A Rain of Righteousness

A quick summary of the threats of divine justice toward an unfaithful nation as depicted graphically in chapter 9 will set the stage for greater clarity in grasping the judgments of chapter 10. The degree of perversity pursued by a people that had been rescued from bondage in Egypt, had been given perfectly just laws with the promise of prosperity if they would follow them, and the consequent subjection to God’s wrath upon their insistent and generational disobedience gives sober warning to sinners and a breathtaking context for the power of saving grace.

I. They will become “wanderers among the nations.”

A.  9:1-6 – The continuous abominations of both religious life and moral life had made the case of Israel hopeless. The former source of their pleasures shall fail them, their attempts at worship shall only reveal their destitution both in piety and in provision. They return to captivity [Egypt and Memphis are use symbolically of their original captivity]. They profited nothing from their freedom, so God returns them to that former state, the oppression of a cruel and greedy people.

B.  9:7-9 –This focus text reiterates the determination of Yahweh to punish these people. 9:7a. and 9:9b. The attempt of their false prophets to give any meaningful message is utterly ludicrous. They only mouth the words of folly and push the nation toward ways that certainly will ensnare them. Note, if God refers to true prophets in verse 7, he pictures the way they are received by those involved in gross iniquity and great hostility. All their external attempts at religious display have no meaning for they are filled with hate, lawless in unrepentant hearts, and increasing corruption. Look at Judges 19: 22-30 for the reference to the moral abandonment in the event at Gibeah. That this is one of the symbols that God used to show their continuity with such deformed practice (see 10:9) shows the truth of 8:12. All the precepts God had given these people were ignored, despised, seen as strange, and rejected for idols of their lawless pleasures. “They have gone into deep depravity” (9).

C.  9:10-17–Though God had shown favor to Israel, from its earliest existence it has shown its tendency to whoring as in the events at Baal Peor in Numbers 25. The severity of the discipline at that time halted a plague that God had sent among the people, but did not rid them of their propensity for a religion that justified the pursuit and fulfillment of lust [“They became detestable like the thing they loved.” 10c]. A large part of God’s infliction of punishment, therefore, focuses on the loss of the fruit of the womb {“no birth, no pregnancy, no conception;” “I will bereave them till none is left; Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter;” “miscarrying womb and dry breasts;” “they shall bear no fruit, even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death” and then in 10:14 “Mothers were dashed in pieces with their children.”)  Why this startling severity? “My God will reject them because they have not listened to him.” They violated the first institution that God established in human society, marriage, and the physical and emotional seal that bound the man and the woman together. Their complete disregard for God was shown in this intolerable and destructive corruption of this divinely bestowed gift intended to display the unity of a couple in indivisible and unbreakable affection and mutual pleasure. In addition, they did not indicate any care for the lives and property of their own countrymen, so the symmetry of punishment by lawless destruction from outsiders is striking.


II.  Israel’s abundant fruitfulness, a blessing coming from a merciful God, increased the boldness of their sin and, therefore, multiplied the thoroughness and severity of their punishment (10:1, 2, 8).

A.  The blessings of God on Ephraim were summarized as abundance in the fruit bearing of their vines and the fertile land that produced abundance in crops. This abundance, however, a mercy from God the Lord, did not yield love and pure worship for God, but an infatuation with idolatry and increased attention to the false god that expressed the corruption of their hearts—“the more altars he made; … the better he made his sacred pillars.” 

B. Because “their heart is faithless,” God himself will take action, and “they must bear their guilt.” As is true throughout the Bible, had they manifest true faith in God’s promises, they would have been justified. But because they are faithless, their guilt remains. “The just will live by faith.” “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

C. Thus the places of their religious expression will be destroyed and rendered a wilderness. “Thorns and thistles” recalls the curse placed on the land as a result of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:18). The rebellion of Israel shows that they share in Adam’s rebellion and remain under that judgment through their own transgression. Their “high places” offer no help in the flurry of God’s anger. They will offer no refuge in the coming judgment, but as a precursor of that final day, Israel will cry for the rocks and the mountains to fall on them to hide them from the wrath of God (8c; cf. Revelation 6:15-17).


III. They are left without any defense from their king, and they see his powerless capitulation to alien forces. (10:3, 4, 7, 15b)

A. As they observe the collapse of earthly measures of defense, the Lord sets forth what should be their response: “We have no king, for we do not revere the Lord. As for the king, what can he do for us?”  (3). Our susceptibility to destruction comes because of our unfaithfulness. The king can do us no good; only the Lord can save us. But we have not honored him, therefore no earthly force can rescue us from merited judgment. Here, the words of 6:1-3 should be spoken from the heart. They should come to see that their only security is in their covenant standing with the Lord. But they have dishonored—even scoffed at—their covenant privilege so the judgment of Leviticus 26:14-43).

B. But again, what do we find? 

1. Their hypocritical posture toward God only intensifies their culpability. “They speak mere words, with worthless oaths they make covenants” (10:4a).

2. In the very place where they should see blessings on their land from their covenant God, they will find poisonous weeds—death in the furrows, death instead of life.

C. – Their kings, false from the beginning, will do them no good in the day of God’s judgments through Assyria. “They have set up kings,” God proclaimed, “but not by me; they have appointed princes, but I did not know it” (8:4a). He knew them, of course, and everything about them—their sin, their rebellion, their origin, and their eventual death and judgment. “I did not know it,” means that he had not set his own heart on it as consistent with the eventual reign of Messiah through the line of David.

