All that we do for God is idolatry (God needs nothing done for Him, nor are we capable of doing anything without Him), all that we do from God is righteousness. Not human righteousness (which God refers to as being like used menstrual cloth [Isaiah 64:6]) but the righteousness of God.
As is the case with all of Hebrew Scripture, there are no chapter breaks in the scroll of the 12 Prophets in which Hosea is located. It’s important to see the text of this chapter as a continuation of the previous chapter:
“17 He has cast them off, rejected them My Judge/God, they have not listened, received, comprehended Him; And they have become retreating wanderers in the nations.”
1Gefen bokeik A vine is empty, it is Yisrael; periy fruit yeshaveh-lo He produces for himself. Kerov According to the abundance lefiryo of his fruit hirbah he has increased lamizbechot his altars; ketov due to the goodness leartzo of the land heiytiyvu matzeivot the memorial pillars/idols were made better.
This verse emphasises the idolatrous practices of Israel (northern kingdom) in relationship to their successful grape harvests (corresponding to the appointed time of Sukkot [September-October]).
The tribes of the north had, as we have already seen, been giving credit for their successful harvests to false gods of fertility rather than to YHVH their Provider. The common grace of God that allows all human beings to continue to exist in the sin affected creation is extended for a time unto repentance, however, where there is no repentance punishment is applied to provoke it, for the good of creation. In this case punishment will come upon the northern tribes so as to provoke repentance and position all Israel (including Judah and Benjamin) to become a light to the nations through the King Messiah Yeshua.
The vine is often used as a metaphor for the people of Israel, cared for by the Master Vine Dresser HaShem (Deut. 32:32; Psalm. 80:8-11; Isaiah 5:1; Jer. 2:21; John. 15:1).
“You removed a vine from Egypt (Double distress); You drove out the goyim (nations other than Israel) and planted it. You cleared the way before it, and it took deep root and filled the land (of Israel).” -Tehilim (Psalms) 80:8-9 (Authors translation)
“A vine is empty, it is Israel” A vine devoid of fruit is worthless. At the end of the fruiting season it’s severely pruned in order to provoke fruiting in the future. The ground must also be addressed to ensure drainage and rainfall mitigated so as to cause stress to the vine in order to promote fruiting. All this God will enact toward Israel. The irony of this first phrase in 10:1 is palpable as we read of Israel’s fruitfulness toward other gods.
God is conveying in the prophet the reality that fruit alone is not evidence of a healthy vine, rather good fruit is. “You will know them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:15-23) refers to the nature of the fruit and not the appearance of it. Yeshua further illuminates this explaining that even acts of “ministry” (fruit) can be camouflage for lawlessness. He teaches that His intimate knowledge (relationship) with us is the defining factor and not the action or fruit in and of itself. This is a sobering challenge to believers. Speaking in His Name is not the same as being in Him. Good fruit is that which is the product of a motivation to glorify God, whereas fruit that appears good but is in fact ungodly, is born of a motivation to glorify self.
“15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns, nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 Therefore, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruit. 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Adonay, Adonay’ will enter the kingdom of the heavens, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in the heavens. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Adonay, Adonay, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and in Your Name cast out demons, and in Your Name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will say to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS (PSALMS 6:9).’” -Mattisiyahu 7:15-23
This first clause can also be seen as prophetic of what is to come, that being the Assyrian invasion and the removal of the fruit of Israel by the armies of her enemies so that her vine is left empty.
“Israel resembles a vine that casts off all its good fruit. So did they forsake Me, Who is the good and fitting fruit for them.” -Rashi on Hosea 10:1
“fruit He produces for himself.” Idolatry finds a willing companion in the selfishness of humanity. In fact, all sin is the progeny of self-worship. Satan acted on his self-worship at the inception of sin (which is a decision of the will of a created being). This is why Rav Shaul teaches in the New Testament that “The love of worldly wealth is the root of all evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10). The Greek text uses the definite article “ho” which properly translates “the root” and not “a root” as many misleading English translations convey. What is “the love of worldly wealth”? It is of course the love of something other than God. This by definition is idolatry. We notice of course that the result of self-worship is self-harm.
