Samaria’s king shall perish like a twig on the face of the waters. 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.”
From the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel; there they have continued. Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah? When I please, I will discipline them, and nations shall be gathered against them when they are bound up for their double iniquity.
Ephraim was a trained calf that loved to thresh, and I spared her fair neck; but I will put Ephraim to the yoke; Judah must plow; Jacob must harrow for himself. Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. – Hosea 10:7-12 ESV
Over in the book of Jeremiah, God accused the nations of Judah of having done something even the pagan nations would have never considered. “Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit” (Jeremiah 2:11 ESV). Even the idol-worshiping pagan nations would have never dreamed of abandoning their false god for another one. And yet, the people of Judah had forsaken the one true God for a plethora of false gods. And God went on to say, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13 ESV). They had turned their backs on God, the source of all life, hope, blessing and fruitfulness. Like a source of clear water in the desert, God was to have been vital to their very existence. But instead of relying on His life-giving sustenance, they turned to man-made sources of help and hope that could never deliver. Like cracked cisterns that could not hold water, their idols would prove to be incapable of meeting the expectations of the people of Judah. They had left God and replaced Him with false gods.
The people of northern nation of Israel were guilty of the very same thing. Which is why God warned them that they would be “bound up for their double iniquity” (Hosea 10:10 ESV). Their destruction was coming at the hands of the Assyrians. Their guilt was long-standing, going all the way back to the events surrounding Gibeah. It was there that the concubine of a visiting Levite was brutally raped and murdered by the men of the town who were actually desirous of having sexual relationships with the Levite. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, this town had become highly immoral and completely corrupt. And God accused the entire nation of having followed the example of Gibeah. Immorality, corruption, idolatry, and moral decay had spread throughout the nation. Now God was going to discipline them for their unfaithfulness.
The king and his capital city of Samaria would be destroyed. The high places where the Israelites worshiped their false gods would be abandoned and overgrown with weeds. The city of Bethel, which meant “house of God” would become known as Beth-aven (house of wickedness or vanity). They had abandoned God and now they would discover what it was like to have God abandon them. They would find out what it was like to no longer have His hand protecting them or providing for them.
God compared Israel to a young heifer used for threshing grain. In the early days of His relationship with the nation of Israel, they had enjoyed a unique and relatively easy relationship with Him. Threshing involved a cow or ox walking over the recently harvested wheat in order to separate the edible grain from the chaff. The cow was unmuzzled and free to eat the grain as it worked. It was rewarded for its labor. But now Israel was going to learn what it was like to be under the yoke of oppression, laboring under the hand of its new master, the Assyrians. Rather than threshing grain for God, they would plow for their oppressors. But God told them it was not too late. Even in their captivity, they could seek Him. So He encouraged them, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12 NLT). While living in exile in Assyria, they could seek God. They could choose to do His will. As they endured God’s loving discipline, they could respond in repentance, turning from their idolatry and renewing their commitment to and dependence upon Him.
They had committed two sins: They had forsaken God and then tried to replace Him with gods of their own making. And while God, because of His holiness and justice, was required to punish them for their sins, He was also willing to forgive and restore them. But they must willingly return to Him. They must forsake their false gods and return to the fountain of living water. It was Jesus who said, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart’” (John 7:37 NLT). He told the woman at the well, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life” (John 4:13-14 NLT). God is all about restoration and renewal. He wants to redeem the lost and restore the wandering. So He calls. He invites.
“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. I will make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.” – Isaiah 55:1-3 NLT