Observe, I. What the sins are which are here laid to Israel’s charge, the national sins which bring down national judgment. The prophet deals plainly with them; for what good would it do them to be flattered?
1. They were not fruitful in the fruits of righteousness to the glory of God. Here all their other wickedness began (Hos. 10:1): Israel is an empty vine. The church of God is fitly compared to a vine, weak, and of an unpromising outside, yet spreading and fruitful; believers are branches of that vine, and partake of its root and fatness. But this was the character of Israel, they were as an empty vine, a vine that had no sap or virtue in it, and therefore none of those good fruits produced by it that were expected from it, with which God and man should be honoured. Note, There are many who, though they have not become degenerate vines, are yet empty vines, have no good in them. A vine is of all trees least serviceable if it do not bear fruit. It is thenceforth good for nothing, Ezek. 15:3, 5. And those that bring forth no grapes will soon come to bring forth wild grapes; those that do no good will do hurt. He is an empty vine, for he brings forth fruit to himself. What good there is in him is not directed to the glory of God, but he takes the praise of it to himself, and prides himself in it. Christians live not to themselves (Rom. 14:6), but hypocrites make self their centre; they eat and drink to themselves, Zech. 7:5, 6. Or Israel is by the judgments of God emptied and spoiled of all his wealth, because he made use of it in the service of his lusts, and not to the honour of God who gave it to him. Note, What we do not rightly employ we may justly expect to be emptied of.
2. They multiplied their altars and images, and the more bountiful God’s providence was to them the more prodigal they were in serving their idols: According to the multitude of his fruit which his land brought forth he has increased the altars, and according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images. Note, It is a great affront to God, and an abuse of his goodness, when the more mercies we receive from him the more sins we commit against him, and when the more wealth men have the more mischief they do. Should not we be thus abundant in the service of our God, as they were in the service of their idols? As we find our estates increasing, we should proportionably abound the more in works of piety and charity.
3. Their hearts were divided, Hos. 10:2. (1.) They were divided among themselves. They were at variance about their idols, some for one, some for another, at variance about their kings, whose separate interests made parties in the kingdom, and in them their very hearts were divided, and alienated one from another, and there was no such thing as cordial friendship to be found among them; it follows therefore, Now shall they be found faulty. Note, The divisions and animosities of a people are the causes of much sin and the presages of ruin. (2.) They were divided between God and their idols. They had a remaining affection in their hearts for God, but a reigning affection for their idols. They halted between God and Baal, that was the dividing of their heart. But God is the sovereign of the heart and he will by no means endure a rival; he will either have all or none. Satan, like the pretended mother, says, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it; but, if this be yielded to, God says, Nay, let him take it all. A heart thus divided will be found faulty, and be rejected as treacherous in covenanting with God. Note, A heart divided between God and mammon, though it may trim the matter so as to appear plausible, will, in the day of discovery, be found faulty.
4. They made no conscience of what they said and what they did in the most solemn manner, Hos. 10:4 (1.) Not of what they said in swearing, which is the most solemn speaking: They have spoken words, and words only, for they meant not as they said; they did verba dare—give words. They swore falsely in making a covenant; they were deceitful in their covenanting with God, the covenant of circumcision, the fair promises they made of reformation when they were in distress; and no marvel if those that were false to their God were false to all mankind. They contracted such a habit of treachery that they broke through the most sacred bonds, and made nothing of them; subjects violated their oaths of allegiance and their kings their coronation-oaths; they broke their leagues with the nations they were in alliance with, nor was any conscience made of contracts between private persons. (2.) Nor of what they did in judgment, which is the most solemn acting. Justice could not take place when men made nothing of forswearing themselves; for thus judgment, which should have been a healing medicinal plant and of a sweet smell, sprang up as hemlock, which is both nauseous and noxious, in the furrows of the field, in the field that was ploughed and furrowed for good corn. Note, God is greatly offended with corruptions, not only in his own worship, but in the administration of justice between man and man, and the dishonesty of a people shall be the ground of his controversy with them as well as their idolatry and impiety; for God’s laws are intended for man’s benefit and the good of the community, as well as for God’s honour, and the profanation of courts of justice shall be avenged as surely as the profanation of temples.
