Hosea 8:7-10 For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it. 8 Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel. 9 For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone; Ephraim has hired lovers. 10 Though they hire allies among the nations, I will soon gather them up. And the king and princes shall soon writhe because of the tribute.
If you weren’t here last week, you should know that this sermon is part two (of three) on the four warnings of Hosea 8. In 8:1 we read, “Set the trumpet to your lips!” Sound the alarm, Hosea said! Last week we looked at the first two warnings (8:1-3 and 4-6). This week we’ll look at the third (7-10). Each of the warnings takes roughly the same form: Hosea named specific ways that Israel had sinned against God and then described the danger they placed her in.
Just like last week, then, we’ll consider Hosea’s warnings and the stakes for rejecting them. And we’ll do this as a reminder that we too must carefully consider the calling of God on our lives, the consequences for our disobedience, and then the amazing grace of God who sent His only Son to obey in our place, even to death on a cross. Let’s pray that God would see fit to work all of this in us for his glory and our good.
SOUND THE ALARM BECAUSE ISRAEL LIVES IN FUTILITY AND MULTIPLIES TROUBLE (7-10)
In the third set of (chapter 8) warnings (found in verses 7-10), we find that Israel was in danger because (1) she had committed herself to a life of futility and (2) she had committed to a life of multiplied trouble. Let’s consider each before examining what’s awaited Israel for her disobedience.
The God of the Bible is never accidental. That is, everything about God is purposeful. Further, there is nothing in the universe that God has not assigned purpose to. There is a particular way in which every single person, place, thing, institution, and emotion, is designed by God to function.
Another way to say all of this is that all things fall under the sovereign reign of God and God is not indifferent to anything under his reign.
What’s more, every purpose of God is good, and only the purposes of God are good. God’s ways always lead to goodness and there are no alternative paths to goodness. Truly, God’s purposes are always better than every alternative.
Let me try to give an example of what I’m trying to communicate. God is just and made—purposed—mankind to join him in justice. Justice means fairness. We are to be fair in all our dealings as God is fair in all his dealings. This is good. Every alternative is bad. This is why we rightly recoil at bullying, stealing, deceit, child-abuse, bribery and the like. Those things go against the purposes for which God made relationships, resources, speech, kids, and power. Therefore, they are unjust and they are not good. We cannot go against God’s design and be good. God made us to be just and, therefore, every alternative to justice is bad.
Because of all of this, living as God calls us to is always meaningful and significant and productive, while every alternative is always meaningless and insignificant and barren. Let me say that again, purposefulness and fruitfulness are always connected to faithfulness to God, while vanity and futility are always connected to faithlessness.
There is a particular way in which every single person, place, thing, institution, and emotion, is designed by God to function, and it is only when we function according to God’s design that we can experience the fullness of life that God intended.
If God made you a screwdriver, you might be able to pound a nail, but it’s going to be much more difficult and inefficient than it should be—than it would be for a hammer.
Of course, as we will soon see, the consequences for rejecting God’s design for you are much higher than mere futility, but they are never less than that. We cannot go against God’s design and fail to face frustration and difficulty.
And therefore, the bible regularly speaks to the danger of investing in vain or futile things—things that go against God’s good design. The entire book of Ecclesiastes, for instance, is dedicated to describing the emptiness and despair caused by living a life of vanity/futility. One of the more common terms used to describe vanity/futility (in Ecclesiastes and throughout the bible) is “wind”.
Proverbs 11:29 Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind…
That is to say, household-troublers are committed to futile pursuits which result in gaining nothing more than the wind; their futile trouble making leaves them with an inheritance of nothing.
Ecclesiastes 1:14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
The phrase, “striving after wind,” is used nine times in Ecclesiastes to describe the futility (vanity) of every pursuit “under the sun;” that is, of every pursuit done apart from God.
Isaiah invokes “wind” as an expression of the futile pride of men who set themselves up against God.
Isaiah 41:29 Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their metal images are empty wind.
To set one’s self against God can only result from/in delusion, nothingness, emptiness—futility.
And our passage for this morning (v.7) uses “wind” to describe the futility of Israel’s decisions.
7 For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.
Kids, I want you to go home, dig a small hole in your yard, reach up and grab some of the wind, put it in the hole you just dug (plant it), water it once a day, weed it once a week, and then wait to see what happens. If you like, you could do that in three or four holes. And if you’re really committed, plant and tend to a few handfuls of wind each day for a few days.
What do you think will happen? How much wind would you need to plant before something of value would come out of the ground because of it? How much water and weeding would you need to do before planted wind would produce useful fruit? The answer of course is that planting wind never produces anything—regardless of how well you care for it. Planting wind is a futile (pointless, useless, vain, fruitless) task.
And that, Hosea said, is exactly what Israel had given herself over to. By abandoning God, she had abandoned even the possibility of living lives of meaning and purpose. By abandoning God she had committed herself to futility and want. Therefore,
7 For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.
If you plant wind, the most you can hope for is wind—futile. And so Hosea sounded the alarm.
Another expression of the futile life Israel had chosen for herself is found in the second half of v.7.
The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour;
What’s the point of planting grain if it has no head? It’s the head of the grain that a farmer is after, for it is the head that yields flour and bread. Their lives were marked by such futility, Hosea declared, that to plant or not plant grain was the same.
Hosea offered yet another expression of Israel’s futility in v.8.
8 Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel.
The point of God’s chosen people—God’s purpose for Israel—was to be a light to the nations. God chose her to be distinct from all the other people on earth as a demonstration of the fact that He is distinct among all other gods. She was to stand out by living as God designed all mankind to live, and experiencing the limitless blessing that comes with it. Instead, however, Israel had mixed with the nations and her distinction had been swallowed up. Having abandoned the very purpose of her existence, whatever else she did, then, was futile.
And in v.9 we read that “They have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone.” Having forsaken the very God of love, who offered His love freely, Israel was left to wander into enemy territory (a place void of fellowship and love) alone and loveless—futile.
Sound the alarm (1), Hosea cried, because Israel was living a life of complete futility (7). Sowing and reaping wind, planting dead crops, planting crops that would be stolen even if they were to grow (7), seeking help (by paying tribute) and hiring lovers from among those who will not offer help or love (9, 10).
And so it is for you and me. When we give ourselves to things other than God (his glory, plans, and purposes), we cannot live lives of meaning and satisfaction. We can only live lives of vanity and futility.
Grace, hear this again: the only reason we go to the things of this world (alternatives to God’s design) is because we think they can provide for us things that only God can. If we knew the truth—that is, if we knew for certain that nothing but God can provide meaning, satisfaction, lasting joy, a genuine sense of purpose, love, sustenance, and belonging—we would never even be tempted to find them outside of God. But because we have been deceived, we often run to things other than God and fall into the deep, deep pit of futility.
Let’s hear this alarm and stop, therefore, going to money for security, things for satisfaction, extramarital relationships for love, coolness for acceptance, generic spirituality for redemption, friends for identity, sports for meaning, television for rest, the world for wisdom, social-media for significance, comfort for hope, substances for escape, or to anything other than God for the gifts that exist only in God.
While life in the world may, at times, feel significant, it’s always unrelentingly futile. And while life in God may, at times, feel futile, it’s always unrelentingly significant. The sooner we recognize these things, the sooner we can find the things we so desperately want and need in the one place they can be found—in God!
Israel’s Multiplied Trouble
But there’s a second aspect to Hosea’s warning (the warning in 7-10) as well. Israel was warned not only for her godless, futile living, but also for the fact that these things multiplied here troubles. We just saw in 7-9 a number of examples of the futility of Israel’s choices. If we look a little closer at each of those examples, though, we’ll see that they led to deeper trouble still.
Futility-produced multiplied trouble is the essence of the second half of 7a.
7 For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.
Israel had given herself to wind-planting and the futility of that would have been trouble enough. But Hosea declared that by planting wind, Israel would not just reap more wind, but whirlwind. Not only would she lack crops, for having spent her time planting something that doesn’t produce crops, but she would actually reap a destructive force (a whirlwind). Again, it’s one thing to have nothing to show for your labor. It’s another thing altogether to have your labor produce that which can crush you—that’s multiplied trouble.
Multiplied trouble is also the essence of the second half of 7b
The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it.
