Hosea exposes the problem between God and Israel. He describes Israel as a luxuriant grape vine sending runners in every direction, indicating a bountiful crop. It indeed produces great material prosperity, but it is consumed through self-indulgent gorging. This is God's way of showing that Israel abused its prosperity: It used its prosperity for the purposes of idolatry. Its prosperity played a part in corrupting the Israelites' hearts, which is why Hosea mentions the divided or disloyal heart in context with its bountiful fruit.
A large part of this world's appeal is its offer of financial security. However, God shows there is a possible harmful, secondary effect: As people become financially secure, their attention is diverted from His purpose to vain and unimportant things. In other words, prosperity turns people's heads. There is no doubt that prosperity is good, but unless one is properly focused and disciplined, it can also be a demanding master because of its power to distract one into idolatry. Recall God's prophecy in Deuteronomy 32:15, predicting that when Israel prospered, then it would rebel.
This connects with the curse of Laodiceanism because God shows in the Laodiceans what can happen spiritually as people increase materially. Because such people are drunk through riches' deceptive promise, their judgment is in danger of being radically altered. The Laodicean evaluates himself, saying, "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing" (Revelation 3:17).
He is deceived into thinking that his material prosperity proves that God approves of his conduct and attitudes. His overall conduct may not be too bad, but his poor self-analysis persuades him that he has no urgent need to seek God any further. He then merely floats, going through the motions, even feeling good about himself as he neglects so great salvation (Hebrews 2:3). His opinion of his holiness as compared with God's judgment is so far off base, it causes Jesus Christ to regurgitate him from His body.
Recall the mention in Hosea 10:1 of increasing and embellishing altars just before Israel fell to Assyria. One would think that, if altars increase during this period of prosperity, then religion is flourishing. Indeed, religion flourished, as Amos, Hosea's contemporary, clearly reports (see Amos 5:21-27). However, it was not the religion God gave through Moses, but idolatry that flourished! It was a corruption of that religion, for the Israelites syncretized that holy way with Baalism and other idolatries.
In Hosea 10:2, God charges Israel with having a divided heart. Commentaries are at odds over what the Hebrew word translated divided means. Most modern translations use "false," "deceitful," or "faithless," and none of these are wrong, including "divided." The Hebrew word suggests "smoothness" or "flattering," describing people who "talk the talk" but do not "walk the walk."
Isaiah 29:13 clarifies what God means: "Therefore the LORD said: 'Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.'" Their reverence for Him was mere intellectual accommodation intended to appease Him. They used the name of God frequently, saying they trusted Him, but they filled the nation with stealing, lying, and murder.
II Kings 17:33 illustrates their worship: "They feared the LORD, yet served their own gods - according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away." This describes to a T what Israel did then and their descendants are continuing to do today. Moffatt renders this, "They worshipped the Eternal, and they also served their own gods."
This chapter reports on the behavior of the people placed in Israel after Israel's conquest and deportation by Assyria between 722-720 BC. These people, who became known as the Samaritans, feared the Lord but worshipped their own gods. They were afraid of God, but they did not really change their way of life. Thus, they developed a syncretic religious system, a blending of the truth of God and outright paganism. The Jews of Christ's day clearly recognized this putrid blend and despised the Samaritans for it.
What is so interesting is that, by verse 36, God is no longer reporting on the Samaritans but is addressing Israel. In other words, God is saying that He was driven to defeat and scatter Israel because they were guilty of exactly the same sin as the Samaritans! They too had blended the worship of the true God with outright paganism, utterly corrupting the relationship He had established with them.
It is urgent that we understand what is involved here because it reveals the cause of God's anger that led to Israel's defeat and scattering. We must understand that our god is not what we say we worship but what we serve. Our god is what we give our lives over to.
Theoretically, the Israelites did not believe in idols, but in reality, they did. They believed in a Creator God, but they worshipped Him at the shrines they erected to the Baals. While they gave lip service to the Creator, they adopted most of the Canaanitish religion with its lewd immorality, and in actual practice, patterned their life after it. In daily life, they conformed to and reflected the Babylonish system just as Israel does today. This is exactly what God warns us to flee, and the only way to come out of it is by developing and maturing in our relationship with God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Be There Next Year
The problem between God and Israel is clearly exposed. Hosea describes Israel as a luxuriant grapevine sending runners in every direction, indicating producing a bountiful crop. Great prosperity is indeed produced, yet it is consumed in self-indulgence.
Israel abused its prosperity by using it for purposes of idolatry. God is indicating that its prosperity played a part in corrupting the people's hearts. This is why the deceitful, divided, disloyal heart is mentioned in context with the multitude of its fruit.