“According to the abundance of his fruit he has increased his altars; due to the goodness of the land the memorial pillars/idols were made better.” In and of themselves “memorial pillars and altars” are not idolatrous (Exodus 24:4-5). The qualifying aspect of idolatry is the worship of anything or anyone other than YHVH (Exodus 20:5). The only exception is where an object depicts a known deity, in which case it is an idol by nature according to the identity of the one it depicts. In the case of the present text the pillars were erected in memory of false gods and those gods were being credited with the fruitfulness of the harvest.
“When I increased their good, they increased for the altars When I lavished good upon them, they made many calves for the altars. Another explanation Israel is a plundered vine; the produce of their deeds brought it about to them. פְּרִי יְשַׁוֶּה לוֹ means ‘will avail them’ to be plundered, for they made the altars and availed their nation for evil. This is the wording of the Targum.” -Rashi on Hosea 10:1
2 Chalak Divided, slippery, deceitful libam is their inner being (core, heart); now ye’shamu they suffer for their offence. Hu He (The Lord) ya’arof will break the neck of mizbechotam their altars, yeshoded violently ruin matzeivotam their memorial pillars/idols.
“Divided, slippery, deceitful is their inner being (core, heart)” The meaning of the Hebrew “chalak” illuminates the demise of the inner person through sin, and the phrasing addresses the “heart, core being, inner person” of collective Israel (northern tribes) by using the plural “libam”. When our inner being is divided, undecided, self-deceiving, we become the authors of our own demise.
“Now they suffer for their offence.” This can also be understood to mean that “they suffer because of their offense”. Their suffering is a result of their “divided, slippery, deceitful inner being”. A wilful condition.
“He (The Lord) will break the neck of their altars, violently ruin their memorial pillars/idols.” The Hebrew “ya’arof” is used of the breaking of an animals neck for sacrifice. The prophet is saying that HaShem will do to the altars that which has been done to the animals placed upon them.
3 Kiy For now yomeru they say, ‘Eiyn melekh lanu We have no king, Kiy For lo yareinu we do not fear et the particular YHVH (Mercy) Lord. Ve’hamelekh And the king, mah-ya’aseh lanu what does he do for us?’”
“For now they say, ‘We have no king, For we do not fear the particular YHVH (Mercy) Lord. And the king, what does he do for us?’” Although rebellion and the overthrow of kings was prevalent among the northern tribes at this time (2 Kings 15:30), it is not the then king of the north that is being referred to here but YHVH the King of all. The northern kingdom had historically rejected the line of Davidic kingship and had since rejected YHVH as King.
The northern tribes say “We have no king, we do not fear YHVH (Mercy).” Ironically, as a result of their sin they will be left devoid of their human kingship and will suffer under the oppression of foreign kings, so they’re correct in saying “We have no king”.
“And the king, what does he do for us?” This is a further insult aimed at YHVH. These foolish words confirm what the prophet’s indictment denotes, that the northern tribes consider the success of their harvest to be due to their own efforts and the help of false gods (who are not gods at all), and not the work of YHVH.
4 Diberu They speak devariym words, essences, things, alot taking oaths shav falsely karot cutting beriyt covenants; ufarach and sprouting forth karosh venom (because of, like, associated with the head), noxious weeds mishpat as judgment al upon talmeiy the furrows of saday the field.
“They speak words, essences, things, taking oaths falsely cutting covenants;” Both the kings and the people of the north were making oaths in the names of false gods and or in syncretistic rites combining worship of false gods with that of YHVH. Additionally, the kings of the north had cut covenants with foreign powers, paying tribute to them.
“sprouting forth venom, noxious weeds as judgment upon the furrows of the field.” This ambiguous phrasing conveys the ideas of both the false poisonous judgement born of idolatry and the judgement that comes back on the one who made it. In short, their own noxious assertions and actions seeded poison in the furrows of their ploughed fields, physically and metaphorically.
The prophet Amos, a contemporary of Hosea says something similar:
“Do horses run on rocks?
Or does one ]plow with oxen?
Yet you have turned justice into poison,
And the fruit of righteousness into noxious weeds,” -Amos 6:12 (Author’s translation)
“swearing falsely Heb. אָלוֹתשָוְא, swearing falsely. אָלוֹת is, in construction, like כָּרֹת, a present tense. forming a covenant with pagan worship. Therefore, judgment of torments and retribution shall spring up upon them… the furrows Heb. תַּלְמֵי. The furrow of a plowshare is called תֶּלֶם. Another explanation: on the furrows of the field where they erect their altars, as it is said (below 12:12): “like heaps on the furrows of the field.” There the judgment for their iniquity shall spring up on them. Another explanation: swearing falsely Every covenant they form with one another they break. and...shall spring up like hemlock which springs up on the furrows of the field, which is a bitter grass, so do their judgments spring up and bitterness grows for the poor and needy. Amos, too, says: (6:12) “For you have turned judgment into hemlock.” -Rashi on Hosea 10:4
5 Le’eglot For the calves of Beit Aven (Beth-aven, House of vanity, wickedness, sorrow, iniquity) yaguru shechan Shomeron the inhabitants of Samaria will be afraid. Kiy For aval its people will mourn alayv amo over it, uchemarayv and its self-macerated (idolatrous) priests alayv yagilu will tremble over it, al-kevodo over its glory, kiy because galah mimenu it (the glory) has departed from it.
“For the calves of Beth-aven, House of wickedness the inhabitants of Samaria will be afraid.” Invasion is imminent, the day is near when the residents of the northern capital Samaria will tremble in fear as the Assyrians invaders first take the other tribes of the north and then conclude their invasion by taking Samaria and toppling the calf idols. The qualifying phrase “The calves of” confirms the assertion that Beiyt-Aven and Beiyt-El are synonymous, given that the two calf idols of Jeroboam were located at Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:26-30).
“Beit-Aven” (House of vanity, wickedness, sorrow, iniquity) is a sarcastic way of referring to Bethel (House of God)[Talmud], and or a place very close to Bethel (Joshua 7:2), it was a main centre of northern apostate worship located in the territory of Ephraim/Benjamin. A place that has a strong connection to both the physical and spiritual journeys of the Patriarchs and in particularly to Jacob, who became Israel. It was on the border of the territories of Ephraim and Benjamin (according to the interpretation that equates it to Bethel it is technically located in the territory of Benjamin to the east of the border between the two territories).
It seems likely, given Hosea 4:15, that Beth Aven was considered to be part of the territory of Ephraim (northern tribes):
“Judah must not become an offender in the Gilgal; and don’t go into to Beth-Aven” -Hosea 4:15
“For its people will mourn over it, and its self-macerated (idolatrous) priests will tremble over it, over its glory, because it has departed from it.” “It” refers to the calf idol. The Hebrew used to describe the priests is not the common term “kohen” but rather a diminished term “kamar” which is essentially an ascetic description of the named party. “Kamar” means tender, shrunken, macerated, hot. In short it is a metaphor denoting an idolatrous priest, an illegitimate spiritual guide.
The glory of the calf god will literally depart from Samaria and be carried away into exile.
Seder Olam Rabba records that Tiglathpileser king of Assyria came and took away the golden calf in Dan in the twentieth year of Pekah king of Israel; and a subsequent king of Assyria (Shalmaneser) came in the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Israel and took away the golden calf at Bethel:” ref. Seder Olam Rabba, c. 22. p. 60, 61.
6 Gam Also oto it will le’ashur be taken to Assyria (a step) yuval carried minchah as an offering lemelekh Yarev to King Jareb (contender) alt. to a king of contention; Efrayim (doubly blessed) yikach will be received veyeivosh and ashamed, Yisrael mei’atzato from his own counsel.
