down their altars to pagan gods and ruin their sacred pillars made unto idols.
i. Their heart is divided: The word divided is halaq, which has the ideas of “divided” (Genesis 14:15, 49:7), of “smooth” (Genesis 27:11, Psalm 55:21) or of “flattering” (Psalm 5:9, 36:2). So, it may be accurate to translate this phrase as their heart is divided, but it may also be that God meant to say that Ephraim has a “smooth, flattering,” insincere heart.
ii. The idea of Israel’s “smooth” or “insincere” heart is reflected by the adulteries of Hosea’s wife Gomer earlier in the book. In the same way that an unfaithful spouse will say they love their partner, all the while living a lie, is the same way Israel’s heart was towards God.
iii. 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’” (Clarke).
2. (3-8) Israel’s empty throne.
For now they say,
“We have no king,
Because we did not fear the LORD.
And as for a king, what would he do for us?”
They have spoken words,
Swearing falsely in making a covenant.
Thus judgment springs up like hemlock in the furrows of the field.
The inhabitants of Samaria fear
Because of the calf of Beth Aven.
For its people mourn for it,
And its priests shriek for it–
Because its glory has departed from it.
The idol also shall be carried to Assyria
As a present for King Jareb.
Ephraim shall receive shame,
And Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel.
As for Samaria, her king is cut off
Like a twig on the water.
Also the high places of Aven, the sin of Israel,
Shall be destroyed.
The thorn and thistle shall grow on their altars;
They shall say to the mountains, “Cover us!”
And to the hills, “Fall on us!”
a. We have no king: Under the judgment of the LORD, foreign powers dominated Israel so they no longer had their own king. Even the idols they honored and trusted so much will be taken to foreign lands as treasure for foreign kings.
b. The thorn and thistle shall grow on their altars: After the desolation of exile, the once-busy pagan altars of Israel were now overgrown with thorns and thistles. This was the result of Israel’s rejection of the LORD and their embrace of pagan gods.
B. God’s counsel to sinful Israel.
1. (9-11) God tells Israel to see their sin and to submit to His chastening.
“O Israel, you have sinned from the days of Gibeah;
There they stood.
The battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity
Did not overtake them.
When it is My desire, I will chasten them.
Peoples shall be gathered against them
When I bind them for their two transgressions.
Ephraim is a trained heifer
That loves to thresh grain;
But I harnessed her fair neck,
I will make Ephraim pull a plow.
Judah shall plow;
Jacob shall break his clods.”
a. You have sinned from the days of Gibeah: Gibeah was already mentioned in Hosea 9:9, recalling the horrific sin described in Judges 19. Even though there was a battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity, there was still iniquity in Israel. Here, God wanted a willfully blind Israel to see their sin and repent of it.
b. When it is My desire, I will chasten them: Like unruly farm animals, God would control and guide Israel and Jacob, even if they kicked against Him.
2. (12) God tells Israel to break up the hard ground of their heart.
Sow for yourselves righteousness;
Reap in mercy;
Break up your fallow ground,
For it is time to seek the LORD,
Till He comes and rains righteousness on you.
a. Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy: Israel had sown the seed of sin, and they would soon reap judgment from God. Even now, if they would sow righteousness, they would reap in mercy at the next harvest.
i. We all sow into our life but do we sow seeds of righteousness? What “crop” will grow up from the seeds planted today, or this past week, or this past month?
b. Break up your fallow ground: God builds on the picture of sowing and reaping by telling Israel to break up your fallow ground – ground that hasn’t been plowed for more than a year. It is ground that is hard and stubborn, resistant to the seed. It does little good to sow seed on fallow ground; it must be broken up first.
i. Sometimes when the word of God goes forth and seems to have little effect, it is because it falls on fallow ground – the hard ground that will not allow the seed of the word to penetrate and become fruitful.
ii. Since fallow ground is hard, it probably doesn’t “want” to be broken up. It is hard and compact, and the blade of the plow hurts as it cuts through. If the fallow ground could talk, it would probably cry out when it is plowed. Yet it is useless as ground as long as it is fallow.
iii. For it is time to seek the LORD reminds us of how we break up the fallow ground. We do it by seeking the LORD, not our self or idols.
iv. For it is time shows that the time to break up the fallow ground is now. “This should be immediately done: the season is passing; and if you do not get the seed in the ground, the early rain will be past, and your fields will be unfruitful” (Clarke).
c. Till He comes and rains righteousness on you: This tells us how long we should break up the fallow ground and sow the seed of righteousness. We do it until the harvest comes.
i. God’s 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.
3. (13-15) God tells Israel the terrible result of resisting Him.
You have plowed wickedness;
You have reaped iniquity.
You have eaten the fruit of lies,
Because you trusted in your own way,
In the multitude of your mighty men.
Therefore tumult shall arise among your people,
And all your fortresses shall be plundered
As Shalman plundered Beth Arbel in the day of battle–
A mother dashed in pieces upon her children.
Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel,
Because of your great wickedness.
At dawn the king of Israel
Shall be cut off utterly.
a. Because you trusted in your own way: This is the essence of all sin. We trust in our own way instead of in God’s way. Ruin always comes when we trust in our own way instead of God’s way, and that ruin was about to come upon Israel.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission