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David's Commentaries

Hosea 4:17 ‘Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.’

This Week’s Focus Passage: Hosea 4:17

‘Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.’

    A relatively recent translation of the Holy Scriptures, the GOD’S WORD translation, renders this verse in the following manner; The people of Ephraim have chosen to worship idols. Leave them alone! When we consider communion as a “being joined” and “having chosen to be joined”, it is difficult to find any fault with this offering, although it may well be, and likely is, what we consider in the  discussions of different translations, one having been based upon the principal of dynamic-equivalence. The dynamic-equivalence approach to translations simply refers to the overriding concern of the translators to provide an easier-to-read translation which inherently involves a corresponding willingness to surrender a precise word-for-word rendering for one which may be more easily grasped by the bequivalence approach which limits any periphrastic choices to those that cannot be avoided. The former approach—the easy-to-read—approach may sometimes be helpful as long as the reader understands that it is, likely, less literal than the latter.

    The implication of the GOD’S WORD translation, that the union spoken of was a union of choice, may be valid even if not a word for word rendering. There are more than twenty Hebrew words which may be translated by ‘join,’ or, ‘joined.’ The word in the case of our focus passage has the idea, according to an Old Testament word study (Wilson’s), ‘to couple things together of the same sort.’ While this contains no suggestion of the instrument, or catalyst, of union, it does imply the possibility of choice. The idea ‘of the same sort’ could leave room for the thought of ‘birds of a feather flocking together.’ The context strongly suggests such a reality. Judah is being warned not to imitate Ephraim in their idolatry. This speaks of the division which ensued upon the failure of king Rehoboam, the son and successor of Solomon, to listen to the counsel of the older men when the northern tribes told this new king that they would adhere to him if he would remove some of the unjust burdens that Solomon had imposed upon them. Rehoboam listened rather to the counsel of the upstart young men the he himself had grown up with, and refused to give in. This led to Jeroboam’s taking the ten tribes to himself, forming the northern kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam himself was of the tribe of Ephraim and it is very probable that for this reason the northern kingdom was commonly referred to as Ephraim. Ephraim was not only the tribe of king Jeroboam, but was also the most powerful of the northern tribes.     

    It was this Jeroboam who, out of fear that when his subjects went to the place appointed in Jerusalem, by God, their hearts would cause them to not wish to return to him, so that he instituted places and forms of worship not commanded by God, nor countenanced by Him. He provided these unlawful places of assembly in Dan and Bethel, to the north and to the south. He then appointed priests, of his own making, not from the tribe of Levi, much less Aaron, opposing God in this also. This false worship grew worse and worse in the history of Ephraim until reaching something of a climax in Ahab, arguably the most wicked of the successors of king Jeroboam. We read in 1 Kings 16:30, ‘And Ahab the son of Omri did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah above all that were before him.’ He graduated from the false worship of Jehovah to actually worshipping a god other than Jehovah; ‘as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal the king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him.’ (16:31).

    Is this the reason that Hosea complained in 7:8, ‘Ephraim is a cake not turned?’ Does this, perhaps, mean, ‘half-baked?’ One suggests, ‘baked on a griddle.’ This is likely opposed to being baked in an oven where it would be cooked all-round and not half-baked as on a griddle. It is really the same idea as the NIV’s ‘a flat loaf not turned over.’ Have we met professing Christians who seemed half-baked, who seemed to be done only on one side; who seemed to never have been turned over? Perhaps this might be the case of one knowing ‘faith without repentance,’ two sides of the same coin of salvation. What do we do with the Scriptural asseverations, ‘without faith it is impossible to please God,’ and, ‘except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish?’ Are these statements mutually exclusive, or are they in fact representative of the one coin of salvation? must we not strive to see men brought to repentance as well as faith? And must we not seek to see them disjoin themselves from their idols? Ought we not pray that they would experience that radical change; turning from their idols to serve the living God? The option is to ‘let them alone.’ Are we content to do that? Can we be satisfied to leave our loved ones alone; joined to their idols when we know that they will perish with them? Can we cease praying for them?

    Jesus Himself said of the Pharisees of His day, ‘Let them alone! They are blind leaders of the blind.’ Matthew 13:14. Were these Pharisees not joined to their idols even as Hosea’s Ephraim? Surely, we allow that their idols were not the visible idols that were condemned by Jehovah through His prophet Hosea, but they had their idols nonetheless. It has often been remarked how that having been brought back from their captivity, Israel was conspicuous for their not returning to idolatry. It would seem that they had learned their lesson. Yet idolatry is woven into the warp and woof of every son of Adam. And while it may be true that there was no longer any outward display of idolatry among the Jews, there is a real sense in which they came to idolize their traditions. This idolizing prominence brought upon them that denunciation from the lips of our Savior, ‘ye have made void the Word of God, because of your traditions,’ found in the same chapter of Matthew, and verse six.

    What is it to join or couple things together of the same sort? And is it possible that God is not only exhorting them not to be joined with idolaters, but to be not joined  with their idols? Could He be saying of those idols, ‘Let them alone’?

Ephraim is joined to her idols, but you, Judah, ‘let them alone!’ Can we not, like the Pharisees, permit our traditions to become idols; sacred cows? This is an ever present danger to every believer. We must distinguish between those sacrifices that are ordained of God and those with which the ordinances of God have been displaced. And since our entire lives ought to be worship, there is need to seek for hidden idols in every part of our walk before God. Does this text not speak to the church today; ‘Be not unequally yoked’ to idols of any sort?

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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