"Break Up Your Fallow Ground" (Hosea 10) March 8
God isn't finished with Israel yet. Chapter 10 continues the correction, giving even more detail of the people's sins and impending captivity.
It starts with another reference to Israel's early history and its prosperity, which actually led to more and more sin and idolatry. Notice this paraphrase of verse 1 in the Living Bible: "How prosperous Israel is—a luxuriant vine all filled with fruit! But the more wealth I give her, the more she pours it on the altars of her heathen gods; the richer the harvests I give her, the more beautiful the statues and idols she erects."
The people's divided heart (verse 2) appears to refer to insincerity—a heart that says one thing and does another or wants to serve God and mammon or the true God and Baal. The Hebrew word can be used for "dividing," in the sense of dividing land into shares or allotments. But it is also occasionally translated as "flattering" or "smooth" (insincere) and, in this verse, as "deceitful" (NIV), "false" (NRSV) and "fickle" (New Living Translation). Here are people who claim to serve God, but in reality serve Baal. They are in some respects like the people who assembled at Mount Carmel in the time of Elijah, when he asked: "How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21).
But this case is even worse. Notice this paraphrase of verse 3: "Then they will say, 'We deserted the Lord and he took away our king. But what's the difference? We don't need one anyway!'" (Living Bible). Thus, more than mere apathy toward God, the people express defiance. Their real worry is over protecting their false religious ideology, which has allowed them to follow the whims of their human nature—contrary to the law of God. Yet the center of this false worship, represented in verse 5 by the calves of Beth Aven ("House of Evil"), referring to Bethel and national worship in general, will be given over to the ruler of Assyria. In ultimate fulfillment of these verses, much of the wealth and adornment of America and Britain's false religious institutions—that is, whatever is not destroyed in future disasters and invasion—will go into the coffers of end-time Assyria and its dictator. Yet so much will suffer destruction. Just as ancient Bethel was to be destroyed, so too will be the great cathedrals and churches of the modern nations of Israel (verse 8). The obliteration of these national shrines will accompany mass destruction of cities. It will be so fierce that people will seek refuge in caves beneath the mountains (verse 8; Isaiah 2:19-21). Indeed, Jesus Christ quoted Hosea in this regard concerning the coming Tribulation (Luke 23:30).
(See our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy for proof of the Israelite identity of these modern nations and further information regarding what the Bible says will happen to them in the years ahead.)
Hosea emphasizes the Israelites' sins by once again referring to the sin of the men of Gibeah (Hosea 10:9). The last clause of this verse is apparently mistranslated in the New King James Version. There should be an "it" between "did" and "not" and a question mark at the end of the sentence, because the battle did indeed overtake the Gibeahites (Judges 20). Notice the NIV rendering of the end of Hosea 10:9: "Did not war overtake the evildoers in Gibeah?" The point is that just as punishment overtook the Gibeahites, so would punishment from God eventually overtake the Israelites, who now followed in the sinful footsteps of the Gibeahites.
Verse 10 says the punishment will be for "two transgressions." The New Bible Commentary: Revised explains this as "their idolatry and their reliance on outside help. av [Authorized Version, i.e., the King James Version] follows Targum [early Aramaic paraphrase], 'bind themselves in their two furrows.' In the [Middle] East ploughing together means acting in concord as friends (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14). Here the reference may be to their union with Baal and the nations" (note on Hosea 10:10).
In verse 11, God describes Israel as a cow that, though domesticated, prefers to be unrestrained or at the most engaged in only very light work, able to simply lean down and eat grain. As Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary explains, threshing was for a cow "a far easier and more self-indulgent work than ploughing. In treading corn [i.e., grain], cattle were not bound together under a yoke, but either trod it singly with their feet, or drew a threshing sledge over it (Isa. 28:27, 28); they were free to eat some of the [grain] from time to time, as the law required they should be unmuzzled (Deut. 25:4), so that they grew fat in this work. [This provides] an image of Israel's freedom, prosperity, and self-indulgence heretofore" (note on Hosea 11:11). But Israel's rebellious spirit demands that God employ harsh methods—putting a yoke on Israel and Judah and forcing them to engage in hard labor. Israel's ancient service in Egypt was a forerunner of this bondage and hard labor—as were the Nazi labor camps in which the Jews were made to suffer terribly at the hands of cruel oppressors (for while many Jews were immediately killed, many others were forced into hard work until death or until their physical stamina gave out, and then they were killed.)
In verse 12, Hosea calls on the people to repent. If they would sow righteousness, that is, commit to obeying God (see Psalm 119:172), then they would reap mercy from Him. "Break up your fallow ground," the prophet instructs. The analogy speaks to the need to have the natural hardheadedness of every human being loosened up and made receptive to the seed of God's Word. This is vital to true repentance. "Plowing and planting are the necessary preliminary steps to growing a crop, which eventually sprouts when the rain falls in season. In the same way, repentance would set the stage for restored blessing, which God would eventually rain down on His people" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 12). But verse 13 describes the awful reality. Instead of righteousness, the people had "plowed wickedness"—lived a life of sin and rebellion—and would suffer the consequences, some automatic and some directly from God. The spiritual principle of reaping what we sow was later stated by the apostle Paul in Galatians 6:7-9.
Shalman (verse 14) could be Salamanu, King of Moab and tributary of Tiglath-Pileser, who invaded Gilead around 740 B.C. It is also possible that the name refers to Shalmaneser V of Assyria (2 Kings 17:3-6). Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary favors this view, stating: "Shalmaneser, a compound name, in which the part common to it and the names of three other Assyrian kings, is omitted; Tiglath-pileser, Esar-haddon, Shar-ezer. Arbel was situated in Naphtali in Galilee, on the border nearest Assyria. Against it Shalmaneser, at his first invasion of Israel (II Kings 17:3), vented his chief rage" (note on Hosea 10:14). However, this is an assumption, since neither the identity of Shalman nor the location of Beth Arbel is clear. The city is "identified in Eusebius Onom. 14.18 as Arbela in the region of Pella in Transjordan, and now generally as Irbid (Irbil), 20 mi. (32 km.) NW of Amman" ("Beth-Arbel," International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1979). If Shalmaneser V is meant, then this part of Hosea's prophecy would seem to have been written following the Assyrian invasion of Israel, since the destruction is referred to as an event that is well-known to the people. Of course, it is possible that it had not yet occurred. God knew the event was coming even if the people didn't. And perhaps the intended audience in this case was exclusively readers of the end time. That is, Hosea was perhaps specifically telling us that just as ancient Israel was plundered, so will end-time Israel be plundered with like ruthlessness.