“Also it will be taken to Assyria (a step) carried as an offering to King Jareb (contender) alt. to a king of contention;” Once again “it” refers to the calf idol. It is said to become an offering to a king/ruler of Assyria. This makes a mockery of its deity. Gods are offered to, they are not made an offering of.
Rashi says that “Yareb” is another name for Sennacherib.
“Efrayim (doubly blessed) will be received and ashamed, Yisrael from his own counsel.” The kings of the north will be received into exile and thus the kingship of the northern tribes will be no more. This agrees with traditional rabbinic interpretation.
“Ephraim shall take shame Heb. בָּשְׁנָה. Jeroboam, who was from the tribe of Ephraim, shall take shame for himself, that he erected this calf for a deity… and Israel shall be ashamed of that counsel that they took counsel to make them, as it is said (1 Kings 12:28) “The king took counsel and made two golden calves.” -Rashi on Hosea 10:6
7 Nidmeh Shomeron malcah Cut off, left silent will be Samaria without a kingship, queen, her king, keketzef like a splintered twig (wrath) al-peneiy-mayim on the face of the waters.
Samaria, as capital of the northern tribes, here represents all the tribes and the authority over them. The kingship of the northern tribes is to be ended permanently.
“like a splintered twig on the face of the water” This is a metaphor alluding to the temporal nature of human power born of fallen motivations which manifest idolatry. All that is idolatrous will become like worthless flotsam washed away by the punishing waters of HaShem.
“The king of Samaria is silenced Heb. נִדְמֶה. The king of Samaria is silenced, and he is like foam on the surface of the water, which is eskoume (ecume) in Old French.” -Rashi on Hosea 10:7
8 Venishmedu And destroyed are bamot the high places of aven (wickedness, trouble, idolatry), chatat the sinful, missing the mark of Yisrael; kotz thorn vedardar and thistle ya’aleh will come up al-mizbechotam on their altars; veameru and they will say lehariym to the mountains, “Kasunu Conceal us!” velagevaot And to the hills, “niflu aleiynu Fall on us!”
“And destroyed are the high places of aven (wickedness, trouble, idolatry)” This refers to the high places of Bethel according to Rashi. While Iben Ezra understands this to refer to the deaths of those who “owned” or were responsible for the upkeep of the calf idols.
“the sinful, missing the mark of Yisrael; thorn and thistle will come up on their altars;” The altars will be left destroyed and their remnants will be untouched, thus they will be overgrown by fruitless weeds such as thorns and thistles so that anyone who touches them will be pierced by barbs. This is the counterpoint to the fruitfulness of idolatry described in verse 1. This has a startling correlation to the teaching of Yeshua regarding the fruit of vines and the fruitlessness of thorns:
“16 You will know them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns, nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 Therefore, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” -Matthew 7:16-19
“and they will say to the mountains, “Conceal us!” And to the hills, “Fall on us!” Sadly this is not a cry of repentance but one seeking concealment from God and or a choice of death over exile and suffering. This is the hubris of vulnerability. When this text is quoted by Yeshua as recorded in Luke’s Gospel (23:30) and repeated in the Revelation to John (6:16), it refers to wilfully unrepentant people. People who, even when faced with the reality that it is their sin and rejection of God that has brought their suffering, nonetheless refuse to repent and instead invoke concealment and death, calling on created things to hide and or kill them rather than crying out to the Creator for deliverance.
Ref. Isaiah 2:10; Hosea 10:8; Luke 23:30; Revelation 6:16
9 Miymeiy From the days of ha-Givah the Gibeah (hill) chatata you have sinned, missed the mark Yisrael; sham there amadu they remain! Lo-tasiygeim Will it not reach them bagivah in Gibeah, milchamah the battle al-beneiy alvah against the sons of injustice?
“Gibeah” may refer to Gibeah of Benjamin (Judges 19) and the abhorrent actions of that tribe regarding the concubine/wife of a Levite from Ephraim. Alternatively it may refer to Gibeah of Saul (1 Samuel 15) where Israel rebelled against the words of the prophet Samuel and demanded a king like those who ruled the other nations.
While the rebellion against God’s Kingship is wicked and a root of further rebellion, it seems more likely that Gibeah of Benjamin is meant because a process of descent into deep corruption resulting in vile sin is inferred by the context and qualifying language. It was said of the vile nature of the sin in Gibeah Benjamin, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt.” Some liken the sin of the men of Benjamin (Judges 19) to that of the men of Sodom (Genesis 19). This adds weight to my interpretation.
“there they remain.” Israel has remained in the place (sham), both physical and spiritual, of their missing the mark of God’s Instruction. In short, they have wilfully chosen to remain in their sin.
“Will it not reach them in Gibeah, the battle against the sons of injustice?” The spiritual battle against injustice will come against the sons of injustice, thus the sons of the northern tribes who have sown poison (v. 4) will reap poisoned fruit.
10 Beavatiy In My desire, ve’esoreim I will discipline them; veusefu and gather aleihem upon them amiym the peoples be’aseram in binding lishteiy them twice eiynotam their torture onotam glowing. Alt. punished twofold for their double crime.
HaShem desires to discipline Israel for her good. The twofold punishment of exile (Assyria) upon exile (Babylon). The punishment is just and the outcome is repentance (returning).
The binding of the northern tribes can also be seen as pretext to the ploughing metaphor which follows.
“Since Hosea compares them to a heifer as stated further: “Ephraim is a goaded heifer,” he, therefore, compared their chastisement to a cow, which they tire with plowing and they bind it to the yoke of the plowshare, and the pegs of the yoke penetrate it, [i.e., they penetrate the yoke,] one on this side and one on that side, next to the ox’s two eyes. And so did Jonathan render: as one hinds a “padna” on its two eyes. “Padna” is a yoke of oxen.” -Rashi on Hosea 10:10
11 And Efrayim eglah a heifer melumadah taught, ohavtiy I love ladush to tread out (thresh), va’aniy and I avartiy I passed by al-tov tzavarah upon her good, lovely neck; arkiyv I will harness Efrayim, Y’hudah yacharosh will plough, yesaded-lo Yaakov will break up clods of earth for himself.
The opening phrasing speaks of God’s care for Ephraim (the northern kings and their dominion) teaching her, allowing her to feed while she trampled out the grain on the threshing floor.
“I passed by upon her good, lovely neck; I will harness Efrayim” The “good” neck of Ephraim’s younger days of training is made counterpoint to her stiff necked rebellion in her latter days. Her neck once good is now stiff/rebellious.
“I will harness Epharim, Judah will plow, Yaakov will break up clods of earth for himself.” This trifold naming unites all Israel. The order of the ploughing process is seen in each task associated with each named party. Ephraim (kings of the north, people of the north) are harnessed, Judah (southern kingdom, people of Judah and Benjamin) will plough to cover the seed, then, in the following season (after exile) all Israel together as Jacob will break up the hard ground left fallow by their exile. This is a text of prophetic hope for the soon to be punished people of God.
12 Ziru Sow lachem for yourselves, litzdakah to righteousness; kitzru reap lefiy from My mouth chesed kindness, practical love, faithfulness. Niyru lachem Break up your niyr fallow ground, ve’eit for its time lidrosh to seek, enquire of et-YHVH the particular Lord (Mercy) ad-yavo until He comes veyoreh and rains tzedek righteousness lachem on you all.
Mercy precedes judgement and is the fruit of discipline. Here, once again, YHVH offers an opportunity for true repentance, an opportunity for sowing righteousness and reaping kindness, an opportunity for enquiring of the LORD (Mercy) and receiving the cleansing rains of righteousness. Seeing the end from the beginning HaShem knows that Israel will not receive this until after her exile. This is why the final aspect of the order of ploughing in the previous verse denotes the breaking of hard ground following its many years of being left fallow.
