COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 10:9 O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they stood: the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them. 10 It is in my desire that I should chastise them; and the people shall be gathered against them, when they shall bind themselves in their two furrows. 11 And Ephraim is as an heifer that is taught, and loveth to tread out the corn; but I passed over upon her fair neck: I will make Ephraim to ride; Judah shall plow, and Jacob shall break his clods.” (Hosea 10:9-11)
Because sin hardens the heart and dulls the conscience, God must reason extensively with sinners. His desire to bless them, as well as His very nature, constrains Him to speak in this way. Further, this kind of reasoning is directed to those who have tasted of the goodness of the Lord, and have been introduced to His will and ways. He does not speak to Pharaoh, Pilate, or Herod in such a manner. The sin that is committed by those who have experienced the love of God is in a category of its own. It is the worst of all sins, for it has been committed although all manners of advantages have been given to the people by God. That is why backsliding (Jer 3:8), drawing back (Heb 10:39), departing from the faith (1 Tim 4:1), and falling away (Heb 6:6) are spoken of with such seriousness. However lightly men may treat the diminishment of God-awareness and spiritual progress, God always addresses it with the greatest sobriety, speaking of the most dire consequences.
“ 10:9 O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they stood: the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them.”
O ISRAEL! There is a certain irony in these words. Concerning Israel’s backsliding nature, God referred to them as “Ephraim” (4:17; 5:3,5,9,11,12,13,14; 6:4,10; 7:1,8,11; 8:9,11; 9:3,8,11,13,16; 10:6,11; 11:3,8,9,12; 12:1,8,14; 13:1,12; 14:8). However, according to privilege, she is called “Israel,” which means “God prevails.” This is the second name for Jacob, given to him at Peniel, where he wrestled with a heavenly messenger. “And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Gen 32:28).
By saying “O Israel,” the Lord is underscoring where the people could have been. God had committed Himself to them, but they had ignored Him, His Word, and His ways. Now He pleads with them, as though calling upon them to consider their beginnings. This is a Divine manner of reasoning – even with the body of Christ. Hear how the Lord speaks to a people who are drawing back. “But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions” (Heb 10:32).
Frequently God has appealed to Israel in this manner. “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O ISRAEL!”(Num 24:5). “Hear, O my people, and I will speak;O ISRAEL, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God” (Psa 50:7). “But thou hast not called upon Me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of Me, O ISRAEL” (Isa 43:22). “If thou wilt return, O ISRAEL, saith the LORD, return unto Me: and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of My sight, then shalt thou not remove” (Jer 4:1). “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O HOUSE OF ISRAEL?” (Ezek 18:31).
The words “O Israel” are to that nation what “Where art thou” was to Adam. It is the voice of the Lord penetrating the conscience, confirming there is no good reason to be in their present condition. If they will hear the voice of the Lord, the mercy of God will be awakened. I cannot help but believe the remnant heard these plaintive tones.
FROM THE DAYS OF GIBEAH. The Lord does not merely speak of the condition in which Israel finds herself, but of the reason for her being there. He will trace their iniquity back to a specific time, when their iniquitous ways had a sort of new genesis, or beginning. Sinful manners do not happen suddenly and without due cause.
This is the third time Hosea refers to Gibeah (5:8; 9:9; 10:9). The particular reference here is to an event chronicled in Judges chapters 19 through 21. There an unprecedented outbreak of iniquity occurred. This is the Gibeah described as that “which belongeth to [the tribe of] Benjamin” (Judges 19:14).
On the occasion of reference, a certain Levite turned into Gibeah with his concubine, whom he had gone to retrieve from playing “the whore against him” (Judges 19:2). As the Levite stayed there, certain “sons of Belial” came to the master of the house saying, “Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him” (Judges 19:22) – the same words the men of Sodom said to Lot (Gen 19:5). Refusing to yield the Levite these evil men, the concubine was finally given to them (Judges 19:25a). The men abused her, and she finally died on the threshold of the house (Judges 19:25b-28, Distraught, the Levite cut her into twelve pieces and sent her to the twelve tribes of Israel, and the people came together as one man (Judges 19:29-20:1,5). The people responded by going to Gibeah to punish the evil doers Judges 20:6-14). Instead of yielding up the men, the children of Benjamin fought against the children of Israel (Judges 20:21-48). Benjamin was nearly exterminated in the fight (Judges 21:1-25).
There, at Gibeah, an all-time low in morality took place – sin like unto that in Sodom. There, some Israelites chose to defend sons of Belial against their own brethren. Also, for the first time, the children of Israel fought amongst themselves, with bloody consequences. The entire event was a wicked epoch, and a depraved beginning. From our text we learn that Israel was never the same from that day: “thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah.” A moral flood was unleashed at that time that wreaked havoc centuries later.
We learn from this that the first iniquity opens the door, just as it did with Adam (Rom 5:12). Just as there are holy beginnings like Pentecost, so there are evil beginnings like Gibeah. There, our text says, “they stood,” or “you have remained.” NIV But just as Benjamin was finally subdued, so, the Lord says, “the children of iniquity did not overtake them,” or win. Those who transgress cannot ultimately win or have their way. It is not possible!
A DIVINE DESIRE TO CHASTEN
“ 10 It is in my desire that I should chastise them; and the people shall be gathered against them, when they shall bind themselves in their two furrows.”
IT IS MY DESIRE. The words “it is my desire” connote the idea, “When it is my desire.” NKJV The Lord is always motivated by His own will – “My desire.” While there is a sense in which He “is not willing that any should perish” (2 Pet 3:9), that must not be forced to mean God will ultimately condemn those He really does not want to condemn. The meaning of Peter’s statement is that God patiently bears with His people, not willing that any of THEM should perish: i.e., “is longsuffering to usward.” It is His promise that constrains this attitude: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise.” We must not allow a place in our hearts for frothy religion and misrepresentations of the Living God.
The statement of this text is in contrast to the punishment of the men of Gibeah and the Benjamites. It was with considerable difficulty that Israel obtained the victory over them. But this would not be the case with the Lord. When He desired to deal with the sin of Israel, He would do so, and there would be no resistance on their part. The sense of the text is, “When I please, I will punish them.” NIV
Moses spoke of this kind of judgment in words that are most arresting. “And it shall come to pass, that as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you; so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it” (Deut 28:63). Through Jeremiah the Lord said, “Thou hast forsaken Me, saith the LORD, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out My hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary with repenting” (Jer 15:6).
While the chastening of the Lord is faithful (Heb 12:6), His chastening is always preceded by longsuffering. It is His manner to provide “space to repent,” even to the worst of offenders (Rev 2:21). But when that “space” is ignored, judgment is on the way, and it begins “with the house of God” (1 Pet 4:17). We must not allow this perspective to elude us, for it is the point that is being made in the book of Hosea.
GATHERED AGAINST THEM. Other versions read, “Peoples shall be gathered against them,” NKJV and “nations will be gathered against them.” NIV This is a judgment of the most severe nature, for Israel was chosen from among the nations – separated from them for the Lord. When the Lord divided the nations, it was “according to the number of the children of Israel” (Deut 32:8). The Lord made them “a holy people,” and chose them to be “a peculiar people unto Himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth” (Deut 14:2). He chose them to make them “high above all nations which He hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honor” (Deut 26:19). How could such an affirmed advantage ever be removed? Some would conjecture that such a thing is not possible. But after the lull of the sceptics has subsided, the voice of the Lord can be heard loud and clear: “nations will be gathered against them.” NIV
The nations will not be gathered only to be scattered, as was promised to Israel when they were faithful: “The LORD shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways” (Deut 28:7). God had held the promise before them, “And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword” (Lev 26:8). However, such marvelous benefits are not vouchsafed to those who are unfaithful to God, preferring the favor of the world to the beneficence of the God of heaven. For those who spurn His love, God does not work things together “for good.” Zechariah spoke in soul-jarring words about this kind of judgment. “For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city” (Zech 14:2). We must say it again, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).
THEY SHALL BIND THEMSELVES. From one point of view, the Lord would bind them: “When I bind them.” NKJV From another the people of Israel had bound themselves: “they shall bind themselves.” KJV That is, their binding was the result of their own wicked doing. They were reaping what they had sown, and gathering what they planted – and God was doing it.
THEIR TWO FURROWS. “Two furrows” is an expression that views Israel as sinning in two ways – like two joined oxen ploughing two furrows in a field. The picture is of Israel uniting together to resist the forces that come against them, working side by side like oxen that pull a plow. But all of this will be to no avail, for their enemies shall overcome them “WHEN they shall bind themselves together.” The point is that they were united in their transgression, and that is the reason for their fall. Therefore, their unity to resist the foe was an exercise in vanity.
EPHRAIM IS LIKE A TAUGHT HEIFER
“ 11 And Ephraim is as an heifer that is taught, and loveth to tread out the corn; but I passed over upon her fair neck: I will make Ephraim to ride; Judah shall plow, and Jacob shall break his clods.”
Summation: Here the Lord speaks of the recalcitrant nature of Israel. He had granted her to live under favorable circumstances, reaping many benefits with relative ease. However, rather than taking the occasion to thank the Lord and serve Him willingly, they had chosen to gratify their own desires. For this reason, God would cause them to serve with rigor, and under the burden of a hard yoke. They would be driven, with no liberty.
AS AN HEIFER THAT IS TAUGHT. Other versions read, “a trained heifer,” NKJV/NIV Under the Law, and because of their unregeneracy, Israel was taught to live by rote. That was the thrust of the ceremonial law, which “stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation” (Heb 9:10). Even under that economy, if they would only do the things God commanded consistently and faithfully, they would be blessed. Yet, under those conditions, Israel failed miserably. She was more like a trained beast than a people in the favor of, and fellowship with, the great God.
LOVETH TO TREAD OUT THE CORN. This expression builds upon the stipulation of the Law that the ox that treads out the corn be not muzzled: “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn” (Deut 25:4). Because of this, the trained heifer liked treading out the corn, being able to take mouthfuls of grain here and there without restriction. He was not driven or ridden by men, and labored under most favorable circumstances.
When Israel went against her enemies, she was allowed to take the spoils for herself, not being muzzled by the Lord (Num 31:9,11; Deut 2:35; Josh 8:2). He only required that they dedicate a portion of the spoils to Him and His work (Josh 6:19; 1 Chron 26:27). However, Israel did not become an obedient and thankful people. Instead, they became like a frolicking heifer amidst the grain, eating freely, but not treading as she should.
I PASSED OVER UPON HER FAIR NECK. The picture here is one of placing a blistering harness upon a tender neck that had not been accustomed to a harsh yoke. Other versions read, “I harnessed her fair neck,” NKJV and “I will come over a fair neck with a yoke.” NASB The Lord had given her the advantage of living under pleasant circumstances with a good degree of liberty, and plenty to eat. Such provision demands a thankful heart – but this was not found in Israel. She was treating Divine provision as though it was the work of own hands. Now, God will change her circumstance, making life a burden to her.
I WILL MAKE EMPHRAIM TO RIDE. The idea here is that Israel would no longer enjoy freedom – like a trained heifer roaming about in a sequestered pen full of grain. Here, the word “ride” refers to carrying a burden – like something riding on your back. In this case, the reference is to the harness that God would put upon her. With it she would pull a burden under duress. Other versions reads, “I will drive Ephraim,” NIV and “I will make Ephraim break the ground,” NRSV which seems to me to be the sense of the text.
All of this will be brought to pass through other people, who would effectively gather together against them. The Psalmist referred to this kind of judgment, then viewed the ultimate outcome of it all. “Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place” (Psa 66:12). Again the Psalmist wrote, “The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows” (Psa 129:3). Isaiah also prophesied of this kind of judgment. “But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over: and thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over” (Isa 51:23). This is a Divine manner we do well to learn.
JUDAH SHALL PLOW, and JACOB SHALL BREAK HIS CLODS. Now we see that the picture is changed from treading out the corn to preparing the ground for sowing. There is no more harvesting to be done, and a new crop must be sown. This is a way of fulfilling the word of Jeremiah, “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns” (Jer 4:3). In fact, a very similar word follows in the very next verse.
For those “accustomed to do evil” (Jer 13:23), repentance does not come easy. However, God can move Jonah to repent in the belly of a fish. It is possible for the Lord to so work that hardship drives men to Him. As it said elsewhere in Hosea, “in their affliction they will seek me early” (Hosea 5:15). This is certainly not the best way to return to the Lord, and there is no guarantee that all affliction will work such results. Far better to be tender of heart!