1 Hear the word of Jehovah, ye children of Israel; for Jehovah hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor goodness, nor knowledge of God in the land.
This verse begins the major portion of the book, which extends all the way through 9:9. Here we have an oracle of indictment against Israel for unfaithfulness, disloyalty, and failure to remember God. In sum, these charges describe covenant breaking, because the people have contempt for God.
2 There is nought but swearing and breaking faith, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery; they break out, and blood toucheth blood.
These sins are a summary of the ten commandments- the most basic covenant requirements. The significance of this list is the fact that if the people are unfaithful to the most basic stipulations, what must they have done with the more demanding requirements of the covenant?
3 Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away.
This verse describes a catastrophe which makes the land devoid of life. As the people are devoid of life in the covenant- so the land will be emptied of life as well.
4 Yet let no man strive, neither let any man reprove; for thy people are as they that strive with the priest.
The sins of the people are compounded by the fact that they are not only not interested in applying the covenant to their lives but they also attack those who would remind them of their covenant obligations.
5 And thou shalt stumble in the day, and the prophet also shall stumble with thee in the night; and I will destroy thy mother.
Even the prophets are carried away in disobedience, and they too have abandoned the covenant and turned against the priests. Because of this wholesale disobedience the land will be destroyed- this is the punishment of disobedience to the covenant.
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest ton the law of thy God, I also will forget thy children.
Since the people have rejected the will of God as mediated by the priest- they have adopted destruction. They have rejected God so he has let them go their way. The curse of covenant breaking is clear- instead of protection, the people will perish; instead of knowledge, the people will be forgotten; and instead of loyalty, the people are rejected. There are serious implication when one forgets God.
7 As they were multiplied, so they sinned against me: I will change their glory into shame.
The degenerate multiplication of sins is the undoing of the people.
8 They feed on the sin of my people, and set their heart on their iniquity.
The people live in a terrible circle of sin. The more they sin, the more they want to sin. The more they want to sin, the more they sin... The only way out of this circle is punishment. And that is what God intends to do.
9 And it shall be, like people, like priest; and I will punish them for their ways, and will requite them their doings.
This verse is an epigrammatic statement. The evil people will get exactly the kind of priests that they deserve.
10 And they shall eat, and not have enough; they shall play the harlot, and shall not increase; because they have left off taking heed to Jehovah.
This is a futility curse. They will never be satisfied no mater how much they get. They are therefore fated to die.
11 Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the understanding.
Their religion is simply self debauchery and self indulgence. Their drunkenness has interfered with their capacity to think clearly. In their stupor they have turned away from God and adopted stupid idols.
12 My people ask counsel at their stock, and their staff declareth unto them; for the spirit of whoredom hath caused them to err, and they have played the harlot, departing from under their God.
In Sumerian mythology wood was called the “flesh of the gods” because so many idols were made out of it. However, the Egyptians and other Near Eastern peoples also practiced rhabdomancy, the determination of the divine will by the casting of sticks and the examination of their positions when they landed. See Ezek 21:12.
13 They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and terebinths, because the shadow thereof is good: therefore your daughters play the harlot, and your brides commit adultery.
Such grove shrines dotted the landscape, and consisted of a small stone altar, a pillar, a tree of some kind, and an idol. The Israelite women were happy participants of this worship.
14 I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go apart with harlots, and they sacrifice with the prostitutes; and the people that doth not understand shall be overthrown.
This verse is a question more than a statement; “shouldn’t I punish...” etc.
15 Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend; and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Beth-aven, nor swear, As Jehovah liveth.
This verse makes use of a fourfold imperative to urge the people to abandon their idolatry.
16 For Israel hath behaved himself stubbornly, like a stubborn heifer: now will Jehovah feed them as a lamb in a large place.
The metaphor of a stubborn cow is used to depict the unfaithfulness of the people. If they repent, they will be changed into lambs in the pasturelands. They will become, in a very real way, a different kind of animal.
17 Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.
The covenant is broken. No longer will God chase after him. “Let him go...”
18 Their drink is become sour; they play the harlot continually; her rulers dearly love shame.
Israel is depraved... The prophet will say this over and over and over again! So when will they listen?
19 The wind hath wrapped her up in its wings; and they shall be put to shame because of their sacrifices.
Israel’s lot is shame, embarrassment, and destruction. In other words, she will reap what she has sown.
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