Hosea 10:1-8 Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. 2 Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.
3 For now they will say: “We have no king, for we do not fear the LORD; and a king-what could he do for us?” 4 They utter mere words; with empty oaths they make covenants; so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field. 5 The inhabitants of Samaria tremble for the calf of Beth-aven. Its people mourn for it, and so do its idolatrous priests- those who rejoiced over it and over its glory- for it has departed from them. 6 The thing itself shall be carried to Assyria as tribute to the great king. Ephraim shall be put to shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his idol.
7 Samaria’s king shall perish like a twig on the face of the waters. 8 The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us, and to the hills, Fall on us.
Good morning. In order to understand this week’s text (10:3-8), we need to understand last week’s (10:1-2). And in order to understand last week’s, we need to consider for a moment the blessings of God in our lives. Consider the blessing of your health (or at least access to the greatest medical care in the history of the world). Consider the blessing of (most of us) never knowing a single day where we didn’t have access to food and clean water. Consider the simple blessing of being in a warm, dry place where the gospel is clear and people love you. Consider the blessing of having access to the will of God. Consider the blessing of having access to the power of the Holy Spirit. Above all, consider the blessing of Jesus Christ who offers everlasting life and joy to all who will receive him.
Our response to these gifts of God (and the countless others) ought to be awe and wonder. We ought to take these blessings of God and plant seeds of love and gratitude and worship and obedience and evangelism.
Therefore, consider the utter wickedness of denying God as the giver of these (and all) good things and of using them for evil. Consider using your health to oppress the sick. Consider using our food for gluttony. Consider using this building as a brothel. Consider using the bible to control and manipulate people. Consider attempting to use the Spirit’s power to profit. Consider using the grace of God as an excuse for sin.
Last week we saw that this is exactly what Hosea accused the Israelites of doing. We saw that Israel took God’s blessings and instead of using them to plant seeds of holiness and reap a harvest of righteousness, she used them to plant seeds of sin and reap a harvest of unrighteousness.
This week, then, we will see several specific varieties of Israel’s unrighteous fruit and several more divine consequences for her evil gardening. Last week was the planting. This week is the harvest. So here’s the central theme of this passage: God designed the world such that we harvest the seeds we plant. It was true for OT Israel and it is true today. We cannot plant anger and reap peace. We cannot plant selfishness and reap sacrifice. We cannot plant hate and reap love. We cannot plant lies and reap truth. We cannot plant worldliness and reap godliness. We cannot plant idolatry and reap God’s pleasure. Indeed, we cannot plant sin and reap holiness.
Let’s pray that through this text God would help us plant and reap to his glory. And let’s pray that everyone in this room would know this morning that Jesus Christ is our only hope to do so.
UNRIGHTEOUS FRUIT AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
Once again, this passage describes the fruit that Israel harvested from the sinful seeds she planted. She took the blessings of God and used them to plant seeds of falsehood and idolatry, and here Hosea describes four of the fruits they produced.
Denial of a King
The first fruit of unrighteousness that Hosea mentions is Israel’s denial of a king.
3 For now they will say: “We have no king…and a king- what could he do for us?”
There is a lot tangled up in this charge. Was God the king Hosea had in mind? If so, did Hosea mean that Israel was functionally denying God as having the right to rule over her? Or, perhaps, was she formally denying God as her king? On the other hand, was this a statement of fact regarding Israel’s earthly king? That is, was Hosea speaking of a period where Israel was literally without a king due to one of the assassinations? Or, was Hosea describing a period of practical mutiny—where the Israelites simply dismissed the king’s leadership and each person did what was right in their own eyes?
We cannot be sure exactly what Hosea had in mind. But in reality it was probably a combination of several of them. Israel had planted seeds of idolatry (which was at least a functional denial of God as king) that produced the fruit of a rejection of authority (which certainly affected how she interacted with earthly king). At the heart of Hosea’s message was the fact that Israel’s king was her stomach. Her submission was only to her own desires. Her highest authority was her immediate wants.
Grace, when our own lusts are our only aim, only one king will do: ourselves. When our own selfish interests are our purpose, we will always ask, “What can a king do for us?” for no king besides ourselves will only have our personal desires in mind. That’s how Israel was acting and so, in jealous love, God sent Hosea to warn the people of the dire consequences of eating that fruit.
Let’s pause here and ask: Isn’t that how we act all too often? Aren’t these the kinds of seeds we plant at times as well? Don’t we plant seeds of self-idolatry and aren’t our own appetites our highest aim sometimes?
What happens when, after a long day at home with the kids, your husband comes home and just plops down on the couch because he had a long day at work? What happens when you wanted to eat the leftover piece of cake only to find that someone else got there first? What happens when you want to drive in a particular lane of traffic and someone else gets in it? What happens when you had plans and a friend backs out? What happens when you think things should go one way and your boss thinks they should go another? What happens when your brother or sister takes the toy you were playing with?
In other words, in big ways and small ways we too are prone to turn our personal desires into deities. We too are prone to functionally say, “We have no king besides ourselves,” and ask, “What could any other king do for us.” And where this is the case we too will bear the fruit of our guilt, for God shares his throne with no one. That is, like the Israelites, all who plant seeds of idolatry will certainly get what we seek, but we will find that it is utterly incapable of delivering that which we sought it for. Worse still, by making ourselves our king will lose out on the right to be citizens of the One True King and His one true kingdom of life and light and love..
That’s the first fruit mentioned by Hosea in this passage. When Israel planted seeds of idolatry, she reaped a harvest of insubordination and treason.
Lack of Fear of God
The second fruit that the Israelite’s idolatry produced was a lack of fear of God.
3 …We have no king, for we do not fear the LORD…
There is an unavoidable connection between denying a higher authority (“we have no king”) and a lack of fearing the LORD. When we no longer believe there is anything above us, our only fear will be not getting what we want or losing it once we have it.
That might not seem like a big deal on the surface…after all, who really wants to live in fear, and isn’t God a god of love? However, the bible couldn’t be more plain about the fact that everlasting life begins with the “fear the LORD.” If we do not fear the LORD, we cannot be saved.
But what does it mean to fear the LORD? I’ve found Martin Luther’s explanation of what it means for a Christian to rightly fear God to be especially helpful. R.C. Sproul sums up Luther’s distinction between servile and filial fear as well as I can imagine.
The servile fear is a kind of fear that a prisoner in a torture chamber has for his tormentor, the jailer, or the executioner. It’s that kind of dreadful anxiety in which someone is frightened by the clear and present danger that is represented by another person…
[On the other hand, filial fear] refers to the fear that a child has for his father. In this regard, Luther is thinking of a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father or mother and who dearly wants to please them. He has a fear or an anxiety of offending the one he loves, not because he’s afraid of torture or even of punishment, but rather because he’s afraid of displeasing the one who is, in that child’s world, the source of security and love.
What we need to understand is that non-Christians must fear God in one way and Christians in another, and that both are gifts from God. Let me try to explain what I mean.
Because we are all born into sin, we are also all born under the wrath of God. That realty should be the most frightening news in the entire universe. God is all-present, all-powerful, and eternal and all of that is directed at punishing sinners. What’s more frightening still is the fact that our sin not only makes us enemies of God, it also largely blinds us to that reality. Not only are we under God’s infinite and everlasting wrath, but we can’t get help because we don’t even know it. It’s like being unaware of the cancer wrapping around your body.
Where we should know fear, and where we should cry out to God for mercy, we walk around in glib ignorance; unaware of the destruction that awaits us for our sin. Therefore, it is only once we know servile fear that we have any hope of rescue. In that sense, servile fear is a gift from God (we can only have it when God opens our eyes to see things as they really are), and it is meant to drive us to repentance and rescue.
And when that happens, a different kind of fear is appropriate. Our fear of the LORD won’t go away, but it will change in a significant way. Once we’ve run to God for mercy and found rescue in Jesus, servile fear is replaced by filial fear. And filial fear, as Luther taught, is a sweet, sweet gift that it stems from the knowledge that the same omnipresence, omnioptence, and eternality that were previously against us are now for us! Filial fear stems from true knowledge of the true majesty and might and glory of God, and the fact that all of that is directed at our protection and blessing and holiness and joy. What a gift that is!
Servile fear is a gift of God that leads to the gift of filial fear. But by planting seeds of idolatry, Israel bore the fruit of missing out on both kinds of fear of the LORD and was therein lost in her sin.
Grace, one of the reasons we are in Hosea (and have been for as long as we have) is because it is in books like Hosea that we are most clearly able to see God’s holiness and corresponding hatred for sin. It is here that we see the mightiness of God aimed at punishing unrepentant sin. And it is here that we are most easily able see the need for the servile fear that leads to filial fear.
Let’s not be quick, then, to turn away from the holiness of God. There are a lot of passages that are easier to swallow, but passages like these are necessary for grace to be amazing. Spend time, then, in passages where the message of grace and life are crystal clear. But spend time as well in passage where the holiness and justice of God are crystal clear. God is so kind to give us both.
The second fruit Israel harvested by planting seeds of idolatry is a lack of fear of the LORD.
Deceit, Injustice, and Sickness
The third fruit mentioned by Hosea is exceedingly practical. Idolatrous seeds bore the fruit of deceit.
4 They utter mere words; with empty oaths they make covenants…
Again, there’s some confusion as to who, specifically Hosea had in mind with these charges. Was he referring to Israel’s kings making empty oaths and covenants with the Israelites? Was he referring to Israel’s kings making empty oaths and covenants with the kings of other nations (the Assyrians, perhaps)? Or was he referring to the Israelites making empty oaths and covenants with one another? We simply cannot be sure.
Regardless, the fact remains that God’s people had planted idolatry and it had produced the fruit of lies and thievery. What’s worse is that their lies and thievery led to poisonous judgment. That is, because the truth had left Israel, so too had the ability of the people to experience justice. Where truth flees, so does fairness. The judgments of Israel’s leaders, therefore, were poisonous and their effects spread throughout Israel like weeds.
Grace, the nature of planting seeds of idolatry is that it always leads to a self-replicating harvest that you never wanted. Unrepentant sin inevitably plants more seeds of sin. You cannot long look at pornography without it leading to lying. You cannot long embrace materialism without it leading to cheating on your taxes. You cannot long harbor bitterness without it leading to ungodly speech. You cannot long ignore the spiritual disciplines without it leading to spiritual wandering. Unrepentant sin always leads to more sin. And idolatry always leads to deceit. That was Israel’s third harvest.
False Hope, Crushed Idols, and Great Fear
Finally, Israel planted seeds of idolatry and bore the fruit of false hope, crushed idols, and great fear.
5 The inhabitants of Samaria tremble for the calf of Beth-aven. Its people mourn for it, and so do its idolatrous priests- those who rejoiced over it and over its glory- for it has departed from them.
The background of this passage is very interesting. I mentioned some of it back in chapter 8. I think it’d be helpful to tell a bit more of the story behind this passage here.
God made a promise to a man named Abraham to make his descendants into a great nation. Abraham had a son named Isaac. Isaac had a son named Jacob. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Israel had twelve sons and they formed the twelve tribes of Israel. Many years later, under Israel’s Kings David and his son, Solomon, it seemed as if the fullness of God’s promise to Abraham had come to pass. Abraham’s descendants, the twelve tribes of Israel, had become the richest and most powerful nation on earth.
However, Israel’s greatness was short lived. The sin and rebellion of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, led to the dividing of the kingdom of Israel into the northern (10) and the southern (2) tribes. One of Solomon’s servants, Jeroboam, reigned as king over the northern kingdom while Jeroboam was king over the southern kingdom.
One significant problem that Jeroboam faced was that the temple was in Jerusalem, which is in the southern kingdom. People in the northern tribes, therefore, would travel to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and worship. Doing so cost a lot of money and also opened up the northerners to the influence of the southerners. Therefore, Jeroboam created his own places of worship in the north to prevent the Israelites from having to travel to the south. One was in Dan and one was in Bethel. In both he set up a golden calf for worship.
