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Meditations on Hosea 10:12 (With a Little Help from a 20th Century Prophet)

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.”

The book of Hosea is all about adultery, and particularly spiritual adultery. At the beginning of the book the prophet is asked to marry someone whom he knows will be unfaithful to him in marriage. This was to be an embodied parable reflecting the Lord’s relationship with his people Israel. The hurt and pain beginning the book, however, is not what has the final say.  

A common direction within the prophets is that sin and judgement are pronounced that move into hope and renewal for a remnant that God was going to spare by grace. The remedy for their sin is usually given and here it is no different. Hosea 10:12 is a remedy for the people that can be seen in the wider context of the chapter. Israel has been blessed in every way – she has been fruitful; but instead of this producing worship, it produced idolatry (v1). This is a heart problem that the Lord is intent in sorting out (v2). Their speech is inconsistent and full of hypocrisy (v3-4). Because of this, inevitable judgement is coming (v5-8). Indeed, this is not an overreaction on God’s part. It seems He has been patient with a people who have been like this for quite some time (v9-10). 

In verse 11 however, we have a turning point. The Lord will enable His people to plow – to break into the stubborn ground of their hearts and the ultimate aim is to see righteousness rain down on them again. 

AW Tozer, who has been described as a ‘prophet of the 20th century’, once preached a sermon on this verse entitled “Miracles that Follow the Plow”. In it, he expands and compares on what the difference is between the fallow ground and ploughed ground. I encourage you to listen to it (just search the sermon title in Google!). Here are some excerpts from it:

The man of fallow life is contented with himself and the fruit he once bore. He does not want to be disturbed. He smiles in tolerant superiority at revivals, fastings, self-searchings, and all the travail of fruit-bearing and the anguish of advance. The spirit of adventure is dead within him. He is steady, “faithful,” always in his accustomed place (like the old field), conservative, and something of a landmark in the little church. But he is fruitless – the curse of such a life is that it is fixed, both in size and in content. To be has taken the place of to become. The worst that can be said of such a man is that he is what he will be. He has fenced himself in, and by the same act, he has fenced out God and the miracle.

The plowed life is the life that has, in the act of repentance, thrown down the protecting fences and sent the plow of confession into the soul. The urge of the Spirit, the pressure of circumstances and the distress of fruitless living have combined thoroughly to humble the heart. Such a life has put away defense, and has forsaken the safety of death for the peril of life. Discontent, yearning, contrition, courageous obedience to the will of God: these have bruised and broken the soil till it is ready again for the seed. And as always fruit follows the plow. Life and growth begin as God “rains down righteousness.” Such a one can testify, “And the hand of the Lord was upon me there.”

Corresponding to these two kinds of life, religious history shows two phases, the dynamic and the static.

According to Tozer, these two types of ground manifest themselves in two different types of periods – “dynamic” and “static”. He goes on: 

“The dynamic periods were those heroic times when God’s people stirred themselves to do the Lord’s bidding and went out fearlessly to carry His witness to the world…Invariably the power of God followed such action. The miracle of God went when and where His people went; it stayed when His people stopped.

The static periods were those times when the people of God tired of the struggle and sought a life of peace and security.  Then they busied themselves trying to conserve the gains made in those more daring times when the power of God moved among them…”

The challenge to individuals and churches is simple: are we hallow or are we plowed? Are we settled or are we being changed? Tozer calls for serious introspection.

“A little self-examination will reveal that it and its members have become fallow. It has lived through its early travails and has now come to accept an easier way of life. It is content to carry on its painless program with enough money to pay its bills and a membership large enough to assure its future. Its members now look to it for security rather than for guidance in the battle between good and evil. It has become a school instead of a barracks. Its members are students, not soldiers. They study the experiences of others instead of seeking new experiences of their own.”

This is surely a word in season for many a local church right across this island of ours, North and South of the border. There are towns and cities with a church on every corner, and yet there is little to no impact on the community. I place myself in this firing line and must own up to the above assessment. 

But God’s promise in Hosea 10:12 still stands. This promise is for those in Christ since all the promises of God find their yes and amen in Him. There is a key: We must not be afraid of the plow. What the plow means is mass disruption in order to see growth. Tozer concludes by saying: 

“The only way to power for such a church is to come out of hiding and once more take the danger-encircled path of obedience. Its security is its deadliest foe. The church that fears the plow writes its own epitaph: the church that uses the plow walks in the way of revival.”

How much do we want this? It will be messy, it will be tiring, it will be challenging. But it will be worth it. 

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