1 Israel is a luxuriant vine
that yields its fruit.
The more his fruit increased,
the more altars he built;
as his country improved,
he improved his pillars.
2 Their heart is false;
now they must bear their guilt.
The Lord will break down their altars
and destroy their pillars.
3 For now they will say:
“We have no king,
for we do not fear the Lord;
and a king—what could he do for us?”
4 They utter mere words;
with empty oaths they make covenants;
so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds
in the furrows of the field.
5 The inhabitants of Samaria tremble
for the calf of Beth-aven.
Its people mourn for it, and so do its idolatrous priests—
those who rejoiced over it and over its glory—
for it has departed from them.
6 The thing itself shall be carried to Assyria
as tribute to the great king.
Ephraim shall be put to shame,
and Israel shall be ashamed of his idol.
7 Samaria’s king shall perish
like a twig on the face of the waters.
8 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.” – Hosea 10:1-8 ESV
God had been good to Israel and, over the centuries, He had blessed them in countless ways. The psalmist describes Israel as a luxuriant grapevine that God had uprooted from Egypt and transplanted into the fertile soil of Canaan.
You brought us from Egypt like a grapevine;
you drove away the pagan nations and transplanted us into your land.
You cleared the ground for us,
and we took root and filled the land.
Our shade covered the mountains;
our branches covered the mighty cedars.
We spread our branches west to the Mediterranean Sea;
our shoots spread east to the Euphrates River. – Psalm 80:8-11 NLT
This imagery of Israel as the vine is found throughout the Old Testament. The prophet Ezekiel uses similar terminology to point out the manifold blessings that God had bestowed on His chosen people.
“Your mother was like a vine
planted by the water’s edge.
It had lush, green foliage
because of the abundant water.
Its branches became strong—
strong enough to be a ruler’s scepter.
It grew very tall,
towering above all others.
It stood out because of its height
and its many lush branches.” – Ezekiel 19:10-11 NLT
But both the psalmist and the prophet follow up their descriptions of Israel as a healthy and fruitful vine with pronouncements of the nation’s ultimate demise. Asaph, the author of Psalm 80, tells the chilling aftermath of God’s judgment on Israel for their ongoing disobedience.
But now, why have you broken down our walls
so that all who pass by may steal our fruit?
The wild boar from the forest devours it,
and the wild animals feed on it. – Psalm 80:12-13 NLT
And Ezekiel declares a similarly dire outcome.
But the vine was uprooted in fury
and thrown down to the ground.
The desert wind dried up its fruit
and tore off its strong branches,
so that it withered
and was destroyed by fire.
Now the vine is transplanted to the wilderness,
where the ground is hard and dry.
A fire has burst out from its branches
and devoured its fruit.
Its remaining limbs are not
strong enough to be a ruler’s scepter. – Ezekiel 19:12-14 NLT
And Hosea echoes the words of these men, describing Israel as “a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit” (Hosea 10:1 ESV). He readily admits that Israel had been abundantly blessed by God, but they had returned the favor by giving their attention and affections to false gods.
But the richer the people get,
the more pagan altars they build.
The more bountiful their harvests,
the more beautiful their sacred pillars. – Hosea 10:1 NLT
All the way back in the wilderness, long before the people entered the land of Canaan, Moses had seen this day coming. He had warned the people to remain faithful to Yahweh, especially when they began to enjoy the good things of life.
“…the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” – Deuteronomy 8:7-10 NLT
Moses knew human nature, and he had spent enough time with the people of Israel to know how they were likely to respond when the blessings of God began to flow. So, he warned them in advance.
“…that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the LORD your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the LORD your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 8:11-14 NLT
But by the time we get to the days of Hosea and the reign of King Jeroboam II, the people of Israel have made a steady habit of pride and forgetfulness. In the midst of all their abundance, they had chosen to abandon God. And the evidence of their unfaithfulness was everywhere. They had erected altars and shrines to every imaginable idol, each one a slap in the face to their faithful, loving, and gracious God. And Hosea declares that their hearts are false. They would still declare their belief in and allegiance to Yahweh, but their actions proved otherwise. The prophet Isaiah would record God’s less-than-flattering assessment of His unfaithful people.
“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT
The people of Israel took pride in their special designation as the chosen people of God. The problem was that they failed to live up to that illustrious and undeserved status. They were more than willing to accept God’s blessings and flaunt their preferred position as His children, but they lived as if He didn’t even exist. Their actions revealed their lack of love for God.
And Hosea warns them that God was about to “break down their altars and smash their sacred pillars” (Hosea 10:2 NLT). The false gods in whom they had placed their hope and trust were going to be proven useless and powerless in the face of God’s wrath. The Assyrian army would march through Israel, leaving a path of death and destruction in its wake. They would destroy all the sacred sites and plunder anything of value, including the two golden calf statues that Jeroboam I had made when the northern kingdom of Israel had first been formed.
Hosea describes the people as mourning over their former god, the “calf idol at Beth-aven” (Hosea 10:5 NLT), as it is hauled away by the Assyrians.
This idol will be carted away to Assyria,
a gift to the great king there.
Ephraim will be ridiculed and Israel will be shamed,
because its people have trusted in this idol. – Hosea 10:6 NLT
This god’s only value will be in the gold from which it was made. Unlike Yahweh, this false god will be exposed as impotent and incapable of providing for and protecting those whose hands had made it. The people and priests of Israel will have to stand by and watch as their deity is carted off on a cart, never to be seen again.
But along with all their idols, Israel will face the loss of its king.
Samaria’s king shall perish
like a twig on the face of the waters. – Hosea 10:7 NLT
Every element of authority would be destroyed or carted away. The capital city of Samaria, the center of power, would be destroyed. Their false gods would be taken as plunder. Their king would be removed from his royal throne and placed in prison where he would die. And the people would end up as slaves in the land of Assyria.
Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. – 2 Kings 17:5-7 NLT
And the remnant left living in the land of Israel will find themselves in a state of despair and despondency. Their losses will leave them hopeless and pessimistic. They will learn a valuable lesson from their losses, but it will be too little, too late.
“We have no king
because we didn’t fear the Lord.
But even if we had a king,
what could he do for us anyway?” – Hosea 10:3 NLT
With their capital city destroyed, their friends and neighbors living in captivity, and their sacred shrines empty of idols, the people will long for death.
They will beg the mountains, “Bury us!”
and plead with the hills, “Fall on us!” – Hosea 10:8 NLT
The rebellious nation of Israel will find itself experiencing futility rather than fruitfulness. They will discover the pain and hopelessness associated with a life lived without God. When they cry out, “we have no king,” it will be because they have rejected God as their one true King.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.