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, a vine that casteth its grapes.
He bringeth forth fruit - Or, he laid up fruit for himself. He abused the blessings of God to the purposes of idolatry. He was prosperous; but his prosperity corrupted his heart.
According to the multitude of his fruit - He became idolatrous in proportion to his prosperity; and in proportion to their wealth was the costliness of their images, and the expensiveness of their idol worship.
True is the homely saying of old Quarles: -
"So God's best gifts, usurp'd by wicked ones,
To poison turn, by their con-ta-gi-ons."
Another poet, of a higher order, but worse school, says: -
Effodiuntur opes, irritamenta malorum.
Of which the words of St. Paul are nearly a literal rendering: -
Ῥιζα γαρ πανθων των κακων εστιν ἡ θιλαργυρια.
"For the love of money is the root of all these evils"
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 - They wish to serve God and Mammon, Jehovah and Baal: but this is impossible. Now God will do in judgment what they should have done in contrition, "break down their altars, and spoil their images."
For now they shall say, We have no king, because we feared not the LORD; what then should a king do to us?
We have no king - We have rejected the King of kings; and had we any king, he would be of no service to us in this state, as he would be a captive like ourselves; nor could we have the approbation of God, as we now justly lie under his displeasure.
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 - Vain, empty, deceitful words.
Swearing falsely - This refers to the alliances made with strange powers, to whom they promised fidelity without intending to be faithful; and from whom they promised themselves protection and support, notwithstanding God was against them, and they knew it. All their words were vain, and in the end as bitter as gall.
Judgment springeth up as hemlock - As our land lies without cultivation, so that we have nothing but noxious weeds instead of crops; so we have no administration of justice. What is done in this way is a perversion of law, and is as hurtful to society as hemlock would be to animal life. All this may refer to the anarchy that was in the kingdom of Israel before Hoshea's reign, and which lasted, according to Archbishop Usher, nine years. They then, literally, "had no king."
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 - According to Calmet, shall worship the calves of Beth-aven; those set up by Jeroboam, at Beth-el. Fear is often taken for religious reverence.
The people thereof shall mourn - On seeing the object of their worship carried into captivity, as well as themselves.
And the priests thereof - כמרים kemarim. The priests of Samaria, says Calmet, are here called kemarim, that is, black coats, or shouters, because they made loud cries in their sacrifices. Instead of יגילו yagilu, "they shall rejoice;" learned men propose ילילו yalilu, "shall howl," which is likely to be the true reading, but it is not supported by any of the MSS. yet discovered. But the exigentia loci, the necessity of the place, requires some such word.
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.
A present to King Jareb - See on Hosea 5:13 (note). If this be a proper name, the person intended is not known in history: but it is most likely that Pul, king of Assyria, is intended, to whom Menahem, king of Israel, appears to have given one of the golden calves, to insure his assistance.
As for Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon the water.
Her king is cut off as the foam - As lightly as a puff of wind blows off the foam that is formed below by a fall of water, so shall the kings of Israel be cut off. We have already seen that not less than four of them died by assassination in a very short time. See on Hosea 7:7 (note).
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 - Idol temples.
Of Aven - Beth-aven.
The thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars - Owing to the uncultivated and unfrequented state of the land, and of their places of idol worship, the people being all carried away into captivity.
"And they shall say to the mountains, Cover us, And to the hills, Fall on us."
"This sublime description of fear and distress our Lord had in view, Luke 23:30, which may be a reference, and not a quotation. However, the Septuagint, in the Codex Alexandrinus, has the same order of words as occurs in the evangelist. The parallelism makes the passages more beautiful than Revelation 6:16; and Isaiah 2:19 wants the animated dramatic form. That there is a reference to the caverns that abounded in the mountainous countries of Palestine, see the note on Isaiah 2:19 (note)." - Newcome.
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.
Thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah - This is another reference to the horrible rape and murder of the Levite's wife, Judges 19:13, Judges 19:14.
There they stood - Only one tribe was nearly destroyed, viz., that of Benjamin. They were the criminals, the children of iniquity; the others were faultless, and stood only for the rights of justice and mercy.
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.
When they shall bind themselves in their two furrows - "When they are chastised for their two iniquities," i.e., the calves in Dan and Beth-el. - Newcome. But this double iniquity may refer to what Jeremiah says, Jeremiah 11:13 : "My people have committed two evils." -
1. They have forsaken me.
2. They have joined themselves to idols.
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 as a heifer that is taught - One thoroughly broken in to the yoke.
And loveth to tread out - Goes peaceably in the yoke; and is pleased because, not being muzzled, she eats of the corn.
I passed over upon her fair neck - I brought the yoke upon it, that she should not tread out the corn merely, but draw the plough and drag the harrow. These operations of husbandry are all referred to here, with some others. Ephraim shall tread out the corn, that there may be seed for the fields.
Judah shall plough - That the furrows may receive it.
Jacob shall break his clods - Harrow - that the seed may be covered with the mould.
Israel very frequently made great depredations on Judah; and as this heifer loved to tread out the corn, and not plough, it is therefore added that he should be made to plough, be put under the yoke, namely, that of the Assyrians. What is added, "Judah and Jacob shall plough for themselves," means, that Judah should not now plough for Israel, but for himself; as Israel shall no more make depredations upon him. - Dodd.
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 - Let the seed you sow be of the best kind, and in just measure.
Reap in mercy - By the blessing of God on this ploughing, sowing, and harrowing, you may expect a good crop in harvest.
Break up your fallow ground - Do not be satisfied with a slight furrow; let the land that was fallowed (slightly ploughed) be broken up again with a deep furrow.
For it is time to seek the Lord - This should be immediately done: the season is passing; and if you do not get the seed in the ground, the early rain will be past, and your fields will be unfruitful.
Rain righteousness upon you - God will give you the early rain in due time, and in proper measure. Here are the metaphors, and the application cannot be difficult.. Here are ploughing, fallowing, sowing, harrowing, watering, reaping, threshing, and feeding on the produce of well-directed labor. All may be applied to the human heart, and the work of God upon it. Correction, contrition, conversion, receiving the grace of Christ, bringing forth fruit, etc.
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 ploughed wickedness - Ye have labored sinfully.
Ye have reaped iniquity - The punishment due to your iniquity.
Ye have eaten the fruit of lies - Your false worship and your false gods have brought you into captivity and misery.
Because thou didst trust in thy way - Didst confide in thy own counsels, and in thy mighty men, and not in the God who made you.
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.
Shall a tumult arise - The enemy shall soon fall upon thy people, and take all thy fortified places.
As Shalman spoiled Beth-arbel - Some think that this refers to Jerubbaal, or Gideon's victory over Zalmunna, general of the Midianites; see Judges 7:8. Others think that an allusion is made here to the destruction of Arbela, a city of Armenia, by Shalmaneser, here called Shalman; and this while he was only general of the Assyrian forces, and not yet king. I think the history to which this refers is unknown. It seems that it was distinguished by some remarkable ferocities.
The mother was dashed in pieces upon her children - But when, where, how, and by whom, still remain unknown. Conjecture in such a case must be useless.
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 Beth-el do unto you - This shall be the consequence of your idolatry.
In a morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off - Suddenly, unexpectedly. Hoshea, the king of Israel, shall be cut off by the Assyrians. There are some allusions to facts in this chapter, which cannot be easily verified, as we have not sufficient acquaintance with the history of those times.