COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 10:12 Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.” (Hosea 10:12-13)
The graciousness of the Lord is confirmed in the manner in which He rebukes and chastens His people. For those with “ears to hear,” a note of hope can be heard in the most solemn Divine rebuke – such as the prophecy of Hosea. Our text is a sterling example of this. Amidst the terrible things that are foretold of Israel, we hear the Lord speak of reaping in mercy and experiencing the rain of righteousness. According to the flesh, the words do not seem to fit into the “context.” However, they perfectly reflect both the nature and purpose of God. It is the manner of the Lord to speak in view of His ultimate purpose, as well as the present circumstances. For that reason, there are often gems of promise found in the very midst of a word of judgment and cursing. Such was the case in the Garden of Eden. There, following the articulation of an unparalleled judgment of the human race, a precious promise was found: the Seed of the woman would
mortally bruise the head of the serpent. (Gen 3:15).
Blessed indeed are those who can hear the merciful tones. When they sink down into our ears, they will spawn holy effort which will be honored by the God of heaven. However, God does not let His people forget their iniquity, because it is inexcusable. Sin can never be justified, even when it proceeds from a corrupt and alienated heart. The Lord will never receive the “I could not help it” or “I really did not mean it” explanations for sin – and we must not be forward to give them. As soon as men begin to explain why they have sinned, their ears cease to hear promises of mercy. But when they acknowledge their offense, they become more able to detect promises of forgiveness and reconciliation. Unlike Cain, the penitent will not cry out, “My punishment is greater than I can bear!” (Gen 4:13). For them, promises of mercy make punishment bearable.
BREAK UP THE FALLOW GROUND AND SOW
“ 10:12 Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy . . . ”
SOW TO YOURSELVES IN RIGHTEOUSNESS. Other versions read, “Sow for yourselves in righteousness,” NKJV “Sow with a view to righteousness,” NASB “Put in the seed of righteousness,” BBE and “Plant the good seeds of righteousness.” NLT This is the opposite of sowing “the wind” (Hos 8:7). This is the language of intention and deliberation. The idea is to set the heart upon becoming righteous before the Lord, and then to live in a manner that will allow righteousness to spring up within the heart. Sow the kind of seed that can produce righteousness! Just as God made “seed” an integral part of the natural creation (Gen 1:11,12,29), so there is “seed” in the spiritual realm. “Seed” is the appointed means of reproduction – of gaining a harvest.
Ordinarily, we would consider the Word of God to be the “seed” of the Kingdom (Luke 8:11). In this text, however, the emphasis is on doing. Micah captured the thought in these words: “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8). For Israel, doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God was sowing to themselves in righteousness. Such activities would contribute to God-consciousness, willingness, and tenderness – all of which are required to realize true blessing.
It is a principle in the Kingdom of God that righteousness cannot be obtained without appropriate godly endeavors. There are appointed means through which Divine benefits are realized. Those benefits cannot be obtained independently of those means.
The endeavor Hosea describes is that of walking in all of the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, and doing so with their hearts. Instead of giving credit to Baal for their harvests (Hos 2:8), they were to give honor to the God who really gave them. Instead of going to Egypt and Assyria for help (Hos 7:11), they were to seek help from the God who had called, delivered, and directed them. Instead of giving glory to golden calves (Hos 10:5), they were to give it to God. In doing this, Israel would be planting something that would result in a glorious harvest. If they failed to do these things, their harvest would not be good.
For those who are in Christ Jesus, sowing to ourselves in righteousness is living “soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Tit 2:12). Whether under the Old or the New Covenant, it is true: “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal 6:7). The modern church has preached a Gospel that has left the people thinking they can receive the blessings of God without the means through which they are received. That “means” is primarily faith, from which all other fruitage springs (Rom 3:22,25 .
As we will see, the harvest for which we are to sow is one that comes from God. Sowing to ourselves in righteousness is living so that our works will “follow” us (Rev 14:13); that is, they will be seen as favorable in the eyes of the Lord. This is not because of the works themselves, but because of the motive behind them – namely, to please the Lord. It is that motive that makes godly living sowing to ourselves in righteousness. Not only is what we do right, but we are doing it for the right reason.
