Question: "What does it mean to sow the wind and reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7)?"
Answer: Hosea 8:7 makes the enigmatic statement, “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” This proverb is known in modern times for its use in military speeches and as a title for a science fiction novel. What did Hosea mean?
The proverb uses an illustration gleaned from the agricultural process of sowing and reaping. A farmer would sow seed. Of course, the type of seed he planted determined the type of plant that would grow and be harvested. This is the principle of duplication. In Hosea 8:7, God says that Israel had planted wind and would harvest a whirlwind. Taking the “wind” to mean something worthless and foolish (see Job 7:7; Proverbs 11:29; and Ecclesiastes 1:14, 17), we can surmise that Israel’s foolishness in the past would result in a veritable storm of consequence. Indeed, in the previous verses, Hosea decries Israel’s idolatry (verses 4-6). Their foolish pursuit of false gods would reap a severe judgment from the Lord.
Also at work in the proverb is the principle of multiplication: a farmer may plant one kernel of corn, but he will reap much more than that—a whole ear. In the same way, Israel’s sin of idolatry would bring forth an amplified consequence that would sweep them all away.
The rest of verse 7 notes the results of this “whirlwind” of judgment: “The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it.” So, the crop would yield nothing. Outsiders would steal anything that did happen to grow. Israel would have understood Hosea’s words well. A poor or stolen crop would be devastating. Here, God is warning His people that their idolatry would lead to ruin.
In addition to following idols, Israel was seeking help in other, equally sinful ways. “For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone; Ephraim has hired lovers” (Hosea 8:9). Israel had made ill-advised treaties with Assyria for protection from their enemies. Instead of trusting God, they relied on their wealth and the help of pagan nations.
The “whirlwind” came upon Israel in 722 B.C., when Assyria invaded Israel, destroyed the capital city of Samaria, and deported the Israelites. Yet Hosea 14:4 promised future grace: “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.” A whirlwind does not last forever, and God’s judgment would not be unending. God would later renew the relationship between Him and His people.
Today, we can see the truth of Hosea’s proverb in many ways. Those who live in unrepentant sin can expect to suffer the consequences of their sin—consequences that both “fit the crime” and exhibit a stunning intensity. Also, this statement by Hosea is a clarion call to avoid idolatry. Anything that steals our trust in the Lord, lessens our devotion to Him, or controls us can be considered an idol and should be abolished from our lives.