In our study of Hosea chapter ten, we will see that the root of sin goes to what is in the hearts of men.
Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones.
As we saw in chapter nine, the prosperity of the northern kingdom blinded them from the truth of God. Instead of praising God for His hand of provision, they built more altars and high places.
Their heart is deceitful, and now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will demolish their altars and destroy their sacred stones.
The people forgot that God is a jealous God and He will not share His place in their hearts with idols. As we see here, it is their hearts that are at the center of the problem. They valued wealth more than their relationship with God. It is easy to tell what is most valuable to you. It is simply a matter of looking at what you spend the most time and effort on.
Then they will say, 'We have no king because we did not revere the Lord. But even if we had a king, what could he do for us?'
After the northern kingdom was defeated by the Assyrians, they would come to realize that it was because of their idolatry. They would realize that it was not only the fault of the king but the blame was shared by them.
They make many promises, take false oaths and make agreements; therefore lawsuits spring up like poisonous weeds in a plowed field.
In their quest for material wealth, it was anything goes. They made agreements with no intention of keeping them and so disputes broke out between them and their fellow Israelites. These disputes further hardened their hearts to choke out the good much like a weed starves the crop of nutrients and limits the harvest. The same type of thing happened in the city of Corinth during the apostle Paul's ministry (see 1 Co. 6). He went so far as to say that the very fact that there were lawsuits showed that they had already been defeated by the devil. In this, he was referring to the state of their hearts and that Satan had their hearts focused on material wealth instead of the things of God. It seems that this is even more true today than it was in the past.
The people who live in Samaria fear for the calf-idol of Beth Aven. Its people will mourn over it, and so will its idolatrous priests, those who had rejoiced over its splendor, because it is taken from them into exile.
We see the condition of the people's heart as they do not mourn over their sin but instead mourn that their idol was taken down. Beth Aven is used for Bethel which is where the idol was set up and the name is used as a way of showing contempt for the place. We see that this heart condition didn't just afflict the common folks but also the religious and political leaders. They not only did not feel remorse at their sin but were, in fact, proud of it.
It will be carried to Assyria as tribute for the great king. Ephraim will be disgraced; Israel will be ashamed of its foreign alliances. Samaria's king will be destroyed, swept away like a twig on the surface of the waters.
Their calf-idol which was made of gold would be sent to the king of Assyria as tribute. Israel had made alliances in hopes of avoiding this judgment but, now, they find that this was worthless. The same type of thing is happening today as God's people put their trust in governments. In the last days, there will also be an alliance of nations that thinks they can stop the judgment of God. It didn't work in the days of Hosea and it will not work in the last days (see Revelation 20).
The high places of wickedness will be destroyed - it is the sin of Israel. Thorns and thistles will grow up and cover their altars. Then they will say to the mountains, 'Cover us!' and to the hills, 'Fall on us!'
When they see that their high places are destroyed, the people will beg for the mountains to hide them from the wrath of God. When confronted with our sin, there are two possible reactions. We can turn away from them (repent) or we can try to hide. Their hearts were so hard that they wanted to try to hide. This is very similar to what we see as the seals are opened in Revelation 6.
'Since the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, Israel, and there you have remained. Will not war again overtake the evildoers in Gibeah?'
"Since the days of Gibeah" refers to events recorded in Judges 19-21. Evil men in the city committed a horrible sin but, when the rest of the tribe of Benjamin was told, they refused to hand them over. Instead, they went to war with the rest of the tribes of Israel.
'When I please, I will punish them; nations will be gathered against them to put them in bonds for their double sin.'
Just as the people of Gibeah were judged, God assures Israel that they will as well. The "double sin" is the fact that they not only worshiped idols but were also unrepentant.
'Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh; so I will put a yoke on her neck. I will drive Ephraim, Judah must plow, and Jacob must break up the ground.'
A cow that was harnessed to the threshing machine had it made as they could eat and walk around in a circle. The work was relatively easy compared to being hooked to a plow. Here, God tells Israel, who had been living the easy life, that they are now going to have to work hard. Throughout the Bible, the ground is a picture of the heart and plowing is the conviction of sin which is necessary for producing the harvest of repentance.
'Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.'
Sowing righteousness speaks of repentance which is the seed of salvation. The "unfailing love" is the Hebrew word "hesed" which is hard to translate but roughly means "loyal love". This reminds Israel that God has chosen them and He is not changing His mind. He has not turned from them but they have turned from Him. They must realize that they are headed in the wrong direction and stop and turn around. This is the seed that will develop into a right relationship with a holy God. The same is true for people, today, in the fact that we must make a decision to turn to Christ and away from our ways. When we do, He showers us with His righteousness because of His "hesed".
But you have planted wickedness, you have reaped evil, you have eaten the fruit of deception.
Instead of the seed of repentance being planted in their hearts, the hearts of Israel contained the seed of self-reliance. Instead of producing gratitude and thanksgiving, their wealth and strength gave them a false sense of security. The fruit of deception is talking about the fact that they had the attitude that they did not need God. The same attitude is widespread in the world today and will be even worse in the last days.
Because you have depended on your own strength and on your many warriors, the roar of battle will rise against your people, so that all your fortresses will be devastated - as Shalman devastated Beth Arbel on the day of battle, when mothers were dashed to the ground with their children.
The fruit of this self-reliance is devastation. Beth Arbel is located near the Sea of Galilee and the Shalman mentioned is probably a form of Shallum who became king of Israel. He assassinated Zechariah who was king at the time but Shallum only reigned for one month. (see 2 Kings 15) This same deception will occur in the last days as Satan will get the leaders of the world to form an army to fight God. His rally cry will be that, if they all work together, they can win.
So will it happen to you, Bethel, because your wickedness is great. When that day dawns, the king of Israel will be completely destroyed.
Shallum was the fourth generation of Israelite kings through Jehu. Jehu was responsible for cleansing Israel from Ahab and Jezebel. God promised him that he would have four generations of kings in his line. His line was limited to four because he did not stamp out the idolatry that had been started by Jeroboam. God uses this example from Israel's past to remind them of the consequences of an unrepentant heart. Like Jehu and Shallum, their time was limited. We can take heed of this warning as well because the same thing will come in the last days. These armies of self-reliance will defeated in the final battle and it won't even be much of a battle (see Revelation 20).