Hosea, prophet of mercy—chapter 31, The fruit of misused blessings
Jan 03, 2017
Hosea 10:1 says,
1 Israel is a luxuriant [baqaq, “empty, void”] 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.
Here Hosea uses the word baqaq to express another double meaning. The word literally means “empty,” as the KJV renders it in this verse. Dr. Bullinger notes that the word actually means “a luxurious or productive vine,” because it refers to “a vine emptying or yielding its fruit.”
Hosea uses the term to suggest that Israel does indeed bear fruit as a luxuriant vine, but that its fruit is empty or devoid of nutrition. In other words, Israel “produces fruit for himself” and not for others—or even for Yahweh. Hence, the abundance of fruit is devoid of any practical use or value. Why? Because Israel was dedicating the fruit to false gods. Israel was misusing the Fruitfulness Mandate, using God’s blessings to promote idolatrous worship and to sustain a fleshly way of life.
God had warned Israel of this even before Joshua had led them into the land, for Moses himself warned them in Deuteronomy 8:7-14,
7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills… 10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. 11 Beware lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; 12 lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, 14 then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Moses’ warning concludes in Deuteronomy 8:18, 19,
18 But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19 And it shall come about if you ever forget the Lord your God, and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you shall surely perish.
Israel had indeed forgotten the God of Israel who had blessed them and had given them the “power to make wealth.” They had gone after other gods, serving them and worshiping them. For this reason, says both Moses and Hosea, Israel as a nation was to “surely perish.” Moses gave them God’s warning about future things, but Hosea saw the apostasy firsthand.
Hosea 10:2 continues,
2 Their heart is faithless [khalak, “divided, distributed”]; now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their sacred pillars.
The Hebrew word khalak, here translated “faithless,” literally means “smooth.” It referred to smooth stones, which were used to cast lots to divide or apportion each man’s share of a pile of goods or the plunder of war. Hosea uses the term to show that Israel’s loyalty was divided between Yahweh and false gods. Israel was double minded, claiming to worship Yahweh, but doing so with the use of idols, both physical and spiritual.
Because of this divided loyalty, “they must bear their guilt,” that is, they must bear the consequences or penalties of their violation of the law of God. God had testified against Israel in the divine court, as Moses said He would do, and because His testimony was true, Israel was to be treated like the nations that they had dispossessed in the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 8:20).
Israel’s Ineffective Kings
Hosea 10:3, 4 says,
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.
Israel was to look out on the destroyed nation and say, “We have no king.” If they had revered Yahweh, they would still have a King, but since they had already rejected Him, the only king they recognized was an earthly king. But when he was killed, they had no king at all.
This recalls the story of Saul, when the people desired an earthly king to rule them. At that time, the people wanted a king because Samuel’s sons were corrupt (1 Samuel 8:3), and when Samuel appointed them as judges, the people revolted against them. That was the problem on the surface, and no doubt the people felt fully justified in demanding a new form of government. However, God looked at their hearts and saw hidden motives. 1 Samuel 8:7 says,
7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.”
This was how Israel was given its first king, and in the time of its last king, the divided heart of Israel had only gone from bad to worse. So when their last king (Hoshea) was killed in the Assyrian capture of Samaria, there was no king in Israel.
The prophet also attributes a second statement of the Israelites in regard to the kings. “As for the king, what can he do for us?” they say. The people had wanted Saul as their first king, because they thought he could benefit them, but Samuel had told them that their earthly kings would be takers, not givers (1 Samuel 8:11-18). He would seek servants, rather than seek to serve the people. He would take their tithes and offerings and use them to enrich himself and to increase his own power, rather than use them to benefit the people.
This description fit Saul, but more than that, it fit all of the kings of Israel and most of the kings of Judah as well. Hosea put words into the mouth of the Israelites as they complained about the greed and lies of their kings, saying, “with worthless oaths they make covenants, and justice sprouts like poisonous weeds.” It seems that every monarchy on earth soon comes to believe that it has the divine right to lie and to take wealth from the people.
The “poisonous weeds” are actually poppies, or rosh in Hebrew. Rosh literally means “head,” and can refer either to a human head or leader or to the prominent head of a poppy plant. Poppies were cultivated in Sodom and Gomorrah (Deuteronomy 32:32), and its juice (opium) was bitter to the taste and caused bitterness in the lives of those who were addicted to it.
Hosea puts words in the Israelites’ mouths, saying that the courts of justice were like poppies. In other words, there was no true justice in the courts. Judges rendered verdicts which they called justice, but which did not accomplish true justice, nor did the verdicts bring restoration back to the lawful order. The illusion of justice, then, is pictured as the illusion of health and well-being, brought about by the use of narcotics.
A century later, Jeremiah prophesied to Judah in similar terms, saying in Jeremiah 6:13, 14,
13 For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. 14 And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, “Peace, peace,” [“shalom! shalom!”] but there is no peace.
It was a word picture of Israel having a broken leg, and he is given opium to ease the pain, but his leg is never set so that it can heal properly. The prophet repeats this in Jeremiah 8:10, 11, and then he summarizes the problem in Jeremiah 8:14, 15, saying,
14 Why are we sitting still? Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities, and let us perish there, because the Lord our God has doomed us and given us poisoned water [rosh mayim, “poppy water (juice)”] to drink, for we have sinned against the Lord. 15 We waited for peace, but no good came; for a time of healing, but behold, terror!
In other words, because the priests and prophets continued to administer spiritual opium to the people, God then gave them the bitter fruits of their own religious teachings. The real solution, says the prophet in Jeremiah 8:22, is the spiritual balm of Gilead.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of My people been restored?
Essential oil from the balsam tree was distilled in a secret process in the land of Gilead. It was reputed to be a fine healing oil, so the prophet used it as an illustration, contrasting the true healing oil with opium, which deadened pain but did nothing to heal the broken bones of the nation or to restore the spiritual health of Israel.
Jeremiah concludes his discussion of poppies and opium in Jeremiah 9:13-16,
13 And the Lord said, “Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice nor walked according to it, 14 but have walked after the stubbornness of their heart and after the Baals, as their fathers taught them, 15 therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I will feed them, this people, with wormwood [lahana, “cursed” (food or water)] and give them poisoned water [rosh, “poppies”] to drink. 16 And I will scatter them among the nations, whom neither they nor their fathers have known; and I will send the sword after them until I have annihilated them’.”
Israel’s violation of the law of God brought divine judgment. Because the people desired carnal and idolatrous religion, which Karl Marx called “the opiate of the people,” God Himself then fed them the fruits of their own teachings. Israel was sent into captivity into other nations, where they drank the bitter fruit of their man-made teachings. This captivity was of God, who judged them by the curses of the law for disobedience found in Deuteronomy 27:15-26.
Hosea thus affirmed the word of the Lord through Moses, and the prophet Jeremiah agreed as well. When justice sprouts poppies, rather than the balm of Gilead, the people must then drink the juice from the crops which their lawless prophets and idolatrous priests have sown.
This is part 33 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Hosea." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones