Hosea 10
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The "burden" is still the same - Israel's guilt and punishment. But in the verses before us these are dealt with mainly in their external and national aspects. The most prominent thought of the passage centers in the calves and the kings.

I. THE NATIONAL SIN. Although the prophet handles his theme in this strophe for the most part on its external side, yet in one or two expressions he refers to the root of the evil in the hearts of the people. "We feared not the Lord" (ver. 3); i.e. the men of Israel had forsaken the service of Jehovah, and rejected him as their Portion. "Their heart is divided" (ver. 2), or "smooth," i.e. insincere. They did not devote themselves to the love and worship of God, and yet they could not make up their minds to part altogether either with him or with their idols. Such was the root of the national sinfulness. But Hosea here calls attention rather to:

1. Its forms in the national life. These were principally two.

(1) Trust in idols. Israel had allowed his sense of the solitariness of the Godhead to be broken down, and had "increased" the number of altars to heathen divinities. So far from realizing that all the "springs" of the nation were in Jehovah alone, the people gave "his praise to graven images;" and the glory which was his due, to the personified powers of physical nature.

(2) Trust in kings. The Hebrews had been guilty of high treason against Jehovah when, in the days of Samuel, they insisted upon having an earthly king set over them. And this sin became even more aggravated, on the part of the ten tribes, when they revolted from the theocratic monarchy which God had established at Jerusalem, and gave their allegiance to the usurpers who exercised the functions of royalty at Samaria.

2. Its manifestations in the national character. The people's sin incorporated itself with them, and they lapsed further and further into moral degradation. There was:

(1) Self-indulgence. (Ver. 1.) Israel bad been a thriving and luxuriant "vine;" but his fruitfulness took a wrong direction: "he brought forth fruit unto himself," and was "empty" towards God. The people regarded themselves as at once the source and the end of their own prosperity; so, they abused it by spending it upon their lusts.

(2) Ingratitude. (Ver. 1.) Increase of wealth, instead of attracting them to God's temple to express thankfulness to him as the great Giver, led them instead to multiply their altars and idolatrous superstitions.

(3) Deceit and perjury. (Ver. 4.) Their "words" were insincere and untruthful; the "covenants" which they made (e.g. with Assyria) were deceitful. Nothing that the nation said could be depended on; the life of the community was a lie.

(4) Perversion of justice. (Ver. 4.) A wicked king and a corrupt court poisoned the administration of law among the people. The judges took bribes, and their unrighteous decisions were as "hemlock" overgrowing fields which ought to have been waving with a healthful harvest of righteousness.

II. THE NATIONAL PUNISHMENT. Israel is about to lose all the false defenses in which he gloried, and his heart shall have fear and shame for its melancholy heritage. The punishment is in these verses contemplated from a twofold point of view, viz.:

1. Its forms in the national life.

(1) As regards the idols. There would presently be "fear for them (ver. 5). The very calves which bad been an object of trust and stay would become a source of anxious solicitude. Instead of feeling safe under the protection of their golden gods, the people would tremble for the safety of the gods themselves. In the fear of the Lord. is strong confidence;" but the men of Israel "feared not the Lord" (ver. 3), and their punishment was to "fear because of the calves." More than this, they would suffer the loss of them (vers. 2, 5, 6, 8). The images which Jeroboam had set up would be carried into captivity as a tribute "to King Jareb," the avenging Assyrian. In that way the calf-worship of the northern kingdom would come to an end. Bethel and Dan, Samaria and Gilgal, the centers of Israel's idolatry, would be destroyed. The shrines of Baal and Ashtaroth would be broken down, and thorns and thistles would grow luxuriantly upon the idol-altars.

(2) As regards the kings. Already the monarchy was helpless (ver. 3). Although it may be that Hoshea (who proved to be the last king in Ephraim) was still upon the throne, the people were saying, "We have no king;" "What would a king do for us?" They see now, when it is too late, that it is vain to expect deliverance from monarchs who themselves do not fear God, and who have assumed their royalty in opposition to his will. Soon, too, the monarchy shall be finally destroyed (ver. 7). The king shall be "cut off as the foam upon the water," or as a chip which is carried down the stream and lost. Presently the long siege of Samaria shall begin; and in three years thereafter the standards of Shalmaneser shall wave over the ruined strongholds of that wicked city. But, again, the prophet refers to the national punishment in:

2. Its moral results upon the people. It would produce:

(1) Mourning. (Ver. 5.) The people would lament because of the helplessness of the golden idols, in which they had gloried, and in which their false priests bad rejoiced. They would sadly grieve because of the ignominious deportation of the calves to Assyria.

(2) Shame (ver. 6), because of "their own counsel;" the reference being to the untheocratic policy of the ten tribes in separating themselves ecclesiastically and politically from Judah and Jerusalem. The worldly-wise statecraft of Jeroboam, which for a time seemed to be so successful, involved Israel in an inheritance of shame.

(3) Despair. (Ver. 8.) The calamities that were impending would be so dreadful, that thousands of the people would choose death rather than life. To die outright they would hail as a welcome relief from their burden of wretchedness and shame. They would desire that the hills upon which their idol-altars had stood might not merely hide them, but overwhelm and destroy them.


1. The spiritual dangers which accompany material prosperity. "Jeshu-run waxed fat, and kicked" (Deuteronomy 32:15). It is difficult to carry the full cup steadily (ver. 1).

2. The necessity, in order to a man's spiritual well-being, that he "keep his heart with all diligence" (ver. 2).

3. The sadness which comes from learning the truth too late, and the horrors of a too-late repentance (ver. 3).

4. The diffusive and self-disseminating power of evil (ver. 4).

5. The mourning of the wicked is for their losses rather than for their sins (vers. 5, 6).

6. The one true security and strength of a nation consists in the fear of God (vers. 3, 7).

7. The judgment denounced here upon the ten tribes, like that of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, is a type of the final general judgment (ver. 8; Luke 23:30; Revelation 6:16). - C.J.

Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself. Were this version correct we should have two ideas suggested.

1. A fruitlessness that makes life worthless. This empty vine produced fruit, but the fruit was worthless. A fruitless vine is among the most worthless of all plants. It is unbeautiful. Its aspect is dry, stringy, deadly. It is true its foliage is luxuriant, but that is short-lived and disappointing; and it is as inutile as it is unbeautiful. What piece of furniture or art can you make out of the vine tree? It is only fit for the fire.

2. A fruitfulness that makes life wicked. "Bringeth forth fruit unto himself." Whatever is produced is laid out on self - aggrandizement and indulgence. But our version is undoubtedly faulty. "Israel is a luxuriant vine, he putteth forth his fruit (Henderson); "Israel is a running vine, it setteth fruit for itself" (Keil); "Israel is a luxurious vine, whose fruit is very abundant" (Elzas). Israel is often represented as a vine.

"Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt,
Thou hast cast out the heathen and planted it,
Thou prepardst room before it,
Arid didst cause it to take deep root;
And it filled the land,
The hills were covered with the shadow of it,
And the boughs thereof were like goodly cedars."

(Psalm 80:8-10.) Our subject is the abuse of worldly prosperity. Some men are very prosperous; they are like the luxuriant vine. Every branch of their life clusters with fruit. Some nations are very prosperous. England was never more prosperous than now; the son of prosperity shines on our island home. Great Britain is just now a luxuriant vine, and its clustering branches enrich distant nations. When is prosperity abused?


1. For self-indulgence. How much wealth is lavished on the pampering of appetites, and the gratification of the sensuous, the carnal, and the gross?

2. For self-aggrandizement. How much wealth is expended in order to make a grand appearance, to move through life in pageantry and pomp, and thus to gratify mere vanity and pride! All selfish use of property is an abuse of it. What we have obtained is only common property, which, because it has come into our possession, we have a right to distribute for the common weal. The right which property gives us is not the right to lay it out purely for our own selfish ends, but the right to lay it out for the benefit of our fellow-men.

II. WHEN IT IS USED WITHOUT A SUPREME REGARD TO THE CLAIMS OF GOD. Whatever we have we hold as stewards, and unless we employ our property according to the directions of the great Proprietor we abuse the trust. How does God require us to employ our property?

1. For the amelioration of human woes.

2. For the dispersion of human ignorance.

3. For the elevation of the human soul. To raise it to the knowledge, the image, the fellowship, and the enjoyment of God.

CONCLUSION. How are we as a nation using our enormous prosperity? Let the increase of grand mansions, palaces of amusement, temples of intemperance, worthless and putrescent literary productions, be compared with the increase of our churches, our schools, and our books of real, intellectual, and moral merit; and the humiliating answer will come. - D.T.

Empty; literally, "poured forth; "i.e. poured forth in leaves and branches, with the effect that there is comparatively little fruit. When there was fruit, Israel gave not God the glory. The more they increased, the more they transgressed. The result was degeneracy. They spurned God's control, and life, in consequence, ran to waste. Undisciplined luxuriance becomes degenerate luxuriance. Fruit fails.

I. FRUIT, BUT NOT UNTO GOD. (Ver. 1.) Such fruit as Israel brought forth was "unto himself." We have here recognized:

1. A native capacity of fruitfulness. God had given to the nation a thriving vigorous life, capable of striking out in many noble directions, and of achieving distinction in many kinds of enterprise. This was its natural endowment. It enabled it at times, with God's assistance, to rise to a high degree of prosperity. So God bestows on men the gifts of body and mind, the natural genius, the powers to think and act, which form the basis of their manifold endeavors.

2. A perversion of this capacity. This power of fruitful endeavor in Israel was not directed to God's glory as its end. The life of the nation was solely "from itself to itself." Its bent was towards self-gratification, self-glory, self-enrichment; not towards the realization of a Divine ideal. They set up kings, but not by God (Hosea 8:4). The calf was "from Israel also" (ver. 5). This is the root-sin of mankind. They have turned aside from their being's end and aim. There is endeavor, but it is for self. God's glory is unthought of, unsought.

3. Consequent failure. From this perversion of existence in Israel arose

(1) rejection of Divine control, figured in the vine's lawless, untutored luxuriance; and

(2) ultimate degeneracy. The sinful life, however vigorous, powerful, and thriving-looking at first, has this as its penalty, that it is unable permanently to maintain its vitality. Even when, to outward appearance, it seems flourishing, it is found, on closer examination, to be without substance, without healthy fruitfulness. "It is smitten, its root is dried up, it hears no fruit" (cf. Hosea 9:16). Only of the righteous can it be said, "He bringeth forth fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither" (Psalm 1:3). "They shall bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing" (Psalm 92:14).

II. GLORY, BUT NOT TO THE CREATOR. (Ver. 1.) The more God gave to Israel, the more they sinned against him. Their altars were multiplied as their fruit increased. The better God made their land, the goodlier became their images.

1. They withheld from God the glory due to him. They denied him in his gifts. They did not own him as the, Author of their prosperity. They felt no thankfulness. They did not glorify him in the use they made of what he gave. How common is this sin!

2. They gave his glory to another. Altars and pillars were multiplied to the idols. Baal was praised and served for the prosperity which came from Jehovah. God was dishonored to his face. In the Lord's own land his glory was given to "graven in, ages." The glory which ought to be given to God is often retained for sell or distributed out to the powers which we secretly idolize. Hero and nature worship, Bacchus-worship, idolatry of wealth, glorification of military might, etc.

3. They made his goodness the occasion of greater sin. The bent being evil, sin only assumes the greater proportions the larger the powers put at its disposal. With plenty in the land the people had more to sin with. They had more time and means, and they lavished more freely on their idols. They built more altars, and made their pillars higher and goodlier. Man's sin thus keeps pace with God's goodness. The wealthy, talented, powerful, robust, exalted, are able to sin in a way and to an extent not possible to others. The facilities for sin are greater. More extravagance, pride, worldly display, dissipation, self-confidence, etc.

III. WORSHIP, BUT WITH A DIVIDED HEART. (Ver. 2.) Israel's heart was "smooth or divided." It was deceitful towards God. His worship was ostensibly maintained, but the worship of the Baals was kept up alongside of it, and was the real worship of the people. Nay, while in name honoring Jehovah, the people had "changed the truth of God into a lie" (Romans 1:25), by setting up the images of the calves. Their whole worship was thus an abomination to the Lord, and he would avenge his insulted honor by a judgment which would lay their altars in the dust.

1. In worship, it is the heart God looks to. He is not deceived by the outward appearance, or by flattering words. He desires truth in the inward parts (Psalm 51:6). The utmost lavishing on externals will not condone for the want of the right spirit.

2. The heart is insincere towards God when it is divided between God and other objects. God is not honored as God when the whole heart is not given up to him. He ought, as God, to receive all. He will not share his glory with another. A really divided state of the affections cannot last (Matthew 6:24). The division of the heart between God and the world ends by the world getting all.

3. God will punish the divided heart by taking its idols from it. He may do so in this world. He will certainly do so at last.

IV. A KING, YET NO KING. (Ver. 3.) When the judgment fell on Israel, the people would not be slow to realize the cause of their misfortunes. "We have no king, because we feared not the Lord."

1. They had a king, but not a king from God. Since the extinction of the house of Jehu, no king had reigned in Israel with even a semblance of Divine right. The throne had been held by a succession of usurpers. Hoshea gained it by slaying Pekah, as Pekah had raised himself to power by killing the son of Menahem (2 Kings 15:25-30). The people could not feel to an anarchical usurper as towards a true king. Their feeling was that the days of legitimate kings were over. They had, at least, no king through whom they could expect God to send them deliverance. These frequent and violent usurpations were a proof that God had departed from them.

2. Their state was such that a king could no longer do them any good. He who ought to have been their King, Jehovah himself, had cast them off. They had provoked him till there was no remedy. They felt this now in the bitterness of their despair. "What should a king do for us?" - J.O.

Hosea 10:2 (first clause)
The preceding verse describes the sin of the people; this points us to its source. Like a vine, luxuriant in branch yet yielding no sound fruit, Israel deserved the curse which, during the ministry of our Lord, fell on the barren fig tree. The first verse may be compared advantageously with the description given of Israel in Psalm 80:8-15. The third clause in that verse does not continue to develop the figure, but makes a declaration which was literally true, viz. that in proportion as the fields were fruitful Israel multiplied idolatrous altars; and as the land was made good, so the images they worshipped were adorned with beauty. In other words, God's gifts were abused, and were dedicated, not to him, but to false gods. The fear of Moses was justified. Now they enjoyed the goodly land they were forgetting the Lord their God. Point out the enervating effect of prosperity in such men as Hezekiah, and in the decline and fall of great nations. The cause of Israel's sin was to be found in the fact that they were not whole-hearted in the worship of God; but while they kept up still the outward forms of the old religion, with "divided hearts" they mingled with it, or supported beside it, idolatrous practices. The question of Elijah, "How long halt ye between two opinions?" needed repetition in those days, and in these Our Lord has distinctly declared that the frequent and sinful attempt of men to serve God and mammon is vain. Subject - The divided heart.

I. ITS CONDITION first demands consideration. Whether in the physical or in the moral life of man, if we are in doubt about the state of our heart, we cannot be too careful in diagnosis. Diseases assail it which are so occult that they may not reveal themselves till they become fatal in result. Other diseases may have outward signs which any onlooker can recognize. Some heart-diseases are as insidious as they are perilous, betraying themselves neither by rash nor by pain. As the heart is the center of our physical life, so here and elsewhere in Scripture it is alluded to as the center of moral life; and in that aspect of it the words are true, "The heart is deceitful above all things." (Some such idea underlies the Hebrew word which Keil translates "smooth," or "flattering.") None but God and a man's own consciousness can declare whether this be true of any one, "his heart is divided." This is so, however, with any whose attitude towards God and his truth is as follows:

(1) If their minds are convinced;

(2) if their fears are aroused;

(3) if their consciences are disturbed;

while yet they yield no genuine homage to him whose existence and claims they dare not deny.

II. ITS EVIDENCES may be discovered in such characteristics as these:

1. Formality in worship. "This people draweth nigh to me with their mouth," etc. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." The scribes and Pharisees were examples of this, exposed and rebuked by our Lord.

2. Inconsistency in conduct. This may be glaringly conspicuous, or it may be that the unholiness or unrighteousness is too secretly practiced to be discovered by the world, or too subtle to be described and condemned by the Church, or ten generally practiced to be reprobated by society. Give examples of each in professional, or commercial, or social life.

3. Fickleness in effort. It is a sure sign of reality when we are "steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord;" when the world frowns as well as when it smiles; when the service is uncongenial as well as when it is delightful. He who readily takes up Christian work and then suddenly abandons it, may fairly ask himself whether his heart is not divided. The great Sower still sees the shallow soil of a sentimental character, where there is no depth and therefore no stability.


1. The love of sin. We must lay aside "the sin that doth so easily beset us" if we would run the race and win the crown. He who will not give sin up for Christ's sake has the" divided heart."

2. The fear of man. The lad at school, or the man in business, is often disloyal to conviction, and refuses to lay to heart the declaration of Christ, "He that is not with me is against me."

3. The habit of procrastination. The child says, "I will wait till I am old enough to take my own place in life;" the busy man or woman waits the leisure of old age; the vigorous delay till illness gives time for thought; and so life speeds away, and the words of Christ are unheeded, "My son, give me thine heart."


1. Present unhappiness. The undecided man knows too much to find rest in the world, but he loves too little to find rest in Christ. The consciousness of being wrong, the thought of a solemn duty left undone, the fear of discovery by Christian friends, the dread of death and its issue, with more or less frequency and intensity, bring him misery.

2. Disastrous influence. If he professes to be a Christian, he dishonors his Lord by his conduct in the world far more titan one who avows himself to be an unbeliever. His Christian name injures the world, while his worldly character injures the Church. Examples: Judas, Demas, Ananias.

3. Certain retribution. "Some will awake... to everlasting contempt." "Let both grow together to the harvest," etc.

CONCLUSION. Encouragement to offer to our God the broken heart of true penitence, which he will not despise. - A.R.

The history of the people of Israel furnishes many an illustration of the state of mind vividly depicted in these words. For instance, in the time of Elijah, the heart of Israel was divided between Jehovah and Baal. Hosed had to complain of the same distraction of mind as characteristic of the generation to which he ministered. And what congregation is there addressed by a Christian preacher which does not contain many "a divided heart"?


1. Others beside the Lord lay claim to the heart. In the case of Israel, there were idols who were reputed by neighboring nations to be powerful and helpful. In the case of those professing Christianity, there are many rivals, in the person of earthly and human claimants, and in the shape of various preoccupations, pleasures, and pursuits.

2. There is native weakness and vacillation. Many natures are by constitution unstable; and many have encouraged weakness by yielding to temptation.

II. THE SYMPTOMS OF A DIVIDED HEART. The case is not that of one who has actually renounced and abjured the worship and service of the Lord. But in hesitating between the two different and inconsistent allegiances, the divided heart is faithful to neither. We meet with instances of such indecision in domestic and social life, There may be a vigorous intellect where there is a vacillating heart, affections easily won and easily lost, prone to transference hither and thither. And in religion we find persons who strive to serve God and mammon at the same time; or who seem to be earnest in the service of God, and shortly after equally devoted to the incompatible service of God's enemy.


1. It is ruinous to the individual nature. No man can live an inconsistent life, such as a divided heart involves, without moral deterioration. He loses self-respect and moral dignity.

2. It is injurious to society. Men respect decision, but they are repelled by its opposite, and they despise a professor of religion whose spirit and demeanor are inconsistent with his profession.

3. It is hateful to God, who says, "Give me thy heart," and who will accept no compromise or composition.

IV. THE CURE FOR A DIVIDED HEART. The only cure is a radical and severe one. The heart must be withdrawn from God's rivals, and yielded, without reserve and without delay, to him who has a right to it, and who claims it as his own.

"Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love!
Here's my heart, Lord; take and seal it -
Seal it from thy courts above." T.

They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant: thus judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field.

I. SOCIAL SINS. There are three sins referred to in this verse.

1. Vain speech. "They have spoken words." This means, according to Henderson, Elzas, and others, "They utter empty speeches." Not only are words of falsehood, blasphemy, and unchastity sinful, but empty words. For every "idle word" we shall have to give an account. How much idle language is there current in society! The chat of gossip, the formalities of etiquette, the vapid compliments of society, as well as those airy words of wit and humor which sometimes delude, sometimes pain, and sometimes please.

2. False swearing. False speech is bad enough, for it misrepresents facts, and often does serious mischief; but when backed by an oath its heinousness is intensified and blackened. How much false swearing there is in society! Not merely in judicial courts, but in homes, in shops, in fields, in general society.

3. Unrighteous treaties. "Making a covenant." The word "bad" is implied here, for there is no harm in making covenants. Making a bad covenant. The primal reference, perhaps, is to certain treaties Israel had formed with foreign nations. How much wicked contracting there is going on in society every day in commerce, in politics, as well as in private life. Untruthful as well as unrighteous bargains are being struck every hour in all circles. In truth, the sins here charged to Israel are not uncommon in England this day - empty speech, false swearing, and making unrighteous treaties.

II. RESULTS OF SOCIAL SINS. "Thus judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field." It matters not to the sense of the passage whether you read "poppy" for "hemlock," or "ridges" for "furrows;" the idea is the same - viz. that out of the social sins certain results appear. How do they come?

1. They come as a growth. They "spring up" or blossom. Sins bring with them their own punishment - no positive infliction is required; every sin is a seed from which a pestiferous plant must spring.

2. They come as a poison. "Hemlock;" some read "poppy," and some "darnel," but all agree in the poisonousness of its production. In any case it is a "hemlock," a small decoction of which destroyed a Socrates. "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."

3. They come in abundance. "That springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field." Very prolific is sin. See its plants growing in the ridges and furrows of life; in sick-chambers, in hospitals, in workhouses, in prisons, in battlefields also! How thickly the hemlock grows! - D.T.

The people were preparing the way for their own punishment by their false dealing with Assyria. Vengeance would overtake them. The calf in which they trusted would be carried away captive. The kingdom would be overthrown. Their altars would grow up with thorns and thistles. They would be glad of death to relieve them of their misery. "Ephraim shall receive shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel."

I. A SOWING OF JUDGMENT. (Ver. 4.) Israel's overthrow was connected with:

1. Falsity to international engagements. "Swearing falsely in making a covenant." The allusion is probably to Hoshea's false dealing with Shalmaneser (2 Kings 17:3, 4; of. Hosea 12:1), which was the immediate occasion of the overthrow of Samaria. In international diplomacy there is too much of this "speaking words" and "swearing falsely." Engagements are entered into which neither side intends to keep longer than it suits. The result is breach of faith, and sometimes war.

2. Perversion of right at home. This, if we follow the analogy of Amos 5:7, 6:12, is what is meant by judgment or justice" springing up as hemlock in the furrows of the field." Mal-administered justice is the most deadly and poisonous of all things. Another and, taken by itself, more natural interpretation of the words is, that judgment would spring up for woe to Israel in the track on the falsehoods of which the nation had been guilty. The sinner's own hands make the furrows in which retribution springs up like deadly hemlock. His treacheries and duplicities recoil upon himself. Speaking false words is the sowing of dragon's teeth.

II. THE CAPTIVE CALF. (Vers. 5, 6.)

1. Ephraim's idol in danger. "The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Beth-avert." What a picture of the folly of idolatry! The people tremble for the safety of the idol-god to whom they yet look to protect them. Have we not here an indication of the lurking consciousness there is in the idolater's mind that after all his god is no god? Trembling for themselves, the inhabitants of Samaria are yet more afraid lest anything should happen to their deity. We read of idolaters beating their gods when they do not please them. Was Samaria's conduct more rational in trembling for its god? Their trembling is a proof that they worshipped the calves, not because in their inmost hearts they thought an idol could help them, or was a right thing to have, but simply because, in defiance of God's commandment ("his own counsel," per. 6), it pleased them better to have an idol.

2. Ephraim mourning for his idol. "The people thereof shall mourn over it," etc. Mark in this:

(1) How God separates himself from the image by which the people represented him (the calf), and also separates himself from the people. The place of the calf-worship is no longer Beth-el ("house of God"), but Beth-aven ("house of vanity"). The people are not his people, but the people of the call - its votaries, not his; he disowns them.

(2) How, when they see their calf ignominiously shorn of its glory, they mourn for it, both priests and people. The sinner's idols will be taken from him, and their vanity exposed. This fills him with mourning. It is, however, his idols, not his sins, that he mourns for.

3. Ephraim ashamed of his idol. "It shall be also carried unto Assyria for a present to King Jareb: Ephraim shall receive shame," etc. What a burst bubble the worship of the calf now appeared! Unable to save itself, not to speak of others, it is now ignominiously carried off as a present to a heathen king. Yet Ephraim in his heart, no doubt, grieved for his calf, and would gladly, had he been permitted, have returned to its service. The sinner's idols shall yet cover him with shame. "What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death" (Romans 6:21).


1. A destroyed kingdom. "Samaria is destroyed; her king is like a chip on the face of the water." Light, helpless, borne away by the impetuous current, submerged, and seen no more. Such would be Samaria's king (cf. per. 3) - the same flood which swept him away destroying also the kingdom.

2. Desolate altars. "The high places also of Avert, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed: the thorn and the thistle shall come upon their altars." The judgment would strike very specially the place of sin. The utter end of the false system of worship is figured in the thorn and thistle covered altars. Broken and disused, they are to stand as monuments of wrath.

3. Prayer for annihilation. "They shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us." This would be preferable to the awful misery of falling into the hands of the Assyrian foe (ver. 14; Hosea 13:16). The scene of judgment, with a like dreadful prayer, would be repeated at the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (Luke 23:30). Yet these are but feeble prefigurations of the woe and consternation that shall prevail on the day of the "wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:16). Men shall pray for annihilation; but, it is noteworthy, this is a prayer which is not granted. - J.O.

A graphic and picturesque image is this, aptly setting forth the emptiness and transitoriness of that monarchy which was established at Samaria, in defiance of God's will; and which was continued by vacillating or by wholly idolatrous kings, with no regard to God's honor, to God's ordinances, to God's prophets and messengers.

I. THE PRINCIPLE FIGURATIVELY ENUNCIATED. All persons and systems and principles which are opposed to God are doomed to perish. As the foam raised upon the surface of the torrent as it plunges over the rooks vanishes even whilst it is borne down by the swiftness of the current, so all persons, things, and institutions which God condemns as inimical to himself, as hostile to his authority and reign, are destined to disappear and sink into the dark depths of oblivion. As our Lord Jesus declared, making use of a different figure, "Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up."


1. The instance of the passage from which the text is taken. The godless and often idolatrous kingdom, established in Samaria as its capital, comes to naught.

2. National examples abound. Peoples who have been unfaithful to their trust, or negligent of their privileges, or wavering in their policy, have come to naught.

"And, like a snow-flake on the river,
One moment seen, then gone forever."

3. How many cases of individuals known to us exemplify the principle thus figuratively set forth! Brilliant gifts, fine opportunities, glowing hopes, and, at the same time, want of true principle, of thorough consecration to God, - who has not seen the combination? And who that has watched and followed such cases has not had occasion to remark that the laws of God cannot be violated with impunity, that the Lord reigneth, and that all which is not based upon a right relation with the supreme Lord and Savior must surely come to naught, and be no more seen? - T.

The picture of the text is awful in the extreme. The condition of those to whom destruction and annihilation would be a relief is appalling to contemplate. What fearful vengeance must be overtaking those, what indescribable forebodings must have taken possession of their nature, who cry, "Mountains, cover us I Rocks, fall upon us!" It is the language of despair!

I. THE CAUSES OF DESPAIR. Much must have transpired before such a state of mind could exist. There must have been

(1) sin committed,

(2) mercy rejected,

(3) authority defied,

(4) forbearance abused, before the soul of man could have abandoned itself to hopelessness like this.

II. THE HORROR OF DESPAIR. This is not unnatural. It arises from reflection upon the rebellion and inexcusable willfulness of the past; from the declaration of conscience to the effect that God has observed that rebellion, that sinfulness, with indignation, and from the anticipation of impending judgment. Only such thoughts and feelings could account for the unparalleled horror declaring itself in such invocations and imprecations as these.

III. THE CRY OF DESPAIR. The dreadful language proceeding from the lips of the hopeless is an appeal to nature to save the sinner from nature's Lord. It is an appeal unreasonable and absurd, but not unnatural, as uttered by a bewildered, terrified, and unfriended soul. Can anything give a more awful and impressive representation of the wretchedness into which he is surely led who perseveres in sin, and hardens himself against both the Law and the Gospel?

IV. THE PREVENTION OF DESPAIR. It may be well to see whither a certain course leads us, if the result be to save us from the issue, by saving us from what involves it. It is to be remembered with gratitude that hearers of the gospel of Christ have not reached the stage now described. They may be prisoners, but they are "prisoners of hope." The word of the Lord does indeed come as a word of warning, but it comes also as a word of promise. Neglected, it will be a sentence of condemnation; accepted, it will be an assurance of pardon and a pledge of life eternal. - T.

In this passage, for the second time (vide Hosea 9:10), the prophet starts with a brief reminiscence of former days, and then proceeds to deliver an urgent exhortation to present duty; but all serves merely as a basis for more denunciation and announcement of retribution.

I. THE IDEAL LIFE OF A NATION. (Ver. 12.) Although this verse is in the first instance a summons to Israel to repent and reform, we may view it as indicating also what the life of every commonwealth ought to be.

1. Its activities. Foremost amongst these is:

(1) The pursuit of godliness. The ideal nation "seeks the Lord," and recognizes that always "it is time" to do so. It acknowledges Jehovah as its supreme King. It aims at making all the legislation upon its statute-book in harmony with the laws of the Bible. The Lord of hosts regards such a country as "a delightsome land" (Malachi 3:12). "Happy is that people, whose God is the Lord" (Psalm 144:15).

(2) The cultivation of morality. "Sow to yourselves in righteousness." Plowing and sowing and reaping in this passage denote the moral conduct of the community. And the one great principle which should determine the activities of a nation should be that of "righteousness." Its supreme aim should be, not the accumulation of wealth, nor the acquisition of power and prestige, but the establishment of righteousness; it should strive after what is true and just and equitable in everything.

(3) The accomplishment of needful reforms. "Break up your fallow ground." The model nation looks out for new soil as well as for right seed, and for that Divine influence which is necessary to the harvest. As soon as it discovers any neglected portion of its own life, it will endeavor to subject that to spiritual husbandry, and bring it into cultivation. It will be continually anxious to reform, wherever it finds at any time that reform is necessary. But the life of the model nation has also:

2. Its rewards.

(1) The Lord wilt "come" to the community that seek him. He will dwell among them, and be "unto them a wall of fire round about." He will "come" in Christ, the King of nations; and by the Holy Spirit, who is the principle of the life of every godly commonwealth.

(2) The holy nation shall reap a harvest of mercy. They shall gather mercy as the fruit of the good seed of righteousness which they have sown. The best of men, when they have done their best, are "unprofitable servants;" so that the rewards which shall accrue from their works of faith and love must be all of grace. But the harvest shall be a glorious one; for it shall be proportionate, not only to our humble sowing, but to God's infinite mercy.

(3) They shall receive a rain of righteousness. Wherever the Lord Jesus comes as King, he brings with him this blessing (Psalm 72:1-7). Wherever the Holy Spirit dwells, he "creates a clean heart," and "renews a right spirit" (Psalm 51:10-12). The people that sow righteousness sow "to themselves;" for "to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward" (Proverbs 11:18). In proportion to their willingness to "do God's will," shall they "know of the doctrine," and reap its blessed fruits in their hearts and lives. The angle of reflection shall be equal to the angle of incidence; that is, their obedience shall be the measure of their assurance and of their reward.

II. THE ACTUAL LIFE OF ISRAEL This was quite the reverse of the ideal above described. Its wrongness had begun very early, for the nation had "sinned from the days of Gibeah" (Judges 19., 20.); and, alas! it persisted in the sin of Gibeah still. The corruption of the community was deeply rooted in ancestral habit. In describing the actual life of Israel, Hosed refers to:

1. Its basis. (Ver. 13.) The foundation of the whole lay in sinful self-confidence. Israel "trusted in his way," i.e. in his own political devices and idolatrous worship. He relied also upon "the multitude of his mighty men," as if Providence were on the side of the strong battalions.

2. Its pursuits. Ephraim led a self-indulgent life. In the days of Jeroboam II., when be was victorious and prosperous, he was "as a heifer that loveth to tread out the corn" (ver. 11). The nation was self-reliant, and it grew rich; so it became pampered and selfish. Really, however, the people all the while were following a career of laborious sin. "They ploughed wickedness, and reaped iniquity" (ver. 13). Like self-made slaves, they "bound themselves in their two transgressions" (ver. 10) - their double sin of apostasy from Jehovah and revolt from the dynasty of David.

3. Its results. As sin is the evil of evils, the consequence of the people's long course of iniquity could not but be ruinous. Disaster fell upon them as the outcome of natural law, and also because at last it was God's "desire to chastise them" (ver. 10). Hitherto the ten tribes, although they had lived in the commission of the sin of Gibeah, had not been destroyed in war, like the Gibeahites; now at last, however, the Divine vengeance is to descend upon them. There is to be:

(1) Invasion. (Ver. 10.) The Assyrians, with their allies, "shall be gathered against them."

(2) Bondage. (Ver. 11.) A heavy yoke shall be put upon the "fair neck" of the heifer Ephraim; and in her state of subjugation she shall have to perform hard labor. Judah also shall undergo a similar punishment. This threatening was fulfilled in the two captivities, the Assyrian and the Babylonish.

