By Ron Halbrook
Hosea’s statement, “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone,” provides the basis for the Ephraim’s Idols column (4:17). Hosea prophesied about 750 B.C., or about thirty years before the fall of Israel to Assyria. The leaven of a lawless or apostate spirit worked in Israel until she was not fit to save. Her devotion to the calf worship of Jeroboam I and to the Baal worship introduced by Ahab and Jezebel was her downfall. Her sin was not only spiritual adultery or unfaithfulness, but also spiritual whoredom or prostitution. That is, she sold herself to false religion in seeking the pleasures of sin and the promise of prosperity. She joined herself to idolatry and reveled in its rewards. “Rejoice not, O Israel, for joy, as other people: for thou bast gone a whoring from thy God, thou hast loved a reward upon every cornfloor” (9:1).
Graphic figures describe the awful condition of Israel, also called Samaria or Ephraim. The nation was a harlot, joined to idols (4:17); a half-baked cake, fit only to be thrown out (7:8); a silly, senseless dove, fluttering desperately here and there in search of safety (7:1 I); a wild ass, running off in self-willed stubbornness (8:9); a blighted plant, with dead roots and no hope of fruit (9:16); and, a luxuriant vine running and making display of itself, but worthless to the husbandman (10:1). Israel had sown the wind and would reap all the fury of the whirlwind (8:7; 12:1).
God’s lawsuit against Israel charged her with an apostate spirit and many lawless deed. Truth and loyalty had been supplanted by lying and immorality. Rebuke was pointless because ignored. Israel had forgotten “the law of thy God” and, therefore, was “destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6). Not only the people, but also the priests who encouraged sin for their own advantage would be cut off. “The spirit of whoredoms” or harlotry had caused Israel to err, and Judah was forewarned not to partake of that spirit (vv. 12, IS). “Since Israel is stubborn like a stubborn heifer, can the Lord now pasture them like a lamb in a large field? Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.” Though the nation’s leaders “dearly love shame” – that is, they love the very things for which they should be ashamed – God will fill them with shame in destruction for their sins (vv. 16-19, HAS).
Ephraim, who stands for the nation, is hopeless; he is joined, or mated, to idols as a wife is joined to her husband. He is so hopelessly united with them that recovery now seems impossible. “Let him alone,” give him up to abandonment. This case is desperate, there is no hope (Homer Haily, The Minor Prophets, p. I51).
Israel found hope in its own solutions and was proud of its accomplishments. The prophet’s plea, the plea of God’s loving kindness, went unheeded. For, as Hosea explained, “Their deeds will not allow them to return to their God. For a spirit of harlotry is within them and they do not know the Lord” (5:4, NAS).
Rather than being old and dustry, the history of Israel is the’ record of current events! The first fifty years of the 19th century witnessed a call for the restoration of New Testament Christianity among all those professing to believe in Jesus Christ. Great strides were made. Thousands upon thousands gave up their denominational names, creeds, clergies, and councils in a return to Bible names, a simple confession of Jesus Christ, baptism into Him, and allegiance to Him and His word alone. Sadly, within the next fifty years an apostate spirit began to work as a leaven within the ranks of these simple Christians. Unity was destroyed as lawless deed were practiced and promoted. Missionary, benevolent, and edification societies centralized the work of local churches, compromising their autonomy in the name of “the great works we are doing.” These local churches lost their identity with the New Testament order of things in organization (Tit. 1:5). Instrumental music, choirs, and contests corrupted the simple plan of worship found in Scripture, as churches boasted, “But look how we’re growing.” The denominational concept of a local preacher serving as the lone “pastor” of a church supplanted the New Testament teaching on preachers, elders or pastors, and deacons. Efforts of such men as Benjamin Franklin, David Lipscomb, James A. Harding, and others who opposed apostasy did not succeed with many brethren.
Those determined to walk in the old paths came to the point of recognizing, with broken hearts, “Ephraim is join to idols.” A large segment of the restoration churches begun in the 19th century re-entered the border lands of conservative Protestant denominationalism with some misgivings or else settled down in that old country with comfort and pride. Such churches are generally known as Christian Churches or sometimes Church of christ (Instrumental) today. Another large group having historical roots in the restoration effort eventually joined the mainstream of liberal Protestantism and in 1968 proudly acknowledged full denominational status by means of an all-embracing organizational restructure. This group calls itself Disciples of Christ (Christian Church), or officially the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). By 1900 many brethren recognized that Ephraim was joined to his idols, left him alone, and began rebuilding the cause of New Testament Christianity.
Rebuilding according to the New Testament pattern of faith and practice continued with increasing zeal through the Second World War. Sadly, from about 1950 onward the spirit of apostasy worked in lawless deeds again: the work of churches was centralized through human institutions and “sponsoring” churches, and the spiritual mission of the church was gradually supplanted by social and recreational programs. After a quarter-century, many brethren have been forced to recognize with broken hearts, “Ephraim is joined to idols.” Efforts to warn and rebuke have been so ignored as to make them useless, in many quarters. When “their deeds will not allow them to return to their God” because of the “spirit of harlotry” within them, there is nothing to do but let them alone.
As we have turned to the task of rebuilding according to the New Testament pattern, a great many of us have lost track of Ephraim as he has pursued lawless deeds in an apostate spirit. While Ephraim may be too far gone into idolatry to return to New Testament teaching, we may still be instructed by his silly and stubborn course. “Though you, Israel, play the harlot, do not let Judah become guilty” (Hos. 4:15). The Ephraim’s Idols column will not generally give detailed reviews of apostate arguments from Scripture, but will give information as to Ephraim’s progress down the road of apostasy along with comments and observations. We do not intend to be totally negative, but wish as well to commend from time to time the efforts of faithful brethren in pursuing New Testament ideals. The best defense against the error of Ephraim’s Idols is a Scriptural offense in walking according to the Bible pattern in all things. Most of Ephraim’s Idols are imported from denominationalism, so we expect to make observations on some events among the denominations. Though our focus will be on Ephraim’s idols, we shall be free to commend the good and to urge fidelity to our Lord’s Word in every way. Building up all things good must complement pulling down the evil, or else the whole point of our labor is lost (Jer. 1:10)!
Truth Magazine XXIII: 9, pp. 149-150
March 1, 1979