The Law of Sowing and Reaping
Hosea 10:11 says,
11 And Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh, but I will come over her fair neck with a yoke; I will harness Ephraim, Judah will plow, Jacob will harrow for himself.
The prophet compares Israel and Judah to oxen that are used to plow fields. He is telling them that they are about to be enslaved, for the law says that a “yoke of iron” would be placed upon the nation if they persisted in disobedience (Deut. 28:48). A century later, in Jer. 27:12, the prophet counseled Judah, saying, “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live.” He offered them a wooden yoke, rather than an iron yoke, but Judah refused to be obedient (Jer. 28:10, 15, 16).
The wooden yoke and the iron yoke represented slavery, the first being milder than the second. Hosea says nothing specific about a wooden yoke, though he appeals to the nation to repent. Theoretically, if Israel had repented and submitted to the judgment of God, they might have been able to remain in their land in subservience to King Jareb. The principle of the wooden yoke, however, was not revealed clearly to Hosea. This was given to Jeremiah a century later.
Notice also that Hosea calls Israel by three names: Ephraim, Israel, and Jacob, distinguishing them from Judah. Since the kingdom had been divided after the death of Solomon, the prophets did not confuse the terms like so many do today. When the prophets emphasize the Fruitfulness Mandate, they tend to use the name Ephraim to link it specifically to the Birthright calling given to Joseph. They use the name Israel to imply their calling as a nation of overcomers. The name Jacob is used to suggest that they were still in the formation stage and were not yet overcomers.
The Law of Sowing and Reaping
Hosea 10:12 says,
12 Sow with a view to righteousness [tsedaqah, “righteous-ness, justice, benevolence”], reap in accordance with kindness [chesed, “mercy, lovingkindness”]; break up [niyr] your fallow ground [niyr], for it is time to seek the Lord until He comes to rain righteousness on you.
In other words, sowing seeds of righteousness (benevolently, or liberally) will bring a harvest of mercy and lovingkindness. This is a spiritual law that is based on the principle in Gen. 1:12, “after its kind.” The fruit of harvest depends upon what kind of seed is sown. Though many today use this principle for fundraising and for personal gain, it is a biblical principle. Yet perhaps more care should be taken in choosing the field most suitable for sowing seed, as Jesus suggests in his parable of the sower in Matt. 13:3-9. The harvest has as much to do with the quality of the soil as with the seed itself.
Yet the prophet goes on to say, “break up your fallow ground.” Fallow ground was unseeded ground, whether tilled or not. In this case the prophet seems to refer to ground that has already been plowed and tilled, because he says niyr your niyr, suggesting the translation as “break up your broken ground. The field has been plowed and tilled, but the people were still deciding if they should sow seed or not—or perhaps determining what type of seed to sow.
Hosea tells them to sow righteous seed. Once again, Hosea uses terminology that has a double meaning, for niyr is also the Hebrew word translated lamp (Exodus 27:20) or candle (Prov. 31:18, KJV). To break up the fallow ground is to make the field shine or gleam. Hence, the prophet implies that if Israel sows seeds of righteousness, their fields will gleam with the light of God.
Waiting for the Rain
Once they have sown their seed, then “it is time to seek the Lord until He comes to rain righteousness.” This refers to the former and latter rains, which many prophets understand as picturing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13), because the purpose of sending the Holy Spirit is to bring Truth. So Deut. 32:2 says, “Let my teaching drop as the rain.”
Any outpouring of the Spirit that is not accompanied by Truth is probably a counterfeit, based on human emotion, rather than upon a genuine move of God. The Spirit is given to lead us into all truth, which means we must receive some revelation that we did not understand previously. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the early 1900’s deposited the revelation of Pentecost and the gifts of the Spirit. The Latter Rain outpouring in the mid-1900’s gave us the revelation of the feast of Tabernacles and the Restoration of All Things.
Miracles such as healing or even of raising the dead, which have accompanied these times of “rain,” are secondary results of the Holy Spirit. Many believers have yet to learn God’s priorities in times of revival, and because so many have rejected the revelatory Truth that God was teaching in such times, the revivals have come and gone without establishing the Kingdom.
The Deception of Military Strength
Hosea 10:13 continues,
13 You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice. You have eaten the fruit of lies, because you have trusted in your way, in your numerous warriors.
Again, the prophet points to the seeds of wickedness that were sown, resulting in injustice in the land. Seeds of lawlessness will always bear the fruit of injustice. This is as true today as it was in Hosea’s time.
But men reject the law of God because they eat “the fruit of lies.” The prophet here refers to the original serpent’s lie in the Garden, where God’s word was questioned and seeds of doubt were sown. This set the pattern for all men afterward who questioned the veracity of the law of God and turned instead to their own understanding. The prophet tells Israel, “you have trusted in your own way,” that is, “in your numerous warriors.”
However, Psalm 33:16, 17 says,
16 The king is not saved by a mighty army; a warrior is not delivered by great strength. 17 A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.
Israel’s buildup of military strength could not prevent divine judgment. A nation that rejects the law of God cannot hope to defend itself from God’s impending judgment. Yet both then and today, lawless nations build up their militaries in the attempt to maintain their right to sin, which is their underlying definition of freedom and liberty.
Hosea gives us the result of such thinking in Hosea 10:14,
14 Therefore, a tumult will arise among your people, and all your fortresses will be destroyed, as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle, when mothers were dashed in pieces with their children.
Shalman may have been Salamanu, king of Moab, who was Hosea’s contemporary. Beth-arbel means “house of the ambush of God.” Perhaps Salamanu set up an ambush against the city, causing the town to become known as Beth-arbel. Many times a location’s name was changed to reflect some event that occurred there.
In this case, we do not know the original name of the fortress, but Hosea treats the ambush as a disaster that had recently occurred. The destruction caused a “tumult,” or uproar among the people, and the prophet uses it as an example of the type of destruction that was to come upon Bethel, if the people did not repent.
Judgment at Bethel
Hosea 10:15 concludes,
15 Thus it will be done to you at Bethel because of your great wickedness. At dawn the king of Israel will be completely cut off.
Here and later in Hosea 12:4 are the only times that the prophet calls the place Bethel. Normally, he uses the term Beth-aven, “House of Iniquity.” But here the prophecy seems to suggest the idea that judgment begins at the house of God, as 1 Peter 4:17, KJV says,
17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God; and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of Christ?
In the New Testament, Bethel was viewed as a type of the church. In the first century, of course, the church had not yet had time to be corrupted to the extent that Bethel—its predecessor—had been in the days of Hosea. Nonetheless, Peter believed that the church not only had spiritual authority in the earth, but it also had been made responsible to reverse the course of sin in the earth. Hence, the church was held responsible if it failed to fulfill its calling to bring righteousness to the nations.
In Hosea’s time, Bethel held the same responsibility, for it was the place where God had appeared to Jacob, and where Jacob had vowed obedience to God. When the golden calf was set up there, the house of God was corrupted. So the prophet says that the ambush of God would come upon Bethel because of its wickedness.
Judgment on the King
Hosea also says that “at dawn the king of Israel will be completely cut off.” The last king of Israel was Hoshea, whose name was virtually the same as that of the prophet himself. King Hoshea had not yet been born, but since he was king in the time of divine judgment, he is the one who had to pay the price for Israel’s sin since the time of Jeroboam.
The term “at dawn” was a figurative way of saying that the king of Israel would come early, that is, at the start of the time of judgment. The king was to be killed in a moment of time, and then the captives were to begin their long journey to Halah, Habor, and the River Gozan, where they would be resettled in a strange land.
The day of judgment would be long, but it would not last forever. In the next chapter of Hosea we begin to see how the love of God caused Him to promise restoration to Ephraim and Israel. One must keep in mind that this restoration was addressed to Israel, not Judah, so it has little or nothing to do with a Jewish restoration to the old land. This restoration has taken an entirely different form, one which conforms to the divine law, the promises of a New Covenant, and to the prophecies addressed to Israel.