(3) Disappointment. (Ver. 1.3.) Israel's reward for his wickedness was that he had "eaten the fruit of lies." The idolatry which he practiced was a lie; and this, instead of promoting the prosperity of the nation, as for a time it seemed to be doing, led to its utter humiliation and decay,

(4) National ruin. (Vers. 14, 15.) The "tumult" of war is soon to arise. Shalmaneser shall overthrow the strongholds of Ephraim, as he had lately "spoiled Beth-arbel." The land shall be devastated, and its inhabitants cruelly murdered. And, in consequence, the kingdom of Israel shall be destroyed forever.


1. God's long forbearance with a wicked nation before he proceeds to visit it according to its works (ver. 9).

2. The determination to which at length he must inevitably come, to vindicate his justice (ver. 10).

3. The folly of those who expect to enjoy the comforts of religion while neglecting to discharge its duties (ver. 11).

4. The history of the kingdom of the ten tribes an illustration of the truth that "pride goeth before destruction" (ver. 11).

5. The deceitfulness of sin, as being "the fruit of lies" (ver. 13).

6. This passage should lead us to cherish gratitude to Almighty God for his goodness to our nation, and should suggest to Great Britain to take warning from the doom of Ephraim. - C.J.

We have here,

I. A PAST OF SIN - A PRESENT OF RETRIBUTION. (Vers. 9, 10.) Israel's sin was:

1. Of old date. "Thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah" (cf. on Hosea 9:9). The sin of Gibeah was an early and outstanding instance of wickedness. It may have taken place not long after "the days of the elders which over-lived Joshua" (Joshus 24:31), and so have been the first public mark of the new departure in transgression.

2. Steadily persisted in. "There they stood." From that day on, a strain of deep corruption had run through the history of Israel

3. As yet unavenged. "The battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them." Fierce as was the slaughter on both sides in that day of Gibeah, it had not sufficed to eradicate this evil strain. A seed by corruption survived which steadily propagated itself, and had now increased till it included the whole nation. The punishment of this sin was yet to come.

4. To be avenged now. "It is in my desire that I should chastise [or, 'band'] them; and the people shall be gathered against them, in the binding them for their two transgressions." The double sin for which Israel was to be punished was their departure from God, with its attendant idolatry and resultant moral corruption; and their attitude of antagonism to the house of David, to which they ought to have been willing to return at the earliest possible moment. This long-accumulating national sin God was now determined to punish, and was gathering the peoples to execute his decree, as before the tribes had assembled to avenge the sin of Gibeah. There is an entail of sin which the descendants of the wicked can only cut off by repentance (Matthew 23:35, 36).


1. Past comfort. The people of Israel had a fat portion, and had grown accustomed to the life of ease and luxury. Like the trained heifer, which treads out the corn as a matter of habit, and feeds at its ease as it does so, they loved their prosperity, and took it as a thing of course. It is easy to settle in prosperity. We take our good things as though they came to us by right. We form habits in accordance with them. We survey the situation with lazy complacency, and conclude that this happy fortune must be what we were born to.

2. A present yoke. "I (have) passed over her fair neck.' Already God had taught Israel the vanity of her complacency by subjecting her to the tribute of the kings of Assyria. This, however, had failed to lead to repentance; so worse was now in store.

3. Approaching hard service. "I will yoke Ephraim; Judah shall plough; Jacob shall break his clods." The image is taken from severe field labor, as contrasted with the easy work of the threshing heifer. Sin ends in bondage; in hard service; in the yoke and goad. The way of the transgressor is hard (Proverbs 13:15). There may be ease and luxury at first, but the end is that he "labors and is heavy laden" (Matthew 11:28). - J.O.

Figures drawn from the work of husbandry are frequently found in the sacred Scriptures. No others could have been so wisely employed. As Divine truths were intended for all nations, it was well that illustrations of them should be found in all lauds. The breaking up of the ground, the sowing of seed, the reaping of the harvest, are phenomena well known in every country, and the process has been essentially the same in every age. Whether the harvest grows in the small allotment of the Eastern laborer, who irrigates it with toil and care, or whether it is seen on vast prairie-lands, rippling under the breeze like a sea of gold, the laws of its growth, the mode of its production, are not different; and so wherever he may be the religious teacher may find the old illustrations of spiritual truths. How much poorer would the world have been had Divine lessons been represented by the variable fashions or changeful machinery of man's invention, which only the archaeologist would understand, instead of being written as they are in the harvest-fields where any wayfarer may read them! Still are the different conditions of "hearers of the Word" represented truly by the different soils which the sower sees in any land. Another and profounder reason for the Divine choice of such illustrations lies in the truth that both nature and grace are of God. The two spheres of being proceed from the same Source, the material being the image of the spiritual. There is a true sowing and reaping in the inward as well as in the outward world; so that in these inspired words we get, not only illustrations, but analogies. Hence the wisdom of the metaphor which is found in vers. 11-13. The twelfth verse shows Israel what it should be, while our text depicts what Israel actually was, and affords us an example of moral abasement which we shall do well to consider.

I. MORAL ABASEMENT IS SHOWN IN PREFERRING THE LOWER TO THE HIGHER LIFE. "Ephraim is as a heifer;" whereas, in the next verse, Ephraim is exhorted to be as a husbandman. The former is what the people had become, the latter is what God meant them to be. It is the constant tendency of man thus to sink below a possible ideal. Men of the highest intellectual culture will deprive themselves in their religious life of the liberty and dignity of the sons of God. Many hearers avowedly wait for some overpowering manifestation of God's presence before they believe in him. They would have upon them some influence so mighty as to be resistless. The evil and adulterous generation is still seeking a sign; and gathers around the Christ, asking, "What sign showest thou? what dost thou work?" Now, the tendency of all this is to ask God that we may be dealt with as animals, not as men - as those who are without the spiritual capacities which belong to beings made in the image of God. We would be as the heifer, wanting the yoke and the goad; not as the husbandman, who, obedient to the inner thought that is given to him, intelligently, and freely breaks up the fallow ground, sows the seed, and seeks upon it the blessing of God. But listen to the exhortation of the psalmist: "Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle [not, 'lest they come near,' but] because they will not come near to thee" to do thee service; but rather be as a child, so looking for the Father's glance, so ready to obey his faintest sign, that he can say, "I will guide thee with mine eye" (Psalm 32:8, 9). Ephraim was called to be as the husbandman (ver. 12), but was content to be as the heifer.

