For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal.…
In this second strophe of the chapter Jehovah continues to expatiate upon Israel's ingratitude and infidelity, and warns her with solemn iteration of the punishment awaiting her. These verses speak of -
I. PROSPERITY PLENTIFULLY BESTOWED. (Vers. 8, 9.) The time of Jeroboam II., to which this part of the prophecy refers, was to Israel one of unexampled national wealth. The kingdom seemed as rich and powerful at that period as it had been even in the days of Solomon. The ten northern cantons, we must remember, included the fairest and most fertile districts of Palestine. They possessed "the glory of Lebanon, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon," the fruitful meadows of Bashan, and the green pasture-lands of Gilead. So Ephraim was rich in "corn and wine and oil," in "wool and flax," in "silver and gold." But has not God bestowed vastly greater gifts upon our own country? The climate of our island is damp, and its soil only moderately fertile; yet how much wealth there is amongst us! God has exalted Great Britain to heaven. The English nation is colonizing the world. And for what purpose does the Lord confer temporal prosperity? It is with the same design for which he lends us spiritual blessings - that we may learn to know him, and love him, and serve him.
II. PROSPERITY SHAMEFULLY ABUSED. Israel's prosperity was only in material things. Although imposing, it was external and hollow. It was not the wealth of well-being; for:
1. The Giver was ignored. (Ver. 8.) "She did not know," means that she was not willing to know. Her material prosperity begat pride, and pride engendered forgetfulness of God. But Israel was without excuse. For she had been taught by Moses (Deuteronomy 8.). She had been warned by Elijah (1 Kings 17.). Every page of her marvelous history spoke of the Divine bounty. The offering of the first-fruits - the three great Hebrew festivals - and especially the Feast of Pentecost, were all just so many solemn thanksgivings to Jehovah for the blessings of his providence. It was true that the men of Ephraim still formally observed these institutions, but the living spirit of them had ebbed away; God was no longer remembered as the Giver of all good. And are there not multitudes still, even in Christian lands, who make no grateful acknowledgment of the Divine mercies? They ascribe their successes entirely to their good luck; or, at best, to their skill, or enterprise, or industry (Habakkuk 1:16), without recognizing the smile of a benignant Providence upon their efforts.
2. The prosperity itself was deified. (Vers. 8, 12, 13.) Ephraim prostituted it to the worship of the powers of physical nature. The people became "lotus-eaters;" they were enervated with sensuous pleasure. They regarded their harvests as the gifts of the Baalim - the "lovers' wages" which they received from their idols (ver. 12). They employed their silver and gold in the manufacture of images of Baal and Ashtaroth (ver. 8), as well as in the adornment of their persons for the celebration of the idolatrous festivals (ver. 13). But are not similar evils rampant just now amongst ourselves? The air is still full of the spirit of Baalism - the deification of force, the worship of success. We meet with this spirit:
(1) In politics. "Witness the French saying: ' God is always on the side of the heavy battalions.' Witness Prince Bismarck's motto: 'Beati possidentes.' Witness the modern English phrase: ' British interests,' as used to express a rule of diplomacy which some regard as even more binding than the moral Law."
(2) In economics. There can be only one true system of political economy; but in times of trade-disputes the capitalist and the laborer often adhere to diverse systems. The strike and the lock-out are an appeal to physical force - a virtual offering of the prayer, "O Baal, hear us!"
(3) In philosophy. How many of our modern scientists deify nature under the name of" law"! They repudiate Providence, and recognize only force. They ignore the living God, and substitute in his room some blind impersonal power. They exalt proud reason to the place which should be occupied by a childlike faith. They ask us to accept a reading of the universe which leaves out the fact of sin, and the soul's hunger for immortality.
(4) In literature. How many of our great authors - poet historians, and even moralists - have dedicated their golden intellectual gifts to the service of materialism!
(5) In social life. The immense increase of wealth in our time tends to foster ostentatious and luxurious habits. What multitudes "bow the knee" to the Baal of commercial success! With many life consists not in being, but only in having. But" the word of the Lord by Hosea" reminds us that the love of the world is moral harlotry, and that deference to its spirit is Baalism.
III. PROSPERITY MISERABLY BLIGHTED. Israel shall suffer:
1. Deprivation. (Ver. 9.) She has refused to remember God, therefore he win compel her to think of him. He is the real Proprietor of the corn and wine, of the wool and flax. Israel was only his steward, and yet she has claimed these precious gifts as if they were altogether within her own power. So the Lord will suddenly withdraw them. He will send the foreign foe, or the simoom, or the locusts. He will blast the ears of corn when they are just ready for the sickle. He will destroy the vine-clusters in the very hour of the vintage. He will take away his material gifts from those who worship only a God of corn and wine, forgetting that the true God is "righteous," and "loveth righteousness." It is a simple matter for Divine Providence to pauperize the man who is making his own prosperity an idol. He may do it by means of business losses, or family bereavement, or personal affliction, or by giving power to the monitions of conscience.
2. Chastisement. God can and will "curse our blessings" (Malachi 2:2) if we persistently misuse them. So in store for poor Israel there shall be:
(1) Shame. (Ver. 10.) The Lord will dishonor her before her idols themselves by withdrawing his gifts, and exposing Israel's folly in placing her trust in material things.
(2) Mourning. (Ver. 11.) The people's sinfulness and their light-hearted mirth, which they had unnaturally wedded to each other, shall be divorced. What though Israel still professed to observe joyfully the Mosaic festivals? She could have no true gladness in Jehovah, so long as she refused to recognize his supremacy in providence. Her mirth was "the laughter of the fool," and God would turn it into mourning.
(3) Exile. (Ver. 12.) The vineyards and the fig orchards shall become "a forest" (Psalm 107:33, 34). The ravaging Assyrian shall come, like "the boar out of the wood," and root up the vine which was at first brought out of Egypt. Ephraim shall disappear forever from among the nations.
CONCLUSION. We should cherish gratitude to the Hebrew prophets for the great lesson which they constantly teach, viz., that national sin is certain, in the course of providence, to be followed by national calamity.
"In them is plainest taught and easiest learnt
What makes a nation happy, and keeps it so;
What ruins kingdoms, and lays cities flat."
(Milton.) A nation's strength does not consist in its wealth, nor in its armies, nor in its diplomacy. The true palladium of a commonwealth is its moral character. And the destiny of a people is determined by their willingness to lay to heart the lessons of national chastisement, and to use these as stepping-stones to a purer life. - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal.