Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hosea 10: 1-4

Hosea 10

Retribution for Israel’s Sin
 1 Israel is a luxuriant vine;
He produces fruit for himself.
The more his fruit,
The more altars he made;
The richer his land,
The better he made the sacred pillars.
2 Their heart is faithless;
Now they must bear their guilt.
The LORD will break down their altars
And destroy their sacred pillars.  3 Surely now they will say, “We have no king,
For we do not revere the LORD.
As for the king, what can he do for us?”
4 They speak mere words,
With worthless oaths they make covenants;
And judgment sprouts like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field.

Luxuriant! It's not every day I come across something luxuriant. Hosea offers up a word picture at the beginning of Chapter 10 in describing Israel as "a luxuriant vine." Clearly, the prophet depicts Israel's earthly successes and prosperity. High-yielding fields provided much fruit. The sale of the trade of fruit provided funds to build up the land, as well as build up the temples and accessories necessary to serve the gods the people had decided to serve. Suddenly, not such a luxuriant life after all, unless you are Bael or....

The King James Version uses 'empty' instead of 'luxuriant'. The Hebrew adjective used means "to pour out, empty or make void." also offers "lacking in restraint." Israel invested its luxuriant success into itself as a vine growing abundantly but with irreverent abandon. There's a lovely parable in Isaiah that captures the scene beautifully:

"Let me sing now for my well-beloved
A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard.
My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.
He dug it all around, removed its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
And He built a tower in the middle of it
And also hewed out a wine vat in it;
Then He expected it to produce good grapes,
But it produced only worthless ones."

--Isaiah 5: 1-2

"Their heart is faithless." Here's another opportunity for some fun word study. Verse 2 is self-explanatory as written in the NASB, but other translations use 'smooth' for 'faithless'. What is a smooth heart? The picturesque nature of Hebrew makes this verse even more abundantly clear. Smooth stones were often used when it came time to cast lots for something, as in to separate for distribution among those present. To have a smooth heart, therefore, would be a separated or divided heart. [Strong's] Faithless to God, without a doubt. Divided between God and the baels? Even more accurate.

"Elijah came near to all the people and said, 'How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.' But the people did not answer him a word."
--I Kings 18: 20-21

We know it is not God's pleasure to have people be lukewarm over Him. Elijah had to prove that to the Israelites through a graphic demonstration of God's consuming fire and his self-slaying 450 prophets of Bael. In Revelation 3, the church of Laodicea receives the cold slap from God that it is spiritually tepid. "Because you say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,' and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked...." Pre-captivity Israel is just another "smooth operator."

...Who "must bear their guilt," continues verse 2. God has found fault with Israel and it will face punishment as it deserves, which is what this whole chapter is about--retribution. Not only will the people be tossed from the land, but God will do away with all of Israel's sites and tools of idol worship. "He shall spoil their images," reads the KJV. Check out this explanation of the Hebrew for 'spoil'--"Properly to be burly, i.e. (figuratively) powerful (passive impregnable); by implication to ravage." God's gonna be burly on those graven images!

I jest a bit, but think about what it would mean for God to come in and ravage the images--the pillars--of that which keeps us from worshiping Him alone. We think we can fight off things ourselves, not unlike a certain people mentioned in this chapter. But, perhaps we need to turn over our idols to God for some spiritual bullying and burliness. It's hard to make images go away by themselves, and this is part of Israel's problem here, too.

The point of verse 3 is that Israel not only doesn't acknowledge God as their King, but doesn't acknowledge its kings as king either. My study Bible notes that the last five kings of Israel, prior to the captivity period, were "usurpers." With all that jumbling of political power going on at the highest earthly levels, trust in government was at an all-time low. "We have no king"--indeed!

The theme of covenant continues forward into Chapter 10, as we are reminded of Israel's words spoken in a vow, only to be broken. The whole idea of making an oath is that one stands by the words he or she speaks. Yet, Israel's words are considered "worthless" as it has forgotten that which brought the nation together with its Father.

I was reading cross-references in Deuteronomy, re-visiting the words of God to Moses as the close of the leader's days on Earth. How tragic for Moses to hear these words at the end of his life--that the days of being "stiff-necked" will not be over once the Israelites move into the Promised Land. It made me appreciate, too, how tragic for God to know this truth, not only then, but now, in Hosea, upon sending His people out of the Promised Land.

"'For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant. Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song [Moses' song that he will write, to become Deuteronomy 32] will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.'"
--Deuteronomy 31: 20-21

Read that last line of Deuteronomy one more time. "For I know their intent which they are developing today...." God doesn't come to Hosea and say, "Hey, I've seen what My people are doing, and it's really bad this time. I'm going to have to punish them. Go let them know." From way back, God knew the intent of their hearts. He knew that despite Moses' efforts at leading and teaching His people that they were hard-hearted, wayward and prone to wandering. Last week, we called that restlessness. The intent of the heart of Israel remained the same as it did that day God spoke to Moses, and God's intent to bring "evils and troubles" would remain His intent as well.

"...Thus judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field."
--Hosea 10:4 (King James Version)

Double their pleasures; double their punishment.... 'Til next Wednesday!


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Next week: Hosea 10: 5-10

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

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