COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
LESSON NUMBER 42
“ 10:1 Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself: according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images. 2 Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty: he shall break down their altars, he shall spoil their images. 3 For now they shall say, We have no king, because we feared not the LORD; what then should a king do to us? 4 They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant: thus judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field.” (Hosea 10:1-4)
The remarkable nature of Israel’s position before the Lord, and the abundance of Divine benefits poured out upon her, are reflected in the Lord’s assessment of them. We are beholding a portrayal of the principle affirmed in Hebrews: “But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned” (Heb 6:8). When God has blessed a people with advantages, and opened Himself to them, any failure to appropriately respond to that favor will eventually be met with Divine indignation. While this is not a pleasant message to proclaim, it is one that faithful men of God have always placed before the people. It truly is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31). Those who insist upon willingly violating His will are told what to expect: “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Heb 10:27). The truth of this is found in the text before us.
ISRAEL IS AN EMPTY VINE
“ 10:1 Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself: according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images.”
AN EMPTY VINE. Other versions read, “a luxuriant vine,” NASB “a spreading vine,” NIV and “an unpruned vine.” DARBY These appear to be contradicting translations. How can a vine be “empty,” yet “luxuriant” and “spreading?” In this text, the word “empty” means “emptied.” The idea is that the fruit has been stripped from it, as the next clause suggests.
Israel was an “empty” vine in the sense of having nothing to give to God. Although it was planted “a noble vine,” with the full intention of yielding satisfying fruit to the God who planted it, yet when the Lord of the harvest came to gather the fruit, there was nothing there for Him. It was to Him, like the fig tree that had “nothing but leaves” was to Jesus (Mk 11:13). The prophet Isaiah approached the same subject from a different viewpoint. He said the Lord found “wild grapes” when He looked for His vine “to bring forth grapes” (Isa 5:2,4) – “grapes of gall,” with clusters “that are bitter” (Deut 32:32). Jeremiah dealt with this issue in another way, declaring that although Israel was planted a “noble vine,” it “turned into a degenerate plant and a strange vine” to the Lord (Jer 2:21).
An “empty vine,” “wild grapes,” “degenerate plant,” and “strange vine” are all speaking of the same thing. This is the description of a people in whom Divine investments have been made, yet in whom nothing satisfying to God is found. When, for example, the Son of Man returns, He will be looking for faith. Where it is not found, regardless of the religious attainments of the people, He will see nothing but an “empty vine.” Thus our Lord queried, “I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). Another view of the same thing is the Lord returning and finding people “sleeping” (Mk 13:36), or “unawares” (Lk 21:34) – an “empty vine.” A people who are not ready for the judgment of God are an “empty vine.”
FRUIT UNTO HIMSELF. Here we see that “empty” does not mean the vine bore no fruit at all. Rather, Israel had become self-centered. It was like a vine that had borne fruit for its owner, yet the fruit was stripped from it before it was ripe for God, for self gratification. Although they appeared to be prospering, they used the blessings of God for their own purposes, having no regard for the will and glory of the Lord.
Zechariah painted the picture of a self-centered people, who lived with no regard for the glory of the Lord. “And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?” (Zech 7:6). Jesus portrayed this kind of living as a man who reaped a great harvest and reasoned, “This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:18-19). This is the kind of living Hosea describes in the words, “fruit unto himself.”
In Christ Jesus, life is brought to a point where men live no longer for themselves. Thus it is written, “And that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor 5:15). Any life that is not so lived is nothing more than “an empty vine,” bearing “fruit unto himself.”
INCREASED ALTARS. According to appearance, Israel did reap bountiful harvests. However, they “prepared” those fruits “for Baal,” giving idols the credit for their abundance (Hos 2:8). They “made altars to sin” (Hos 8:11), ascribing to false gods the honor due to God alone. The more fruit they reaped, the more they honored other gods, giving the credit to things and people other than the God of heaven.
It is still true that anything not given to God is actually lost – like emptying the vine so that nothing is left for the God who made men. For example, when men receive the glory, it is taken from God, causing the vine of life to be empty. We are living in a time when men are receiving the glory that is due to God alone, even as in the church at Corinth (1 Cor 3:4). In the case of Corinth, the men were godly men (Paul and Apollos). If that was not right, how much more is it wrong to give glory to idols, or ungodly men?
GOODLY IMAGES. The reference is to sacred things, like “pillars,” NKJV “stones,” NIV or “statues.” DARBY This applies to idols, which are viewed from the heavenly perspective. They are nothing more than lifeless images that “have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: they have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: they have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat” (Psa 115:5-7). The more fruit they reaped, the more false god’s they credited.
A DIVIDED HEART AND ITS RESULTS
“ 2 Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty: he shall break down their altars, he shall spoil their images. 3 For now they shall say, We have no king, because we feared not the LORD; what then should a king do to us?”
THEIR HEART IS DIVIDED. Other versions read their heart “is faithless,” NASB “is deceitful,” NIV “false,” NRSV “taken away,” BBE and “fickle.” NLT A “divided heart” is the opposite of one that is united to fear the name of the Lord. David prayed, “unite my heart to fear thy name” (Psa 86:11). It is contrasted with “one heart and one way” (Jer 32:39), a “single” eye (Matt 6:22), and the “whole heart” (Psa 9:1). It is in sharp conflict with “a pure heart” (1 Tim 1:15) and “a true heart” (Heb 10:22).
Earlier Hosea likened this condition to Israel mixing itself “among the people,” taking on the characteristics of the heathen (Hos 7:8). Elijah would call a divided heart halting “between two opinions” (1 Kgs 18:21). Zephaniah referred to it as swearing “by the Lord,” and by the idol “Malchaim” as well (Zeph 1:5). Jesus called it a vain attempt to “serve two masters” (Matt 6:24). James referred to such a person as “a double minded man” that “is unstable in all of his ways” (James 1:8).
When the heart is divided, it takes the characteristic of the lowest denominator. That is, such a heart is considered as being given over to the most unacceptable state. This is because Lord will not accept partial devotion, seasonal commitment, or the mingling of competitive interests.
We are living during a reign of the divided heart. It is seen in religious fads and trends. It is confirmed in the fluctuation of interests within the professed church. We see it in the presence of minuscule spiritual appetites and a general disinterest in “the deep things of God” (1 Cor 2:10). Such conditions are altogether unacceptable to the Lord.
THEY SHALL BE FOUND FAULTY. Other versions read, “Now they are held guilty,” NKJV “they must bear their guilt,” NASB “they will made waste,” BBE “pay for their guilt,” NIB and “are guilty and must be punished.” NLT
Ultimately, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom 1:18). The only way to avoid this is to renounce ungodliness and flee for refuge to the Lord, casting oneself upon His mercy. Being “found guilty” means that the Lord is now entering into a detailed examination of their persons. His longsuffering has come to an end, and He can no longer abide their condition. Some cannot conceive of the Lord being this way, but the day of judgment will confirm their perception could not possibly be more wrong. There is a time of reaping (Hos 8:7; Gal 6:8), recompense (Hos 9:7; Heb 10:30), and vengeance(Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19). Blessed is the person who knows this, and avails himself of the grace to avoid it.
THEIR ALTARS AND IMAGES DESTROYED. All of their false religion was going to be brought down – their altars despoiled and their idols demolished. According to appearance, it would look like their enemies wrought this destruction. However, it was actually the Lord Himself who did it. Thus other versions read, “The Lord will . . . ” NASB/NIV/NRSV In the verses that follow, the Lord spells out how this will be done (vs 5-8). In the eighth chapter He refers to this as reaping “the whirlwind” (8:5-7). Jeremiah also spoke of the Lord breaking “the images” (Jer 43:13). Micah prophesied of “graven images” being “cut off” (Mic 5:13). Through Zechariah God said “I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land” (Zech 13:2).
Whether before Israel (as at Babel), in Israel, among the heathen (as with the Canaanites), or during the present reign of Christ, it is God’s manner to destroy false religion. There comes a time when the false things upon which men have relied fall to the ground, being shown to be nothing more than vanity. It is a sad day when one’s religion fails – but that failing is the result of Divine judgment. A suitable example of this is found in spiritual Babylon, the unfaithful and false church. God will bring it down (Rev 14:8). For this reason, the saints are admonished to come out of her, “lest ye receive of her plagues” (Rev 18:4). This is an admonition that is not taken seriously by many professing Christians.