Rashi understands this as an admonishment to turn to Torah observance, however, Torah observance does not bear the seed of righteousness, rather godly righteousness bears the fruit of right action which is approved by the Torah, that is, when measured against Torah righteousness is seen as holy (set apart).
Righteousness sown in God enquires of God and thus reaps righteousness from God. Messiah in us outworks righteousness. Therefore, we are not Torah keepers, rather God keeps us through the righteous One (the King Messiah), Who is the Goal of Torah (Romans 10:4). All that we do for God is idolatry (God needs nothing done for Him, nor are we capable of doing anything without Him), all that we do from God is righteousness. Not human righteousness (which God refers to as being like used menstrual cloth [Isaiah 64:6]) but the righteousness of God.
13 Charashtem-resha You have ploughed, engraved wickedness, avlatah injustice ketzartem you have reaped achaltem, you have eaten periy-chachash fruit of deception. Kiy Because vatachta you trusted vedarkecha in your way, bero in great numbers giboreycha of your mighty men (warriors),
Israel, the northern tribes had engraved their soil, both literal and metaphorical, with wickedness and injustice and had therefore deceived themselves. Knowing that the Torah and Prophets say otherwise, they nonetheless concluded that the strength of their own armies was more trustworthy than God’s strength.
“‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord Who goes warring.” -Zechariah 4:6b (Author’s translation)
14 Vekam And raise shaon an uproar be’amecha among your people, vechol-mivtzareycha and all your fortified cities yushad will be ruined, keshod like Shalmaneser (Shalman: fire worshipper) destroyed Beiyt-arbel (house of God’s ambush) beyom in the day milchamah of battle, eim al-baniym mothers upon children rutashah torn to pieces.
The uproar among the people is understood by Yarchi, Rashi and others as an alarm calling out “Flee, flee!”
“Your fortified cities” This means that what is to come will affect both the vulnerable unwalled towns and the fortified cities (like those Judah trusted in). This is a prophecy of all out invasion, one that came soon after at the hand of the Assyrian Empire.
“Beit Arbel” Is a city of the Kinneret (Galilee) region (Antiqu. l. 12. c. 11. sect. 1. & l. 14. c. 15. sect. 4. In Vita sua, sect. 69. p. 922, 934.), situated between Sipphore and Tiberias (Yuchasin, fol. 65. 1.).
“mothers upon children torn to pieces” This horrific language denotes the most heinous of wartime acts which leaves the conquered devoid of their women and children. This imagery is commonly used in Scripture 2 Kings 8:12; Isaiah 13:16; Nahum 3:10; Psalms 137:9; Hosea 14:1.
15 Kachah So asah it will be done lachem to you all at Beiyt-el (house of God/Judge) mipeneiy from the face of your ra’at evil ra’atchem evils. Alt. [of your great wickedness.] Bashachar In the dawn nidmoh nidmah cut off, destroyed will be melekh a king of Yisrael.
This horror will come against all who, at a location named for Jacob’s (Israel) intimate connection with God (Bethel: House of God), had brought evil forth unto evil multiplied. Thus, once again, the self-harming idolatry of evil is emphasised. Bethel (Beth Aven) was home to one of the two calf idols set up by the first king of the northern tribes Jeroboam I.
“The calf in Bethel has brought about all this retribution upon you.” -Rashi on Hosea 10:15
“In the dawn” This makes the destruction of the northern tribes immanent. Both Hoshea (not the prophet) the last king of the northern tribes, and the kingdom itself will be cut off.
As tragic as this is, there is also the future hope in the Greater Son of David, that King of Judah Who will reign over all the tribes of Israel. Therefore, the permanent end of the kingship of the north is a sign pointing to the redemption for all Israel through the King Messiah born of the Davidic line of Judah.
Copyright 2021 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.