Prosperity, also now, is a matter that separates man from God. Instead of honoring God for the prosperity obtained, the people practice idolatry. For the dangers that threaten from outside, the people seek support from Assyria. The prophet brings to light the cause of the alienation from God: the sin of Gibea is still alive. The evil done in the past has not been judged in its origin. God gives the people a new chance by summoning them to break up fallow ground (verse 12). Unfortunately, they do not seize that opportunity. That is why the judgment cannot fail.
1 For Whom Is Our Fruit?
1 Israel is a luxuriant vine;
He produces fruit for himself.
The more his fruit,
The more altars he made;
The richer his land,
The better he made the [sacred] pillars.
This verse points to the prosperity there is in Israel, especially in the days of Jeroboam II. But the more God blesses them, the more zealous they become in their sinful worship: altar after altar appears. And the fruit is for themselves (Hos 9:4). What do we use for what the Lord has given us? Our mind, memory, strength, health, possessions? To satisfy our own desires or for Him?
Israel is the vine and vineyard of the LORD (Psa 80:8; Isa 5:7). But he brings forth bad fruits (Isa 5:2). Then the Lord Jesus comes as “the true vine” (Jn 15:1). Everything He does is perfect fruit for the Father. Everyone who remains in Him also brings forth much and good fruit for the Father. Without the Lord Jesus, which is apart from Him, we cannot do anything that means fruit for the Father (Jn 15:5).
For that prosperity the people do not thank God, but the idols. More and more altars are being built. An altar is a symbol for worship. Building all those altars means nothing other than that they seek the sources of prosperity more and more outside of God. Possibly they have an altar for the sun, and one for the rain, another one for trade, and another one for health. Each time a new altar is invented, afraid that an idol will be forgotten.
Man is still like that, even today. He seeks his salvation in all kinds of forms of spirituality. Amulets are worn more and more, rings, necklaces, piercings, you name it. As a result one expects to get prosperity, protection or a safe feeling. God is completely excluded.
The more and larger the fruit, the more there is for the altars, the more there is to worship the idols. There is much religiosity perceptible through the many altars, but none of it can be accepted by God. The denunciation here is that the people have failed because they seek their own benefits instead of fulfilling God’s intentions. The altars are centers of their own interest instead of symbols and centers of holy offerings.
This is a great contrast with Christ, Who never sought His own interest. It is also a great contrast with Timothy, of whom Paul can testify that he does not seek his own interest, but that of others (Phil 2:19-21). In this he resembles Christ. This is the calling of every Christian.
True service to God takes place on only two altars: the bronze burnt offering altar and the golden altar of incense. The first altar is more connected with the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross as a burnt offering to God; the second altar is more connected with the glory of His Person, with all the features of Him Who is God and Man in one Person. God wants to hear from us what we think of His Son. Worship is: to tell God Who the Lord Jesus is for Him and for us.
When He disappears from our worship, that place is taken by something of creation or something of ourselves and God cannot accept that. Then we lower the standard, the content and the object of worship to the level of creation and bring honor to the demons (1Cor 10:19-20). God can only accept what is in connection with the Person and the work of His Son and He desires to share it with us.
2 One Thing
2 Their heart is faithless;
Now they must bear their guilt.
The LORD will break down their altars
[And] destroy their [sacred] pillars.
They have a faithless heart, which is divided and deceitful, because they still serve the LORD outwardly, but have also erected more and more altars for the idols. The prayer of the faithful Israelite is: “Unite my heart to fear Your name” (Psa 86:11b; Jer 32:39; 1Kgs 18:21). A faithless, divided heart gives trouble. If we allow something else besides God to take precedence over our desires, it is certain that we will add a new chapter to the history of our failures.
It is about only one thing (Mk 10:21; Lk 10:42; Phil 3:14; Psa 27:4). There are people who do not want to be someone with just one object that is important. They want more. They are not satisfied with only ‘one thing’, that is too limited for them. But why should we want more than that ‘one thing’? It all depends on the value that that one thing has for us. If it is great enough, there is no room for anything else. If we do add something to it, that one thing turns out not to be great enough for us. We will also see that the value of that one thing decreases further and further if we take another thing next to that one thing.
