Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD, till He comes and rains righteousness on you. You have plowed wickedness; you have reaped iniquity. You have eaten the fruit of lies, because you trusted in your own way, in the multitude of your mighty men. (Hosea 10:12–13—NKJV)

Sowing crops is always with a view to the harvest. The length of view always determines the crop. Some vegetables are pretty quick producers, inside of two months from planting to harvest. Some nut trees will not be harvested for their wood within your lifetime. Years ago a man told me that if he just had a few acres of land to set aside for planting Walnut trees, his children would be sitting pretty in their old age! He was sure there would be a fortune grown in wood.

As with nature, the spiritual world has various growing seasons from seed planting to harvest. Some sins produce a bumper crop in short order, other sins sit in the ground of life waiting to germinate at an opportune time, and still other sins take a lifetime to bear their bitter fruit of selfishness and rebellion. Righteousness has its rhythm of seasons and fruitful harvest as well.

Hosea wrote these words to Israel while it was still dwelling in relative peace and prosperity, but its spiritual climate was one of “moral corruption and spiritual bankruptcy” (The MacArthur Study Bible). Verse 13 of our text describes the behavior of the nation as having “plowed wickedness; you have reaped iniquity.” No one can get a good crop from ground that has nothing good to give. The ground they chose to invest their life energy in was the noxious and fetid soil of wickedness. Any good crop will struggle in such soil and tangles, weeds, and thorns will choke out any worthy seedlings (Proverbs 6:14, 16:28, 22:8).

Unless God changes the blighted soil in the heart (of any and every man) there will be no fruit of righteousness—none. Our Lord speaks to this reality in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:1–15). The wicked heart of man, apart from the grace of God, is only a nursery and breeding ground for that which is twisted, perverted, shriveled and stunted. Even if you plant the good seeds of righteousness in the plowed-up ground of wickedness, your harvest will be brambles and burrs. Self-righteousness, self-dependence, self-reformation and any other fertilizer scattered on the hard ground of a wicked heart will have not one iota of influence for the sake of righteousness. The very ground has to be completely changed out by God’s miraculous grace; it is the only hope (Jeremiah 17:9, Ezekial 36:26, Romans 3:10–20).

Hosea’s generation had “eaten the fruit of lies.” Lying to yourself, or blindly trusting the favorable perspective of your congenitally blind peers—both are signs of spiritual delusion. Lies are always sweet to the taste because they lack the bitter edge of plain truth. The poison of lies is only apparent in the digestion.

God’s call to Israel, and to you, is to break the fallow ground and to plant seeds of righteousness. The recollection of those who put the first plow through the ground of the Great Plains of the United States was that the plow made the sound of a great zipper as the plow broke up virgin soil. The farmer must turn over the earth so that the weeds get uprooted and are killed off so that the treasured crop may thrive and grow without competition.

Ecclesiastes 11:5 teaches the kind of ethic required of the spiritual seed planter of righteousness: “In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not withhold your hand; for you do not know which will prosper, either this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” Proverbs 11:18–19 reads, “The wicked man does deceptive work, but he who sows righteousness will have a sure reward. As righteousness leads to life, so he who pursues evil pursues it to his own death.”

Hosea’s first words captivate the main thought of sowing and reaping for the believer. Sow for yourselves righteousness (whether for a same-summer harvest or for the harvest of a future generation is God’s business), reap in mercy. No, this is not a passage of “good works, merit-based salvation.” The Hebrew construction requires the translation “reap in proportion to (God’s) lovingkindness. God promises to reward His children not according to their righteous merit, but rewards lavishly beyond all of our feeble efforts, His reward is purely out of His abundant grace (Psalm 126:5–6, James 3:18, 2 Corinthians 9:6, Galatians 6:7–8). Do righteous deeds out of a justified heart. Trust and obey.