It’s the Word of the Year – “toxic”. Every year Oxford Dictionaries choose a word or expression to reflect the passing year in language. Their data shows that people used the term to describe a broad range of situations. Things like workplaces, schools, relationships, cultures, and stress. It’s commonly used about political debate and rhetoric, of course. “Reviewing this year in language, we repeatedly encountered the word ‘toxic’ being used to describe an increasing set of conditions that we’re all facing…‘toxic’ seems to reflect a growing sense of how extreme, and at times radioactive, we feel aspects of modern life have become”. Why is this and what is the remedy?
Toxic is defined as “poisonous” and this is the origin of the word. In the Bible it’s often used to describe sin and its effects. In particular tongue operated by sin is untameable and “an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8; Psalm 140:3; Psalm 58:4). Poisonous effects are inevitable as sin grows unchecked and dominates the lives of individuals and communities.
It was the same in Israel when it was rebelling against God; the human heart is the same. In the time of Hosea, society had become toxic in the nation of Israel. There were many words but they were empty words. There were promises and agreements but they were deceitful and quickly broken. “They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant”. They had also broken faith with God in their religious profession; their words could not be trusted in this. God was going to judge them in leaving their sins to go unrestrained. Hosea uses a picture to describe the effects of this. It is like poisonous hemlock taking over and springing up in the furrows of the field rather than wheat (Hosea 10:4). They were overrun with the poisonous effects of their sin.
George Hutcheson comments on this. They used empty words and false oaths in their agreements both with God and men. They kept none of them and so judgment was springing up “as hemlock”. Due to their corruption and unfaithfulness the bitter and deadly fruits of unrighteousness rather than justice were springing up throughout the land. It is a sad picture but later in the chapter we have the remedy for it in repentance and faith towards God and His blessing. This is what our toxic world needs.
1. Why Things Become Toxic
(a) Empty Words
God cannot endure the empty words and professions of men, whether in religion or in their private dealings. It was said of Israel, they “have spoken words” – mere words.
(b) Trust Has Disappeared
Wicked men’s oaths and covenants with God or men are no more to be trusted than their words. It is the cause of sad dispute when it is so. This charge is added to the previous one: “swearing falsely in making a covenant” (see also Leviticus 26:25; Ezekiel 17:15; Psalm 15:4).
(c) Lack of Trust Leads to All Unrighteousness
When there is such hypocrisy and deception in making no conscience of oaths and covenants a people are ripe for all unrighteousness. They will be given up to produce so much of the fruits of unrighteousness that it will be bitter and deadly to the oppressed. God will also reckon it bitter and intolerable. Judgment springs up like hemlock in its nature and abundance.
(d) God Sees Beyond Outward Appearances
False and pretended professions and appearances cannot hide the true nature of sin from the all-seeing eye of God. He uses means intended to make a people righteous, but this makes their unrighteousness appear all the more loathsome. Israel may well have seemed to make an outward profession and make efforts to bring forth good and righteous fruit (like a farmer ploughs a field). God had provided means for this (like a field which is fertilised). But instead judgment was springing up like hemlock in the very furrows of the field and not just the waste ground.
The Remedy for a Toxic Condition
The remedy for this is mentioned later in the chapter at verse 12. It continues to use the metaphor of sowing a field but this time it holds out the promise of a true yield. They are told: “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you”. This is an exhortation to repentance and reformation. They are to sow the fruits of righteousness with the promise that they will reap the fruits of mercy. They are to break up and fertilise the hard and wild ground of their heart. This would show their true repentance. He promises to forgive their sins and clothe them with Christ’s righteousness.
(a) God’s Most Severe Threats are Calls to Repentance
When the Lord is most severe in threatening we must consider it to be an exhortation to repentance with implied promises. If they were to heed this, who knows what mercy would make of the worst person or people in the world?
(b) The Fruits of Righteousness are Evidence of Repentance
The fruits of righteousness in relation to the second half of the Ten Commandments are the true evidences of repentance and conversion to God through faith in Jesus Christ. This is why He requires sowing in righteousness, or the duties of righteousness. It is not as if this righteousness summed up the whole of their conversion, but simply its evidences and fruits.
(c) God Requires Diligence in Repentance
Their duty is expressed using terms taken from the hard labours of farming, particularly sowing. In sowing famers must wait for the reward of their labour and those who repent must be content to wait on God for the blessing (see Psalm 97:11; James 5:7).
(d) God Requires Repentance for Our Benefit
God does not seek obedience because He needs it. The benefit is for those who repent: “sow to yourselves”, He says.
(e) The Harvest of Righteousness May be Delayed
Righteousness may seem to be long forgotten and lost, lying like seed under the earth. In due time, however, it will bring a blessed harvest of grace. He says, “sow” and “reap” (see Psalm 126:6; Galatians 6:9).
(f) Those Who are Truly Righteous Depend on Mercy Alone
Those who truly walk in righteousness flee to Christ in the Covenant of Grace and draw strength from Him for new obedience. They look only to Gods mercy and not their own worth. They expect to “reap in mercy”.
(g) We Need A New Nature to Produce Righteousness
We can reap no fruit (despite our diligence) until our hard hearts which are unused to any good are changed and put in a new and fruitful condition. It also says, “break up your fallow ground”. This metaphor is taken from ploughing to teach that their hearts are as wild as land like not used to being ploughed is hard to plough. Greater effort must be taken to humble themselves and repent.
(h) We Must Not Neglect Opportunities to Repent
“It is time to seek the Lord” in view of how long they had neglected or refused to seek God in the past (see 1 Peter 4:3). As long as sinners are preserved and invited to repentance it is still an acceptable time. Such opportunities should not be neglected.
(i) We Must Not Give Up Seeking God
Those who seek God sincerely to enjoy Him will not give up until He comes. They “seek the LORD, till he come”.
(j) God Promises to Pour Out His Blessings
Those who seek the Lord sincerely and constantly will not only find Him, but He will come over all obstacles that they could not get over. He comes and rains righteousness, freely pouring out blessings, refresh them after all their labours in pursuing after Him.
(k) Christ’s Righteousness is the Great Blessing
God will freely refresh His people by fulfilling the promises they wait for. He will fulfil many of them in a shower together. This will make up for long delays. He will refresh them under the shadow of Christ’s righteousness (their greatest hope,) and its rich fruits. He “will rain righteousness upon you” means both His righteousness in faithfully keeping His promise and His imputed and freely given righteousness. This is the imputed righteousness of Christ, which is witnessed to by the law and the prophets (Romans 3:21-22).