This Week's Focus Passage

This Week’s Focus Passage: 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, namely, 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 ‘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 based upon the principle of dynamic-equivalence. This dynamic-equivalence approach, as we have testified many times, simply refers to the overriding concern of the translators to provide an easier-to-read translation involving a corresponding willingness to surrender a precise, word-for-word rendering for one which may be more easily grasped by the reader. It is reader oriented, unlike the formal-equivalence approach which limits any periphrastic choices to those which cannot be avoided (in which cases, italics are employed to note the reason). The former approach may sometimes be helpful as long as the reader understands that it is, perhaps, less literal [true?] than the latter.

    The implication of the GOD’S WORD translation that the communion spoken of was a communion 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, ‘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 flock[ing] 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 Rehoboam, the son and heir 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 burdens that Solomon had place upon them. Rehoboam listened rather to the counsel of the upstart young men and refused. This led to Jeroboam’s taking the ten tribes to himself, forming the northern kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam was of the tribe of Ephraim and it is very probable that for this reason the northern kingdom was frequently 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 of appointed of worship in Jerusalem, their hearts would cause them not to return unto him; therefore, he instituted places and forms of worship not commanded by God. He provided Dan to the north, and Beth-el nearer Jerusalem to the south. He also provided priests ‘from among all the people,’ that were not of the sons of Levi,’ which again was contrary to the law of God. This false worship grew worse and worse in the history of Ephraim until reaching something of a climax in King Ahab, arguably the most wicked of the successors of Jeroboam. We may 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 king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him.’ (1 Kings 16:31).

    Is this the reason, perhaps, that Hosea complains in Hosea 7:5, ‘Ephraim is a cake not turned’? Does this 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.’ He we ever met people professing faith in Jesus Christ, who seemed somewhat ‘half-baked,’ who seemed to be done only on one side; who seem to have never been turned over? Perhaps this might be the case of one professing faith, but knowing nothing of repentance, but faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin, are they not? Like the cute old song about love and marriage; “Love and marriage, love and marriage; go together like a horse and carriage. You can’t have one without the other.” Else what must 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 not, in fact, representative of the one coin of salvation? Must we not strive and pray to see men brought to repentance as well as to faith in Jesus Christ? And ought we not seek to see them disjoined from their idols? Should 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 joined to their idols when we know that they will perish with them? Can we ever cease from praying unto our Father in heaven for their salvation?

    Jesus Himself said of the Pharisees in His day, ‘Let them alone! They are blind leaders of the blind.’ Matthew 15:14. Were these Pharisees not joined to the idols of their traditions, as well as was Ephraim, in our text. 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 after having been brought back from their captivity, Israel was conspicuous for not returning to conspicuous 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 very real sense in which they came to idolize their traditions. This idolizing prominence brought upon them that denunciation from the lips of our Lord, ‘ye have made void the Word of God because of your traditions;’ found in the same fifteenth 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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