Commentary on Hos 10:1-3, 7-8, 12
Like Harold McMillan’s Britain, Israel under Jeroboam II (793-753) “never had it so good”. The Northern Kingdom is called ‘Israel’ after the name of its ancestor and it is described as a “luxuriant vine”, which was a frequent metaphor for Israel.
But, as we so often see happening in our own world, the good life does not result in moral living. Quite the opposite, in fact, is the norm. We have only to look at our own “western” world in North America, Europe and parts of Asia.
“The more abundant his (i.e. Israel’s) fruit, the more altars… the more sacred pillars he set up.” How true! The greater the prosperity, the higher the standard of living, the more idols are erected, things which people use all their energies in worshipping and pursuing.
But the people’s “hearts are false”, their “hearts” are in the wrong place. Their heart is divided between worship of Yahweh and the Baals or hesitating between Egypt and Assyria for their alliances. Israel formally calls on God but it dishonours him through its worship of idols. But God will “break down these altars and destroy these sacred pillars”.
The values of truth, love and justice do not belong in the world of unlimited materialism, consumerism, hedonism, uninhibited sexual indulgence, fashion, status, success, power…
In fact, in so far as they are denials of truth and love and justice they will ultimately collapse because of their inbuilt contradictions for they are essentially opposed to people’s deepest aspirations, aspirations planted in our very being by our Creator.
“If only they would say, ‘We have no king’”, where ‘king’ refers to the idol they have set up to worship. “What can the king do for them?” The prophet’s question is rhetorical and requires no answer.
Little do they realise in the midst of their prosperity that the king of Samaria, namely the calf-idol, is doomed to disappear “like foam upon the waters”. Similarly, the “high places of Aven”, that is, the idolatrous shrine at Bethel, the “sin of Israel”, will meet with destruction and its altars overgrown with weeds.
They will be terrible days indeed when the people will call out for the hills to cover them and fall on them. Cries of utter despair quoted by Jesus when speaking to the women who sympathised with him as he carried his cross to Calvary. “Don’t cry for me but for yourselves and your children. For the days are coming when people will say, ‘How lucky are the women who never bore children [normally regarded as a terrible shame]… That will be the time when people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills ‘Hide us!’ (Luke 23:28-30), referring to the coming destruction of Jerusalem. It is also cited in Revelation (6:16) in the context of the cosmic upheaval accompanying the coming of the ‘Day of the Lord’.
But there is a way out, if the people change their ways and begin to plant justice, a justice where all share equitably in the resources available and to reap the fruits that come from deeply loving and compassionate hearts. It is time now to plough new furrows in what has up to now been fallow and unproductive ground and go in search of God, becoming instead productive and fruitful. We remember what Jesus said would happen to the vine tree whose branches did not bear fruit.
It is for us to ask ourselves today to what extent we have been carried away by the affluence of our societies and the prevailing values (or lack thereof).
Let us think about ploughing a new field in our own lives and work to produce the fruit that matters, the fruit that lasts. Fruit that not only we ourselves can enjoy but which can be shared with others.