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. Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird—no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter. Give them, O Lord—what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.
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.
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. My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations. – Hosea 9:10-17 ESV
To fully understand the nature of these verses, we have to take a look at what happened at Baal-peor. God is looking back at the history of Israel, long before the split of the kingdom, and condemning them for their long track record of unfaithfulness. Even while still wandering in the wilderness, the people of Israel repeatedly proved themselves incapable of remaining faithful to God, worshiping the gods of the pagan nations instead. Moses recorded what happened at Baal-peor.
While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people.
The Lord issued the following command to Moses: “Seize all the ringleaders and execute them before the Lord in broad daylight, so his fierce anger will turn away from the people of Israel.”
So Moses ordered Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death the men under your authority who have joined in worshiping Baal of Peor.” – Numbers 25:1-5 NLT
It was at Baal-peor that they “consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved” (Hosea 9:10 ESV). There had been a time when God saw Israel as delightful as grapes in the wilderness or the first figs of the season. They were His chosen. He had set them apart as His own. But they proved to be unfaithful and disobedient. They did not fully appreciate all that He had done for them. And they repeatedly and willfully gave their hearts, resources, trust and attention to false gods.
As a result, God determined to bring upon them all the curses He had promised. Their days of fruitfulness were over. He was going to remove His hand of blessing and they would discover what life without Him was really like. They would also learn just how impotent and useless their false gods really were. While the people of Israel had been able to procreate and proliferate easily, those days were over. Conceiving children was going to become increasingly difficult and for those who were able to bear children, they would find that the infant mortality rate was radically increased. While we may find this news harsh and difficult to understand, we must realize that God was simply fulfilling what He had promised. He was removing His hand of blessing. They had chosen to live their lives without Him and now they were going to discover exactly what life without God was like.
Too often, we fail to realize just how vital a role God plays in our lives. We don’t recognize His hand of mercy on our lives. We don’t appreciate the grace He shows us each and every day. And like the people of Israel, we begin to take Him for granted. We forget Him. Rather than worship Him as indispensable to our lives, we give our time, resources, attention and faith to other things. We end up worshiping our own brand of false gods. And then God allows us to discover the ramifications of placing our trust in anything or anyone other than Him. If we want to place our trust in money and materialism, God will allow us to find out just how unreliable they can be as gods. If we think that our own intellect and talents can make a better gods, we will soon discover just how powerless and impotent they are. When God removes His hand of blessing, we are left defenseless, powerless and hopeless.
God warned the people of Israel, “It will be a terrible day when I turn away and leave you alone” (Hosea 9:12 NLT). And Hosea paints a vivid and disturbing picture of the fate of Israel when God chooses to abandon them to their own desires: “My God will reject the people of Israel because they will not listen or obey. They will be wanderers, homeless among the nations” (Hosea 9:17 NLT). God will simply give the people of Israel what they seem to want more than anything: independence from Him. But they will find out just how dangerous that desire can be. The only thing that set Israel apart from all the other nations was the presence of God in their lives. If He removed Himself and His hand of blessing, they would become just like all the other nations of the earth. It is God and His undeserved grace and mercy that sets us apart. Without Him, we are nothing. We don’t deserve His blessings. He is not obligated to provide for us, as if He somehow owes us for all that we have done for Him. His goodness is undeserved. His grace is unmerited. And our gratefulness and faithfulness should be unprecedented. And yet, like Israel, we can find it so easy to believe that we can somehow survive and even thrive without God’s help. We believe we can make it through this life without His input and apart from His strength. Our stubborn self-sufficiency and prideful desire to run our own lives can cause us to reject His will and attempt to live according to our own. And sometimes God allows us to have exactly what we want. But what a painful lesson it is to learn that life without Him is never what we think it will be. The God-less life is ultimately a joyless life. The man who removes God from the center of his life will discover he has no life at all.