The party’s over (verses 1-9)
A good harvest would normally be cause for celebration. But what were the Israelites doing? They were observing the festivals of the fertility gods, provoking their own God to jealousy. They had forgotten that the land they farmed was not actually theirs, but God’s – and so their Landlord was going to evict them. Nothing short of conquest and exile would put an end to their nauseating worship – because then they would have nothing to offer and no shrine at which to offer it.
And the ‘day of reckoning’ was closer than they realised, because they had long since closed their ears to God’s prophets. Those (like Hosea and Amos) who dared to speak in God’s name and tried to bring the people to their senses were despised, ridiculed and persecuted (e.g. Amos 7:12,13).
The morning after (verses 10-14)
Israel’s relationship with God had begun with such joy and high hopes at the Exodus – but it had quickly turned sour when she failed to bear the fruit of righteousness. Her early promise was blighted before she had even entered Canaan, when she failed to resist the double lure of idolatry and immorality at Baal Peor (Numbers 25:1-3).
The idolisation of sex is a perennial temptation for all societies, but is ultimately self-defeating; for the consequences of promiscuity are both physical (infertility and disease) and social (family breakdown). By one means or another (either through these natural processes or as a result of war), the nation would die out – because they had rejected their God.
Where did it all go? (verses 15-17)
No marriage can survive on memories alone. The problem for any church with an illustrious past is that we can drift along in a state of nostalgia instead of cultivating our relationship with God in the present. Gilgal was remembered as the place where Israel had finally left behind the last vestiges of her rebellion in the wilderness (Joshua 5:9). But, like most of the other historically significant places in Israel, it had become a focus of sin and idolatry; so it was no longer a place of blessing.
The name Ephraim meant ‘fruitfulness’; but this remained true only as long as they remained faithful to their God. Without obedience to His covenant, they were nothing: the God who had called them out of the nations would send them back whence they had come, the last remnants of ten tribes reduced to a handful of scattered refugees.