II. What the judgments are with which Israel should be punished for these sins; they sinned both in civil and religious matters, and in both they shall be punished. 1. They shall have no joy of their kings and of their government. Because justice is turned into oppression, therefore those who are entrusted with the administration of it, and should be blessings to the state, shall be complained of as the burdens of it (Hos. 10:3), and those that would not rule their people well shall not be able to protect them: Now they shall say, “We have no king, that is, we are as if we had none, we have none to do us any good nor stand us in any stead, none to keep us from destroying ourselves or being destroyed by our enemies, none to preserve the public peace nor to fight our battles; and justly has this come to us. Because we feared not the Lord, when we were safe under the protection of our kings, therefore we are rejected by him, and then what shall a king do for us? What good can we expect from a king when we have forfeited the favour of our God?” Note, Those that cast off the fear of God are not likely to have joy of any of their creature-comforts; nor will men’s loyalty to their prince befriend them without religion, for, though that may engage him to be for them, what good will that do them if God be against them? Those that keep themselves in the fear and favour of God may say, with triumph, “What can the greatest of men do against us?” But those that throw themselves out of his protection must say, with despair, “What can the greatest of men do for us?” He was a king that said, If the Lord do not help thee, whence should I help thee? Yet he is a fool that says, If a king cannot help us, we must perish (as these intimate here), for God can do that for us which kings cannot. Time was when they doted upon having a king; but now what can a king (who, they thought, could do any thing) do for them? God can make people sick of those creature-confidences which they were most fond of. This is their complaint when their king is disabled to help them, yet this is not the worst; their civil government shall not only be weakened, but quite destroyed (Hos. 10:7): As for Samaria, the royal city, which is now almost all that is left, her king is cut off as the foam from the water. The foam swims uppermost, and makes a great show upon the face of the water, yet it is but a heap of bubbles raised by the troubling of the water. Such were the kings of Israel, after their revolt from the house of David, a mere scum; their government had no foundation. No better are the greatest of kings when they set up in opposition to God; when God comes to contend with them by his judgments he can as easily disperse and dissolve them, and bring them to nothing, as the froth upon the water. 2. They shall have no joy of their idols and of their worship of them. And miserable is the case of that people whose gods fail them when their kings do. (1.) The idols they had made, and the altars they had set up in honour of them, should be broken down, and spoiled, and carried away, as common plunder, by the victorious enemy: He shall break down their altars. God shall do it by the hand of the Assyrians: the Assyrians shall do it by order from God. He shall spoil their images, Hos. 10:2. Note, What men make idols of it is just with God to break down and spoil. But the calf at Bethel was the sovereign idol; it was this that the inhabitants of Samaria doted most upon; now it is here foretold that this should be destroyed: The glory of it has departed from it (Hos. 10:5) when it is thrown down and defaced, no more to be worshipped; but this is not all: It shall also be carried to Assyria (as some think that the calf at Dan was some time before) for a present to king Jareb. It was carried to him as a rich booty (for it was a golden calf, and probably adorned with the gifts and offerings of its worshippers) and as a trophy of victory over their enemies: and what more glorious trophy could they bring than this, or more incontestable proof of an absolute conquest? Thus it is said, The sin of Israel shall be destroyed (Hos. 10:8), that is, the idols which they made the matter of their sin; it is said of them, They became a sin to all Israel, 1 Kgs. 12:30. Note, If the grace of God prevail not to destroy the love of sin in us, it is just that the providence of God should destroy the food and fuel of sin about us. With the idols, the high places shall be destroyed, the high places of Aven, that is, of Bethaven (Hos. 10:5) or Bethel; it was called the house of God (so Bethel signifies), but now it is called the house of iniquity, nay, iniquity itself. The kings did not, as they ought to have done, take away the high places by the sword of justice, and therefore God will take them away by the sword of war; so that the thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars, that is, they shall lie in ruins. Their altars, while they stood, were as thorns and thistles, offensive to God and good men, and fruits of sin and the curse; justly therefore are they buried in thorns and thistles. (2.) The destruction of their idols, their altars, and their high places, shall be the occasion of sorrow, and shame, and terror to them. [1.] It shall be an occasion of sorrow to them. When the calf at Bethel is broken the people thereof shall mourn over it. They looked upon the calf to be the protector of their nation, and, when that was gone, thought they must all be undone, which made the poor ignorant people that were deluded into the love of it lament bitterly, as Micah did (Jdg. 18:24), You have taken away my gods, and what have I more? The priests that had rejoiced in it shall now mourn for it with the people. Note, Whatever men make a god of they will mourn for the loss of; and an inordinate sorrow for the loss of any worldly good is a sign we made an idol of it. They used to be very merry in the worship of their idols, but now they shall mourn over them; for sinful mirth shall, sooner or later, be turned into mourning. [2.] It shall be an occasion of shame to them (Hos. 10:6): Ephraim shall receive shame when he sees the gods he trusted to carried into captivity, and Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel, in putting such confidence in them and paying such adoration to them. God’s ark and altars were never thrown down till the people rejected them; but the idolatrous altars were thrown down when the people were doting on them, which shows that the contempt of the former, and the veneration for the latter, were the sins for which God visited them. [3.] It shall be an occasion of fear to them (Hos. 10:5): The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear; they shall be in pain for their gods and afraid of losing them; or, rather, they shall be in pain for themselves and their children and families, when they see the judgments of God breaking in upon them and beginning with their idols, as he executed judgment against the gods of Egypt, Exod. 12:12. Thus idolaters are brought in trembling when God arises to shake terribly the earth, Isa. 2:21. And here (Hos. 10:8), They shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us. The supporters of idolatry (Rev. 6:15, 16) are brought in calling thus in vain to rocks and mountains to shelter them from God’s wrath.