Much of the world's appeal is that it seems to offer financial security. However, God shows there is a possible evil, secondary effect: As people become financially secure, their attention is diverted from His purpose to things that are vain and corrupting.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Laodiceanism and Being There Next Year
We can observe a connection between prosperity and the increase of altars and the Laodicean's making a poor judgment of his spiritual condition. The Revised Standard Version translates these phrases in Hosea 10:1 as, "The more his fruit increased the more altars he built; as his country improved he improved his pillars."
Both altars and pillars are references to religion - specifically, pagan religion. The plural terms reflect a typically carnal conclusion that numerical increase indicates growth and of a sort that is good because God must surely approve. Growth in the number of places of worship would convince most that religion is flourishing.
Religion, though, is different from secular pursuits. The greatest Teacher and Pastor who ever graced this earth preached to tens of thousands of people, yet ended His ministry with only 120 converts. Moreover, He calls the church a "little flock," signifying that it would never grow large (Luke 12:32). Using numbers as the standard, Jesus was an outright failure! Any large Billy Graham evangelistic campaign produces more "conversions" each night than Jesus had during His entire ministry.
Many comparisons are elusive and easily manipulated, not deserving to be depended upon as true evaluations of quality. For instance, Americans tend to rate the greatness of a city by the size of its population. But is New York City really the greatest American city? Does it really deserve to be called "the Big Apple"? In the public mind, the strength of a commercial business is measured by its income. If a business does a million dollars more business this year than last, then it is considered to be flourishing. Evaluating in this manner is one thing that gets the Laodicean in trouble. Religion, however, is not that sort of commodity at all; it is spirit.
We sometimes say, "So and so is a big man." What do we mean by this? The person may not be physically impressive, but we suggest the greatness of his influence. Isaiah 53:2 says of Jesus, "He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him there is no beauty that we should desire Him." Likewise, according to tradition, the apostle Paul was not a physically impressive man. The spirituality of these men made them great, but this quality cannot be measured numerically because spirit involves many intangibles. Thus, the ultimate measure of a Christian is qualitative not quantitative. It is not a question of how many but of what sort.
Hosea 10:1-2 is an almost perfect foundation for understanding the erroneous judgment the Laodicean makes - and thus the substance of his spiritual problem. An additional historical reference in Amos adds perspective to this condition. Amos approaches Israel's spiritual problems from a somewhat different angle than Hosea. He shows the people as having all the forms of the true religion, yet because it lacks substance, they are well off but almost totally lacking in social justice. They take care of themselves but not their relationship with God or with their neighbors.
Hosea says that Israel "brings forth fruit for himself." In Revelation 3, Laodicea is contrasted to Philadelphia. The Philadelphian loves God and his brother, but the Laodicean loves himself as exhibited by what he spends his time doing. The Laodicean carries the name "Christian," but he is not serving the Lord Christ except in a most passive manner. He serves himself, which is why he says he needs nothing. He does not need even God! Laodiceanism is perhaps the most subtle of all forms of idolatry.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Be There Next Year
One would think that, if altars are increased during a period of prosperity, as verse 1 states, then religion must be flourishing. Indeed, religion was flourishing! Amos, Hosea's contemporary, clearly reports this in his book. However, what was flourishing was not the religion God gave through Moses but idolatry. Notice in verse 2 that God accuses Israel of having a heart that is divided.
Ironically, commentaries have divided opinions over what the Hebrew word translated "divided" means. Most modern translators render this word as either "false," "deceitful," or "faithless." None of these are wrong, including "divided," because the Hebrew word indicates "smoothness." It all depends on the context in which it is used. It can also suggest "flattering," which ought to give us a clue that it describes people who "talk the talk but do not walk the walk." Notice Isaiah 29:13:
Therefore the LORD said, "Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men. . . .
Isaiah lived just before Amos and Hosea. However, he was a prophet to Judah primarily, whereas the other two men were prophets to Israel—the ten northern tribes. What Isaiah says agrees with what Hosea says. These people were flattering God with their tongues, but their hearts were not really in what they were doing. Reverence for God, then, was merely an intellectual accommodation intended to appease Him. They acted as if God could not see right through them! It shows how far off-base and carnal they were in their thinking.
They used the name of God frequently, undoubtedly claiming that they trusted Him, just as we do today. All of our coins and paper money read, "In God We Trust." Yet, these people filled the nation with lying, stealing, murder, adultery, fornication, coveting, Sabbath-breaking, and idolatry, all the while giving Him lip service with their mouths—talking the talk but not walking the walk. This is why God says, "Your heart is divided. It is deceitful. You talk so smoothly, but your heart is false."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Laodiceanism and Being There Next Year
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Hosea 10:1: