For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough

10:1.  “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.”

God had brought Israel out of Egypt, and planted her like a vine in Canaan (Ps 80:8-11), to produce spiritual fruit for Him, while He blessed her with abundant harvests, but it hadn’t been long until she had fallen into idolatry.

“Empty” means luxuriant or abundant in the sense of multiplying or spreading out, but in the present context it relates spiritually  to an abundant production of evil rather than good.  As Jehovah had blessed them with enlarged crops, they had wickedly given the credit to Baal, and had responded by increasing the number of altars and images at which they worshiped him, thus insulting their true Benefactor, and provoking His anger.

While worshiping the Baalim, Israel also maintained the outward form of worshiping Jehovah, and some see in the mention of “altars” an allusion to that hypocritical worship, while taking the “images” to refer to the idolatrous worship.

10:2.  “Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty: he shall break down their altars, he shall spoil their images.”

Their heart was divided in that while worshiping the Baalim, they continued to go through the empty ritual of also worshiping Jehovah, but according Him the place of being just another god amongst many, of whom they regarded Baal to be the most important.  Christendom is guilty of the same wickedness, for the god she worships and considers most important is Mammon, followed by Education, followed by the goddess Pleasure, with God being given only token recognition because He is considered of very little importance.  But as Jehovah overthrew Israel’s altars,  and destroyed their images, so will He just as surely do the same with Christendom’s altars and false gods, that destruction coming during the quickly approaching Tribulation era.

“Faulty” means to be guilty and thus deserving of punishment or destruction.

A divided heart is the root cause of all failure in the Christian’s life.  When we begin to love the world and the things that belong to it, our love for Christ cools, with the result that our zeal ebbs, our interest in spiritual things diminishes; and unless restored by God’s grace, we will make the same ruin of our lives as did Israel long ago.  As Dr Harry Ironside has very aptly commented, “A single heart for God’s glory is the prime necessity for a holy life.”

10:3.  “For now they shall say, We have no king, because we feared not the Lord; what then should a king do to us?”

God looked to the day, then very near, when they would be led captive into Assyria, and would realize that their having no king of their own to rule them would be because they had refused Jehovah control of their lives, the hopelessness of their plight causing them to acknowledge that even if they had a king he would be powerless to help them.  In Ro 8:31 it is written, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”  The corollary of that truth, however, is that if God be against us, who can deliver us?

10:4.  “They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant: thus judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field.”

This refers to their seeking alliances with more powerful nations such as Assyria and Egypt, in an attempt to protect themselves; but the false swearing relates to the fact that neither they nor those with whom they entered into agreements could be trusted to keep their part of the contract.  The result of their perfidy would be that there would be continual need of redefining the terms of the agreements to the point where those contracts would be as worthless as weeds growing in a plowed field.

Christendom is to be charged with the same sin.  A contract is no sooner signed than ways are sought in which to break it, with the result that there is no trust among men, but rather costly litigation which enriches the lawyers, and angers God.

10:5.  “The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Beth-aven: 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.”

Bethel house of God is here called Beth-aven house of vanity, for what had once been the center to which the people gathered to worship Jehovah, had become a principal center of the vile Canaanite fertility cult.

The plural calves is generally believed to be related to the fact that the golden calf originally set up there by Jeroboam, had been reproduced and set up as an object of worship in many other places throughout the land, so that when the one at Bethel or Beth-aven was carried away by the Assyrian king, it was as though all of them had also been carried away.  The fear and mourning were undoubtedly due to the fact that the people would then realize too late that the calf they had worshiped was not only incapable of delivering them, but was powerless to prevent its own abduction by mere men.  In other words it was a mere idol, and not a god.  Well might the people who worshiped the idol, and the idolatrous priests to whom it was a source of gain, fear and mourn upon learning, too late for repentance and mercy, that by their idolatry, they had been guilty of angering Jehovah, the only true God, and now must perish at His hand.

So will it be with the unbelieving inhabitants of earth on the day when Christ returns in power and glory to end the Tribulation, and execute judgment prior to the inauguration of His millennial kingdom, that terrible day of judgment being itself but a figure of earth’s final day of judgment when the unbelievers of all the ages are arraigned at the Great White Throne and are cast from thence into eternal torment in the unquenchable flame of the lake of fire.

10:6.  “It shall also be carried unto Assyria for a present to king Jareb: Ephraim shall receive shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel.”

As noted already, Jareb is unknown as the name of any king, but its meaning let him contend indicates that it may have been simply a general term used to describe the militancy of the Assyrian rulers.

Ephraim’s receiving shame speaks of the shame that will embarrass every individual Israelite, while Israel’s being ashamed of having heeded the foolish counsel that ever led them away from Jehovah, speaks of the shame they will suffer as their national existence is thus brought to an ignominious end, and they become the captives of a heathen nation.

10:7.  “As for Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon the water.”

Samaria was the capital and center of government of the northern kingdom, but all of that was about to be swept away, the king (Hoshea) who had so arrogantly defied Jehovah, being likened unto a fleck of foam or a little chip of wood floating helplessly on the surface of the water and being carried away by the current.

So will it be with apostate Christendom and with the whole world on the day when Christ returns in power and glory to execute judgment.  The kings and mighty men of the earth will be banished, with all other unbelievers, into hell by the mere word of Him Who is King of kings and Lord of lords, their vaunted might being as nothing in His presence.

10:8.  “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.”

Aven, meaning perverseness, is literally Beth-aven house of vanity, which as noted already, is simply a title of disparagement for what Bethel house of God had become: a principal center of idolatry.  Only spiritually blind eyes will fail to see that this is but a foreshadowing of the truth that Christianity for the most part has become Christendom: a great system marked by spiritual idolatry, and destined for the same destruction as overtook ancient Bethel (Beth-aven).

It is instructive also to note the reference to thorns and thistles as being the evidence of God’s curse upon the heathen altars at which apostate Israel worshiped the Baalim, for in Ge 3:18 thorns and thistles are recorded as being the evidence of His curse upon the earth which had become defiled by Adam’s sin.

“... and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us,” are virtually the same words in which the Lord, on His way to Calvary, announced the judgment that was to fall upon Israel in AD 70, see Lk 23:30.  Relative to the terrible Tribulation judgments, the language is also the same, “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” Re 6:15-17. 

All of this indicates that each past judgment which befell Israel is but an adumbration, not only of the Tribulation judgment which will affect her and the whole earth, but of that awful final judgment which will bring the destruction of this present world, and its replacement with the new earth, see 11 Pe 3:10 “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up,” and Re 21:1, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”

10:9.  “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.”

The first part of this verse continues to emphasize that the wickedness of Israel, as displayed in the outrage committed against the Levite’s concubine in Gibeah, had continued till the days of Hosea, and they also still stood as defiant of God as they had been then.

Commentators are in general agreement that the second part of this verse is better translated interrogatively, so that it might be paraphrased, “Shall not war overtake these iniquitous apostates in Gibeah?”  Most certainly the judgment of God would fall upon them.  It was, in fact, about to break over their guilty heads, though they knew it not.

10:10.  “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.”

A Holy God cannot let sin go unpunished without impugning His own holiness; but because He is of great mercy His chastisement is always with a view to the salvation of the sinner, or the restoration of the sinning saint.  The generation of Israel addressed by Hosea, however, and spurned all God’s overtures so often that they had finally exhausted His patience, and now there was no possibility of mercy.  They must perish, as must all who similarly refuse to repent.  In the case of that generation of Israel, the Assyrians were the people who would be gathered against them as the instrument appointed by God for their destruction.

“... when they shall bind themselves in their two furrows,” is difficult to interpret.  The figure seems to be related to plowing: Israel in captivity because of her sin, being like a heifer yoked to the plow; but the “two furrows” are enigmatic.  The plowing of the two furrows seems to refer to something particularly unpleasant which Israel will be compelled to endure in captivity, and several such things come to mind, e.g., the rendering of compelled service without recompense; no sabbath rest; no opportunity for even ritual worship of Jehovah, He being the only God left to her following her discovery of the impotence of the Baalim, etc.  But the number of such things is clearly limited to two, and I regret being able to discover what those two might be.

It is possible, however, that the reference is not to what Israel will have to endure in captivity, but to the two great sins with which God charges them, and which had resulted in their being sent into captivity, “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water,” Jer 2:13.”  The context in which these words are found is, in fact, remarkably similar to the language of the book of Hosea.

10:11.  “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.”

A heifer trained in treading out the grain enjoyed that work, because it was easy, and God’s command was that such an animal was not to be muzzled, and could therefore eat her fill, see Dt 25:4.  The picture is of a once obedient Israel gladly obeying God’s Word, and walking contentedly in the consequent enjoyment of blessing.  But those days had gone.  Allured by the enticements of her idolatrous neighbors, Israel had rebelled against Jehovah, and had turned from Him to serve the Baalim, thus making herself the object of His righteous wrath, so that He was now about to lay upon her neck another yoke, that of the Assyrian captor and oppressor, and unlike His light and easy yoke, that now to be placed upon her rebellious neck would be heavy and galling, and the work given her to do would be that of exhausting slavery to a pitiless master.

It is interesting to note that Israel’s punishment duplicates that of Adam.  He too for transgression was expelled from the pleasant surroundings and congenial employment of Eden, to endure the back-breaking labor of tilling a cursed ground as described in Ge 3:17-19, “... cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee ... in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread....”

The Lord exhorted men, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” Mt 11:28-30.  Christians, obeying this injunction, have proved it to be true; but apostate Christendom, like apostate Israel, has rebelled against God, choosing instead to serve Mammon, Education, and Pleasure, and with the same result: she too has bound herself to a pitiless master, and is soon to find herself reaping the earthly consequences of her folly under the tyranny of the beast in the soon coming Tribulation, that misery to be followed by the eternal wrath of God, first in hell, and eternally in the torment of the lake of fire.

“... I will make Ephraim to ride,” is more accurately translated, “I will make Ephraim to be ridden.”  It is the figurative announcement of the fact that Israel was about to be brought into captivity where she would have no choice but to serve her Assyrian task master.  Judah’s plowing, and Jacob’s breaking clods, continue to emphasize the bitterness of the coming bondage, and there is sad irony in the menial work that would be given them to do, for Judah, the royal tribe, means he shall be praised; and Jacob, he will take by the heel, i.e., he will have the supremacy.  What contrast between the glory God intended for Israel, and the degradation she must endure because of her rebellion!  And so is it with all men.  The obedient will inherit the bliss of heaven; the disobedient, the eternal torment of the lake of fire.

The reference here to Judah and Jacob reminds us that even though Judah’s captivity in Babylon was still about a hundred and thirty years in the future, God foreknew that she would disregard the warning presented in Israel’s captivity in Assyria, and would follow in the footsteps of her evil sister, and suffer a similar fate.

10:12.  “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.”

“... rain righteousness upon you” is more accurately translated as “... teach righteousness unto you,” or “rain salvation upon you.”

As already discussed, it was too late for that rebellious generation.  Her long continued refusal to repent had carried her beyond the pale of mercy.  She had exhausted God’s patience.  She was to be destroyed.  But for another generation there was hope.  If it would obey and live righteously it would inherit God’s great mercy and blessing.

Fallow ground is that which has been left uncultivated for one or more years.  Prior to the modern method of rotating crops, it was the standard method of allowing land to renew itself.  The period of Israel’s absence from Canaan corresponds to the time during which a field is allowed to lie fallow, so that this verse looks forward to the day when another generation would be brought back, God’s exhortation to that generation being conveyed under the figure of plowing again the land that had lain fallow during the time of Israel’s absence. (In connection with this matter of fallow ground it is significant that God had commanded Israel to allow the land to lie fallow every seventh year, see Le 25, failure to obey bringing chastisement, which came in the form of the Babylonian captivity of Judah, that captivity lasting exactly seventy years, the number of sabbatic years which Israel had failed to keep in the preceding four hundred and ninety years!  See Le 26:33-35).

The Israel of Christ’s day was descended from that which had been brought back from the Babylonian captivity.  (As noted already, over the intervening years some had also returned from Assyria, but their return was not a specific event occurring at one time as was the return of the remnant of Judah from Babylon, and the absence of any reference to it in Scripture is simply because God had never recognized the split which occurred in the days of Jeroboam: He had never ceased to view Judah as the royal tribe and the representative of the others).  That returned nation had failed to plow the fallow ground, to sow themselves in righteousness, i.e., to obey Jehovah, and to reap His mercy.  They had abandoned idolatry, but had not returned to Him in repentant faith, having chosen instead to attempt the impossible task of making themselves righteous through law-keeping.

In spite of all this, God in grace beyond comprehension, sent His only Son to expiate their sin by the sacrifice of Himself at Calvary, and in this connection it is instructive to note that Scripture envisaged the Lord’s death as being by a Gentile method (crucifixion), rather than Jewish (stoning), see Ps 22:16.  But rebel Israel would make herself one with the Gentiles in slaying God’s Son, for it was at her instigation that Rome reluctantly put Christ to death.  Thus they crowned their rebellion with the unbelievable crime of slaying the beloved and only Son of Him Who had chosen them from among the nations to be His Own peculiar people, and to reign in supremacy over all others.  And still, unbelievably, His grace hadn’t reached its limit!  Having fulfilled all that is written in His Word relative to the Lord’s death and resurrection, He sent His servant Peter to assure them of His forgiveness, and to plead with them to avail themselves of His mercy so that they might even yet enter the long-promised millennial kingdom, see Ac 3.

But like the generation of Hosea’s day, those of Christ’s day also refused to repent, with the result that just thirty-eight years after the Lord’s death and resurrection, the patience of God ended, and they were delivered up to the sword of the Romans, the survivors being sold as slaves, or escaping to wander as Cain-like fugitives amongst the Gentiles for the past two thousand years.

Christendom has followed in their rebellious footsteps, making herself heiress of the terrible Tribulation judgments which will culminate in the sweeping of every rebel into hell by the Lord returning in power and glory to inaugurate His millennial kingdom.  Only a fool will fail to recognize that the outpouring of those judgments is very near!

10:13.  “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.”

They had plowed or sown wickedness, i.e., they had continued in rebellion against God by continuing to worship the Baalim, and the result was that they had reaped iniquity: their sins had multiplied.  Their having eaten the fruit of lies means that in rejecting God’s Word and believing the lies of the Canaanites relative to the superiority of Baal over Jehovah, they had made themselves the objects of His wrath rather than His blessing.  Trusting in their own way or schemes, and in their own imagined military might combined with that of the nations (Egypt and Assyria) with which they had made alliances, they had brought themselves to ruin under the hand of the God they had thus despised and angered.

Apostate Christendom and the rest of the world are about to reap a similar harvest of judgment in the coming Tribulation.

10:14.  “Therefore shall a tumult arise among thy people, and all thy fortresses shall be spoiled, as Shalman spoiled Beth-arbel in the day of battle: the mother was dashed in pieces upon her children.”

“Tumult” is literally the destruction brought by war.  The military might in which they trusted would prove worthless against the Assyrians.  Nothing certain is known of either Shalman or Beth-arbel, or the nature of the massacre that appears to have taken place there, but clearly it was an event well known to Israel in the days of Hosea, and it is instructive to note that Beth-arbel means house of God’s ambush; and Shalman he spoiled them: their peace-offering.  Israel was being warned that she was about to suffer the same fate at the hand of the Assyrians, as had Beth-arbel at the hand of Shalman.

10:15.  “So shall Bethel do unto you because of your great wickedness: in the morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off.”

“So shall Bethel do unto you” is more accurately translated “So will it be done to you at Bethel,” and a better translation of the latter half of the verse is that of The New English Bible, “... as sure as day dawns, the king of Israel shall be swept away.”

The Assyrian captivity in 722 BC brought an end to the existence of the ten northern tribes as a separate national entity, and ended the line of their kings.  Ever since then Israel has been undivided as a nation, and in the Millennium the reign of the Davidic line of kings will be resumed.

[Hosea 11]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough