Hosea and Farming References in the Bible
S. Lewis Johnson often remarked that we who grew up in the city (instead of the farm), do not as fully appreciate some of the Bible’s illustrations and agricultural references. The Bible is replete with agricultural images that the people of Israel would understand in a way that related to their everyday life. The relatively few non-agricultural analogies come in the New Testament, mainly from Paul: for instance, running the race, and constructing a building. But for the most part, Jesus referenced the Old Testament pictures of farming, vineyards and sheep/shepherds.
Some interesting farm-specific pictures come forth in Hosea’s prophecy, and now I look at Hosea 10, the topic of one of S. Lewis Johnson’s messages in his Hosea series.
Verse 1 describes a “luxuriant vine.” Israel is like that vine, one that keeps growing and growing but only for itself and not towards God. Here SLJ described his own gardening experience with vines, and that he had recently observed this very thing with his own vines: two vines next to each other, and one was just growing a lot, putting forth lots of vine and leaves, but very little fruit throughout it. The vine right next to it was much smaller and had more grapes on it.
Verse 11 tells us that “Ephraim was a trained calf that loved to thresh.” Johnson, who also grew up in the city, had to look up this reference in the commentaries, to understand and explain that the threshing part of the animal’s work is fairly easy work as compared to other tasks. Understanding that analogy, the implication is clear: Israel had had it pretty easy up to this point, but soon God’s yoke of judgment would come: no more threshing but more unpleasant work.
Verses 12 and 13 emphasize the overall crop process: plowing, then reaping, then eating. Again it’s something that should be obvious, but not as much so for us who get our food from the grocery store. Verse 12 is a call for the people to “break up your fallow ground.” Fallow ground is idle ground — land which not only brings forth lots of weeds and thorns (pretty obvious even for us who do simple gardening and lawncare), but also becomes harder, tougher, more difficult to break up with a plow. Another application here is the fact, somewhat uncomfortable for us but nonetheless so, that the majority of believers “break up their fallow ground” in their younger days, when the ground (the soul) is not quite as hardened as in later years. Again we recognize that yes, it is possible for older people to be saved, and many are, but the vast majority of Christians were saved before age 30. How urgent the plea becomes: now is “the time to seek the Lord, so that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.” I recall many Spurgeon sermons on this subject, as he urges people to not put off the day of salvation; you may think that you can repent and come later, but your heart may become more hardened by then and you lose that opportunity, to your eternal destruction.
Even in that phrase above comes another illustration from nature: the Lord will “rain righteousness upon you,” a reference again to nature. The rain breaks up the fallow ground to make plowing easier. S. Lewis Johnson related this also to the account in 1 Kings 18, where the rain finally came to a land in drought for 3 years, and Ahab and the others had to hurry home before the chariot wheels would get stuck in the mud.
Verse 13 ends that section of the text, with the basic agricultural sequence: you have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies.