Hosea 9 is where we are today in our study of the book of Hosea. After sowing the wind for two centuries, the nation of Israel is granted in Hosea 9-10 a glimpse of the whirlwind that will sweep her into judgment. Throughout this section we see how God’s judgment in each case is a fulfillment of the reap-sow principle.
1 Rejoice not, O Israel! Exult not like the peoples; for you have played the whore, forsaking your God. You have loved a prostitute’s wages on all threshing floors. 2 Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail them. 3 They shall not remain in the land of the LORD, but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria. 4 They shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the LORD, and their sacrifices shall not please him. It shall be like mourners’ bread to them; all who eat of it shall be defiled; for their bread shall be for their hunger only; it shall not come to the house of the LORD. 5 What will you do on the day of the appointed festival, and on the day of the feast of the LORD? 6 For behold, they are going away from destruction; but Egypt shall gather them; Memphis shall bury them. Nettles shall possess their precious things of silver; thorns shall be in their tents. 7 The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come; Israel shall know it. The prophet is a fool; the man of the spirit is mad, because of your great iniquity and great hatred. 8 The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God; yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God. 9 They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins. 10 Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved. 11 Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird– no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! 12 Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! 13 Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter. 14 Give them, O LORD– what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. 15 Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels. 16 Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death. 17 My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations.
Derek Kidner summarizes:
The sentencing of Israel to a wandering existence, in the final verse, will round off a chapter which has fully paved the way to it. This people has been restless enough, ogling one nation after another; heedless enough, dismissing as madmen its look-out men, the prophets; fickle enough, forsaking the LORD for Baal even from the days of Moses.
Most scholars believe the setting for this portion of Hosea is the fall harvest. Duane Garrett suggests further that it is possible that Hosea had in mind the festival of the 15th day of the 8th month that was established by Jeroboam II in order to insure the loyalty of the Israelites to the northern shrines (1 Kings 12:32). Since it is called the “feast of Yahweh” is was likely a counterfeit to the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:39-43) (Hosea, p. 193).
That is what makes Hosea’s first statement so shocking, “Rejoice not!” It was to be a time of great joy and gladness, for it signaled God’s blessing and enough food so that survival was no longer the top priority and daily focus.
The autumn harvest festival was a sacrament of life for them, a symbol of their expectations of survival, a proof of the soundness of their religious zeal. The more bountiful the crops—the grain for a year’s supply of bread (v. 1), the must (v. 2) for a year’s stock of wine, the olives whose oil supplied their food, light, hygiene and medication—the more affirmed was Israel in the lightness of their religion. (Hosea, p. 165)
Instead, there seems to be the failure of the harvest. Instead of seeking Yahweh’s blessing, they had turned to the fertility gods, the Baals. But this time these gods would fail the Israelites and their joy would disappear.
If Yahweh allowed their apostasy to be accompanied by material prosperity, they would only dig themselves more deeply into their pagan habits. Intervention was necessary; Yahweh’s chosen means was exile (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 165).
The opening, “Rejoice not!” reads like an inversion of what would have been the normal harvest proclamation, something like “Rejoice, Israel, for Yahweh has given you a harvest!”
Joel 2:23-24, for example, reads:
23 “Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication; he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before. 24 “The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.”
But those days were gone.
Israel the harlot thought that the fertility cult would give her prosperity, but she received only barrenness.
Duane Garrett points out:
Hosea interprets the failed harvest under three points. The first is that the bad harvest, as a sign of Yahweh’s displeasure, indicates that greater calamities—military defeat and exile—are on the horizon (vv. 1-3). Second, he draws the people’s attention to another adversity that accompanies famine conditions, namely, the inability of the people and priesthood to make suitable offerings to God (vv. 4-6). Third, he asserts that the people had dismissed the prophets when they warned that such troubles were coming (vv. 7-9). In linking a failed harvest to military defeat, and in regarding the famine as especially calamitous because it brought about the end of sacrifice and offering to Yahweh, Hosea’s words call to mind Joel’s prophecy [in Joel 2]. In confronting an Israelite establishment that was dismissive of Yahweh’s prophets, Hosea’s experience paralleled that of Amos and many other prophets. (Hosea-Joel, p. 190)
The statement “exult not like the peoples” has the idea of not working yourself into a frenzy. The worship of pagan nations often involved ecstatic and frenzied worship, like the cutting of the prophets of Baal in the showdown on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18. Their frenzied worship would do no good; Yahweh would not listen to them.
Why? “For you have played the whore, forsaking your God.” Their harvest has failed because they had sought the blessing of other gods instead of Yahweh.
The prophet envisioned Israel as a “harlot,” committing adultery on a threshing floor by worshipping idols there. “Threshing floors” and “winepresses” were common places throughout Canaan where ritual prostitution had taken place for centuries. It was through these rites that the worshippers sought to stimulate the gods to engage in sex and so bestow fruitfulness on them and their land.
The “wages of the prostitute at every threshing floor” has a hint of desperation and has a double meaning. “It is literally the immoral acts that often accompanied the party atmosphere of the harvest, but it is also figuratively the large harvest that the fertility cult ostensibly promised. The supposed benefits of this fertility cult were sexual license and agricultural prosperity, but like so many of Satan’s seductions, they proved to be illusory.
2 Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail them.
What Yahweh gives, He can take away. Their freedom and their survival were gifts they had spurned and now would forfeit.
There shall be neither grain nor wine. They will reap nothing. Historically, this spoke of the ravages of their occupation by Assyria and the famines that Yahweh brought upon them.
This judgment upon the land was a signal of the exile that Israel would be forced into. Like Joel, famine is a precursor to military defeat and exile.
3 They shall not remain in the land of the LORD, but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria.
Behind this text stands Deuteronomy 28:38-41, where famine conditions are the last stroke of divine punishment prior to the departure of the people into captivity. There, before God brought them into the promised land, Moses warned them…
38 You shall carry much seed into the field and shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it. 39 You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall eat them. 40 You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall drop off. 41 You shall father sons and daughters, but they shall not be yours, for they shall go into captivity.
This passage went on to warn them…
45 “All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you. 46 They shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever. 47 Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. 49 The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, 50 a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young. 51 It shall eat the offspring of your cattle and the fruit of your ground, until you are destroyed; it also shall not leave you grain, wine, or oil, the increase of your herds or the young of your flock, until they have caused you to perish. 52 “They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the LORD your God has given you.
63 And as the LORD took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the LORD will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 64 “And the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. 65 And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the LORD will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul 66 Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life.
These covenant curses were just over the horizon for Israel, soon to be experienced.
Israel had turned for help to her neighbors (Egypt and Assyria) instead of turning to Yahweh. Because Israel had “sowed” a fondness for mixing with her neighbors, the Lord is arranging for her to enjoy those pleasures on a more “full time” basis—in exile. You reap what you sow!
Now, in stating that Israel will “return to Egypt” Hosea is primarily indicating that Israel had forfeited the right to the freedom she had enjoyed and would return to an “Egypt-like” bondage.
Moses had commanded the people never to return to Egypt, a law they had transgressed frequently.
But Israel’s bondage would occur in a place far worse than Egypt, in the land of Assyria. In Assyria, Israel would reap the deserved reward for ignoring Yahweh’s law and would be required to “eat unclean food” there.
The two phrases “Yahweh’s land” and “unclean food” relate to each other. Because they have defiled themselves in idolatries, they will be unfit for residence in the holy land and will instead eat defiled food in a foreign land.
For far too long all the foods that Israel had presented and consumed had been unclean before Yahweh, because she had failed to present to Him the firstfruits of each food (cf. Exod 22:29; 23:19; 34:22-26; Lev. 23:10-17).
She would eat defiled food in a defiled land because she had defiled herself with sin. She would reap what she had sown.
The ramifications of living in uncleanness are envisioned in vv. 4-5.
4 They shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the LORD, and their sacrifices shall not please him. It shall be like mourners’ bread to them; all who eat of it shall be defiled; for their bread shall be for their hunger only; it shall not come to the house of the LORD. 5 What will you do on the day of the appointed festival, and on the day of the feast of the LORD?
Israel had not truly been sacrificing to the Lord in her own homeland, so therefore she will endure the penalty of knowing that all sacrifices offered in foreign captivity will be void of any meaning (v. 4).
Opportunities for legitimate worship would end in exile since Israel had corrupted legitimate worship in the land. Drink offerings of wine, which accompanied certain sacrifices, would cease (cf. Num. 15:1-12), and sacrifices offered there would be unacceptable to Yahweh.
Any offerings they made in the shrines during times of drought would be of very poor quality and thus unusable as offerings.
The phrase “like mourner’s bread to them” refers to the fact that those who are in mourning, and who must deal with the burial of a dead body, contaminate the food they touch with uncleanness and it could not be used to serve God.
The food would be good only for eating and not for offering. Such bread might be suitable for human consumption, but it was unacceptable as an offering to God.
Charles Feinberg notes:
Israel is this hour still suffering the predicament of verse 4, “not pleasing to God, because the reconciliation brought about through Christ’s sacrifice has not yet been received by faith (see Romans 10:1-4).”
Verse 5 is expressed as bewilderment:
5 What will you do on the day of the appointed festival, and on the day of the feast of the LORD?
The answer is “nothing,” for they will be no more. The effect upon Israel during the normal times of her feasts days would be the grief felt by a parent on the birthday of a recently deceased child or on a wife on the anniversary of a recently deceased husband.
John Trapp expresses it well:
How will you be able to support yourselves, to keep your hearts from dying within you, when you call to mind and consider your former solemnities and festivities, which now (alas!) in your captivity you are utterly deprived of? There was a time when you went with the multitude to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holy day, Psalms 42:4, with dancing, eating, drinking, and joy, Deuteronomy 16:14-15, 21:19-20. But now the scene is altered; your singing is turned into sighing, your mirth into mourning, your joy into heaviness; and you must needs hold yourselves so much the more miserable, that you have been happy.
We don’t realize how significant a loss this was to the Israelites. Their pattern of festivals, stories and customs gave structure to their life and identities, the disintegration of which would leave them totally adrift.