For several weeks now we have listened to Hosea telling Israel that they will soon reap what they have sown. This week, like last week, we will see that Israel’s apostasies and idolatries are actually rooted way back in their history. Their deviancy from God’s will was not a recent, sudden habit, but one that percolated below the surface and shot up regularly throughout their history, like the geyser Old Faithful. So this section of Hosea’s prophecies takes a look back into Israel’s history…
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.
Following 9:1-9, which describes famine conditions, this text goes a step further and foresees not just the ruin of crops but the obliteration of the next generation of Israelites.
In the next four sections of Hosea’s prophecies, Israel is presented as a nation which had such promise, such potential, but all in all it had not materialized. These four main divisions, as noted by David Hubbard, are signaled by metaphors that describe Israel’s past relationship with God. They were as…
- Grapes in the wilderness (9:10-17)
- A luxuriant vine (10:1-10)
- A trained heifer (10:11-15)
- A beloved child (11:1-11)
In each section, the tone of nostalgia and hope is offset by shock at Israel’s apostasy. It is a tragic reversal, a grave comparison between the fruitful intimacy that once was (even for a brief time) and the barren apostasy which now existed. Thus, announcements of judgment dominate these sections.
The agricultural imagery of the first two sections (9:10-10:10) link it back to Hosea’s dominate metaphor of “sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.” Israel’s early innocence is pictured as grapes and figs, but those are replaced by a withered root (9:16) and weeds (10:4) and thistles (10:8; cf. 9:6).
But that Israel had betrayed that early intimacy is evident through a litany of places of sin: Baal-Peor (9:10; cf. Num. 25:1-9)), Gilgal (9:15; cf. 1 Sam. 11:14-15), Bethel (called Aven in 10:8; cf. on 4:15), Gibeah (10:9; cf. on 9:8), Admah and Zeboiim (11:8; cf. Gen. 10:19; 14:1-17; Deut. 29:23).
The section begins with the tender reminiscence of Israel’s past, with Yahweh saying, “I found Israel.”
In the early days of Israel’s history in the wilderness, the Lord took great delight in His people, as one rejoices to find grapes in a desert or the first figs of the season. These delights, whether unexpected or expected, were Yahweh’s experience with early Israel, which both Jeremiah (2:2-3) and Ezekiel (16:6-14) remember so ardently.
Grapes speaks of refreshment. One does not expect to find edible grapes in the desert. Found in the wilderness connotes both joyful surprise at finding such delight in an unlikely place and his provision for Israel in that desolate setting.
Adam Clarke says…
“While they were faithful, they were as acceptable to me as ripe grapes would be to a thirsty traveler in the desert.”
Remember that for Hosea, the wilderness represents both the picture of coming judgment and the exodus honeymoon that Yahweh anticipates with Israel in the distant future.
Likewise, the figs stand for refreshment. Hubbard notes “Waiting all winter and spring is difficult but waiting for the five or six years necessary for a tree to bear delectable fruit cannot help but put an edge to the farmer’s appetite when the first ripe figs appear. So God recalls His delight at His new covenant relation with Israel’s ancestors” (Hosea, p. 174).
But like Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, that cherished relationship was disappointingly cut short.
Both metaphors point to the belief that great things would come from this new find—a prospect what would soon be dispelled. This same movement from joy to despair is found in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32). Both Moses and Hosea disclose the treacherous way in which the people of Israel abused the love of God and both announce that such idolatry and harlotry will be punished by exile and death (H. Ronald Vandermey, Hosea, p. 58).
But the mood of the verse quickly turns, from delight to deep disappointment.
When they came to Baal-Peor, where they worshipped Baal and committed ritual sex with the Moabite and Midianite women (Num. 25), they became as detestable to Yahweh as the idols they loved. They failed to reach their potential.
This first instance of Baal worship set the pattern of Israel’s idolatry that followed in the land and resulted in her present judgment.
Baal-Peor holds a prominent place in Israel’s “geography of shame” (Hubbard). Israel was right on the edge of the land that Yahweh had promised to them, encamped at Abel-shittim. Baal-peor refers to the mountain in Moab from which Balaam, at Balak’s repeated request, was supposed to curse Israel (Numbers 23:27-28). Unable to accomplish this, Balaam finally suggested to Balak a plan that did work.
[The plains of Moab (Shittim) would be the dark area in the middle, while Baal-Peor would be on the mountain heights to the right.]
Numbers 25 records this event…
1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.
“It was not only the Moabite women but their local Baal that had seduced the men of the exodus; and we have already heard Hosea’s protests against the same two levels of adultery in his day” (Derek Kidner, The Message of Hosea, p. 88).
That chapter ends with Yahweh telling Moses to take vengeance upon the Midianites:
16 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Harass the Midianites and strike them down, 18 for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor
The only reason the plague stopped was because Phineas rammed his spear through an Israelite man and a Midianite woman caught in the act (Numbers 25:7-15).
Reference to this event served two purposes: First, it reminds that reader that Israel had already begun its apostasy to Baal before it even entered into the land. Second, it shows the kind of drastic action that had to be taken to put this kind of immorality to a halt.
