Reaping the Whirlwind
Few things are more destructive than a tornado. Its funnel-shaped wind can swirl up to 500 miles per hour, devastating everything in its path. The mere sight of the cloud is usually terrifying, and most people who have experienced tornadoes know they leave little time to prepare and few places to hide. In chapter 8, Hosea reveals that God’s judgment is like a tornado. Israel’s idolatry and immorality would bring judgment that would sweep the nation like a tornado, destroying everything in its path.
God had stationed Hosea as a watchman over Israel to faithfully warn of impending judgment. He commanded Hosea,
Set the trumpet to thy mouth. He shall come like an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law (v. 1).
The phrase house of the LORD refers not to the Temple in Jerusalem but to the northern tribes of Israel. Today cities have sirens to warn of an impending tornado or invasion. In biblical times, Israel blew a trumpet to signal the nation that danger was imminent.
Hosea alerted Israel to prepare for an invasion from the mighty Assyrian army. Soon the Assyrians would swoop down on Israel like eagles, snatching it as its prey. This image aptly symbolizes the Assyrians because their attacks were swift and brutal. God had raised up Assyria to judge Israel, directly fulfilling Moses’ prophecy: “The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth” (Dt. 28:49).
Israel had transgressed God’s covenant and His law (v. 1). This verse reiterates God’s first indictment against Israel (6:7). In the preceding seven chapters, Hosea detailed how Israel committed gross and abominable sins. Israel had numerous opportunities to repent; but she continuously sinned and rebelled against His love and mercy.
Hearing of judgment, Israel hypocritically cried, “My God, we know thee” (v. 2). The nation’s appeal was twofold: First, Israel claimed to be God’s people. Second, she claimed to know God. In essence, the nation was saying, “We are your people, God. So deliver us from the coming judgment.” Yet Israel’s immorality and idolatry proved, in fact, that she neither knew the Lord nor desired to practice God’s law (4:1, 6; 5:4).
So God ignored Israel’s plea for help. The nation had “cast off the thing that is good; the enemy shall pursue him” (v. 3). Israel had continually rejected God’s goodness, mercy, and love. Consequently, God would not hear Israel’s plea. The Assyrian invasion was inevitable.
Pronouncement of Iniquity
Civil Rebellion. At this point, Hosea presents the list of indictments against Israel that precipitated the judgment of God. First, Israel had committed civil rebellion.
They have set up kings, but not by me; they have made princes, and I knew it not; of their silver and their gold have they made idols for themselves, that they may be cut off (v. 4).
Even in its revolt against King Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, Israel had failed to seek God’s guidance or approval. The ten tribes split from the southern kingdom of Judah without consulting Him. During the divided-kingdom period, not one of Israel’s kings was chosen by the will of God. Men in Israel schemed, slew their rivals, and set up rulers and princes whom God never approved.
Corrupt Religious System. Second, Israel had implemented a corrupt religious system. She had amassed gold and silver to construct golden calves and silver idols in Bethel and Dan and had instituted Baal worship, a direct violation of the second commandment (Ex. 20:4). The whole degrading, idolatrous practice was an offense to God and denied His sovereignty over Israel.
Jeroboam I had established calf worship at Dan and Bethel (1 Ki. 12:28–31), misleading the people to assume that God accepted such worship. God vented His anger: “Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off; mine anger is kindled against them. How long will it be before they attain to innocence?” (v. 5). No evidence exists of calf worship in Samaria. Nevertheless, Hosea links calf worship in Bethel to the citizens of Samaria (10:5–6). The phrase Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off is better translated, “He [God] has rejected your calf, O Samaria.” Israel had rejected what was good and had turned to idols, so the Lord responded by rejecting Israel’s idols.
God’s anger burned against Israel’s idolatry. He asked how long it would be until they attained to innocence. That is, when would the nation be cleansed from idolatry and become pure in God’s eyes? The question is really God’s lament concerning Israel’s lack of purity. Idolatry was so deeply embedded in the fabric of Israel’s culture that one wondered whether the nation would ever overcome the sin. It took the destruction and captivity of both Judah and Israel to finally break the nation of idolatry.
Concerning the construction of an idol, Hosea said that “the workman made it; therefore, it is not God. But the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces” (v. 6). Israel was without excuse concerning idols, for she knew that her idols were man-made, not divine, and eventually would be smashed to pieces.
Hosea uses a metaphor of cause and effect to express the futility and emptiness of Israel’s idolatrous practices and the foolishness of her foreign policy. “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (v. 7). Wind symbolizes futility and fickleness, which often turn into a whirlwind that brings destruction. Israel’s idolatry and foreign policy would result in a whirlwind of destruction from the Assyrian army.
Hosea continues with the sowing metaphor: “It hath no stalk; the bud shall yield no meal; if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up” (v. 7). Perhaps the seed planted would sprout, but there would be no stalk to hold the ear of corn. If a bud did appear, it would not produce an ear of corn to make meal. Moreover, even if a plant did produce grain, Israel’s labor would still be in vain because her enemy would take the grain for himself.
Compromising Relationship. Israel had entered a compromising relationship with Assyria and Egypt. Hosea said, “Israel is swallowed up; now shall they be among the nations like a vessel in which is no pleasure” (v. 8). Assyria swallowed up Israel in 733 B.C., made her a province, sapped her power, and drained her prosperity by requiring the nation to pay tribute. Other neighboring nations considered Israel nothing but a cheap and worthless clay pot to be cast aside.
Hosea compared Israel’s alliance with Assyria to that of a wild donkey and a prostitute: “For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself; Ephraim hath hired lovers” (v. 9). Israel, in her stubborn self-will and independence, had embarked on a solitary course to carve out her own destiny without consulting God. Instead of being faithful to God (her husband), Israel prostituted herself to the Gentile nations by bribing the heathen Assyrians. In return, Israel hoped to maintain her political power and prestige and expected Assyria to protect her from the judgment of God. Usually a prostitute receives payment for her services, but Israel was so unwanted by the surrounding nations that she had to pay Assyria.
All of Israel’s attempts to protect herself from the punishment of God were futile. God said,
Yea, though they have hired among the nations, now will I gather them, and they shall sorrow a little for the burden of the king of princes (v. 10).
God cut off any help they had sought from Assyria and Egypt and hemmed them in for judgment. They would sorrow because of the financial tribute they were required to pay to Assyria; but such tribute would be nothing compared to the judgment from God. Ironically, God used the “king of princes” (Assyria)—the very nation from whom Israel sought help—as His rod of correction.
Indeed, God’s judgment was justified because Israel had erected many altars to idols, particularly to the Canaanite fertility deity Baal. The altars Ephraim erected are said to be “altars…unto him to sin”(v. 11). With every altar it built, Israel multiplied its sin. Instead of proving its piety, each altar actually plunged the nation deeper and deeper into iniquity and guilt.
Israel was without excuse. God said, “I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing” (v. 12). Israel had the ceremonial, civil, and moral law that revealed how to walk before the Lord. It included thousands of directions, precepts, and prohibitions that were so explicit, comprehensive, and minute that Israel could not help but know what God demanded in true worship. Yet the Israelites treated the Law like an alien that had no place in their thoughts.
The priests multiplied sacrifices throughout the land, not to please God or expiate sin, but selfishly, to acquire personal gain. Such practices were offensive to God, and He totally rejected them. Hosea said, “but the LORD accepteth them not; now will he remember their iniquity, and judge their sins; they shall return to Egypt” (v. 13). The cup of Israel’s sin was full, and the time of her judgment had come. Egypt symbolizes exile, bondage, slavery, oppression, toil, and sorrow. The Israelites, of course, would not literally return to Egypt. But they would suffer the same plight and conditions they experienced in Egypt before their deliverance under Moses. Egypt represents the new exile and bondage Israel would endure under Assyria.
Hosea stated both the nature of Israel and Judah’s sin and the source of their suffering:
For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fortified cities; but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour their palaces (v. 14).
God was Israel’s salvation and security. How could she forget her Maker? Moreover, Moses had clearly warned the nation that if she forgot God, she would perish (Dt. 8:19). Israel became known as “the land of forgetfulness” (Ps. 88:12). In like manner, Judah also became infected with forgetfulness of God’s grace. Judah hoped its fortified cities would bring security from its enemies. Fortified cities symbolize a futile turning from trust in God to trust in one’s own self-sufficiency. God promised to devour the cities and palaces of Judah, and He did so in part when He used Sennacherib of Assyria to destroy all of Judah’s fortified cities except Jerusalem. Thus Israel experienced the definite fulfillment of what she was promised if she forgot God (Dt. 28:52).
Thousands of years later, Hosea still has a lesson for us today. Israel had not forgotten God intellectually but had neglected God spiritually. Her self-sufficient attitude resulted in national indifference, immorality, and idolatry. We, too, must remember that we not only reap what we sow, but we often reap more than we sow. And though the harvest may not come immediately, its arrival is inevitable.