The difficulty with us is that the desire for diversity puts God on one list with other things. That should not be the case. God must be everything. He does not give His honor to someone else and cannot share it with someone else. The people stand guilty before Him, just as we stand guilty when we worship something instead of Him or next to Him. God will judge with which we have loaded guilt on us and have not confessed. As far as Israel is concerned: God will judge their idols Himself.
3 Intellectual Acknowledgment Is Not Repentance
3 Surely now they will say, “We have no king,
For we do not revere the LORD.
As for the king, what can he do for us?”
They do have a king, but he is of no use to them. It seems that he is not there. At least that is their experience. It is with their king, just like with many other things: if he brings them an advantage, they accept him; if he does nothing for them, they rather get rid of him. But also the kings think only of themselves. Nor do such kings contribute anything to turning the impending doom.
Moreover, the people are aware that the appeal to a man is in vain, however powerful that man may be (cf. 2Kgs 6:27). Unfortunately, that realization does not bring him to his knees to beg God for an outcome. It is an intellectual realization; heart and conscience do not get into unrest.
4 Hollow, False Words; Acting Wrongly
4 They speak [mere] words,
With worthless oaths they make covenants;
And judgment sprouts like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field.
Their acknowledgment of verse 3 is one of hollow, empty words. Their words mean nothing, they have no content. Therefore you cannot rely on them. This is evidenced by the swearing of worthless oaths. This means that they are consciously deceiving others with words. For example, King Hosea acts against the king of Assyria (2Kgs 17:3-4), with whom a previous king, Menahem, made a covenant (2Kgs 15:19).
Such words and such actions are unacceptable to God. His judgment is as quick and deadly as a poisonous plant in the furrows of the field. It is sown in the furrows and that is where the fruit must appear. But the poison plant has corrupted the harvest. This judgment is finally carried out by the king of Assyria, who deports Israel.
5 The Downfall of the Idols
5 The inhabitants of Samaria will fear
For the calf of Beth-aven.
Indeed, its people will mourn for it,
And its idolatrous priests will cry out over it,
Over its glory, since it has departed from it.
The inhabitants of Samaria are not worried by the approaching judgment that sprouts like a poisonous plant. Samaria means the inhabitants of the ten tribes realm that is named here after the capital. Rather, their concern is for the loss of their prosperity, which they believe is due to the calves in Bethel, which is again called Beth-aven here (Hos 4:15).
The calves, who bear witness to material prosperity, are at the same time their idols. The thought of losing the calves with their ornaments makes them sad and miserable. Instead of idols caring for them, they are caring for their idols.
It is sad to see how people can mourn the loss of external prosperity when they are not at all concerned about their relationship with God or what happens to their souls.
6 Shame on the People of God
6 The thing itself will be carried to Assyria
As tribute to King Jareb;
Ephraim will be seized with shame
And Israel will be ashamed of its own counsel.
If Assyria leads Israel into the scattering, the calf will be brought to their king as a trophy. This shows once again how foolish it is to rely on something that can just be taken away from you. Ephraim, that is Israel, will be ashamed for the surrounding nations.
The prophet insists that the people should not put their trust in anything or anyone other than God. If they do, they will be ashamed. All their cleverly conceived political plans only lead to disappointment.
We too may ask ourselves to what extent we expect help from non-believers. Do we sometimes consult in a way they do? And that, while we should expect our salvation only from God and submit our deliberations to Him.
7 Like a Stick on the Water
7 Samaria will be cut off [with] her king
Like a stick on the surface of the water.
The idols are useless, as are the people and the priests. Could some help then be found in the king? The comparison of the king with a stick leaves no doubt that no outcome can be expected from that side either. A stick on the surface of the water is a plaything of the wind and the waves. It has no foundation, possesses no strength in itself and around it it finds no hold whatsoever. Insignificant and defenseless it is carried away by the current.
