Empty vines and plowing wickedness

Week Forty-Six: Hosea 1–6; 10–14; Joel

Hosea was a prophet of the northern kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam II. This was a time in Israel’s history when the country was experiencing rapid decline and ruin because of the sins of Israel. Hosea warned and prophesied about both kingdoms’ future destruction. Because he made no mention of the northern tribes being conquered and deported by Assyria, historians speculate that Hosea died before that event occurred.

The major theme of Hosea is how much God loves Israel. God constantly showed His love for His people, but His people did not show God the same love in return. Hosea symbolized the love of the Lord by a marriage with Israel as the Lord’s bride. Israel had been unfaithful to her loving husband, always playing the harlot with other gods. Hosea described the children of Israel in the following way: “Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty: he shall break down their altars, he shall spoil their images…. They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant….”[i]

Israel had made a covenant with God to be His chosen people, similar to the faithful promise of a bride to her bridegroom. But Israel had been adulterous with other gods, rather than being true to the God of Israel.

In Chapters 6 and 10, Hosea recounted how the people have turned places of holiness into places of desolation. As a term of contempt, Hosea called the holy place of Bethel, where Abraham and Jacob had temple experiences, Beth-aven. The term “aven” has been translated as meaning “idol,” “emptiness,” or “vanity.”[ii]

Hosea prophesied: “The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Beth-aven… It shall be also carried unto Assyria….The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed: the thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars; and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us.”[iii]

Israel will be ashamed of their past idolatry during this time of judgment. Once a fruitful field, Israel is now barren and desolate with thorns and thistles taking the place of fruits and vines.

Hosea warned: “Israel is an empty vine…. Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men.”[iv]

Think about Israel’s missed opportunities and blessings. They could have enjoyed prosperity and peace by being faithful to the covenants they had made with God. Instead, they chose the gods of this world, and their choice caused their destruction.

We have the same choice to make. Which god do we follow – the God of Israel or the gods of this world?

Elder Christofferson reminds us: “Make up your mind and settle it in your heart that you choose God. Find the quiet time when you can kneel down in a private place and say to your Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, that you are His, that you are committed, body and soul, to Him, His Son, and the gospel path. Then follow where He leads, now and for the rest of your life. Don’t hesitate or hold back any longer but get on with your purpose and mission in life. Mortality is so short. Make this time count so that your eternity will be one of joy, not regret. Do you not feel the Spirit telling you that this is right? And go forward with confidence.[v]

Looking forward to a future Israel, Hosea offered hope to the adulterous Kingdoms of Judah and Israel.

“Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.”[vi] Then, Hosea referred to the promise of the Lord’s own resurrection which will bring Israel back to life: “After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.”[vii]

This is the hope that each one of us can have in the Lord. We all sin. As Elder Lynn G. Robbins taught: “Repentance isn’t [God’s) backup plan in the event we might fail. Repentance is His plan, knowing that we will.”[viii]

The invitation is to “come and let us return to the Lord.” He is waiting for Israel’s return, but the children of Israel must do their part in order to return to God’s presence and His promised land.

Elder Carpenter taught: “Through Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice, we can be redeemed from our sins and brought back to the presence of God the Father if we repent. Spiritual healing is not one-sided—it requires the Savior’s redemptive power and sincere repentance on the part of the sinner. For those who choose not to repent, they are rejecting the healing Christ offers. For them, it is as though no redemption was made.”[ix]

The work of returning back to the Lord is just that – work. Hosea used the example of the farmer’s hard work of planting and the farmer’s faith that the seeds will grow. His analogy is similar to Christ’s parable of the Sower. A farmer sows seeds, but he must make sure the ground is fertile, rather than full of thorns or weeds. He breaks up clods of dirt, so that the ground is fine, and seeds can push themselves out of the earth. But, the farmer cannot supply the rain. Instead, he must rely upon the Lord for rain.

We must sow righteousness in order to reap the mercy of the Lord. We must prepare our ground by breaking off all evil in order for our righteousness to grow. Just like the farmer, after we put in the work to repent, then we must wait upon the Lord to send us the peace that only comes through Jesus Christ’s Atonement.

Hosea taught: “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he comes and rains righteousness upon you.”[x]

May we find joy in the Lord this week as we sow righteousness and reap mercy from the Lord.

[i] Hosea 10:2, 4

[ii] Bible Hub, Aven (Bethel).

[iii] Hosea 10:5, 6, 8

[iv] Hosea 10:2, 13

[v] D. Todd Christofferson, Choice and Commitment, January 2020 Devotional.

[vi] Hosea 6:1

[vii] Hosea 6:2

[viii] Lynn G. Robbins, Until Seventy Times Seven,” GC April 2018.

[ix] Matthew L. Carpenter, Wilt Thou Be made Whole?, October 2018.

[x] Hosea 10:12

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