Hosea 10 Altar-ed Reality

Questions: Is it good to be fruitful? When and when not? What leads to a divided heart? What results from it? How do we redefine God to serve our purposes? What will He do about it? What does He want, our punishment or our redemption?

“Read More” to pursue answers from the Prophet Hosea.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your Presence, and fill me with your Holy Spirit
That I might know you as my Father, and manifest the image of Christ
In this world, and the world to come. Amen.

Hosea 10:1-15

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.

I find it odd that translations are split on whether Israel is an “empty” vine or “luxuriant.” The former seems to better fit the Hebrew, but the latter matches the sense of abundance found in the rest of the verse. I like the Darby solution of “unpruned” to capture both the worthlessness and the excess, but that may be more clever than accurate.

At any rate, no matter how fruitful, Israel is clearly using its wealth in worthless ways, and trying to (at least) two masters:

Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty: he shall break down their altars, he shall spoil their images.

No surprise that God is unhappy with this, and about to bring judgement. What is surprising, though, is how this plays out with respect to human authority:

For now they shall say, We have no king, because we feared not the LORD; what then should a king do to us?

I’m not quite sure whether this is regretful or spiteful, but they do seem to recognize a connection between fearing not God and losing effective kingship — whether or not they see that as a good thing. And given their behavior, they probably do:

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

Though we democracies scorn the idea of monarchy, it is worth remembering that the idea of a king was to be a person who judged on behalf of all the people, not just a particular tribe or class. Absent a king — or some equivalent, independent source of legitimate authority — every man simply “did that which was right in their own eyes“, regardless of the detriment to their neighbors.

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. 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.

I presume this is referring to the golden calf at Bethel. It occurs to me that this is a reflection of the common human desire to redefine God in a way compatible with our political and moral goals. What’s problematic is not so much the definitions themselves (which may be better or worse), but the mere asserting that it is our right to make that definition. For in the end, the glory of man-made gods is no greater than our own — which ain’t much.

As for] Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon the water.

I wonder if the Israelites are half-relieved to not have a king to judge them anymore; if so, their relief is short-lived:

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.

Oookay. While I don’t know whether that is idiomatic for seclusion or suicide, clearly these are not happy campers.

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.

I’m not entirely sure what’s going on, but Gibeah seems a watchword for Israel’s greatest self-inflicted shame; and Hosea’s pointing out that they haven’t really escaped from it.

[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.

I’m not sure what it means by “two furrows”; most translations speak vaguely of “double sins.” There’s ample room for speculation, but I’ll leave that to the theologians. The key thought is that God is looking forward to punishing them. Or, perhaps more precisely, to judging their sins, which they have chosen to bind themselves to (rather than repent of).

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.

The sentiment appears to be a positive one, perhaps even wistful. A pastoral picture of them all working together to bring forth a healthy harvest:

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.

Alas, it was not to be:

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.

Here, there great sin appears to be relying upon a) self-will and b) physical prowess. I must confess that (b) is unlikely to ever be a credible temptation with me (despite my thrice-weekly visits to the YMCA :-), but (a) is my perennial downfall. I like the idea that my will ought to determine how the universe works, and it is a difficult addiction to break.

Perhaps that is why God has to prescribe such strong medicine:

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.


So shall Bethel do unto you because of your great wickedness: in a morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off.

Intriguingly, he describes this as something done to Israel by idolatrous Beth-aven (neé Bethel).

If there’s one lesson I take from this, it is that we are destroyed both by our despites and our desires. At least if we desire anything less than God Himself…


God, I find myself identifying more than I care to with the land of Israel, full of religious ritual but divided in their loyalties — and ultimately, loyal only to themselves. Father, forgive me. Break me of my self will, and unbind the chains of selfish desire (which I myself have forged). Help me to be a contented cow, bearing your easy yoke. That I may bring forth fruit which heals the nations. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.