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 till none is left.
Woe to them
when I depart from them!
13 Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow;
but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter.
14 Give them, O Lord—
what will you give?
Give them a miscarrying womb
and dry breasts.” – Hosea 9:11-14 ESV
According to God, the glory of Israel was not to be measured by power, possessions, or their place in the global community of nations. They were not to find their identity and worth in their many accomplishments or their ability to accumulate wealth, status, and temporal significance. Their glory was their children, the fruit of their wombs. Even King Solomon, the man who had accumulated for himself great wealth, wisdom, fame, and power, had willingly admitted the intrinsic value of children.
Children are a gift from the Lord;
they are a reward from him. – Psalm 127:3 NLT
Yet God makes a startling announcement to the stubbornly rebellious people of Israel.
The glory of Israel will fly away like a bird, for your children will not be born or grow in the womb or even be conceived. –Hosea 9:11 NLT
He was informing the Israelites that the greatest gift or reward that He had given them was about to be removed from them. The pending Assyrian invasion of the northern kingdom would result in many Israelites being captured and enslaved. Family members would be separated and transported back to Assyria, never to see one another again. But equally as devastating, those who would be allowed to remain in the land would see the nation’s birth rate drop precipitously. The loss of thousands of able-bodied men due to death in battle or enslavement would have long-term implications. But to fully understand the gravity of God’s pronouncement, one must consider the promise that He had made to Abraham.
“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” – Genesis 22:17-18 ESV
God’s promise to bless Abraham entailed the provision of a multitude of offspring. But it’s important to note that the promise came immediately after Abraham had shown his willingness to obey God’s command to offer up his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Abraham and Sarah had waited a long time for the birth of Isaac. They were both advanced in years and she was barren. Yet God had blessed them with a son, through whom He would bring about the creation of a mighty nation. And God kept that promise.
Years later, Jacob, the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham would lead his small family into Egypt to seek respite from a famine in the land of Canaan. The book of Exodus states that “All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons” (Exodus 1:5 ESV) when they arrived in Egypt. Yet, by the time they left some four centuries later, they numbered in the millions. In fact, the book of Exodus goes on to state that “they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land” (Exodus 1:7 NLT). During their prolonged stay in the land of Egypt, God had blessed the people of Israel by making them fruitful. And when the Pharaoh attempted to institute a plan that would curtail the prolific birthrate of the Israelites, he failed.
…the Israelites continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful. – Exodus 1:20 NLT
By the time God rescued the nation of Israel from their enslavement in Egypt, their numbers had grown exponentially. When Moses eventually led them out of the land, there were far more than 70 descendants of Jacob in line behind him.
That night the people of Israel left Rameses and started for Succoth. There were about 600,000 men, plus all the women and children. A rabble of non-Israelites went with them, along with great flocks and herds of livestock. – Exodus 12:37-38 NLT
Some 40 years later, the people of Israel would find themselves standing on the eastern shore of the Jordan River, preparing to enter Canaan, the land God had promised to give Abraham’s descendants as their inheritance. And as they looked across the river to their future home, Moses told them:
“…if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you…Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.”
“And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground…” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2, 4, 11 ESV
Now, centuries after that momentous occasion, Hosea was informing the Israelites that their God-ordained fruitfulness was about to come to an end. As God had faithfully multiplied their numbers, they had simply multiplied their sins. They had taught their children to live in disobedience to Yahweh. And this was exactly what Moses feared they would do. That’s why, long before their ancestors had entered the land of Canaan, Moses had warned them:
“For what great nation has a god as near to them as the LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?
“But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.” – Deuteronomy 4:7-9 NLT
Moses had made it clear that God expected cross-generational sharing of His commands and a perpetual, intergenerational adherence to His will.
“…you and your children and grandchildren must fear the LORD your God as long as you live.…Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you.” – Deuteronomy 6:2, 3 NLT
But they had failed to heed Moses’ warning. And, as a result, each successive generation had become increasingly more apostate and idolatrous. And God had seen enough. He had watched Israel “become as beautiful as Tyre” (Hosea 9:13 NLT). They had enjoyed His many blessings and become prosperous and affluent. But all that was about to end.
“…now Israel will bring out her children for slaughter.” – Hosea 9:13 NLT
Even Hosea is appalled by the stubborn disobedience of the people. Rather than intercede with God and plead that He show them mercy, the prophet asks, “what should I request for your people?” (Hosea 9:14 NLT). And then he answers his own question: “I will ask for wombs that don’t give birth and breasts that give no milk” (Hosea 9:14 NLT). From his perspective, the people of Israel did not deserve to enjoy the fruits of the womb because they had been unwilling to raise up those children to honor and obey God.
For centuries, God had blessed the people of Israel. All the way back to their unpleasant sojourn in the land of Egypt, God had blessed them and made them fruitful. he had multiplied their number and then provided them with a land fully capable of holding and sustaining them. Under the reigns of David and Solomon, God had continued to expand their number and their significance in the region. Israel had become a major player in the middle east. But rather than respond to God’s gift of fruitfulness with faithfulness, the people of Israel had chosen to forsake Him. They had gladly appropriated His many blessings but returned the favor by refusing to honor, obey, and trust Him. Now, their stubbornness was about to result in barrenness.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.