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.
Israel is an empty vine - Or, in the same sense, "a luxuriant vine;" literally, "one which poureth out," poureth itself out into leaves, abundant in switches, (as most old versions explain it,) luxuriant in leaves, emptying itself in them, and empty of fruit; like the fig-tree, which our Lord cursed. For the more a fruit tree putteth out its strength in leaves and branches, the less and the worst fruit it beareth. : "The juices which it ought to transmute into wine, it disperseth in the ambitious idle shew of leaves and branches." The sap in the vine is an emblem of His Holy Spirit, through whom alone we can bear fruit. "His grace which was in me," says Paul, "was not in vain." It is in vain to us, when we waste the stirrings of God's Spirit in feelings, aspirations, longings, transports, "which bloom their hour and fade" . Like the leaves, these feelings aid in maturing fruit; when there are leaves only, the tree is barren and "nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned" Hebrews 6:8.
It bringeth forth fruit for itself - Literally, "setteth fruit to, or on itself." Luxuriant in leaves, its fruit becomes worthless, and is from itself to itself. It is uncultured; (for Israel refused culture,) pouring itself out, as it willed, in what it willed. It had a rich show of leaves, a show also of fruit, but not for the Lord of the vineyard, since they came to no size or ripeness. Yet to the superficial glance, it was rich, prosperous, healthy, abundant in all things, as was the outward state of Israel under Jehoash and Jeroboam II.
According to the multitude of his fruit - Or more strictly, "as his fruit was multiplied, he multiplied altars; as his land was made good, they made goodly their images." The more of outward prosperity God bestowed upon them, the more they abused His gifts, referring them to their idols; the more God lavished His mercies on them, the more profuse they were in adoring their idols. The superabundance of God's goodness became the occasion of the superabundance of their wickedness. They rivaled and competed with and outdid the goodness of God, so that He could bestow upon them no good, which they did not turn to evil. People think this strange. Strange it is, as is all perversion of God's goodness; yet so it is now. People's sins are either the abuse of what God gives, or rebellion, because He withholds. In the sins of prosperity, wealth, health, strength, powers of mind, wit, people sin in a way in which they could not sin, unless God continually supplied them with those gifts which they turn to sin. The more God gives, the more opportunity and ability they have to sin, and the more they sin. They are "evil," not only in despite of God's goodness, but "because" He is good.
Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty: he shall break down their altars, he shall spoil their images.
Their heart is divided - Between God and their idols, in that they would not wholly part with either, as Elijah upbraided them, "How long halt ye between the two opinions?" 1 Kings 18:21. When the pagan, by whom the king of Assyria replaced them, had been taught by one of the priests whom the king sent back, in order to avert God's judgments, they still propagated this division. Like Jeroboam 2 Kings 17:32-33, 2 Kings 17:41, they became fearers of the Lord," His worshipers, "and made to themselves out of their whole number (i. e., indiscriminately) priests of the high places. They were fearers of the Lord, and they were servers of their gods, according to the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence. These nations were fearers of the Lord, and they were servers of their idols, both their children and their children's children. As did their fathers, so do they unto this day."
This divided allegiance was their hereditary worship. These pagan, as taught by one of the priests of Israel, added the service of God to that of their idols, as Israel had added the service of the idols to that of God. But God rejecteth such half service; from where he adds, "now," in a brief time, all but come, "they shall be found faulty," literally, "they shall be guilty," shall be convicted of guilt and shall bear it. They thought to "serve at once God and Mammon;" but, in truth, they served their idols only, whom they would not part with for God. God Himself then would turn away all their worship, bad, and, as they thought, good. "He," from whom their heart was divided, He Himself, by His mighty power which no man can gain-say, "shall break down their altars," literally, shall "behead" them. As they out of His gifts multiplied their altars and killed their sacrifices upon them against His will, so now should the altars themselves, be demolished; and "the images" which they had decked with the gold which He had given, should, on account of that very gold, tempt the spoiler, through whom God would spoil them.
He shall break down - He Himself. The word is emphatic. : "God willeth not that, when the merited vengeance of God is inflicted through man, it should be ascribed to man. Yea, if anyone ascribeth to himself what, by permission of God, he hath power to do against the people of God, he draweth down on him the displeasure of God, and, at times, on that very ground, can hurt the less" (see Deuteronomy 32:26, Deuteronomy 32:7; Isaiah 10:5 ff). The prophet then says very earnestly, "He Himself shall break," meaning us to understand, not the lofty hand of the enemy, but that the Lord Himself did all these things.
For now they shall say, We have no king, because we feared not the LORD; what then should a king do to us?
For now they shall say, we have no king - These are the words of despair, not of repentance; of people terrified by the consciousness of guilt, but not coming forth out of its darkness; describing their condition, not confessing the iniquity which brought it on them. In sin, all Israel had asked for a king, when the Lord was their king; in sin, Ephraim had made Jeroboam king; in sin, their subsequent kings were made, without the counsel and advice of God; and now as the close of all, they reflect how fruitless it all was. They had a king, and yet, as it were, they had no king, since, God being angry with them, he had no strength to deliver them. And now, without love, the memory of their evil deeds crushes them beyond hope of remedy. They groan for their losses, their sufferings, their fears, but do not repent. Such is the remorse of the damned. All which they had is lost; and what availed it now, since, when they had it, they feared not God?
They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant: thus judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field.
They have spoken words - The words which they spoke were eminently "words;" they were mere "words," which had no substance; "swearing falsely in making a covenant, literally, swearing falsely, making a covenant, and judgments springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field." : "There is no truth in words, no sanctity in oaths, no faithfulness in keeping covenants, no justice in giving judgments." Such is the result of all their oaths and covenants, that "judgment springeth up," yea, flourisheth; but, what judgment? Judgment, bitter and poisonous as hemlock, flourishes, as hemlock would flourish on ground broken up and prepared for it. They break up the ground, make the "furrows." They will not have any chance self-sown seed; they prepare the soil for harvest, full, abundant, regular, cleared of all besides. And what harvest? Not any wholesome plant, but poison. They cultivate injustice and wickedness, as if these were to be the fruits to be rendered to God from His own land. So Amos says, "Ye have turned judgment into gall or wormwood" Amos 6:12; Amos 5:7, and Habakkuk, "Judgment went forth perverted" Habakkuk 1:4.
The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Bethaven: for the people thereof shall mourn over it, and the priests thereof that rejoiced on it, for the glory thereof, because it is departed from it.
The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of - (i. e., for) the calves of Beth-aven He calls them in this place "cow-calves," perhaps to denote their weakness and helplessness. So far from their idol being able to help "them, they" shall be anxious and troubled for their idols, lest these should be taken captive from them. The "Bethel (House of God)" of the patriarch Jacob, was now turned into "Bethaven, the house of vanity." This, from its old sacred memories, was a more celebrated place of the calf-worship than Dan. Hosea then gives to the calf of Bethel its precedence, and ranks both idols under its one name, as "calves of the house of vanity."
For the people thereof shall mourn over it - They had set up the idols, instead of God; so God calls them no longer His people, but "the people of the calf" whom they had chosen for their god; as Moab was called "the people of Chemosh" Numbers 21:29, its idol. They had joyed in it, not in God; now they, "its people" and its priests, should "mourn over" it, when unable to help itself, much less, them. Both their joy and their sorrow showed that they were without excuse, that they had "gone willingly after the" king's "commandment," serving it of their own free-will out of love, not out of fear of the king, and, neither out of love or fear, serving God purely.
For the glory thereof, because it is departed from it - The true glory of Israel was God; the Glory of God is in Himself. "The glory of the calves," for whom Ephraim had exchanged their God, was something quite outward to them, the gold of which they were made, and the rich offerings made to them. Both together became an occasion of their being carried captive. They mourned, not because they had offended God by their sin, but for the loss of that dumb idol, whose worship had beetn their sin, and which had brought these heavy woes upon them. Impenitent even under chastisement! The prophet does not mention any grief for "the despoiling of their country, the burning of their cities, the slaughter of their people, their shame" . One only thing he names as moving them. Even then their one chief anxiety was, not that God was departed from them, but that their calf in which they had set their "glory," whereupon they so franticly relied, on which they had lavished their substance, their national distinction and disgrace, was gone. Without the grace of God people mourn, not their sins, but their idols.
It shall be also carried unto Assyria for a present to king Jareb: Ephraim shall receive shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel.
It shall be also carried - (that is, "Itself also shall be carried"). Not Israel only shall be carried into captivity, but its god also. The victory over a nation was accounted of old a victory over its gods, as indeed it showed their impotence. Hence, the excuse made by the captains of Benhadad, that the gods of "Israel were gods of the hills, and not gods of the valleys" 1 Kings 20:23, 1 Kings 20:28, and God's vindication of His own Almightiness, which was thus denied. Hence, also the boast of Sennacherib by Rabshakeh, "have any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and of Arpad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand? Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?" (2 Kings 18:33-35, add, 2 Kings 19:10-13; Numbers 21:29).
When God then, for the sin of His people, gave them into the hand of their enemies, He vindicated His own glory, first by avenging any insult offered to His worship, as in the capture of the ark by the Philistines, or Belshazzar's insolent and drunken abuse of the vessels of the temple; or by vindicating His servants, as in the case of Daniel and the three children, or by chastening pride, as in Nebuchadnezzar, and explaining and pointing His chastisement through His servant Daniel, or by prophecy, as of Cyrus by Isaiah and Daniel. To His own people, His chastisements were the vindication of His glory which they had dishonored, and the close of the long strife between the true prophets and the false. The captivity of the calf ended its worship, and was its final disgrace. The destruction of the temple and the captivity of its vessels and of God's people ended, not the worship, but the idolatries of Judah, and extended among their captors, and their captors' captors, the Medes and Persians, the knowledge of the One true God.
Unto Assyria, for a present to king Jareb - (or to a hostile or strifeful king. See the note above at Hosea 5:13.) Perhaps the name "Jareb" designates the Assyrian by that which was a characteristic of their empire, love of "strife." The history of their kings, as given by themselves in the newly-found inscriptions, is one warfare. To that same king, to whom they sent for aid in their weakness, from whom they hoped for help, and whom God named as what He knew and willed him to be to them, "hostile, strifeful," and "an avenger," should the object of their idolatry be carried in triumph. They had trusted in the calf and in the Assyrians. The Assyrian, to whom they looked as the protector of their liberties, was to carry away their other trust, their god .
Ephraim shall receive shame - This shall be all his gain; this his purchase; this he had obtained for himself by his pride and willfulness and idolatry and ambition and wars: this is the end of all, as it is of all pursuits apart from God; this he "shall receive" from the Giver of all good, "shame." "And Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel." Ephraim's special "counsel" was that which Jeroboam "took" with the most worldly-wise of his people, a counsel which admirably served their immediate end, the establishment of a kingdom, separate from that of Judah. It was acutely devised; it seemed to answer its end for 230 years, so that Israel, until the latter part of the reign of Pekah, was strong, Judah, in comparison, weak. But it was "the sin wherewith he made Israel to sin," and for which God scattered him among the pagan. His wisdom became his destruction and his shame. The policy which was to establish his family and his kingdom, destroyed his own family in the next generation, and ultimately, his people, not by its failure, but by its success.
As for Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon the water.
Her king is cut off like foam - (Or, more probably, "a straw) on the" (literally, "face of the) water." A bubble, or one of those little shreds which float in countless numbers on the surface of the water, give the same image of lightness, emptiness, worthlessness, a thing too light to sink, but driven impetuously, and unresistingly, here and there, at the impulse of the torrent which hurries it along. Such was the king, whom Israel had set in the highest place, in whom it had trusted, instead of God. So easily was Hoshea, their last king, swept away by the flood, which broke in on Ephraim, from Assyria. Piety is the only solidity; apart from piety all is emptiness.
The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed: the thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars; and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us.
The high places of Aven - that is, of vanity or iniquity. He had before called "Bethel, house of God," by the name of "Bethaven, house of vanity;" now he calls it "Aven, vanity" or "iniquity," as being the concentration of those qualities. Bethel was situated on a "hill," the "mount of Bethel," and, from different sides, people were said to "go up" (Joshua 16:1; 1 Samuel 13:2; above Hosea 4:13; Genesis 35:1; Judges 1:22; 1 Samuel 10:3; 2 Kings 2:23) to it. "The high place" often means the shrine, or "the house of the high places." Jeroboam had built such at Bethel 1 Kings 12:31; many such already existed in his time, so that, "whoever would, he consecrated" as their "priests" 1 Kings 13:32-33. The high place or shrine, is accordingly said to be "built" 1 Kings 11:7, "broken down and burnt" 2 Kings 23:15. At times, they were tents, and so said to be "woven 2 Kings 23:7, made of garments of divers colors" Ezekiel 16:16. The calf then, probably, became a center of idolatry; many such "idol-shrines" were formed around it, on its mount, until Bethel became a metropolis of idolatry. This was "the sin of Israel," as being the source of all its sins.
The thorn and the thistle shall come up upon their altars - This pictures, not only the desolation of the place, as before Hosea 9:6, but the forced cessation of idolatry. Fire destroys, down to the root, all vegetable life which it has once touched. The thorn, once blackened by fire, puts out no fresh shoot. But now, these idol fires having been put out forever, from amid the crevices of the broken altars, "thorn and thistle" should grow freely as in a fallow soil. Where the victims aforetime "went up" is also a sacrificial term), or were offered, now the wild briars and thistles alone should "go up," and wave freely in undisputed possession. Ephraim had "multiplied altars," as God multiplied their "goods;" now their altars should be but monunments of the defeat of idolatry. They remained, but only as the grave-stones of the idols, once worshiped there.
They shall say to the mountains, cover us - Samaria and Bethel, the seats of the idolatry and of the kingdom of Israel, themselves both on heights, had both, near them, mountains higher than themselves. Such was to Bethel, the mountain on the East, where Abraham built an altar to the Lord Genesis 12:8; Samaria was encircled by them. Both were probably scenes of their idolatries; from both, the miseries of the dwellers of Bethel and Samaria could be seen. Samaria especially was in the center of a sort of amphitheater; itself, the spectacle. No help should those high places now bring to them in their need. The high hills round Samaria, when the tide of war had filled the valley around it, hemmed them in, the more hopelessly. There was no way, either to break through or to escape. The narrow passes, which might have been held, as flood gates against the enemy, would then be held against them. One only service could it seem, that their mountains could then render, to destroy them. So should they be freed from evils worse than the death of the body, and escape the gaze of people upon their misery. "They shall wish rather to die, than to see what will bring death." "They shall say to the mountains on which they worshiped idols, fall on us, and anticipate the cruelty of the Assyrians and the extreme misery of captivity." Nature abhors annihilation; man shrinks from the violent marring of his outward form; he clings, however debased, to the form which God gave him. What misery, then, when people long for, what their inmost being shrinks from!
The words of the prophet become a sort of proverbial saying for misery, which longs for death rather than life. The destruction of Samaria was the type of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and of every other final excision, when the measure of iniquity was filled, and there was neither hope nor remedy. This was the characteristic of the destruction of Samaria. They had been God's people; they were to be so no more. This was the characteristic of the destruction of Jerusalem, not by the Babylonians, after which it was restored, but by the Romans, when they had rejected Christ, and prayed, "His Blood be on us and on our children." So will it be in the end of the world. Hence, our Lord uses the words Luke 23:30, to forewarns of the miseries of the destruction of Jerusalem, when the Jews hid themselves in caves for fear of the Romans ; and John uses them to picture man's despair at the end of the world Revelation 6:16. "I dread" says Bernard , "the gnawing worm, and the living death. I dread to fall into the hands of a living death, and a dying life. This is "the second death," which never out-killeth, yet which ever killeth. How would they long to die once, that they may not die forever! "They who say to the mountains, fall on us, and to the hills, cover us," what do they will, but, by the aid of death, either to escape or to end death? "They shall seek death, but shall not find it, and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them," saith John" Revelation 1:6.
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, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah - There must have been great sin, on both sides, of Israel as well as Benjamin, when Israel punished the atrocity of Gibeah, since God caused Israel so to be smitten before Benjamin. Such sin had continued ever since, so that, although God, in His longsuffering, had hitherto spared them, "it was not of late only that they had deserved those judgments, although now at last only, God inflicted them." "There" in Gibeah, "they stood." Although smitten twice at Gibeah, and heavily chastened, there they were avengers of the sacredness of God's law, and, in the end, "they stood; chastened but not killed." But now, none of the ten tribes took the side of God. Neither zeal for God, nor the greatness of the guilt, nor fear of judgment, nor the peril of utter ruin, induced any to set themselves against sin so great. The sin devised by one, diffused among the many, was burnt and branded into them, so that they never parted with it. : "The battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them," i. e., it did not overtake them then, but it shall overtake them now. Or if we render, (as is more probable,) "shall not overtake them," it will mean, not a battle like that in Gibeah, terrible as that was, "shall" now "overtake them;" but one far worse. For, although the tribe of Benjamin was then reduced to six hundred men, yet the tribe still survived and flourished again; now the kingdom of the ten tribes, and the name of Ephraim, should be utterly blotted out.
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 in My desire that I should chastise them - God "doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men" Lamentations 3:33. Grievous then must be the cause of punishment, when God not only chastens people, but, so to speak, longs to chasten them, when He chastens them without any let or hindrance from His mercy. Yet so God had said; "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" Deuteronomy 28:63. God willed to enforce His justice, with no reserve whatever from His mercy. His whole mind, so to speak, is to punish them. God is "without passions." Yet, in order to impress on us the truth, that one day there will, to some, be "judgment without mercy" James 2:13, He speaks as one, whose longing could not be satisfied, until the punishment were executed. So He says, "I will ease Me of Mine adversaries" Isaiah 1:24; "Mine anger shall be accomplished and I will cause My fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted" Ezekiel 5:13.
And the people shall be gathered against him - "As all the other tribes were gathered against Benjamin at Gibeah to destroy it, so, although that war did not overtake them, now "against him," i. e., against Ephraim or the ten tribes, "shall be gathered" divers "peoples" and nations, to destroy them." The number gathered against them shall be as overwhelming, as that of all the tribes of Israel against the one small tribe of Benjamin. : "As of old, they ought to have bound themselves to extinguish this apostasy in its birth, as they bound themselves to avenge the horrible wickedness at Gibeah. But since they bound themselves not against sin, but to it, God says that He would gather Pagan nations against them, to punish their obstinate rebellion against Himself. They who will neither be drawn by piety, nor corrected by moderate chastisements, must needs be visited by sharper punishments, that some, who will not strive to the uttermost against the mercy of God, may be saved."
When they shall bind themselves in their two furrows - They "bind themselves" and Satan "binds them" to their sin. In harmony and unity in nothing else, they will bind themselves, and plow like two oxen together, adding furrow to furrow, joining on line to line of sin. They who had thrown off the light and easy yoke of God, who were ever like a restive, untamed, heifer, starting aside from the yoke, would "bind" and band themselves steadily in their own ways of sin, cultivating sin, and in that sin should destruction overtake them. People who are unsteady and uneven in everything besides, will be steadfast in preening sin; they who will submit to no constraint, human or divine, will, in their slavery to their passions, submit to anything. No slavery is so heavy as that which is selfimposed.
This translation has followed an old Jewish tradition, expressed by the vowels of the text, and old Jewish authorities. With other vowels, it may be rendered, literally, "in their binding to their two transgressions," which gives the same sense, "because they bound themselves to their two transgressions," or, passively, "when they are bound, on account of their two transgressions." The "two transgressions," may designate the two calves, "the sin of Israel," or the twofold guilt of fornication, spiritual, and in the body; the breach of both tables of God's law; or as Jeremiah says, "My people hath committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, which can hold no water" Jeremiah 2:13. : "This could not be said of any other nation, which knew not God. For if any such worshiped false gods, they committed only one transgression; but this nation, in which God was known, by declining to idolatry, is truly blamed as guilty of "two transgressions;" they left the true God, and for, or against, Him they worshiped other gods. For he hath twofold guilt, who, knowing good, rather chooseth evil; but "he" single, who, knowing no good, taketh evil for good. That nation then, both when, after seeing many wonderful works of God, it made and worshiped one calf in the wilderness; and when, forsaking the house of David and the temple of the Lord, it made itself two calves; yea, and so often as it worshiped those gods of the beathen; and yet more, when it asked that Barabbas should be released but that Christ should be crucified, committed two transgressions, rejecting the good, electing the evil; "setting sweet for bitter, and bitter for sweet; setting darkness as light, and light as darkness" Isaiah 5:20.
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.
Ephraim is an heifer that is taught and that loveth to tread out the corn - The object of the metaphor in these three verses seems to be, to picture, under operations of husbandry, what God willed and trained His people to do, how they took as much pains in evil, as He willed them to do for good. One thing only they did "which" He willed, but not because He willed it - what pleased themselves. Corn was threshed in the East chiefly by means of oxen, who were either driven round and round, so as to trample it out with their feet, or drew a cylinder armed with iron, or harrow-shaped planks, set with sharp stones which at the same time cut up the straw for provender. The treading out the grain was an easy and luxurious service, since God had forbidden to "muzzle the ox" Deuteronomy 25:4, while doing it. It pictures then the sweet gentle ways by which God wins us to His service. Israel would serve thus far, for she liked the service, "she was accustomed" to it, and "she loved it," but she would do no more. "She waxed fat and kicked" Deuteronomy 32:15.
: "The heifer when accustomed to the labor of treading out the corn, mostly, even unconstrained, returns to the same labor. So the mind of the ungodly, devoted to the slaveries of this world, and accustomed to the fatigues of temporal things, even if it may have leisure for itself, hastens to subject itself to earthly toils, and, inured to its miserable conversation, seeks the renewal of toil, and will not, though it may, cease from the yoke of this world's slavery. This yoke our Lord would remove from the necks of His disciples, saying, "Take heed, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with cares of this life, and that day come upon you unawares" Luke 21:34. And again, "Come unto Me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon you." : "Some, in order to appear somewhat in this world, overload themselves with earthly toils, and although, amid their labors, they feel their strength fail, yet, overcome by love of earthly things, they delight in their fatigue. To these it is said by the prophet, "Ephraim is a heifer taught and loving to tread out the corn." They ask that they may be oppressed; in rest, they deem that they have lighted unto a great peril."
And I passed over her fair neck - handling her gently and tenderly, as men put the yoke gently on a young untamed animal, and inure it softly to take the yoke upon it. Yet "to pass over" , especially when it is said of God, always signifies inflictions and troubles." To pass over sins, is to remit them; to pass over the sinner, is to punish him. "I will make Ephraim to ride or I will make it," i. e., the yoke, "to ride on Ephraim's" neck, as the same word is used for "place the hand on the bow;" or, perhaps better, "I will set a rider on Ephraim," who should tame and subdue him. Since he would not submit himself freely to the easy yoke of God, God would set a ruler upon him, who should be his master. Thus, the Psalmist complains, "Thou hast made men to ride on our head" Psalm 66:12, directing us at their pleasure.
: "'The beauty of the neck' designates those who sin and take pleasure in their sins. That passing over or ascending, said both in the past and the future, 'I passed, I will make to ride,' signifies that what He purposes is most certain. It expresses that same vengeance as, 'Ye are a stiffnecked people; I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and cosume thee' Exodus 33:5. The 'beauty' of the 'neck' here is the same as the ornament there, when the Lord says, 'therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.' As long as the sinner goes adorned, i. e., is proud in his sins, as long as he stiffens his fair neck, self-complacent, taking pleasure in the ills which he has done, God, in a measure, knows not what to do to him; mercy knows not how, apart from the severity of judgment, to approach him; and so after the sentence of the judge, 'thou art a stiffnecked people, etc.' He gives the counsel 'put off thine ornaments etc.' i. e., humble thyself in penitence, that I may have mercy upon thee."
Judah shall plow, Jacob shall break his clods - In the will of God, Judah and Israel were to unite in His service, Judah first, Jacob, after him, breaking the clods, which would hinder the seed from shooting up. Judah being mentioned in the same incidental way, as elsewhere by Hosea, it may be, that he would speak of what should follow on Ephraim's chastisement. : "When they shall see this, the two tribes shall no longer employ themselves in treading out the grain, but shall plow. To "tread out the corn" is to act "in hope of present gain; to "plow," is to labor in that, which has no instant fruit, but promiseth it hereafter, i. e., the fulfillment of God's commands." "Jacob" will then be the remnant of the ten tribes, who, at Hezekiah's invitation, out of Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, Asher, and Zebulun, joined in celebrating the passover at Jerusalem, and subsequently in destroying idolatry 2 Chronicles 30; 31. Hosea had already foretold that Judah and Israel shall be "gathered together," under "one Head" Hosea 1:11. Here, again, he unites them in one, preparing His way first in themselves, then, in others. Judah is placed first, for to him was the promise in his forefather, the patriarch, and then in David. Ephraim was to be partaker of his blessings, by being united to him. The image of the heifer has been dropped. He had spoken of them as farmers; as such he addresses them.
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.
Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy - Literally, "in the proportion of mercy," not in proportion to what you have sown, nor what justice would give, but beyond all deserts, "in the proportion of mercy;" i. e., "according to the capacity and fullness of the mercy of God; what becometh the mercy of God, which is boundless," which overlooketh man's failings, and giveth an infinite reward for poor imperfect labor. As our Lord says, "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together and running over, shall men give into your bosom" Luke 6:38. : "If the earth giveth thee larger fruits than it has received, how much more shall the requiting of mercy repay thee manifold more than thou gavest!" Sowing and reaping always stand over against each other, as labor and reward. "He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully" 2 Corinthians 9:6.
And, "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. In due season we shall reap, if we faint not" Galatians 6:7-9. We are bidden "to sow to ourselves," for, "our goodness reacheth not to God" Psalm 16:2; our's is the gain, if we love God, the Fountain of all good. This reward, "according to mercy," is in both worlds. it is in this world also. For "grace well used draws more grace." God giveth "grace upon grace" John 1:16; so that each good deed, the fruit of grace, is the seed-corn of larger grace. "If thou humble thyself, it stimulates thee to humble thyself more. If thou prayest, thou longest to pray more. If thou givest alms, thou wishest to give more." It is in the world to come. For, says a holy man , "our works do not pass away as it seems, but each thing done in time, is sown as the Seed of eternity. The simple will be amazed, when from this slight seed he shall see the copious harvest arise, good or evil, according as the seed was." "Thou seekest two sheaves, rest and glory. They shall reap glory and rest, who have sown toil and self-abasement" .
Break up your fallow ground - This is not the order of husbandry. The ground was already plowed, harrowed, sown. Now he bids her anew, "Break up your fallow ground." The Church breaks up her own fallow ground, when she stirs up anew the decaying piety of her own members; she breaks up fallow ground, when, by preaching the Gospel of Christ, she brings new people into His fold. And for us too, one sowing sufficeth not. It must be no surface-sowing. And "the soil of our hearts must ever be anew cleansed; for no one in this mortal life is so perfect, in piety, that noxious desires will not spring up again in the heart, us tares in the well-tilled field."
For it is time to seek the Lord, until He come and rain righteousness upon you - Or better, "until he shall come and teach you righteousness." To "rain righteousness" is the same image as Solomon uses of Christ; "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth" Psalm 72:6, and Isaiah, "drop down ye heavens from above and let the skies pour down righteousness" Isaiah 45:8. It expresses in picture-language how He, who is "our Righteousness," came down from heaven, to give life to us, who were dried and parched up and withered, when the whole face of our mortal nature was as dead. Yet there is nothing to indicate that the prophet is here using imagery. The Hebrew word is used very rarely in the meaning, to "rain;" in that of teaching, continually, and that, in exactly the same idiom as here . One office of our Lord was to teach. Nicodemus owned Him, "as a teacher sent from" God John 3:2. The Samaritans looked to the Messiah, as one who should "teach all things" John 4:25. The prophets foretold that He should "teach us His ways" Isaiah 2:3, that He should be a "witness unto the people" Isaiah 55:4.
The prophet bids them "seek diligently," and perseveringly, "not leaving off or desisting," if they should not at once find, but continuing the search, quite "up to" the time when they should find. His words imply the need of perseverance and patience, which should stop short of nothing but God's own time for finding. The prophet, as is the way of the prophets, goes on to Christ, who was ever in the prophets' hearts and hopes. The words could only be understood improperly of God the Father. God does not "come," who is everywhere. He ever was among His people, nor did He will to be among them otherwise than heretofore. No coming of God, as God, was looked for, to "teach righteousness." Rather, the time was coming, when He would be less visibly among them than before. Among the ten tribes, as a distinct people, He would shortly be no more, either by prophecy, or in worship, or by any perceptible token of His providence. From Judah also He was about, although at a later period, to withdraw the kingdom of David, and the Urim and Thummira, and the Shechinah, or visible presence. Soon after the captivity, prophecy itself was to cease. But "the coming of Christ the patriarchs and holy men all along desired to see: Abraham saw it and was glad John 8:56. Jacob longed for it Genesis 49:18. The law and the prophets directed to it, so that there were always in Israel such as waited for it, as appears by the example of old Simeon and Joseph of Arimathaea, and those many prophets and righteous men whom our Saviour speaks of Luke 2:25; Mark 15:43; Matthew 13:17. "He that should come" seems to have been a known title for Him; since John Baptist sent two of his disciples, to say unto Him, "Art thou He that shall come, or do we look for another?" Matthew 11:3.
The prophet saith then, "Now is the time to seek the Lord, and prepare for the coming of Christ, for He, when He cometh, will teach you, yea, will give you true righteousness, whereby ye shall be righteous before God, and heirs of His kingdom." : "So God speaketh through Isaiah, "keep ye judgment and do justice, for My salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed." In both places, people are warned, "to prepare the way" to receive Christ, which was the office assigned to the law. As Paul saith, "Whereunto was the law? It was added because of transgressions." It was given to restrain the passions of people by fear of punishment, lest they should so defile themselves by sin, as to despise the mercy and office of Christ. It was given to prepare our souls by love of righteousness and mercy to receive Christ, that he might enrich them with the divine wealth of righteousness." : "If Israel of old were so to order their ways in expectation of Him, and that they might be prepared for His coming; and if their neglecting to do this made them liable to such heavy judgments, how much severer judgments shall they be worthy of, who, after His Coming and raining upon them the plentiful showers of heavenly doctrine, and abundant measure of His grace and gifts of His Holy Spirit, do, for want of breaking up the fallow ground of their hearts, suffer His holy word to be lost on them. The fearful doom of such unfruitful Christians is set down by Paul" Hebrews 6:4-8.
The present is ever the time to seek the Lord. "Behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the Day of Salvation" 2 Corinthians 6:2. As Hosea says, "it is time to seek the Lord until He come," so Paul saith, "unto them that look for Him, shall he appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation" Hebrews 9:28.
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.
Ye have plowed wickedness - They not only did not that which God commanded, but they did the exact contrary. They cultivated wickedness. They broke up their fallow ground, yet to sow, not wheat, but tares. They did not leave it even to grow of itself, although even thus, on the natural soil of the human heart, it yields a plenteous harvest; but they bestowed their labor on it, plowed it, sowed, and as they sowed, so they reaped, an abundant increase of it. "They brought their ill doings to a harvest, and laid up as in provision the fruits thereof." Iniquity and the results of iniquity, were the gain of all their labor. Of all their toil, they shall have no fruits, except the iniquity itself. : "By the plowing, sowing, eating the fruits, he marks the obstinacy of incorrigible sinners, who begin ill, go on to worse, and in the worst come to an end. Then too, when the corrupted soul labors with the purpose of a deed of sin, and resolves in its inmost thoughts, how it may bring the ungodly will into effect in deed, it is like one plowing or sowing. But when, having completed the work of iniquity, it exults that it has done ill, it is like one reaping. When further it has broken out so far as, in pride of heart to defend its sins against the law of God prohibiting them, and goes on unconcerned in impenitence, he is like one who, after harvest, eats the fruits stored up."
Ye have eaten the fruit of lies - They had been full of "lies" Hosea 4:1-2; Hosea 7:3; they had "lied" against God by hypocrisy Hosea 5:7; Hosea 6:7; Hosea 7:16; Hosea 10:4 and idolatry; they had "spoken lies against Him" Hosea 7:13; by denying that He gave them what He bestowed upon them, and ascribing it to their idols Hosea 2:5, Hosea 2:12. All iniquity is a lie. Such then should be "the fruit" which they tasted, on which they fed. It should not profit, nor satisfy them. It should not merely be empty, as in the case of those who are said to "feed on ashes" Isaiah 44:20, but hurtful. As Isaiah saith, "they conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity. They hatch cockatrice' eggs, and weave the spider's web; he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed, breaketh out into a viper" Isaiah 59:4-5. "Gain deceives, lust deceives, gluttony deceives; they yield no true delight; they satisfy not, they disgust; and they end in misery of body and soul." "Bodily delights," says a father , "when absent, kindle a vehement longing; when had and eaten, they satiate and disgust the eater. Spiritual delights are distasteful, when unknown; when possessed, they are longed for; and the more those who hunger after them feed upon them, the more they are hungered for. Bodily delights please, untasted; when tasted, they displease; spiritual, when untasted, are held cheap; when experienced, they please. In bodily delights, appetite generates satiety; satiety, disgust. In spiritual, appetite produceth satiety; satiety appetite. For spiritual delights increase longing in the soul, while they satisfy. For the more their sweetness is perceived, so much the more is "that" known which is loved more eagerly. Unpossessed, they cannot be loved, because their sweetness is unknown."
Because thou didst trust in thy way - "Thy way," i. e., not God's. They forsook God's way, followed "ways of wickedness and misbelief." While displeasing God, they trusted in the worship of the calves and in the help of Egypt and Assyria, "making flesh their arm, and departing from the living God." So long as a man mistrusts his ways of sin, there is hope of his conversion amid any depths of sin. When "he trusts in his ways," all entrance is closed against the grace of God. He is as one dead; he not only justifies himself, but is self-justified. There is nothing in him, neither love nor fear, which can be awakened.
