COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
LESSON NUMBER 46
“ 10:13 Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men. 14 Therefore shall a tumult arise among thy people, and all thy fortresses shall be spoiled, as Shalman spoiled Betharbel in the day of battle: the mother was dashed in pieces upon her children. 15 So shall Bethel do unto you because of your great wickedness: in a morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off.” (Hosea 10:13-15)
When God reveals Himself to men, they at once become obligated to respond to that revelation. Throughout the Scriptures this is declared with unusual clarity. Men cannot be passive about what the Lord has done for, and said to, them. The preeminent extended affirmation of this is found in the nation of Israel. The things that “happened” to them were for our to be “examples,” and “they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor 10:11). If this is true, then any person or group of persons who remain ignorant of the history of Israel is at a great handicap. They have been deprived of things essential to their perception and survival. This is even illustrated in the Israelites themselves. Great awakenings, like those taking place in the days of Josiah, Hezekiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, and others were stimulated by the knowledge of the history of the people. When they saw how their fathers had provoked the Lord, it awakened their conscience, and they renewed their efforts. These awakenings were the direct result of being exposed to the record of the Divine assessments of, and judgments against, Israel. In those assessments and judgments God was making Himself known – a God that does not change. His reactions to sin and unrighteousness remain consistent, as well as His response to repentance and contrition of heart. I do not believe these things are generally perceived in the modern church.
AN ANALYSIS OF WICKED RELIGION
“ 10:13 Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men.”
It is essential that we note this is not the assessment of a heathen nation – like Babel, Nineveh, Egypt, or Babylon. Even in those nations, and others like them, devotion to pride and sin did not escape God’s attention, and due retribution was meted out to them. However, the text before us is different. This is speaking to a people upon whom the mercy of the Lord had been poured. They had been chosen by Him, delivered by Him, led by Him, and tutored by Him. Every possible advantage had been given to them. Yet, they yielded results that were no better than the heathen nations around them, who enjoyed no such benefits. This is how the Lord speaks to such a people.
PLOWED WICKEDNESS. Some versions read “planted wickedness,” NIV/NIB and “cultivated wickedness.” NAB/NLT Here, plowing is not the initial plowing, or breaking up the fallow ground. This rather speak of cultivation, where the ground is broken up around the tender sprouts. When the Lord says they “plowed wickedness,” He means they nurtured their vices and iniquities. They strengthened unholy resolves, catering to their baser appetites. But this refers to more than their daily manners. It is not a commentary on, what men might call, their secular lives. This is a reference to their religion. In their religion they catered to their carnality. Their religion supported their sin rather than encouraging righteousness. What they called worship was really “wickedness.” Their golden calves and religious ceremonies surrounding them were driven by their own lusts.
REAPED INIQUITY. As a direct result of their corrupted religion, their iniquity grew worse. Just as righteous can be fed and nourished by godly perspectives and manners, so sin is helped along by spiritual corruption. This is a reaping that is different in kind from “the whirlwind” – which refers to Divine judgment. Reaping “iniquity” does not refer to the punishment for sin, but to the spread of it. Eliaphaz the Temanite spoke of this to Job. “Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same” (Job 4:8). Solomon said the same: “He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity: and the rod of his anger shall fail” (Prov 22:8). When men cater to sinful desires, iniquity spreads. The desires themselves become stronger, and the character and manners become more perverse. Remember, in this case, their iniquity was being helped along by their religion. It simply is not possible to dabble in sin, experimenting, as it was, with it, without paying an enormous penalty.
EATEN THE FRUIT OF LIES. The “fruit of lies” was to Israel what the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was to Adam and Eve. Earlier God said there was “no truth” in the land (Hos 4:1). They had lied by being hypocritical against God, dealing treacherously against Him (Hos 5:7). They had lied in “transgressing the covenant” made with them (Hos 6:7). They had lied in turning to Egypt rather than to God (Hos 7:16). They had lied in swearing “falsely in making a covenant” with the Lord (Hos 10:4). They lied in giving the credit for the bounty of their crops to Baal instead of to God (Hos 2:8). Now they were eating the fruit of their lies. The gods in whom they had trusted were weak, so now they were weak. The gods they served were corrupt, and now they were corrupt. Empty and vain religion yields a harvest of helplessness, weakness, and contemptibility. It is like feeding on ashes (Isa 44:20). It should not surprise us when misery attends the path of those who “invent to themselves” corrupt religion (Amos 6:5).
TRUST IN THY WAY. Israel trusted in her own way, or depended upon their own strength. NIV That is exactly what false religion does – it moves a person to think more highly of himself than he ought to think (Rom 12:3). It exaggerates the strength and wisdom of men, moving them to follow their own ways instead of the ways of the Lord. Such men are described by the Psalmist: “Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness” (Psa 52:7). Note the result of such misplaced trust: it causes strength in wickedness. That is, when men trust in their own way, sin invariably becomes more robust and dominating.
TRUST IN MIGHTY MEN. Israel had come to trust in its own military power, even though it was always God who delivered them. God had clearly stated through the Palmist, “There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength” (Psa 33:16). Yet, they trusted in human strength. Again, let me emphasize that their corrupt religion moved them to do this. It should not require a lot of thought to see the parallel that exists in our time. We are living in a time when a corrupt version of Christianity is constraining men to place confidence in the flesh and the wisdom of men.
THE SPOILING OF THE PEOPLE
“ 14 Therefore shall a tumult arise among thy people, and all thy fortresses shall be spoiled, as Shalman spoiled Betharbel in the day of battle: the mother was dashed in pieces upon her children.”
Once again, God announces that He will judge the people for their corruption. The people had trusted in their own might. Therefore, their own might would be brought down, confirming that outside of the Lord people are always impotent. Faith excludes one from the wrath of God, but that wrath is against everything else – especially among those who wear His name, yet have ascribed to flesh strength and honor that it does not have.
TUMULT AMONG THE PEOPLE. Here, “tumult” is “the roar of battle” NIV – a battle that is against the people who trusted in their own way and depended upon their own armies. The idea is that of a sudden invasion, the sound of which strikes fear into the hearts of the people. At once, all of their strength is dissipated, and they are unable to stand against the invaders. It is the Old Testament view of “sudden destruction” (1 Thess 5:3). To Israel, it would come like a sudden and unexpected bulge in a wall, “whose breaking cometh suddenly, in an instant” (Isa 30:13). It is the kind of judgment that came at the time of the flood (Matt 24:38-39) and Sodom and Gomorrah (Lk 17:28-29). The suddenness of it exposed the folly of human wisdom, and the frailty of human strength. The ultimate “sudden destruction” will occur when the Lord comes again – when men are saying “peace and safety” (1 Thess 5:3).
FORTRESSES SPOILED. “Fortresses” are fortified places – strongholds in which the optimum safety possible is realized. These were the strongest places in Israel, where sustained attacks could be endured. However, these places would prove miserable helps in the time when God visited their sin upon this people. They would not be able to escape. The word would go forth as it did from Jehu’s mouth: “let none go forth nor escape!” (2 Kgs 9:15). To be “spoiled” is to be robbed, plundered, and laid waste. As in the days when Kerioth was taken, strongholds would be “surprised,” and “the mighty men’s hearts” would be “as the heart of a woman in her pangs” (Jer 48:41). As in Nahum’s prophecy “the strong holds shall be like fig trees with the first ripe figs,” easily shaken down (Nahum 3:12). As in Habbakuk’s prophecy, the invading forces would “deride every stronghold” (Hab 1:10).
It is, indeed, a sad day when the things in which men have placed their trust, are suddenly brought down with apparent ease. That is a time when the enemies become superior, and the best and most trusted arsenals become but weightless straws that have no protecting power at all. This is the inevitable result of placing trust in something or someone other than the God of heaven.
SHALMAN SPOILED BATHARBEL. The precise reference here is not certain to us – although it was doubtless most certain to the Israelites. It may very well refer to the destruction wrought by Shalmanezer, who destroyed the ten tribes of Israel. It began with a besiegement of three years, culminating in the captivity of Israel. “Against him came up Shamanezer king of Assyria . . . Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” (2 Kgs 17:3,5-6). The point is that Israel could be reminded of something well within their memory that would serve to clarify the kind of well-deserved judgment that was coming upon them.
MOTHERS DASHED TO PIECES. The particular aspect of this judgment that is accentuated is its mercilessness. It is difficult to consider such things because of the gross distortions that have been perpetrated concerning both the nature of God Himself, and of sin, which He so sorely hates. Later Hosea will speak of Samaria, declaring it would “fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up” (Hosea 13:16). Isaiah used similar language: “Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished” (Isa 13:16).Jeremiah did the same: “And I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together, saith the LORD: I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them” (Jer 13:14). Nahum also spoke in this arresting manner: “Yet was she carried away, she went into captivity: her young children also were dashed in pieces at the top of all the streets” (Nahum 3:10).
The idea is that this would be a day when mercy would not be considered. Judge for yourself whether corrupting one’s religion in order to favor self is worth it! Far better to learn from the bitter experience of Israel, than to fall into the very same snare. Over and over we have learned from Hosea that it is, indeed, a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!
