Saturday, June 11, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (31)

If you want to communicate truth effectively, you have to do it at the level of your audience. The Lord Jesus understood this and used imagery all the time. He told stories to which people could relate. Even if they often didn’t fully understand the subtleties of his parables, they sometimes got the broader message.

Even his most hardened critics knew when they were being targeted.

Hosea 10:11-13 — Threshing, Sowing, Plowing

“Ephraim was a trained calf that loved to thresh, and I spared her fair neck; but I will put Ephraim to the yoke; Judah must plow; Jacob must harrow for himself. Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies.”

Agrarian Imagery

More people are moved by rhetoric than dialectic, so Hosea’s messages to Israel are loaded with figurative language. He draws his audience picture after picture, each image repurposing the familiar sights and experiences of everyday life in Israel hundreds of years before Christ. I pointed out a few of these in previous chapters, and here is yet another. Verses 11-13 give us a series of connected agrarian metaphors, from sowing to plowing to reaping, ending up at the dinner table. The metaphors speak to the choices men make and the outcomes they produce, either good or bad.

Hosea is far from the only one of God’s messengers to use this theme. In Job, one of the oldest books in the Bible, Eliphaz says, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.” Proverbs says, “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity.” The message that men reap what they sow comes early and often. Hosea himself has previously spoken of sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind. More than one preacher has commented that we reap what we sow, we reap more than we sow, and we reap later than we sow. All these are important lessons to keep in mind.

The Trained Calf

God is looking for a harvest in each of our lives, and he looked for the same from Israel. He will evaluate what we produce. That’s what’s in view here, I think, with the reaping and sowing imagery. Threshing, however, is a separate operation. It is similar to plowing, in that the calf pulls a sledge to break up the corn much as a mature ox pulls the plow, but in scripture threshing generally speaks of judgment, of separating the good from the bad, whereas plowing is preparation for planting.

There is a sense in which Israel in its youth was very much like a trained calf that loved to thresh. Israel was God’s instrument of judgment on the tribes of idolatrous Canaanites who sacrificed their own children to false gods. So Israel determined who lived and died, and God blessed them as they did his work. The Gibeonites lived, and the other Canaanite tribes successively fought with Israel and were driven out of the land or exterminated in great numbers. In its youth, Israel was a veritable threshing machine. They accomplished God’s purposes in Joshua’s day. But their own tenancy in the land had yet to be evaluated, and it turned out that despite possessing God’s law, most of their number were not so different in inclination from the idolatrous Canaanites they uprooted and replaced. They could certainly dish out judgment, but it remained to be seen how their own works would stand up to God’s scrutiny. Their true character would come out when God put Israel to the plow among the nations.

Judah and Jacob

And it was not just the northern kingdom. Hosea comments that Judah’s works must be examined too. The two nations were not terribly different. The three names here cover the entirety of Israel: Ephraim, the northern kingdom; Judah, the south; and Jacob, the entire nation. In the end, Ephraim would be dispersed by Assyria and Judah taken captive by the Babylonians. Would the hard labor of God’s discipline produce a harvest of repentance? In Judah’s case, it did so within 70 years. Daniel’s prayer of repentance on behalf of his nation is recorded for us. For most of Ephraim a change of heart would take much longer to produce.

In their own land under God’s blessing, the harvest was not just meager but entirely rotten. Remember, you reap what you sow. And when you plow iniquity — making sinning a major project as Ephraim had done — you reap injustice. All you have left to eat from your work is self-deception, the “fruit of lies”. This was the state into which God’s people had fallen. The alternative was to sow righteousness and to reap steadfast love. This would be a truly enviable state, but it could not take place without breaking up the fallow ground: plowing territory previously ignored in obedience to the word of God. It is not enough to simply stop sinning, as the Lord taught in his parable. Real change requires replacing bad habits with good ones. These too have consequences: plant seeds of righteous behavior, and the Lord will rain righteousness on you.

Hosea 10:13-15 — My Own Way

Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed, as Shalman destroyed Beth‑arbel on the day of battle; mothers were dashed in pieces with their children. Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, because of your great evil. At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off.”

Fight or Surrender?

What made Samaria, or for that matter any of the other fortified cities of Israel, think they could withstand a sustained assault by the Assyrians, often referred to by those who have studied the period as history’s most “unstoppable war machine”? Nobody else could repel them. But pride and ignorance make people hardened to reality. Remember, these folks had plowed iniquity and the fruit of their labor was the lies they now believed.

Something similar will happen in the end times to men and women who have rejected Christ and are offered Satan’s substitute. God will send them a “strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false”, and will follow the lawless one who is coming. We have seen recently how easily people can be led to believe whatever the authorities tell them; more so when their deeds and natural inclinations have led them to embrace an entirely false worldview. Israel trusted in its own way, and its own way was to fight when a quick surrender might have produced the same result with far less carnage. But they believed their own press clippings and trusted in their own armies rather than in God.

The Spoiling of Beth-arbel

Hosea points to their recent history, probably about 841 BC. The following entry comes from the Jewish Virtual Library:

“Shalmaneser, after burning the outskirts of Damascus, continued into the Hauran, ‘the bread basket’ of Syria and Israel, probably destroying many settlements in his wake. Some scholars would see a later historic reference to this march in Hosea’s mention of the spoiling of Beth Arbel in Transjordan by a certain Shalman (10:14).”

That is one possible explanation for the grisly reference to Shalman’s destruction of Beth-arbel; that despite having taken place over a century prior it was still an incident no Israelite would forget. Nevertheless, the northern kingdom persisted in its belief that it could accomplish what no other nation had, rather than look to their God and repent of their ways. In one sense, they were under the judgment of God. In another, they were merely experiencing the consequences of their own choices.

They were reaping what they had sown.

No comments :

Post a Comment