Psalm 106:28-29 recounts:
Then they yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor,
and ate sacrifices offered to the dead;
they provoked the Lord to anger with their deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.
Furthermore, the psalm goes on to describe the child sacrifice that would be involved with the Baal cult:
36 They served their idols, which became a snare to them. 37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; 38 they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood.
As Duane Garrett says…
The psalm brings out the hideous paradox of the fertility cult: a major objective of the cult was to enable women to give birth to many healthy children, but that same cult consumed children in ritual sacrifice (Hosea-Joel, p. 200).
To me this sounds very similar to our current culture, which glorifies sex without either marriage (through pre-marital sex and adultery) or children (through abortion), thus sacrificing those very children, the blessing of their womb, so they can continue to flaunt God’s instructions about sex.
There, they “consecrated themselves,” vowing their loyalty to false gods. They yoked themselves to Baal, a thing of shame. The prophets linked Baal with shame (bosheth). They even transformed the name Ish-baal (the name of a man found in 1 Chronicles 8:33) into Ish-bosheth (“man of shame,” found in 2 Samuel 2:8).
The Lord labels the Israelites’ depraved conduct at Baal-peor with the word shame (Hebrew bosheth), which is the same term used to describe the effect of Baalism on the land of Israel (Jer. 11:13) (H. Ronald Vandermey, Hosea, p. 58)
Thus, when one worships idols (and we all do), it is an abomination to God and results in shame. Thus Calvin says, “The Prophet, I doubt not, connects here the Israelites with idols and with Baal-peor itself, that he might strip them of all that holiness which they had obtained through God’s favour.”
Hubbard notes the significance of this event:
Biblical faith saw the Baal-Peor episode as far more than a causal dalliance. It shook the structure of the covenant to its very foundations and for a reason that Hosea explains: the character of the one whom we worship rubs off on us. (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 175).
This truth is repeated in Psalm 115:8, speaking of idols, says…
Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.
Likewise, Jeremiah plaintively asks a question which links the shame along with the reflective nature of our worship, in Jeremiah 2:5
5 Thus says the LORD: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?
We are made to reflect God and His glory, not other gods in their shame. [https://www.tms.edu/blog/gods-glory-on-display/]
In Philippians 2:15 Paul likens us to shining stars, and the word shine means to reflect. The scientific term is albedo. It’s a measurement of how much sunlight a celestial body reflects. The planet Venus, for example, has the highest albedo at .65. In other words, 65 percent of the light that hits Venus is reflected. Depending on where it’s at in its orbit, the almost-a-planet Pluto has an albedo ranging from .49 to .66. Our night-light, the moon, has an albedo of .07. Only seven percent of sunlight is reflected, yet it lights our way on cloudless nights.
In a similar sense, each of us has a spiritual albedo. The goal? One hundred percent reflectivity. We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord. You cannot produce light. You can only reflect it. (Mark Batterson, If: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God’s What If Possibilities (Baker Books, 2015), page 220)
We are made to reflect God and His glory.
That is why Yahweh commanded Israel to “have no other gods before me.” Let’s pause a moment and see just how significant this is.
Greg Beale titled his landmark book We Become What We Worship. His thesis is simple: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” We either revere the world and are conformed to the sinful patterns of the world, or we revere God and are progressively conformed into his likeness.
Ligon Duncan, in a sermon on Psalm 97 entitled, “You Become Like What You Worship,” notes that…
If you worship money, you will become greedy and stingy. Now, nobody sets out to worship money. You don’t sit down one day and say, ‘You know, I think I’ll worship money.’ But you might start out by worshiping self-security. Or you might set out by worshiping finding material security in what you have, and it leads to the worship of money…which does not make you more human, it makes you less human. It doesn’t make you more noble, it makes you greedy and stingy and ungenerous.
If you worship sex, you’ll become more and more self-obsessed and narcissistic. Now nobody sits down one day and says, ‘I think I’m going to worship sex.’ But they may start out by saying, ‘I desire gratification for myself above other concerns,’ and suddenly they find themselves, whether they realize it or not, worshiping sex. And they don’t become better people, they become self-absorbed people.
If you worship power, you’ll become scheming and heartless. And we could go on and on down the list. What you desire determines what you will become. And if you set your desires on anything other than the true God, you will become like that, and it will not be pretty. Desire that is set on the right object — the one true God — ennobles and grows a human being. Desire set on the wrong thing corrupts us and debases us.
So be careful what you worship, for it will change you. You will develop desires and habits which drive you farther and farther away from God’s design for you.
Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, told a story about a goose who was wounded and who landed in a barnyard with some chickens. He played with the chickens and ate with the chickens. After a while that goose thought he was a chicken. One day a flight of geese came over, migrating to their home. They gave a honk up there in the sky, and he heard it.
Kierkegaard said, “Something stirred within the breast of this goose. Something called him to the skies. He began to flap the wings he hadn’t used, and he rose a few feet into the air. Then he stopped, and he settled back again into the mud of the barnyard. He heard the cry, but he settled for less.”
Leighton Ford, “Hope for a Great Forever,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 96.
That is us. When we worship other gods, we invariably settle for less. Even though there is a yearning in our hearts to live differently, to rise above, we settle for less. That’s our life, settling for less.