II. MORAL ABASEMENT IS SHOWN IN RENDERING A PERFUNCTORY AND IRRELIGIOUS SERVICE. "Ephraim is as a heifer that is taught." She is accustomed to do a certain kind of work, and does it day after day from the memory of the past; as a perfunctory performance, without the inspiration of the thought that it will please her master. Such obedience abounds amongst men. Right acts are done by multitudes, as they were by scribes and Pharisees, without there being in them the moral worth God looks for. For example, it is right for a man to be diligent in business, to do his work with all his might. The idle and thriftless sink ever lower in character and circumstances. But it would not be difficult to find one who is regular and punctual, failing in no engagement, prompt in all his dealings, setting before others a commendable example of hard work thoroughly done, who never has a thought of his Lord's approval, sees nothing of the eternal issues which may flow from the present life, but is "as a heifer accustomed to the yoke." Such perfunctoriness may creep into religious service; into the prayers which are said by rote, into the gifts which are given from custom, into the work and organization which is the outcome of habit, etc.

III. MORAL ABASEMENT IS SHOWN IS OBEYING PROFITABLE COMMANDS FOR THE SAKE OF THEIR PROFIT. "Ephraim is as a heifer that... loveth to tread out the corn." The allusion is to the Eastern custom of driving oxen over the reaped corn, that by their feet or by the implement they dragged behind them the grain might be separated from the straw. In the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 25:4) the command was given, "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn." The ox was to share in the bountiful gifts God had bestowed on man in the harvest, and might eat what he pleased. Hence, when it is said "Ephraim is as a heifer that.., loveth to tread out the corn," yet refuses to plough till the yoke is forced on its fair neck, the meaning is that Israel obeyed the command of God when they could get any immediate good as the result of obedience, but refused to obey when obedience, like plowing, brought no instant fruit. Well may Trapp remark, "It is an ill sign when men must pick and choose their work; this they will do for God, but not that... Judas will bear the cross, so he may have the bag." It was because our Lord discerned this spirit in his hearers at Capernaum that he rebuked them, saying, "Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you" (John 6:26, 27; see also Matthew 6:33). The true test of character is to be found, not in the morality that wins applause and popularity, but in the righteousness which is followed through evil as well as good report. To all those who are toiling for the sake of what they can get of earthly good, Christ says, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, and ye shall find rest to your souls." if the Spirit of Christ be ours, then we shall find "A life of self-renouncing love is a life of liberty." - A.R.

The union of precept and promise in Scripture runs parallel with the union of work and blessing in life. The same mind and will is the source of both. Our text reminds us of the co-operation of the human and Divine as essential to the harvest of good. A true reformation is only accomplished by God indirectly, through the agency of man. Thus the coming of Christ Jesus was prepared for by the ministry of John, which roused men to thoughts of sin and of righteousness. In the graphic imagery of Isaiah, "crooked things were made straight, and rough places plain, and then the glory of the Lord was revealed." So in the establishment of the Christian Church: God wrought through the energies of men. The Holy Spirit was not poured down directly from heaven upon the nations, but upon a few men whose hearts were prepared, and through their ministry the conscience of the world was stirred. No farmer waits inactively in the spring-time, when the earth is made soft with showers, expecting a harvest to come, while his plough rusts in the shed and his seed rots in the granary; and no true Christian is satisfied to pray for the fulfillment of the promises while he does nothing of the work that lies to his hand. The message comes home to him, "Sow to yourselves," etc. Human responsibility and Divine recompense are the two factors in spiritual husbandry which demand consideration.

I. HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY lies in the direction of these activities.

1. Sowing the seed. "Sow to yourselves in righteousness." Show how deficient Israel was in righteousness, both in national affairs and in social and civil life, during Hosea's ministry.

(1) National righteousness is demanded. Honesty in diplomacy, equitable dealing with weaker peoples, fairness in commercial enterprise, choice of the right, and not of the profitable, etc.

(2) Church righteousness, which will not allow us to neglect the poor, or to be careless of the interests of Divine truth, or to restrain prayer heft,re God.

(3) Individual righteousness, which may be shown by every Christian in all the varied relations of life. Sowing to ourselves in righteousness is not always easy, and is not often immediately recompensed; but "in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."

2. Preparing the sod. "Break up your fallow ground." The work referred to is monotonous, hard, continuous. The ploughman does not see around him the glow of the golden harvest; he does not hear the merriment of those who are binding the sheaves; he has not the stimulus of the happy speed which the hope of finishing gives the reaper. Yet his work is as necessary. The reference is not to the cleaning from weeds of land already sown, but to the breaking up of virgin soil, i.e. of the parts of a field which were neglected before.

(1) Make application to the development of Christian character. There is generally a want of completeness about this. Sins of pleasure and indolence are gone; but if sins of pride, ambition, censoriousness, remain, these also must be turned up by the plough of resolution. We must not be content with saying, "This part of my character is fertile," while that part lies fallow. So with Christian graces. We may have courage without tenderness, patience without enterprise, and thus have fallow ground yet to be broken up.

(2) Make application to the advance of Christ's kingdom. Parts of the world sown with the good seed are fairly productive, other parts are moral wastes. This calls for missionary enterprise. Congregations comfortably worship, yet amongst the godless and ignorant "fallow ground" still lies around them. The world will become a paradise only when each does his own work in his own sphere. In the Western States, laud is not brought under cultivation by the expenditure of a millionaire; but each settler has his own allotment, effects his own clearing, builds his own log hut, adds field to field till his farm touches the next, and by this process the wilderness begins to rejoice and blossom like the rose.

3. Seeking the Lord. Hosea would have the people eagerly expecting Messiah, and ready to welcome him. Some of John's disciples were thus" seeking the Lord," and it was on these Christ rained righteousness, in the truths he taught and the Spirit he gave. Readiness for the second advent becomes the Christian still; and the Church is sighing for it. Meantime the Lord comes in holy thought, in right resolve, in chastened feeling. He comes down on weary hearts like "rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth."


1. It is generous. "Reap [not 'in,' but] according to mercy;" not in proportion to desert, or to justice, but to the boundless mercy of the Lord. Of all reaping that is true. When we sow our seed we give it over to the care of God. It would be something to receive it back again uninjured; but it is multiplied, "according to the mercy" of God, and harvest-fields come from a few bushels of seed. God gives "good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over." If we are thus requited in the natural, we shall be in the moral husbandry. Grace used brings more grace. The five talents employed become the ten talents. If we give, the habit of giving becomes a luxury. If we pray, prayer becomes easier, more refreshing, more essential. If ours are the tears of penitence, the light of God's love shines through them and creates the rainbow of peace. If, like the prodigal, we sow in righteous acknowledgment of sin, we reap peace and joy "according to God's mercy."

2. It is from above. "Until he come and rain righteousness upon you." When rain falls from heaven it blesses your garden, or your carefully tended plant, but it does not content itself with that. Fields you never saw are greener, limpid streams in distant counties are fuller, leaves and ferns and. unnoticed flowers are touched and blessed. All Churches need this outpouring from above. To do the right, to break up the fallow ground which has been unblessed before by enterprise, will all be useless unless he rains righteousness upon us. And for this great blessing a mural world, a weakened Church, a conscious yearning, say, "It is time to seek the Lord."