D. 10:5, 6 – In the greatest of ironies, they fear for the loss of their gods. Why could these gods not intervene and protect them? I they had been so good to the Israelites in encouraging their adulterous ways, why do they not now rise and defeat the king of Assyria (‘the great king”) instead of serving as a monument to his superiority over their gods? One is reminded of the sarcasm of Isaiah in Isaiah 40:18-20.


IV. 10:10-12 – God looks to judgment with a formula for restoration.

A. Verse 10 reaffirms the determination of God to punish in accordance with his sovereign prerogative (“When I please, I will discipline them.”). The instruments he uses, as before emphasized, is the cruelty of pagan nations. God uses natural disaster, disease, miraculous intervention, bodily deterioration, and hostile militarism to bring his judgments. The ways that God visits his retributive justice in temporal matters are plentiful. The entire created order is at his disposal to use for his purposes. His power of presently sustaining it means that he may alter its course suddenly with no further exertion of power [the flood, fire from heaven on Sodom, the Red Sea destruction of the Egyptians army]. 

B. In eternity, he uses all the justly condemned people of the world as well as the devil and his gang of fallen angels to inflict each other with all the force of their fallen affections without any mitigation of common mercies. Every person in hell will learn what pure hatred and hostility from fellow creatures is like. In addition, the inhabitants of hell will know, far above all other miseries in hell, what the just and purely active wrath of the triune God is, for they will feel it to the extent that his holy character requires. Thus, the gathering of the nations against Ephraim is only a small foretaste of those miseries that lie on the other side of the grave. It seems that his “double iniquity” is symbolized in the two calves, one at Dan and the other at Bethel, and consists of the two whoredoms mentioned frequently, both spiritual and physical.

C. Verse 11. They have lived in relative ease, but now they will feel the removal of undeserved mercy.

1. God appeared to coddle them in their vices for they had life as easy as a calf trained to tread the corn. She was like a young trained heifer unrestricted by a yoke, without muzzle and having free access to the ground corn. She wore no yoke, but now her transgressions and idolatry will begin to bear the reality of physical bondage to reflect the grotesque reality of their spiritual bondage. 

2. She will learn something of hardship and the cost of taking God’s blessing for granted, considering his abundant mercies as their due and attributing them to their own power (“you have trusted in your own way” – 13) and the favor of Baal (“You have eaten the fruit of lies.”). He will put Ephraim to the yoke with a much more harsh and threatening labor before them. This is in contrast to the yoke that Christ invites us to take; for he is meek and lowly of heart, and in his yoke, we shall find rest to our souls (Matthew 11:29, 30).

3.  Judah, that would last for another 150 years, would nevertheless have trouble and learn many lessons about obedience, judgment, and their dependence on God through a number of difficulties. Eventually they too would be delivered to a time of exile.

D. Verse 12—Even under the clear threat of certain judgment, for so many sins and for so long a time, God still calls for righteousness and for heartfelt worship. 

1. If even now they would turn to the righteousness of God’s Law as their seed shown by their actions, they would reap the blessings of God’s steadfast love. “The one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but the one that sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). They are called by God to “Sow with a view to righteousness” (12).

2. Break up your fallow ground—those affections that have lain dormant must be renewed, the unproductive ground must be prepared for cultivation, good seed, growth, and abundant reaping. They have sought the world, they have sought their own pleasure—falsely perceived—in idols that approved their perversities and licentiousness; now they are called to place their affections upon the only worthy object of love with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength. “It is time to seek the Lord.” The promise implied is, “If you sow righteousness upon the newly plowed ground of love for God, then he will multiply your seed by raining righteousness upon you.” This verse follows on the suggested way to seek the Lord in 6:1-3 and anticipates the suggested mode of repentance in 14:1-3. When such repentance and faith are granted by God, he will also “rain righteousness” on the people through the righteousness of the Messiah (2 Corinthians 5:21).


V. Verses 13-15 -The beauty of repentance and righteousness to which they are openly called as an act of mercy falls on deaf ears and hardened hearts. 

A. But instead of seeking a harvest of righteousness, they have put iniquity in the forefront of their soil and sowing and have not sought any blessing from the Lord. When they plowed they turned their soil to be more productive for their chosen evil. As a result, their crop is shock after shock of injustice in the nation. The fruit that is born is fitting for the lies they have planted. “You have eaten the fruit of lies” (13b).

B. Their unyielding hearts have gained for them the brutal and thorough destruction of the Assyrians. Upon the coming attack from the Assyrians, confusion, fright, disorganization, brutal death, and hopeless flight will afflict every city. No fortress will stand against this war machine of Shalman. 

C. Shalmaneser employed the method of military execution upon the populace of those that he conquered. The news of his brutality and his success struck fear into the inhabitants of other cites to make their early surrender common. “Mothers were dashed to pieces with their children” (14:c). 

D. Hosea calls the northern kingdom by the name of Bethel, for the idol in residence there symbolized the iniquity of the 10 tribes. When this takes place, it will be virtually in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. At dawn, when it appears danger is past, when a full day of light promises to shine, the king is utterly cut off (15b).   

E. The existence of the Northern kingdom as a manifestation of the protected covenant people of God will come to an end. Their seed will be preserved only in mixture with the seed of the nations. This is a judgment but also becomes an avenue for the manifestation of divine mercy when Christ dies to save the children of God scattered abroad (John 11:52). When the serial female polygamist and adulterer found in Jesus one who told her all that she had done, introduced her to living water and worshipping in spirit and in truth, and gave in plain language his identity as the Messiah, (John 4:10, 23, 26, 29, 39-42) the Samaritans began to “reap in accordance with kindness” (12) instead of “the fruit of lies” (13). May God be praised for his longsuffering and his “rain of righteousness.”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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