Hosea 10:1-15 Plow The New Land
The Spreading Vine
1. We will begin reading verses one and two.
"Israel is a spreading vine.
Its fruits are even equivalent to one.
The more fruit they yielded, the more they increased their altars
The more prosperous their nation was, the more they set up holy pillars.
Their lying hearts will now be punished.
The Lord will break down their altars
He will topple their holy pillars," (10:1-2).
3. Here we have Israel compared to a vine. It says that this vine was "spreading." But, though this is translated from a negative perspective, originally the words did not have an evil connotation. It is a word that expresses a condition where it is so prosperous that things are overflowing so much. Actually, during the reign of Jeroboam II, Israel had enjoyed such a prosperity. Its branches grew abundantly so far out and even its fruit ripened abundantly upon its branches. But, what was wrong with them then? The text says, "The more fruit they yielded, the more they increased their altars; the more prosperous their nation was, the more they set up holy pillars." They multiplied their holy places. And they made these holy places everywhere gorgeous and so nice. Since the nation was rich, as you know, they turned it right back into their worship. Isn't adding holy places and making them so fine what [God] had been hoping for from them?
4. But, it looks like the Lord wasn't pleased with all this. Instead, the Lord himself announces that he "will break down their altars and topple down their holy pillars." But why? The Lord is not pleased because their hearts are deceitful. The way it reads exactly is "Their lying hearts will be punished." That's where the problem is.
5. It isn't saying they have "lying hearts" because what they were practicing had not come from a pure love for God or that they didn't have a response of pure thanksgiving for the blessings of God [because they did]. What it clearly expresses is the fact that they "set up holy pillars." These holy pillars were once used in the Canaanite festivals for Baal and were what brought in the harvest from the Baal festival during which they hoped and prayed for fecundity and a bountiful crop. In their having them set up it shows that the Israelites too were seeking for the same things. When the nation flourished, its prosperity continued and in seeking to be more wealthy they added more holy places and set them up in splendor.
6. Even though the word translated "lying, deceitful" in other passages is used to express the smooth tongue that says flattering words, it probably stands for the same thing. When one flatters somebody one expects some payoff of some kind. Flattering speech is used to draw something out of someone. Similarly, their actions were only for the purpose of drawing good things from God. Though their holy places multiplied and were splendid, yet in them there was no love for a faithful God, nor was there any day to day living where they lived in response to God's blessing and grace.
He Will Surely Discipline Them
7. It states the following about what conditions specifically a deceitful heart like they had will bring. Please look beginning at verse three.
"Now they say,
'We no longer have any king.
It's because we did not revere the Lord.
But even if there was a king, what would that do?'
They heap up words
They swear falsely and make covenants.
Even if court cases sprout up
It will be like poisonous plants growing in the ribs of our fields.
The citizens of Samaria
Are frightened over the calf of Beth Aven
The people mourn over it.
Even if shrine priests extol its glory,
It will be removed from them.
The idol will be carried away to Assyria
And become tribute of the great king.
Ephraim will see ridicule,
Israel will be put to shame for its scheming.
Samaria will be destroyed,
The king will become like bubbles floating on water.
The holy high places of Aven,
This sin of Israel will be broken down,
Thorns and thistles will burst thickly around their altars.
At that time, they will turn to the mountains
And to the hills and cry,
'Cover us over'
'Fall down upon us,'" (10:3-8).
9. At Bethel an idol of a calf was enshrined for worship. They didn't worship it as the gods of Canaan. They worshipped their Lord who led them out of Egypt. When Jeroboam I first built and placed the calf in Bethel, he spoke as follows, "See, O Israel, this is your God who led you out of Egypt," (First Kings 12:28). Of course, the calf itself was not considered as the God Yahweh, but it seems they thought of it as a pedestal for the invisible God. At any rate, when he pointed to the idol of the calf and said, "See, this is your God who led you out of Egypt," the greatness of the blessing of God's salvation was no longer taken seriously. Out of such idolatrous worship as this, you can not expect a lifestyle with true responses to God's blessings to emerge from it.
10. Therefore, the Lord will remove this calf. He says that people will come to mourn because of it. "Beth Aven" means "house of evil." Its real name is "Bethel." Hosea changed the words. "Bethel" originally meant "house of God." But, now it means that this place is become "a house of evil." The idol of the evil house will be carried off to Assyria. Sarcastically speaking, the idol which had received their offerings until now are meant to become an offering to the great Assyrian king. And the Lord says, "Samaria will be destroyed." Since they didn't think much of a true relationship with the Lord, they might on the other hand have thought that they would be okay if the calf was there with them. But, this calf would be plundered off with them to Assyria. At that time they would come to realize that they were not truly worshipping God but worshipping no more than an idol.
11. Of course, before this judgment comes to visit them like this, the Lord repeatedly calls out to Israel to return. Before Hosea's time, Amos appeared and gave them God's word. But, the people did not turn. They did not repent. Such a stubborn attitude didn't just begin in their time. It had been like that from of old. It says this in the text beginning in verse nine.
"O Israel, since the days of Gibeah
You have kept on sinning.
To those who abide in sin and turn their backs
In Gibeah will not battles be waged?
Indeed, I will surely punish them.
Peoples of different nations will concentrate against them
For these two evils they will take them," (10:9-10).
13. It also speaks about "the days of Gibeah" in the previous chapter. Some think it points to a narrative found in Judges chapter twenty, where it is recorded about the tribe of Benjamin unrepentant for its sin, with its heart made stubborn, and challenging a war with the other tribes and on the verge of destruction. The Israelites today are the same as those people who refused to repent of their sin. The Lord says, "You have kept on sinning." It doesn't mean that they had fallen into error and sin. The problem was that they would not turn to God in spite of his calling out to them and that they were "abiding in sin and turning their backs," (verse nine). The Lord says of them, "I will surely punish them."
Plow The New Land
14. Since what the Lord is doing is the Lord's discipline for them, they have God's intentions for them in that. It says the following beginning in verse eleven.
"Ephraim was a trained heifer.
She is pleased that I made her thresh.
I came beside her beautiful neck.
I will make preparations for Ephraim to work.
Judah will play, Jacob will pull the plow.
Plant the seed that will bring works of grace
Reap the fruit of love.
Plow the new land.
The time has come to seek the Lord.
At last the Lord will visit
So that he will pour out his showers of blessing," (10:11-12).
16. It is translated "she is pleased that I made her thresh," but, many versions put it as "she (that is, the calf or Ephraim) loves to thresh." That's a natural way to read it. By reading Deuteronomy we know why a threshing cow likes it. It reads there, "You must not put a muzzle on a threshing cow." When a cow threshes, it was permitted to eat the wheat. This is how the Lord has treated Israel up to now. In other words, he allowed Israel to become rich. But, here it is saying by way of Hosea's prophecy that that would be no more. God says he came beside her beautiful neck. Why did he do that? The text says, "I will make preparations for Ephraim to work." The Lord intended to put the burden of a heavy yoke on the calf and make her till the field.
17. Israel's prosperity would not continue. Political unrest would continue in the domestic affairs after Jeroboam II. That's not all. In 732 B.C.E. after Syria fell completely into Assyrian hands, Assyria invaded the northern tribes of Israel. This continues until finally in 721 B.C.E. Samaria surrenders. They think that the saying "I will make preparations for [Ephraim] to work" points to such very harsh conditions. It would no longer be a time when they would thresh and eat wheat at the same time. They would be made to bear a yoke and be a calf that was driven away to hard labor. So what then was it that the Lord required of them? The text in verse twelve reads, "Plant the seed that will bring works of grace. Reap the fruit of love. Plow the new land. The time has come to seek the Lord. At last the Lord will visit so that he will pour out his showers of blessing," (10:12). This very thing was God's plan.
18. What is translated as works of blessing means "righteousness." They will plant seeds of righteousness based on a righteous relationship with God. And they will reap the fruit of love and the fruit of mercy. For that reason one must till "the new land." The phrase "till the new land" is found in Jeremiah. "Pioneer the farmed land. Don't sow seed among thorns," (Jeremiah 4:3). The translation is very different, but it is the same phrase." It's believed to be an ancient proverb. To put it quite simply the meaning of it is "Start over again from the beginning." It is to say farewell to the old and re-start brand new. Like it says "Don't sow seed among thorns," we must not touch any of it up, but leave the old left behind as it is. And Hosea cries out, "The time to seek the Lord has come." In not seeking the Lord but seeking the same old thing, nothing will be new. We seek the Lord and do it over from scratch. That's repentance. In doing that, it says, after the trouble of "tilling new land" the rich "showers of blessing (shower of righteousness)" will be poured out.
19. This was the plan of God to let them wear yokes upon them. When God said to the rebellious to "till new land," this was in and of itself a great blessing from God. But, the Israelites didn't see it that way. Actually, as ever, their condition was to plow evil, reap unrighteousness, and eat the fruit of deceit. During their national crisis they still trusted in their own strength and the numbers of their brave men. In the end, there was no one to seek God, no one to till the new land. It is written as follows.
"But you sowed evil,
You reaped unrighteousness and ate the fruit of deceit.
You trusted in your own strength and the numbers of your brave men.
Uprisings take place against your people
Your strongholds will all be destroyed.
It will be like the day Shalman destroyed Betharbel,
That day of war when both mother and children were beaten to death.
O Bethel, because of your terrible evil
The same will happen to you as well.
The king of Israel will surely be cut off with the dawning of the night," (10:13-15).
21. Since we don't find anything in the scriptures about the destruction of Betharbel by Shalman which we see written here in the text, we don't really know what actually happened. But what happened was quite familiar to those who heard this [back then]. Any way, it was Hosea's prophecy that when they had put on their yokes and were out in the field, what [God] truly required of them there was that things would ultimately lead to the downfall of the nation, that is, unless they made a "tilling of new land." And sadly enough the truth is, Israel went down along with Samaria's fall. At the same time as we turn our eyes on the abundant patience and mercy of God who requires repentance of us, we must, as a message that is for us as well, gravely respond to the fact that Israel reaped destruction because they ignored the call to them.