CONCLUSION. Beware lest, in the sight of the Searcher of hearts, your condition should be described by the words which follow our text. "Ye have ploughed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity." "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." - A.R.

This is one of many passages in which the inspired writers make use of imagery derived from the processes of nature and the practices of husbandry, with the view of explaining and enforcing spiritual truth and personal duty.

I. HUMAN PREPARATION FOR DIVINE BLESSING. Man must do his part, and is admonished by authority to do so. The readiness which is here required, as a condition of heavenly blessing and spiritual prosperity, is twofold.

1. In the heart and life. By "breaking up the fallow ground" may be understood repentance, by which the heart long hard and stony becomes soft and pliable to what is good, and receptive of heavenly seed. By "sowing to one's self in righteousness" may be understood reformation of principles and of practice. It is not enough to forsake the evil; it is necessary to seek, to cleave to, that which is good. All this, it is presumed, will be done by the aid of Divine grace, and under the influence of Christian motives.

2. By prayer. "It is time to seek the Lord." Human means are good; it is by express instruction from on high that they are employed; but alone they are insufficient. The spiritual life has its devotional as well as its practical side. We have to look earthwards, that we may till the soil and sow the seed; but we have also to look heavenwards, that we may obtain the needed blessing.


1. God shall "rain righteousness," by which we may understand he will bestow those favors which his own Word has pledged him to confer. By rain we understand also the abundance of those blessings; which are bestowed, not in drops, but in showers - copious showers from the opened windows of heaven.

2. God's people shall "reap mercy." This is the harvest for which all human cultivation and all Divine effluences are designed to concur. Mercy for time and mercy for eternity, from a merciful God, for a mercy-needing humanity. "The Lord grant that we may all obtain mercy of the Lord in that day!" - T.

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 for righteousness, reap according to love, plough for yourselves virgin soil; for it is time to seek Jehovah, till he come and rain righteousness upon you" (Delitzsch). Sowing and reaping are figures here used to denote the spiritual and moral conduct of the people. Indeed, all human life consists of sowing and reaping. We reap today what we sowed yesterday, and we sow today what we shall reap to-morrow, and so on through all future. Every intelligent act embodies a moral principle, contains a seed that must germinate and grow. We have here several things worthy of study.

I. A WRETCHED MORAL STATE. "Fallow ground," uncultivated earth. A state of:

1. Unloveliness. It is either an expanse of grey earth, or of weeds, thistles, and thorns.

2. Unfruitfulness. Unless the earth is cultivated, there is no fruit, and the land is worthless.

3. Wastefulness. On the fallow ground fall the rain, the dew, the sunshine, and the frost; but all in vain. How much Divine grace is wasted on unregenerate men! Sermons, books, Bibles, providences, means of grace all wasted.


1. Moral plowing. "Break up your fallow ground." Drive the ploughshare through it. How can you break up the soil of the heart? Not by mere volition, but by thinking on the subjects suited to excite. Think especially on two things.

(1) What God has been to us.

(2) What we have been to him.

2. Moral sowing. "Sow in righteousness." Go in for righteousness. Work to put yourself and fellow-men right with themselves, God, and others; implant everywhere righteous ideas and actions.

3. Moral reaping. "/leap in mercy." Accept what comes to you in sentiments of love and mercy.


1. No time to lose.

2. Much has been lost.

3. It is only now the work can be effectively done.

IV. A GLORIOUS MORAL PROSPECT. He will "rain righteousness," or, as some render it, "teach you righteousness." Pursue this work of moral agriculture properly, and God himself will come and teach you righteousness. - D.T.

Israel's duty is here contrasted with their practice.


1. Preparation of the soil. Israel is first bid to sow; then going a step further back, the people are commanded, "Break up your fallow ground." If fruits of righteousness are to be produced, it needs, not simply a weeding and recultivation of the old soil - the natural, unrenewed heart - but the preparation of a soil entirely new. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Ezekiel, accordingly, promises that God will take away the hard and stony heart from Israel, and will give them a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). The first need of our souls is renewal. Yet we have the duty laid on us of seeking this renewal, and of co-operating (by prayer, use of means of grace, faith, repentance) in bringing it about. "Make you a new heart, and a new spirit" (Ezekiel 18:31).

2. Sowing in the soil. The sowing is to be "in righteousness," i.e. in the practice of truth, kindness, justice, mercy, godliness, and everything else which the Law of God requires. Each must sow for himself. The sowing cannot be done by proxy. Sowing in righteousness is "for ourselves" in the sense also that our own highest well-being is involved in it (Psalm 19:11). Righteousness in the long run profits the doer himself more than it profits any other. It is his "life" (Deuteronomy 32:47).

3. Waiting on God. "For it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you." As in the outer world rain is indispensable to growth, so is the blessing of God, given in rains of his Spirit, essential to growth in grace. In raining the Spirit upon us, God rains righteousness. Cause is put for effect. It is the Spirit's influences which cause righteousness to spring up. This waiting on God must accompany the whole process. It implies an earnest direction of the heart, supplication, and patient looking for the blessing. It is always "time" for the sinner to seek the Lord. He cannot do it too soon.

4. The gracious reaping. "Reap in mercy." Not according to desert, but according to God's infinite grace and love. The reaping is

(1) a reaping of righteousness (Romans 6:19, 22);

(2) of other spiritual and temporal blessings (Matthew 6:33; Ephesians 1:3);

(3) of eternal life (Romans 6:12).


1. Instead of "sowing in righteousness," Israel ploughed wickedness. They took pains to do evil, bestowed labor upon it, prepared the soil in which it might grow, and seemed to delight in multiplying transgressions. If God's people were as diligent in cultivating goodness as sinners are in cultivating sin, the Church would soon be in a healthier condition.

2. Instead of "reaping in mercy," they reaped iniquity. Sin brought forth sin. They served 'iniquity unto iniquity'" (Romans 6:19). As weeds multiply quicker than good gram, so sin, in the same space of time, yields a far greater harvest (of its own kind) than righteousness.

3. Instead of spiritual and temporal blessings, Israel reaped disappointment and ruin.

(1) They reaped lies (disappointment). "Ye have eaten the fruit of lies." Their hopes, built chiefly on the multitude of their fighting men (ver. 15), deceived them. They proved utterly vain. They had sown lies in "speaking words" and "swearing falsely in making a covenant" (ver. 4); they now reaped the fruit of this, in seeing their hosts utterly routed, their fortresses captured, and their women and children dashed to pieces (ver. 14) - judgment springing up in the furrows they had themselves made (ver. 4).

(2) They reaped ruin. When war arose, the sword of the Assyrian swept all before it. Israel could read in recent atrocities of Shalman the doom which awaited themselves (ver. 14). King and kingdom would be cut off (ver. 15) - "in a morning," i.e. early. This was the result of their sowing. This was what Bethel, with its "evil of evil," had done for them. Oh that the sinner would take warning! - J.O.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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