SUDDEN DESTRUCTION BECAUSE OF WICKEDNESS
“ 15 So shall Bethel do unto you because of your great wickedness: in a morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off.”
The Lord spells out why this grievous judgment would be leveled against Israel. He had told them they could have reaped mercy: “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy” (10:12). Seeing they chose not to do this, they would reap “without mercy” (Heb 10:28; James 2:13), and their enemies would show them “no mercy” (Isa 47:6; Jer 6:23). When punishment is meted out by the Lord, it is not intended to be pleasant, and men should not expect such an experience. When men choose to ignore Divine overtures, they begin moving toward a condition from which they may not be able to recover.
SO SHALL, BETHEL DO UNTO YOU. “Bethel” is the original name of the place, and “Bethaven” is what the people had made it (Hos 4:15; 5:8; 10:5) – from “the house of God” to “a house of vanity.” Originally it was intended to be a place of blessing. This is where Jacob had a dream in which he beheld a ladder reaching into heaven, with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it. After Jacob awoke, he took the stone on which he laid his head, set it up, and anointed it, calling the name of the place “Bethel” (Gen 28:12-18). After that, God had referred to Himself as “the God of Bethel” (Gen 31:13). This was the place where the very name “Israel” came into being (Gen 32:28). Later, God commanded Jacob to go to Bethel and make an altar unto Him (Gen 35:1). Again, “Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel” (Gen 35:15). This was a place of unusual blessing.
Israel had made Bethel a cause for judgment instead of blessing. When their kingdom began under the reign of Rehoboam, he set up a calf of gold there, saying it was too burdensome to go to Jerusalem to worship (1 Kgs 12:27-29). Sacrifices were made to that golden calf, and special priests were ordained to serve it (1 Kgs 12:32). Over one hundred years before Hosea’s prophecy, when Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel, he failed to destroy the calf in Bethel (2 Kgs 10:28-29). Amaziah told Amos, “O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: but prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king's chapel, and it is the king's court” (Amos 7:12-13). It was not until over one hundred years after Hosea’s prophecy that Josiah finally destroyed the image and altar at Bethel (2 Kgs 23:15). Once, in the days of Balaam, the Lord “turned the curse into a blessing” (Deut 23:5). But Israel had turned the once-blessed Bethel into a cause for cursing and judgment.
YOUR GREAT WICKEDNESS. There is such a thing as “great wickedness” and “the great transgression” (Psa 19:13) – sin that is especially grievous and reprehensible. The sin committed in Bethel was worse than the sin committed in Belshazzar’s palace. This is sin against greater light, more truth, unexcelled love, and marvelous mercy. It is sin that occurs in a place that is noted for blessing – like merchants and money changers in the Temple. It is like lying to the Lord (Acts 5:4), and having a form of godliness that “denies the power thereof” (2 Tim 3:5). Bethel had become a cause for judgment because of the people – because of their “great wickedness” that was committed in that place. God had identified Himself with Bethel, and Israel had connected their sin to the same place! They had worshiped and offered sacrifice to another god in the very place of which God had said, “I am the God of Bethel!”
IN A MORNING. When the day dawned, “the king of Israel will be completely cut off.” NASB His demise would come suddenly, like the waking of the morning. It would follow the dark night of iniquity that had descended upon Israel, like the early morning rays of the sun disperse the shadows of night. The idea here is not only that of suddenness, but that of apparentness. That is, it would be clear that the judgment came from God, and was not the mere doing of men – as when Herod was struck down in the day (Acts 12:23), and Ananias and Sapphira fell during the day (Acts 5:5,10). It is then that they would say, as Hosea prophesied earlier, “We have no king, because we feared not the Lord” (10:3). The king that was cut off was Hoshea. In the ninth year of his reign, he was “cut off” (2 Kgs 19:10). He was the last king Israel ever had, and there is not a word said about him after he was cut off by Shalmanezer, king of Assyria, nor did Israel ever have another king.
For those with understanding, a correlation can be made between Israel and the modern church. Corruption has entered into it as it did into Israel. She has fallen away as Israel did. However, her falling is far worse, for she has been given far more. For those after Christ to “depart from the faith” and “give heed to seducing spirits” 1 Tim 4:1) is a sin of such magnitude there are not words to adequately describe it. This is why such harsh judgment is prophesied against spiritual Babylon (Rev 14:8; 18:2-8). In the name of religion, she has pioneered a system that does not require the power of the Spirit or the presence of Christ.