It is a telling picture of the king of Samaria and of what is going to happen to him and his subjects. Without any grip he will become a plaything of violent events. He has no defense against whom by whom he will be deported and who will make him disappear.
8 Destruction, Withering, Fear
8 Also the high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, will be destroyed;
Thorn and thistle will grow on their altars;
Then they will say to the mountains,
“Cover us!” And to the hills, “Fall on us!”
The great sin of Israel referred to here is the high places of Aven, that is the calf service at Bethel. Possibly there are more idols there, because there are “high places”, plural. God will destroy the places where idolatry is committed. He will make those places overgrown by thorn and thistle. In this way they will become a permanent reminder of His judgment on that terrible sin of idolatry.
Thorns and thistles entered creation after Adam and Eve sinned (Gen 3:18). That is a lesson for us. If we have to remove something from our lives because it has come in the place of or beside God, we should always see it as sin. Otherwise there is a great danger that we will start longing for it again. However, if we recognize that what used to take us away from God is covered with thorns and thistles, we would not soon give it a place in our lives again. After all, thorns and thistles are not attractive at all.
Israel, if it has got into desperate fear and hopeless despair during the judgments that God will bring upon the people through the Assyrians’ invasion, will wish for quick death and destruction. Speaking to the mountains and hills is more than just the desire for shelter. It expresses the desire to be buried under the collapsing mountains and hills to no longer have to endure the distress and horrors of judgment. It is an example of the judgments that will come over Israel and the rest of the world in the end times (Rev 6:16-17; Lk 23:30; Isa 2:19).
9 Again the Sin of Gibea
9 From the days of Gibeah you have sinned, O Israel;
There they stand!
Will not the battle against the sons of iniquity overtake them in Gibeah?
The sin of Gibea (Judges 19-21) is still practiced. It is referred to here again (Hos 5:8; 9:9) as a typical low point of their iniquity. However, it is not just a historical low point, after which the people are doing better. No, the iniquity that characterizes the days of Gibea is also present in the days of the prophet Hosea.
They fought sin, but they did not remove it from their hearts. They did not really say goodbye to the sin of Gibea. They will therefore be judged by God. Above all, they should not think that He will not be able to reach them. Just as in Hosea 7, they simply do not think that no one can escape God’s arm (Hos 7:2).
10 God’s Desire for Holiness
10 When it is My desire, I will chastise them;
And the peoples will be gathered against them
When they are bound for their double guilt.
This verse begins with the desire of God to chastise His people. For that chastisement He will use other nations. That desire of God to chastise them has a purpose, of course. God wants Israel to truly become His people again. That is only possible if they get rid of what He has to condemn.
By “double guilt” can be meant the two golden calves, one of which is in Dan and one in Bethel. It also can mean: leaving the LORD and deviating from the government of the house of David under Jeroboam I. It can also refer to the literal, physical fornication and the spiritual fornication, the connection with the idolatrous nations (Jer 2:13).
11 No More Threshing, but Ploughing and Harrowing
11 Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh,
But I will come over her fair neck [with a yoke];
I will harness Ephraim,
Judah will plow, Jacob will harrow for himself.
Threshing is an easy and pleasant activity for an ox. While threshing, he may also eat (Deu 25:4). Thus it has always been God’s intention that His people, while serving Him, can freely enjoy the products that the land of Canaan provides. But through their unfaithfulness, they have forfeited this privilege. Now God will have to force Ephraim to plow and harrow much heavier. To do this, He must impose a yoke on them.
“Her fair neck” shows Ephraim’s own fame. The LORD will come in judgment, that is to say, He will impose the yoke of submission to foreign rulers on Ephraim for that reason. They will become slaves to strangers and will be forced to cultivate the foreign land, so that the inhabitants of that land may have a good harvest (cf. Exo 1:11). In this way they will have to be touched in heart and conscience and then return to the LORD.