WE HAVE NO KING. When they are devastated, the people will see it is because they did not fear the Lord. Then, rather than seeking a king as they did in Samuel’s day (1 Sam 8:5), they will see that no earthly king, organization, or wisdom will be able to help them. Then, as the Lord often says, “thou shalt know that I am the Lord” (Isa 49:23; Ezek 6:14). Blessed are the people who, by the grace of God, avoid having to learn this the hard way!
SWEARING FALSELY IN MAKING A COVENANT
“ 4 They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant: thus judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field.” One version reads, “Their words are foolish; they make agreements with false oaths, so punishment will come up like a poison-plant in a ploughed field.” BBE
THEY HAVE SPOKEN WORDS. Now the Lord assesses what the people have said to Him. They will be judged by their words, and in strict accordance with what they promised they would do. Here is an example of a truth Jesus Himself affirmed: “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt 12:37).
Words spoken before the Lord are vows, and are to be taken seriously. Knowing this, David said, “I will pay my vowed before them that fear Him” (Psa 22:25). He also exhorted the people saying, “pay thy vows unto the Most High” (Psa 50:14). The Lord takes seriously what men say they will do for Him. They must also take it seriously.
MAKING A COVENANT FALSELY. Faithful to His nature, the Lord recalls the promises this people had made to Him. To Moses they said, “All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD” (Ex 19:8). To Joshua they said, “The LORD our God will we serve, and His voice will we obey” (Josh24:24). During the reign of king Asa, the people “entered into a covenant to seek the LORD God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul” (2 Chron 15:12). During the reign of Jehoida a covenant was made “between him, and between all the people, and between the king, that they should be the LORD'S people” (2 Chron 23:16). King Josiah “made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments, and His testimonies, and His statutes, with all His heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are written in this book,” causing all the inhabitants of Jerusalem to stand by it (2 Chr 34:31-32). In Nehemiah’s day, the people “entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and His judgments and His statutes” (Neh 10:29).
Application. Every person who comes to Christ makes a vow or commitment when confessing His name before men (Matt 10:32). Their baptism is a public confession as well, in which they admit they are dying to the world and will live for the Lord (Rom 6:11). Every time we sit at the Lord’s table, we are also making a kind of vow, proclaiming the Lord’s death until He come (1 Cor 11:26). There, at that blessed table, we are pledging ourselves not to forget that we were “purged from” our “old sins.” What of the songs that are sung throughout the land? “I am thine O Lord,” “I will follow Thee,” “More love to Thee,” and “Draw me nearer?” All manner of songs profess a hunger for the Lord “as the deer” pants for the water brook, and “I want more of You.”
How does the Lord regard those who do and say such things, only to “forget they were purged from their old sins” (2 Pet 1:9), failing to give all diligence to add to their faith “ virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Pet 1:5-7)? Does He look lightly upon such things? Indeed not! In their words and religion, such people “speak mere words, With worthless oaths they make covenants. NASB Men may not think much of such things, but God does, as our text clearly affirms.
JUDGMENT SPRINGS UP. “Judgments springs up like hemlock in the furrowed fields.” Hemlock is a poisonous plant, and is associated with “gall” not to be consumed. Here the Lord says that the fields the people have cultivated and prepared for comely plants would actually yield a crop of poisonous fruitage. What would grow up would be harmful, not helpful. It would lend itself to their destruction, not their well being.
Their religious practices are being compared to plowing furrows in a field for the reception of their seed. In their religion, they were actually planting a crop – but it would not be a good one. Their religious practices would actually become the means of their demise. That is the resounding message that Hosea is bringing to the people. They had taken to themselves the gods of the heathen, and instituted false religious practices that actually ignored God, while paying homage to idols. Now, when they go to reap in those fields, they would ingest poison, and become the worse for it.
It is a most difficult lesson to learn, but the bitter disappointments and sorrows that some people face are nothing more than the result of their religious practices (James 5:5). The well of their religion has stale and contaminated water, and cannot help them.