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.
Therefore shall a tumult arise among thy people - Literally, "peoples." Such was the immediate fruit of departing from God and trusting in human beings and idols. They trusted in their own might, and the multitude of their people. That might should, through intestine division and anarchy, become their destruction. As in the dislocated state of the Roman empire under the first emperors, so in lsrael, the successive usurpers arose out of their armies, armies , "the multitude of their mighty ones," in whom they trusted. The "confused noise" of "war" should first "arise in" the midst of their own "peoples." They are spoken of not as one, but as many; "peoples," not, as God willed them to be, one people, for they had no principle of oneness or stability, who had no legitimate succession, either of kings or of priests; who had "made kings, but not through" God. Each successor had the same right as his predecessor, the right of might, and furnished an example and precedent and sanction to the murderer of himself or of his son.
All thy fortresses shall be spoiled - Literally, "the whole of thy fortresses shall be wasted." He speaks of the whole as one. Their fenced cities, which cut off all approach, should be one waste. They had forsaken God, their "fortress and deliverer," and so He gave up their fortresses to the enemy, so that all and each of them were laid waste. The confusion, begun among themselves, prepared for destruction by the enemy. Of this he gives one awful type.
As Shalman spoiled - (or wasted) Beth-Arbel in the day of battle "Shalman" is, no doubt, "Shalmaneser king of Assyria," who came up against Hoshea, early in his reign, "and he became a servant to him and brought him a present 2 Kings 17:3. Shalman" being the characteristic part of the name , the prophet probably omitted the rest, on the ground of the rhythm. "Beth-Arbel" is a city, which the Greeks, retaining, in like way, only the latter and characteristic half of the name, called Arbela .
Of the several cities called Arbela, that celebrated in Grecian history, was part of the Assyrian empire. Two others, one "in the mountain-district of Pella" , and so on the East side of Jordan, the other between Sepphoris and Tiberias , (and so in Naphthali) must, together with the countries in which they lay, have fallen into the bands of the Assyrians in the reign of "Tiglath-pileser," who "took - Gilead and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali" 2 Kings 15:29, in the reign of Pekah. The whole country, East of Jordan, being now in the hands of Shalmaneser, his natural approach to Samaria was over the Jordan, through the valley or plain of Jezreel. Here was the chief wealth of Israel, and the fittest field for the Assyrian horse. Over the Jordan then, from where Israel itself came when obedient to God, from where came the earlier instruments of God's chastisements, came doubtless the host of Shalmaneser, along the "great plain" of Esdraelon. "In that plain" also lay an "Arbela," "nine miles from Legion" . Legion itself was at the Western extremity of the plain, as Scythopolis or Bethshean lay at the East .
It was about fifteen miles West of Nazareth , and ten miles from Jezreel . Beth-Arbel must accordingly have lain somewhere in the middle of the valley of Jezreel. Near this Arbela, then, Israel must have sustained a decisive defeat from Shalmaneser. For the prophet does not say only, that he "spoiled Beth-Arbel," but that he did this "in a day of battle." Here Hosea, probably in the last years of his life, saw the fulfillment of his own earlier prophecy; and "God brake the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel" Hosea 1:5.
The mother was dashed to pieces on the children - It was an aggravation of this barbarity, that, first the infants were dashed against the stones before their mother's eyes, then the mothers themselves were dashed upon them. Syrians 2 Kings 8:12, Assyrians , Medes Isaiah 13:16, Babylonians Psalm 137:8-9, used this barbarity. India has borne witness to us of late, how pagan nature remains the same.
It may be that, in the name "Betharbel," the prophet alludes to the name "Bethel." : As "Betharbel," i. e., "the house," or it may be the idolatrous "temple of Arbel," rescued it not, but was rather the cause of its destruction, so shall Bethel. The holy places of Israel, the memorials of the free love of God to their forefathers, were pledges to "them," the children of those forefathers, that, so long as they continued in the faith of their fathers, God the Unchangeable, would continue those same mercies to them. When they "turned" Bethel, "the house of God," into Bethaven, "house of vanity," then it became, like Betharbel, literally, "house of ambush of God," the scene and occasion of their desolation.
So shall Bethel do unto you because of your great wickedness: in a morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off.
So shall Bethel do unto you - God was the judge, who condemned them so to suffer from the enemy. The Assyrian was the instrument of the wrath of God. But, in order to point out the moral government of God, the prophet says, neither that God did it, nor that the Assyrian did it, but Bethel, once "the house of God," now the place where they dishonored God, "because of your great wickedness," literally, "the wickedness of your wickedness." In their wickedness itself, there was an essence of wickedness, malice within malice.
In a morning shall the king of Israel be cut off - Hoshea was cut off finally, leaving neither root nor branch. His kingdom perished; he left no memorial. Like the morning, he seemed to dawn on the troubles of his people: he sinned against God: and "in a morning," the kingdom, in "the multitude of" whose "mighty men" he trusted, "was cut off" forever.