Things might not have been all bad at this time. Many folks were still going about life as usual. Harvest time was a party atmosphere; feasting and celebrating the harvest. But for Israel, Hosea said they shouldn't rejoice. The threshing floors were built on hilltops. These hilltop locations of the threshing floors soon became used a place to sacrifice to false gods. They used the threshing floor to ask other gods to bless their harvest. They were unfaithful to the Lord not trusting Him with their crops and harvest. 'Love for hire' is the price of prostitution. For these Israelites, they traded their love and worship for a harvest.
But the harvest always belonged to the Lord. Because of this idolatry, God said the threshing floor would not longer feed them. They might have looked at a good harvest and told Hosea he was wrong, they had plenty. But when they were killed and others hauled off to Assyria, others would eat the harvest.
The return to Egypt is an undoing of what God had done for this nation. By His mighty hand, He delivered them from their bondage; redeeming them and delivering them to the Promised Land. There wouldn't be any offerings or sacrifices because they would have nothing. They would eat unclean things; things they found detestable at that time. The 'bread of mourners' was unclean bread. A mourner would be someone who had touched a dead body; they would be unclean for seven days and the food they touched would also be considered unclean. The bread they would have would be just enough to sustain life and wouldn't be worthy of sacrifice.
To what do we attribute our prosperity; hard work, luck, education, dedication or the hand of the Lord? The Jews were warned in Deuteronomy 28 to remember the blesses and curses. Israel proved they were undeserving of the blessing by not acknowledging and obeying God. Abused blessings are withdrawn.
What would they do on that day? God said they wouldn't be feasting. They'll be gone; back to a bondage similar from which they came. The briars will overrun their homes and their valuables lost in the undergrowth because the day of punishment had arrived. Among the culture they heard mixed signals; one group of prophets said that all was well, don't listen to the radicals warning of judgment. The men were marked as fools. This supposed spiritual man was a man marked as having an evil spirit. The punishment would come, not just from the sin, but also the enmity; a hostility toward God.
In verse eight we see the contrast of messages; a watchman speaking God's word and the false prophet that was like a snare to the people. These false prophets were a source of this hostility toward God. We can look back at Judges 19 to see the corruption and perversion in Gibeah. This becomes an example of what Israel looked like.
The prophets of God warned the people and yet they paid no attention to them. Do we get so set in our ways and so sure what we are doing is right that we can no longer hear the word of God? Do we disregard the uncomfortable words and let the false prophets tickle our ears? When we see or read something we don't agree with do we ask ourselves if God is showing us something new? Being fat, dumb and happy is dangerous!
God recalls the days when he looked on Israel as grapes in the wilderness; rare, refreshing and blessed by them (see Deut 32:10). In those days they were bore fruit in season as expected. It's as if God looked back longingly for those days when the covenant relationship meant something to them. This day was in contrast to those days. This day was like the time when their fathers went to Baal Peor, a reference to the events of Numbers 25. The men of Israel took the women of Moab and worshiped Baal in Peor. This was idolatry and sexual immorality. They became like the idol they sought after; an abomination, worshless, godless, unholy, defiled, dead, cold, useless, powerless, etc. The Lord's anger burned against Israel and should have stood as a lesson for many generations to come.
This current situation is likened to Baal Peor. The Lord's anger once again burned against Israel. The glory of being God's chosen, of walking in covenant relationshp, of being cared for and watched over would fly away. They would become barren and fruitless. The Lord's departure from them is associated with woe.
See Psalm 115:4-8 and Psalm 135:15-18 for more on idols.
It's as if Hosea began to pray; interceding for the people. Give, them….. What will You give them? What they deserve? Or mercy and more loving paitence? Imagine the heart of the prophet who loved the Lord and knew the Lord had been patient and knew the people were hardhearted and not listening. Yet, Hosea loved Israel and the people. How could he not? To love God is to love the things that are important and precious to God; and Israel was that.
Hosea's became a prayer for barrenness. Some believe this is Hosea settling on an act of mercy. A barren womb would bring no more children into this world in which judgment awaited. Others see this as additional judgment in removing their ability to grow as a naiton. This second idea is consistent with prophecy of verse seven.
Gilgal was a place concentrated with idolatry and therefore a focal point of God's anger toward the nations apostasy. Ephraim held a special place among the tribes; the tribe named for Joseph's second son. Yet, when Jacob blessed the two sons, he blessed Ephraim as the firstborn. Ephraim held the place of honor, the firstborn in captivity, the seed of a nation that God would lead to the promisd land. And with the great blessing and place of honor comes responsibility. Ephraim stumbled and fell, failing at this responsibility. They were stricken, dried up, no longer seen like the refreshing grapes in the wilderness (vs 10); but only a dried up useless vine to trip over.
The children born were the treasures of their womb, but in this judgment they would not be allowed those treasures. Hosea seems to clarify the passage in case anyone hadn't grasped the core of the message; Israel had been cast away. Instead of a refreshing vine of grapes in the wilderness, they were a dried up vine that was cast away. The simple truth they had failed at and, to some extent, still failed to acknowledge, was that they had been and remained disobedient to Him. Because of this they would be wanderers; those who lead an unsettled life.
I like what J.P. Lange said about this passage:
It is the loss of freedom, a reduction to a state of bondage, and a surrender to the power of a foreign enemy. Israel is only free through his God, and remains so only so long as he serves Him; by apostasy from Him, he therefore forfeited that freedom, and therefore at last must lose it, and forego an independent existence
I agree to some extent, but can anyone truly exist without the Lord? Is an usettled, unsure and vagabond life really life? Jesus came for us that we may have an abundant life, yet so many pass on that life. They seek their own life, their own way, feeling they know of a better life. They end up unsettled, lost in the wilderness and looking very much like that dried up and fruitless vine.
In our prosperity and the bounty of our harvest we find a sign from God that we are in His will and favor. To which the right response is to acknowledge the one who gave the bounty. We do this when we return thanks at the table before we eat. To acknowledge the wrong god in ignorance is forgivable by God, at least for a time. He will move them from their ignorance. However, for those who the true God, to give thanks to another is a great offense to Him.
The defense of some might be to point to the false prophets and teachers to say it was their fault, they led the people to the fase god. And when judgment came, the falseness of the false prophet was in fact revealed. They would be held accountable, but that doesn't excuse the people.
While God, through the prophets, speaks of harsh judgments, He doesn't doesn't do so to gain some joy from the destruction and death of the individual sinners. The judgment was to decimate the godless kingdom; a kingdom built to steal His glory, to plunder His people and inhibit His kingdom. This godless kingdom was an idea bread by deceit that man might seek his own way and do fine, that he might make gods of his own understanding, that he might find higher power that agrees with life on his terms. All this will be brought low; every knee will bow. The prophets call for repentance before its too late.
©2016 Doug Ford
 Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Schmoller, O., & McCurdy, J. F. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Hosea (p. 78). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.