By the time of Hosea’s prophecy the one in Dan had been destroyed which meant only the one in Bethel was left. Bethel means “house of God,” but because of the false worship being offered there Hosea had taken to calling it “Beth-aven” which means “house of wickedness”.
The most absurd part of all of this is that the Israelites were afraid that the calf of Beth-aven would be taken. The people and priests trembled and mourned at the thought that it would be captured by their enemies. It had become their god and king. In a manner that should have been reserved for God alone, the Israelites looked to it—the golden calf of their own creation—for fertility, protection, and blessing, and they rejoiced over it and its “glory” Hosea noted.
Do you see the irony? They had abandoned the God of the universe, the one place of certain protection, prosperity, and victory, for a golden calf that was utterly impotent to defend even itself, let alone the Israelites. They had lost God himself but only mourned the loss of the powerless imposter they’d put in his place.
As a result…
6 The thing itself shall be carried to Assyria as tribute to the great king. Ephraim shall be put to shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his idol. 7 Samaria’s king shall perish like a twig on the face of the waters. 8 The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us, and to the hills, Fall on us.
Grace, don’t miss this. Israel had abandoned God for the calf of Beth-aven. But God’s jealous love would not long allow that to continue. Therefore, the Israelites, along with their calf-idol, would be handed over to the Assyrians. The shame of all of it would be exposed before the people and their fake god, and their places of false worship would be destroyed and forgotten. Not only would they be destroyed, though. Israel would be destroyed in such a way, Hosea proclaimed, that mountains crushing them would be preferable to living another minute.
And so it is for you and me. Whenever we place our hope in things other than God, our hope and its object will eventually be revealed as empty and shameful and we will be left weak and vulnerable. As Hosea has forced us to ask time and time again, where is your hope? What is it that you are looking to for protection and blessing? What is it that you are looking to for joy and satisfaction? Where you find any of those things in anything other than God, learn from the Israelites and their fate and return to God.
The fact is, once again, that Israel planted seeds of idolatry and those seeds produced the fruit of destruction—fruit of false hope, crushed idols, and great fear.
THE GOSPEL AND ITS FRUIT
In light of all of this, the question on every one of our minds ought to be, “What hope do I have, then?”. What hope is there for people like you and me who have planted these same seeds? Just like the Israelites, you had I have planted seeds of idolatry and born its fruit. You and I have denied (formally and functionally) God as our King. You and I have lacked proper fear of God. You and I have given out the poison of deceit and injustice. And you had I have falsely placed our hope and fear in idols that will eventually be crushed by God.
These things led to Israel’s destruction at the hand of God. We’ve planted the same seeds. So why would we expect a different harvest? What hope do we have of avoiding Israel’s fate?
Once again, Grace, by the grace of God, Hosea is not the end of the bible; it is not the end of the story. Israel would soon be wiped out by the Assyrians and about 150 years later Judah too would be destroyed at the hand of the Babylonians. And it would get worse. The children of Abraham would be held in captivity and wander for centuries, continuing to plant seeds of idolatry and reap its fruit.
But again, that’s not the end of the story either. One day a new Gardener would come and He would change everything. The title and main point of this sermon is that just like the Israelites, we will harvest what we plant. We have planted sin and, therefore, we will harvest death. This is unmistakably and unchangeably, certainly and universally true, unless…unless the grace of God breaks in and eats the poisonous and deadly harvest we planted for us. And that’s exactly what we have in Jesus Christ. We planted sin and he harvested its death. We planted unrighteousness and he harvested the wrath of God. We planted treason and he harvested the forsaking of the Father.
We will harvest what we plant unless we place our faith entirely in Jesus. If we do that, God is pleased to forgive our sins and give us, not the harvest from the sinful fruit we planted, but the harvest of the righteous fruit of Christ. Grace, this is the gospel. This is the hope that God continued to hold out for the Israelites despite their continued rebellion, and this is the hope that God holds out for all who will look to Him.