Regarding their sins, there is no distinction between Judah and Ephraim (= Israel). Both realms will fall under this judgment. “Jacob” represents the entire former Israel of the twelve tribes.
12 A New Start Can Always Be Made
12 Sow with a view to righteousness,
Reap in accordance with kindness;
Break up your fallow ground,
For it is time to seek the LORD
Until He comes to rain righteousness on you.
Righteousness and mercy are no longer found in the land. It is high time to start a new life in which righteousness is sown and reaped in mercy. This cannot happen at the bottom of hardened hearts. To do so, the soil must first be cultivated, plowed over (cf. Jer 4:3-4). The land to be plowed (or: cultivated) relates to a heart that has been cleansed from sin by self-judgment and in which the desire to ask and do God’s will has arisen again.
With unceasing compassion, Hosea, through this call, points once more to the possibility of escaping God’s judgment. The plowing of unplowed land represents true conversion to God. It means the cleansing of the heart of all corruption.
It means a radical break with the old, the life in sin. Responding to this call does not have to wait until tomorrow. Now is the time to seek the LORD, tomorrow may be too late (Isa 55:6-7). If they return to Him and sow with a view to righteousness, they will reap kindness. But such sowing is impossible in uncultivated soil. First the soil has to be cultivated.
The plow must go through conscience. This can mean that things from the past that we have hidden away come back to the surface. These are often things through which life with God has become blocked. These things can then be cleared away. We can think, for example, of paying forgotten debts, of getting rid of bad habits, of putting right disturbed relationships with brothers and sisters, of forgiving old pain.
Two types of soil
In an article, the origin of which I was unable to trace, I read an application of plowing uncultivated land or cultivating new land:
There are two types of ground: fallow ground and ground that has been torn open by plowing.
The fallow ground represents a state of complacency. It is satisfied and does not know the shock of the plow and the turmoil of the harrow. When a field is like this, it becomes a trusted beacon for the birds in the sky. It possesses constancy. It never changes, while the fields around it change from brown to green and then turn brown again. Safe and undisturbed it is a picture of sleepy contentment. But itself never sees the miracle of the fruit, of life, the bursting seed and the beauty of ripening grain. It knows no fruit because it is afraid of plow and harrow.
In contrast, there is the ground that has allowed plowing. The peace is disturbed, the field has felt the change. The miracle of life can begin. The seed shoots and all over the field the hand of God is at work. The miracles of nature always follow the plow.
There are also two types of life: the fallow and the plowed. Man who looks like fallow ground is satisfied with himself and with the fruit he once carried. The spirit of activity he once possessed is now dead. He is steadfast and faithful, always in his own place. In a certain sense he can even be a beacon. But how infertile he is! He has shut himself off from God and the miracle of growth.
The plowed life is the life that opened the fence for the plow. He has allowed the plow of confession of guilt into his life. It has brought his soul to deep repentance. Through the pressure of circumstances, the Spirit has shown the soul how barren its existence is. The Spirit has also made him realize that the cause of that infertility is the fruit killing evil of materialism and that one’s own effort cannot give life. When God will let ‘rain righteousness’, life and growth begin.
This is also how it works in a local church. There are static and dynamic churches. A dynamic church changes the safety of stagnation for the dangers of God-inspired progress. The early church is an example in this respect. The result of their joy and unity is a miraculous and daily fruit to the honor of God. God’s power goes when and where His people go, and is stopped when His people stop.
Static periods are those times when the people of God withdraw from the battle and seek a life of peace and undisturbed rest. These are the times when it destroys itself by trying to preserve the gains it made in the days of more courage when the power of God was still working among them.
This principle still works today. God works today. He works as long as His people live with courage. He stops when it no longer needs or seeks His help. As soon as a child of God seeks protection outside of Him and finds support in his possessions that materialism can bring him, he will suffer loss. And what a loss to God and His work!
