Blackberries and Consequences
Blackberries in the northwest… Let’s just say it’s a love-hate relationship. If you have played host to these invaders on your property, you know as well as I do, it’s easy to become passive-aggressive toward them.
We love them because for two weeks a year they yield wonderful sweet deep-purpley mouth-drops of goodness. Treat your tongue to a handful while walking or hiking. Fill a pail for some pie. Load up a couple buckets to freeze and savor months later.
But that’s just two weeks. The other 50 weeks they are either growing out of control or they become dried up brittle stalks of thorns waiting to kill your arms and legs without relent.
I grew up with them all about the property; thorny blackberry vines and tall gangly stinging nettles, which were equally as mean to our appendages. It’s why we got a goat.
Snowflake the Goat annihilated the blackberry vines and the nettles. She turned ever vicious vine within reach of her tethered leash into poop pebbles for us. But without snowflake, thorny vines and nettles would have overgrown my favorite trees, my forts, our garden, and our garage. I suppose, without Snowflake, they could have overgrown our whole house. I have seen houses buried under a bramble of blackberry vines. They don’t look comfortable to live in.
Here in Hosea 9, thorns and nettles are a punishing means. Hosea is pushing back against the sin of Israel, or Ephraim – same people, northern kingdom folks.
“Rejoice Oh Israel…NOT!
Exult like the peoples…NOT!” (vs. 1)
They have forsaken their God, turning to a neighboring god instead. They brought on themselves the punishment that ensues.
All the precious treasures and dwellings of God’s precious people will be overrun by thorns and nettles (vs. 6). I think it is both metaphor and actual. Visually we might imagine a once bustling homestead now vacant and overgrown.
YHWH then reflects on a youthful Israel from years past. He imagines them as tender un-kept wild grapes in the wilderness and as the meager first crop of a young fig tree. He gathered them, tied them up, pruned them, and cultivated the ground beneath them so they would bear much fruit. But they came to Baal and not YHWH. Forsaking and not listening. (vs. 10)
You know, just between me and you, the harsh reality of our sin is the consequence is always deserved. I know that’s offensive for many; hard to swallow for sure. But, as heavy-handed as it may sound, we deserve every last swat. And frankly, we probably get too few for the offense. In the beginning and at the end, and throughout the full middle, God is over all things.
Three times in the text the hard punishment is revealed as barrenness and bereavement of kids. Whew…really? Yes, really…
No birth, no pregnancy, no conception.
Rather, miscarriages, dry breasts, and stillborn children. (vs. 11-16)
Yet, in a strangely gracious sort of way, how kind of YHWH God to spare a generation from the evil of Assyria that’s about to lay into Israel. They are better off unborn than to endure the real discipline coming from the north.
And finally, in as plain of language as it gets, Hosea declares at the close of the chapter:
“My God will reject them because they have not listened to him.” (vs. 17)
Oh the instructions and warnings of my youth. Had I heeded them all, I could have saved myself a lot of salty tears and bloody wounds. But instead, nettle stings and thorn gashes.