REAP IN MERCY. Other versions read, “Reap in accordance with kindness,” NASB “reap the fruit of unfailing love,” NIV “reap steadfast love,” NRSV “get your grain in mercy,” BBE and “reap a harvest of faithful love.” NJB The postulate is that God is gracious toward those who earnestly seek Him and live for Him. As the Psalmist well said, “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart” (Psa 73:1). When coming to preach the Gospel to Cornelius, Peter said it this way: “But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him” (Acts 10:35). Cornelius had been sowing to himself in righteousness. The day Peter came to his door, he began reaping in mercy. Those who live “unto God” will not be ignored by Him, as the case of Cornelius confirms.
Reaping in mercy emphasizes the gentle nature of the Lord. He will “consider” the frailty of the frame of those who live toward Him (Psa 103:14). He will bear them up when they are weak, and comfort them as a mother comforts her little child (Isa 66:13).
The reaping of reference is not like reaping in this world. It is higher than receiving due remuneration for our efforts. In this case, it is mercy itself that will be received – and mercy has more earning power than our works. Mercy can deliver more to you than mere compensation. We know this because God saved us “according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit 3:5). The harvest of mercy is unspeakably large and powerful. If God will but have mercy on us, we will be abundantly adequate for whatever confronts us. Make it your unwavering aim to “reap in mercy.”
IT IS TIME TO SEEK THE LORD
“ 12b . . . break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.”
BREAK UP THE FALLOW GROUND. Other versions read, “your unplowed ground,” NIV “Break up for yourselves a new field,” NAB and “Plow up the hard ground of your hearts.” NLT Jeremiah also said, “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns” (Jer 4:3). This refers to the preparation of the heart. Samuel challenged the people, “If ye do return unto the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the LORD, and serve Him only: and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines” (1 Sam 7:3). He was calling them to break up the fallow ground. When speaking of the future building of the Temple, David commanded the princes of Israel, “Now set your heart and your soul to seek the LORD your God” (1 Chron 22:19). He was telling them to break up the fallow ground. During the Babylonian captivity, Daniel perceived the captivity was about to come to a close. It was then that he set his “face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan 9:3). He was breaking up the fallow ground. In Ezra’s time, spiritual decay was prevalent. He was living in a time when the people of God were in a backward stance. God used Ezra to bring about renewal and spiritual resolve. It all started when Ezra “prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:10). He was breaking up the fallow ground. It is said of Rehoboam, “And he did evil, because he prepared not his heart to seek the LORD” (2 Chron 12:14). He did not break up the fallow ground. Asa, on the other hand, “commanded Judah to seek the LORD God of their fathers, and to do the law and the commandment” (2 Chron 14:4). He was commanding them to break up the fallow ground.
It was necessary for a spiritual environment to be found in which God could work for the good of the people. I fear for a people who lack spiritual culture, never preparing themselves to stand before the Lord, or receive mercy from him. There are too many distractions in the average church, and they are prohibiting the realization of the blessing of the Lord. Fallow, or uncultivated soil, needs to be broken up.
Sin causes a hard crust to form over the heart. It becomes like a heavily traveled road on which the precious seed of the Kingdom cannot grow. This is another way of saying that spiritual understanding becomes impossible, because the heart is no longer sensitive. That is why Satan snatches the good seed away from those who understand not (Matt 13:19). What is the solution for such a condition? It is to “break up the fallow ground” – to engage in efforts that make the heart tender and supple once again. The people were to do things that awakened their conscience toward the Lord, and shun things that contributed to dulness and deafness.
IT IS TIME TO SEEK THE LORD. Hosea announces the time is appropriate. God has graciously given them “space to repent” (Rev 2:21). The goodness of God was leading them to repentance (Rom 2:4). This was not the time to delay or procrastinate. In fact, there is never such a time. Isaiah also declared there was a time to seek the Lord. “Seek ye the LORD while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near” (Isa 55:6). Earlier in his prophecy, Hosea spoke of a time when the Lord would be inaccessible. “They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the LORD; but they shall not find Him; He hath withdrawn Himself from them” (Hosea 5:6).