The power of God comes only where it is given the opportunity to work. It only becomes public in the church if the church does something for which strength is demanded. And ‘doing’ is not just activity, but activity led by God, animated by the Holy Spirit. We can see the power of God in missionary areas. Simple miraculous things go hand in hand with effort; they stop at the same time that the missionaries think they can be satisfied and stop.
What is the result of this truth for the individual and for the local church? What are the difficulties for everyone when they stop producing fruit? God is immutable. His intentions with the church and the individual have not changed in the slightest. No, the individual and the church themselves have changed.
A little research will show that they have become ‘fallow’. They may have tarred on earlier works and have now accepted an easier way of life. The church maintains in the right way and obeys the remembrance meal of the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus. But in other meetings it is more a school than a barracks. Its members are more students than soldiers; a group of people who are more inclined to study other people’s experiences instead of seeking the experiences for themselves.
The only way for such a church to regain its strength is to return to the path of obedience, which is surrounded by danger. The ‘safety’ of the local church is its most deadly enemy. The church that fears the plow writes its own tomb-script. The church that uses the plow walks in the path of strength and blessing. [End of article]
If uncultivated ground has been plowed, the LORD can also be searched for. Then the time has come for this. What He answers connects to our questions and activities. If we sow righteousness in that new ground, if we do in our lives what is right for Him and we ask Him to bless us, then His answer will be in agreement with His Person. This is where the true blessing for man lies hidden.
Righteousness reigns in the millennial realm of peace, which means that sin has no chance to cause discontent. God’s right will ensure that everything lives in harmony with Him and with each other. Every element that wants to disturb that harmony is judged by the law. This life can already be lived by anyone who, with his activities and questions, focuses on God’s right.
13 Trust in One’s Own Way and Heroes
13 You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice,
You have eaten the fruit of lies.
Because you have trusted in your way, in your numerous warriors,
The practice of the people described in this verse contrasts sharply with the call and promise of the preceding verse. The established practice makes that call all the more compelling. Instead of justice there is wickedness in the land and instead of love there is injustice. Israel has experienced the bitter result of their wickedness and injustice as the fruit of the lie. This is because they have gone their own way and not God’s way.
If the people will come to repentance in the future and accept the Lord Jesus as the true Servant of the LORD, they will come to the following confession of guilt: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa 53:6a). They will then be allowed to add the continuation of that verse: “But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” Because of this they know that the punishment has been carried on their own way by the Lord Jesus and that they may go free.
But this is not yet the case here. Besides mapping out their own path, they also rely on the strength of their heroes. The Israel at the time of the prophet Hosea is a foreshadow of the Israel in the future. If they are attacked from all sides, they will also rely on their own strength and perspicacity. They will always be busy plotting the best tactics and with their own skill and heroism they will try to follow these tactics.
14 Relying on One’s Own Strength Does Not Benefit
14 Therefore a tumult will arise among your people,
And all your fortresses will be destroyed,
As Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle,
[When] mothers were dashed in pieces with [their] children.
Israel relies on its armed forces. Well, they will hear war noise. But they will not emerge victorious from the battle they will wage. All the fortified cities they rely on will be destroyed. To reflect the horror of the coming war, the prophet recalls what Shalman had done to Beth-arbel. Shalman is the abbreviated form of Salmaneser, the king of Assyria (2Kgs 17:3).
It is not clear which event Hosea is referring to here, but that would not have been a question for those to whom he is addressing. As with Beth-arbel, also now the “mothers (= Israel) … with [their] children (= all inhabitants)” will perish.
15 The Cause of All Misery
15 Thus it will be done to you at Bethel because of your great wickedness.
At dawn the king of Israel will be completely cut off.
All the misery that will come over Israel is the result of the calf service in Bethel. The second part of this verse is an allusion to the fact that the king of Assyria captures King Hosea of Israel (2Kgs 17:1-6).
“At dawn” can refer to the speed of judgment, because in the east the sun rises quickly. It can also be an indication of a time of which one wrongly believes that new happiness is coming, while the destruction is coming.