Over the last seven weeks we’ve heard Hosea tell Israel how they had sown the wind and they were about to reap the whirlwind. Hosea gives example after example of how God was reversing the blessings of the covenant and they would be experiencing its curses. We noted last week how they may have wanted so much more, but were settling for less.
So let’s dive back into Hosea 9, starting back in v. 10
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.
Of course, one of the reasons Israel worship Baal is that he was a fertility god—promising fertile crops and wombs. Therefore, listen to Yahweh’s judgment against them…
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.
In ancient near Eastern cultures, it was considered a curse to be barren and devastating to lose one’s children. Glory means “weighty, substantive,” and can be a name for Yahweh himself, the departure of which is surely a supreme disaster. But here it refers to their children, the glory of parents.
The glory of the Ephraimites, in this case their numerous children, would fly away like a bird, suddenly and irretrievably. They will experience both barrenness and bereavement. Ephraim is receiving the proper punishment for falsely crediting her fertility to Baal.
The text emphasizes the departure of Yahweh in order to make the point that it is he, not Baal, who has given them successful pregnancies and healthy, thriving children. Without God’s aid their children will languish (Duane Garrett, Hosea-Joel, p. 200).
First, barrenness. Stated in reverse order, there would be “no birth, no pregnancy, no conception!” None of the steps necessary for national survival will work. Calvin notes that Yahweh’s judgment did not come all at once, but by degrees, with Yahweh’s vengeance at last reaching the highest point.
This is an ironic play on the name “Ephraim” here, which sounds somewhat like the Hebrew word meaning “twice fruitful.” The Ephraimites had looked to Baal for the blessing of human fertility, but Yahweh would in turn withhold it in judgment. Ephraim, the doubly fruitful, would become Ephraim, the completely fruitless.
Then, in v. 12, “even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left.” No children, no future. Ultimately, extinction. As Deuteronomy 32:25 forewarned, the death of living children would occur through the ravages of war.
Whereas v. 11 is unclear as to the cause of their barrenness, their bereavement is definitely from the hand of Yahweh himself, “I will bereave them till none is left.”
To seal this threat Yahweh adds a brief “woe,” which contains no mention of the crime (v. 10 has taken care of that), but announces the grief in store for Israel—the felt and final departure of Yahweh.
The Prophet means by these words, that men become miserable and accursed, when they alienate themselves from God, and when God takes away from them his favour. (John Calvin)
It is an expression of ultimate judgment because Yahweh has departed from them. When Israel departs from Yahweh, He departs from them.
The threat to be active in depriving them of children (v. 12a) and to withdraw from them are one and the same act. It is Yahweh’s vital presence that makes possible the cycles of life; for him to withdraw is a sentence of death (Hosea, p. 176).
Verse 13 again expresses the disappointment with Israel
13 Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter.
In the past, Yahweh had cared for them tenderly, but now their children will be led out to slaughter. A pleasant meadow of peace will become a place of slaughter.
Calvin notes the dangers of such blessings of peace and prosperity when he says…
Hosea here confirms his previous statements that the Israelites in vain trusted in their present condition, for the Lord could reverse their prosperity whenever it pleased him. Men, we know, harden themselves in their vices, when they enjoy their wishes and when they are sunk in pleasures; for prosperity is not without reason often compared to wine, because it inebriates men; nay, rather it dementates them.
These leads Hosea to a painful prayer in v. 14…
14 Give them, O LORD– what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.
“There comes a time, when the only thing left is drastic surgery” (Jacob M. Meyers)
Anderson and Freedom note:
Here the prophet is not holding back the wrath of God by intercession as Amos (Amos 7) and Jeremiah (15:11) did. On the contrary, he is urging Yahweh to proceed with extreme penalties, endorsing what Yahweh says in vv. 12 and 16 about murdering children (Hosea, p. 544).
Hosea asks God to take away their children, that there would be no newborns among them. But why?
Maybe Hosea had been poised to ask God to give them something else, something more desirable, something that would help them survive. Instead, he asks that children would die in the womb and never be born. Why is that?
Several suggest that what Hosea was asking for was mercy. He was asking that no children would be born to suffer through the consequences of the judgment that was coming upon Israel.
How terrible is that? But that is the plight of those who depart from God and turn to other gods, hoping that they will satisfy their desires, but end up settling for less. We reap what we sow. Israel, who had worshiped the fertility gods and allied themselves with other nations to avoid war, would face infertility and war, exactly what they hoped to avoid.
The combination of “womb” and “breasts” is a pairing that describes human fruitfulness (cf. Gen. 49:25). It reverses the blessing of Jacob upon the Joseph tribes (Gen. 49:25). It also hints back to the sexual nature of their idol worship.
They could have had so much more, but settled for less. They would not become the glorious people of God’s elective race, but would become nothing more than castaways, “wanderers among the nations” (v. 17).
As we move into the last paragraph of Hosea 9, Hosea focused upon another piece of Israel’s geography—Gilgal.
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.
Thomas McComiskey notes:
“The previous section (vv. 10-14) began with a tender expression of Yahweh’s love. This section (vv. 15-17) begins with an affirmation of his hatred. The previous section looked back to the wilderness; this section looks back to Gilgal. Hosea views God as acting in history; thus historical events and the geographical sites where they occurred become vehicles of divine truth. The events of the exodus from Egypt spoke volumes about God, as did the events that took place in the wilderness and at Gilgal. To Hosea God’s response to the people at those places forever remains as crystallized truth about the nature of God.” (“Hosea.” In The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expositional Commentary, 1:1-237. 3 vols. Edited by Thomas Edward McComiskey. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992, 1993, and 1998, p. 154).
What the Israelites did at Gilgal caused the Lord to hate them. This is covenant terminology meaning He opposed them and rejected them; personal emotion is not the main point.
He did so because they practiced “every evil” there. “Gilgal is the quintessential city of Israel—it contained every evil that the book of Hosea condemns” (Garret, Hosea-Joel, p. 202). It was their “wickedness,” particularly their practice of the pagan fertility cult (cf. 4:15; 12:11) that God was driving them from “His house.” They had disgraced God’s house by preferring the altars of Baal, thus they would be driven from the temple where Yahweh’s presence actually dwelt.
The decision to drive Israel from its land is presented under the imagery of being forced out of a house. Israel has forgotten that where they lived was God’s land where He, too, dwelled. As Gomer was put out of Hosea’s house for a period of time (Hos. 2:7), so Israel will be driven out of the Lord’s “house” because of its infidelity and rebellious ways.
Yahweh would drive His people out of the land, as He had expelled Adam and Eve and the Canaanites, because they had sinned and had adopted the ways of sinners. He would love (choose to bless) them no more, as He had in the past, because all their leaders rebelled against Him.
As mentioned before in Hosea 4:15, God despised the city of Gilgal as a center of idolatry in Israel. At one time, Gilgal was a place where prophets were trained under Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2:1; 4:38). But in Hosea’s day it had become a center of false worship (Hosea 4:15, 12:11; Amos 4:4, 5:5).
Gilgal had been the place where, in rebellion, the Israelites had chosen a human king to be “like the nations” (1 Samuel 11:14-15; cf. 1 Sam. 8:7; Hos. 3:4; 8:3-7; 8:4; 10:3, 7, 15) and it had become the place for a shrine to Baal (4:15; Amos 4:4; 5:5; cf. Hos. 12:4). Thus, this place symbolized a double rejection of divine sovereignty and true, divine worship. Notice that the end of verse 15 emphasizes “all their princes are rebels.”
Amos, with barbed mockery (Amos 4:4), cries out…
4 “Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days;
Roy Honeycutt reminds us that Yahweh’s rejection of Israel “had its beginning as early as Gilgal. Sin is no temporary and relatively insignificant occurrence; it is deeply ingrained in historical existence, reaching far back into the realm of the community of faith. This is not to excuse a given generation. But it is to suggest that one wrestles with powers far greater and farther reaching than a personal failure.” (Hosea and His Message, p. 65)
Thus, God would drive them out forcefully. In most places where this term garash is used, aside from in the book of Genesis, it describes what God did to the inhabitants of Canaan when Israel entered the land. It was a reversal of the glorious conquest under Joshua.
Thus, Hubbard says…
There is a quiet irony about Yahweh’s threat, I will drive them out, since it echoes the promises given to Israel at the exodus and conquest (Exod. 23:29-30; Joshua 24:18; Judges 2:3; 6:9) and reverses them. (Hosea, 178).
In the book of Genesis, it parallels with Adam and Eve being driven out of the Garden of Eden for their sin (Gen. 3:24) just like Israel would be driven out of the “pleasant meadow” (9:13) that God had planted for Ephraim.
