If we only focus on the threshing floor and the winepress, to see the usable product of the process, we may neglect the whole cycle of care for the land and people that make that moment of realized wealth possible. Focus on consumables and the pleasures of consumption might ignore sustainability, or storing a bit of surplus for future stages in the economic cycle. It favours short-sighted self-indulgence – framed here as sexual licence.
The punishment will come when there is no way to do what people are now choosing not to do. In ‘Egypt’, (aka Assyria after Hosea) there will be no way to practice the proper cult – or wine and livestock to share collectively.
For those of us who read Judges earlier this year, v9 refers to the people of Gibeah who raped and killed the woman guest in town with a Levite, provoking the civil war with Benjamin – in turn, alluding to the rapes facing visitors in Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis.
A note of nostalgia relieves the threats: when God found Israel, at the beginning, it was great. Then quickly, we are denied the joy of birth, pregnancy, conception - even the children we have will die before us. The vine is withered from the roots, blighted on the branches – yielding no fruit.
We are reminded of the sweet location of Ephraim astride trade routes, like the port of Tyre – between the sea and the desert, caravans had to come through. Yet for all our geographic advantage, our children will be eaten up by the ‘slayer’ of indiscriminate violence and banditry.
The threat is summed up as ‘wandering among nations’ – we who recall a wandering Aramean, and 40 years in the desert, and the gift of liberation and a promised land and a people, wasted it, and are again facing wandering.
1 Do not rejoice, O Israel! Do not exult* as other nations do; for you have played the whore, departing from your God. You have loved a prostitute’s pay 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 in Assyria they shall eat unclean food.
4 They shall not pour drink-offerings of wine to the LORD, and their sacrifices shall not please him. Such sacrifices shall be like mourners’ bread; 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 appointed festival, and on the day of the festival of the LORD?
6 For even if they escape destruction, 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 cries,* ‘The prophet is a fool, the man of the spirit is mad!’ Because of your great iniquity, your hostility is great.
8 The prophet is a sentinel for my God over Ephraim, yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways, and hostility 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 ancestors. But they came to Baal-peor, and consecrated themselves to a 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 until no one is left. Woe to them indeed when I depart from them!
13 Once I saw Ephraim as a young palm planted in a lovely meadow,* but now Ephraim must lead out his children for slaughter.
14 Give them, O LORD— what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.
15 Every evil of theirs began at Gilgal; there I came 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 officials are rebels.
16 Ephraim is stricken, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will kill the cherished offspring of their womb.
17 Because they have not listened to him, my God will reject them; they shall become wanderers among the nations.