For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed.
When I would restore the fortunes of my people,
when I would heal Israel,
the corruption of Ephraim is revealed,
and the wicked deeds of Samaria;
for they deal falsely,
the thief breaks in,
and the bandits raid outside.
But they do not consider
that I remember all their wickedness.
Now their deeds surround them,
they are before my face.
By their wickedness they make the king glad,
and the officials by their treachery.
They are all adulterers;
they are like a heated oven,
whose baker does not need to stir the fire,
from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened.
On the day of our king the officials
became sick with the heat of wine;
he stretched out his hand with mockers.
For they are kindled like an oven, their heart burns within them;
all night their anger smolders;
in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.
All of them are hot as an oven,
and they devour their rulers.
All their kings have fallen;
none of them calls upon me. (Hosea 6:11-7:7)
Harvests were happy times of celebration in ancient agrarian societies because they meant that the people didn’t have to worry about starving to death that year. A good autumn harvest meant there would be enough seed to plant next spring.
But Hosea used the happy time as a metaphor for God’s judgment on his people. How could such a joyful event become a symbol of judgment? From the perspective of the crops harvested, the reaping was a painful thing: the crops were mowed down, threshed, and the leftover chaff was burned. Harvests were inherently violent. Animals were slaughtered and their meat smoked or salted to preserve it during the long dark winter. The unconsumed grain went into the barns.
But harvests are not destructive. They are not designed to harm. They are for the benefit of all concerned, ensuring the continuation of life. So a harvest captures clearly the true nature of judgment. God loved his people. He disciplined them for their own good. God always acts in love, but how it is perceived depends on whether you look at things from the perspective of the grain being chopped down and threshed, or from the perspective of the hungry farmer.