It’s one thing to plant plants that bear no fruit (grain without a head), but it’s another thing to be unable to maintain control of any fruit bearing plants you produce. Even if Israel’s grain were to produce a head, “strangers would devour it”. If they planted it, it wouldn’t grow and even if it grew, it would be stolen. Again, that is not just trouble, it’s multiplied trouble.
And in v.8-9 we see a final example of this.
8 Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel. 9 For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone; Ephraim has hired lovers.
Israel made the mistake of failing to be distinct as God had intended (her distinction was “swallowed up”). But instead of merely suffering the natural consequences, her trouble multiplied. That is, instead of merely missing out on the blessing of God, she also missed out on any blessing the pagan nations could give. Without God’s blessing to offer them, they now considered her “useless”.
Likewise, when Israel broke fellowship with God, not only did she experience the loneliness that came from that, but she also could no longer find true fellowship even among her neighbors. She was like a “wild donkey wandering alone.” Her only option was to attempt to purchase love. But ,as everyone knows—especially those who have actually tried—it is not possible to gain the love of one you have to pay for love. Not only did Israel abandon the sweetness of God’s love, her trouble multiplied such that she could no longer find it anywhere, not even for money.
Isn’t it almost always like this, though, Grace? When we do something wrong and don’t immediately confess and repent, our troubles tend to multiply and spiral out of control. That’s is why getting silently stuck in pornography, bitterness, lying, stealing, addictions, etc. tend to take us to places we never imagined ourselves going and make getting help harder than we ever imagined it being.
I’ll never forget an article I read many years ago. It was the story of one man’s battle with lust. Somewhere near the end he wrote something like: “I’m thankful that there are places I didn’t follow my lust to. And yet I followed it far enough that I went to places I never thought I’d go and can now imagine wanting things I never imagined I’d want.” That’s what abandoning God’s purposes always does. It always, only leads to futility and multiplied trouble.
And so Hosea sounded the alarm. He warned Israel of this treachery and its danger. He called her to turn back to God. But, once again, that’s not what Israel did. She continued in her sin and more sin and more. The futility and multiplied troubles were bad enough, but it got worse still. Verse 10 tells us what ultimately awaited Israel if she would not heed Hosea’s warning.
10 Though they hire allies among the nations, I will soon gather them up. And the king and princes shall soon writhe because of the tribute.
The consequences were not subtle. God promised to respond to Israel’s chosen life of godless futility—of paying tribute to foreign nations rather than returning to God, of turning to prostitutes instead of God for love, of looking to the world rather than God for wisdom—by gathering her up and making the entire nation, even her king and princes, writhe (“respond with great emotional or physical discomfort; to squirm, wriggle, thrash, flail).
And that’s exactly what happened. Within a few short years, the Assyrians—as an expression of Israel’s futile life and God’s judgment—came in and conquered all ten tribes of Israel and wiped them off the map even to this day.
Again, Grace, there is nothing good to be found outside of God’s purposes. Some of you have tasted, and some of you are tasting now, the bitter futility of trying to live life on your own. You know what multiplied troubles look like. You feel stuck in them.
I invite you this morning to consider freshly the words of our LORD,
Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
However you may have left the path of God, whatever futility, trouble, or trial you may be facing, you can know forgiveness, rest, and relief in Jesus Christ right now. Right now you can experience the kind of love and acceptance and significance you were made for. Right now you can find fullness of freedom and life like you’ve never known.
Jesus invites you to walk with him through a different kind of trial—a trial of obedience in a fallen world—but to do so in the power of God, as a child of God, and with the full confidence that comes exclusively from knowing that only eternal fellowship with God awaits you.
Wherever you are today, Grace, whatever measure of sin you’ve fallen into, confess it to God, repent of it, and walk in the forgiveness and freedom that only Jesus can bring. Come back, at the invitation of God himself, to the only path that has purpose and goodness and satisfaction—the path of Jesus Christ. Don’t allow your unrepentant sins lead you into further futility and multiplied trouble. Look to Jesus.
If you don’t know what this means, please talk to me or one of the other pastors or the person who brought you today. We would love to tell you about our new life in Christ. Hosea sounded an alarm for Israel that we can still hear today. Let us hear and heed and be rescued from futility and trouble, to fellowship and peace.