A second parallel is found in the correspondence between verse 15 and the request of Sarah that Abraham would drive out Hagar and her son Ishmael (Gen. 21:10). Like Hosea’s son Lo-ammi (“not my people”), Israel would be driven out from the presence of God’s love.
Achtemeier expresses the situation well: “From the first, as a political entity among other nations, the Israelites spurned their God. God therefore now spurns them, and the people shall become “wanderers among the nations,” verse 17, without homeland, without God, without future” (Minor Prophets,1:83-84). They would be reverting to their original status as wanderers.
David Hubbard notes:
There may be a hint that Yahweh, an aggrieved husband, is banishing his faithless wife (cf. on 9:1-3). Yet another metaphor possibly implied in God’s rejection of Israel from my house is that of an offended Host, who has offered impeccably generous hospitality to his guest only to have the guest prove ungrateful, abusive and disloyal.
This picture of Yahweh as host is expressed in Psalm 23:5-6
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
This is what Israel was forfeiting by putting their trust in pagan gods and kings.
Verse 16 emphasizes once again that one of the severe judgments Israel would face would be the loss of a generation—they would be unable to give birth to children and what children they did have would be taken away from them.
In the language that began back in v. 10 and will be picked up again in verse 1 of chapter 10, Israel is pictured as a vine—one that was given all the resources it needed to bear good fruit, but instead bore poisonous fruit in wickedness and idolatries.
So now they would be fruitful no more. “Their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit” repeats the judgment from verse 11, whereas “Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death” hearkens back to v. 12.
Hubbard makes reference to the presence of child sacrifice in Israel at the time and says that “God’s judgment may have been a gesture both to condemn it and to forestall it. The children belonged to Him; He would go to any length to prevent their consecration to the gods of Canaan” (Hosea, p. 179).
That word “beloved” emphasizes just how precious their children were to them and how devastating their loss would be. It also reminds me that God did not spare His own beloved Son to die in our place so that we would not have to endure eternal separation from God.
As an outcast, Ephraim, the doubly fruitful plant, would dry up and bear no more fruit. She had tapped into the wrong source of nourishment and would therefore wither and die.
David Hubbard acknowledges
Again, God reverses the historic meaning of Ephraim’s name which spoke of the fruitfulness (Heb. root prh) promised by God to Jacob (Gen. 48:3-6) and by Jacob to Joseph (Gen. 49:22). Hosea enjoyed punning on Ephraim’s name both as a sign of judgment (cf. here and 8:9) and restoration (cf. 14:8) (Hubbard, Hosea, pp. 178-179)
A final parallel use of garash may be found in the relation between verse 17 and the story of Cain in Genesis 4:14. Just as God drove out Cain from His presence and caused him to be a fugitive in the earth, so also God decreed that Israel would be driven out and “shall be wanderers among the nations” (v. 17). They had already wandered from Him (7:13) by seeking help from Egypt and Assyria; now wandering among the nations (cf. 7:8), whose pagan practices they had aped (9:1) was to become their way of life (cf. “wild ass wandering alone,” 8:9). From the time of Hosea’s threat until the present the vast majority of Israel’s daughters and sons have listed Diaspora as their address.
“My God” at the beginning of verse 17 captures both the prophet’s intimate relationship with Yahweh and the people’s distance from Yahweh (cf. 8:2; 9:8)
McComiskey rightly points out that the judgment associated with verses 15-17 reflects the punishment for sin and covenant violation expressed in the law: “This section of the prophecy (9:15-17) appears to be a crystallization of Deuteronomy 28:62-64. That passage affirms the diminution of the population should they fail to obey God…. The concept of wandering among the nations occurs in Deuteronomy as well…. (v. 64, NRSV). Hosea had the unhappy task of announcing to his people that the curses of Deuteronomy were soon to overtake them (McComiskey, “Hosea,” 157).
The rejection which is called for here in v. 17 harks back to Samuel’s denunciation of Saul in 1 Samuel 15:23, “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” The tie in with Saul is strengthened by the fact that they “have not listened” to Yahweh.
“As has been true in any generation, those today who fail to hearken unto the voice of the Lord will walk alone into the misery of eternal separation from God. Spiritual and physical death await such persons!” (H. Ronald Vandermey, Hosea-Joel, p. 60).
Like Hosea with Gomer, the only hope for restoration was first to judge Ephraim, to drive them out so that eventually they would return.
This is exactly what the Lord promised under the terms of the Old Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:24-28). Thankfully, we can come to God by faith in a new covenant, where He promises to forgive us and remember our sins no more.
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”
then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”