When the Lord says “It is time to seek the Lord,” He is announcing a window of opportunity that has been supplied according to His grace. Such opportunities are not always present. Once, when Jesus was teaching “in the treasury,” He said, “I go my way, and ye shall seek Me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come” (John 8:21). Again He spoke to His disciples of a time when men would seek to enter into the gate that leads to life, but would not be able to do so. “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24). Let no one imagine that rejecting the word of the Lord is taken lightly in the courts of heaven! The five foolish virgins found there was a time when the elect simply could not share their oil, and the door of entrance was shut. It is possible for unbelief to so harden the heart that it is said, “Therefore they could not believe” (John 12:39). The New Covenant word that parallels this text is, “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed” (Rom 13:11).
THE RAIN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
“ 12c . . . till He come and rain righteousness upon you.” Other versions read, “Until He comes to rain righteousness upon you,” NASB “until He comes and showers righteousness upon you,” NIV “that He may come and rain righteousness upon you,” NRSV and “til He comes and sends righteousness on you like rain.” BBE
TILL HE COME. This is the language of duration, and is often used by the Lord. How long should Israel sow to themselves righteousness? UNTIL the Lord comes and rains righteousness upon them! How long should Israel break up their fallow ground? UNTIL the Lord comes and rains righteousness upon them! How long should they seek the Lord? UNTIL the Lord comes and rains righteousness upon them! They must not come short of the blessing, or faint in their quest for it. Holy resolve must take hold of their hearts, and they must determine to keep sowing to themselves in righteousness, keep breaking up the fallow ground, and keep seeking the Lord, until He comes with the promised benefit. Their sin may have put them far from God, but they can make their way back to Him if only they have the patience to wait “until.”
Jesus told us the Father will honor the quest of His people “though He bear long with them” (Lk 18:7). The children of God must look beyond the veil of tears and ponder the eventual realization of the goodness of the Lord – just as Hosea is affirming in this text. David articulated this frame of mind. “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” (Psa 27:13).
Jesus told His generation Jerusalem “shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, UNTIL the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). The Father has told the Son to sit at His right hand “UNTIL I make Thy foes Thy footstool” (Acts 2:35). We are told to “judge nothing before the time, UNTIL the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Cor 4:5). The Holy Spirit is referred to as “the earnest of our inheritance UNTIL the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:14). Those who are believing on the Son are told that “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it UNTIL the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). We are admonished to keep the “commandment without spot, unrebukeable, UNTIL the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim 6:14). We are also to give due heed to the sure word of prophecy contained in the Gospel “UNTIL the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts” (2 Pet 1:19).
In Christ we have become part of the “UNTIL” generation. We are determined to keep the faith until the appointed time, when the ultimate blessing will be brought to us, and all that defiles and obscures will be taken from us. Even under the Law, the Lord was tutoring men and women in this matter, pointing them beyond this present time.
AND RAIN RIGHTEOUSNESS. And what is it that they are to anticipate? It is a blessing beyond the comprehension of the flesh: “Until He comes to rain righteousness on you.” NASB Not a meager supply of righteousness, but “showers of blessing” (Ezek 34:26). There is such a thing as an outpouring of Divine favor. Joel spoke of a time when God would give rain in copious measures. “Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for He hath given you the former rain moderately, and He will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month” (Joel 2:23). The former rains came faithfully, but now, Joel says, the Lord will pour forth the Spring rain and the Autumn rain in the very first month! Now, Hosea promises an outpouring of righteousness – like a mighty deluge from heaven. The rain of righteousness is to the spirit what the flood of Noah’s day was to the earth. It is cleansing and rejuvenating.
The concept of righteousness coming down as the rain is seen Solomon’s psalm: “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth” (Psa 72:6). Isaiah spoke similarly: “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it” (Isa 45:8). This is speaking of the restoration of Israel, when the veil is lifted from their eyes (2 Cor 3:16), and the Deliverer comes out of Zion to turn away ungodliness from Jacob (Rom 11:26).
The irony of our time is that this is “the day of salvation,” when righteousness is being poured forth like a mighty rain. Yet, the professed church falls miserably short of having an overflowing righteousness. I fear that Israel’s sin has been duplicated among those who have been given far more than was ever realized by them. Perhaps this text has been given to us to stir up holy longings for “a plentiful rain,” whereby God “confirmed His inheritance when it was weary” (Psa 68:9). May God grant such an outpouring among all who are preparing for Him.