When Ephraim multiplied his altars for sin, they became his altars for sinning. Though I were to write out for him ten thousand points of my instruction, they would be regarded as something strange. Though they offer sacrificial gifts and eat the flesh, the Lord does not accept them. Now he will remember their guilt and punish their sins; they will return to Egypt. Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces; Judah has also multiplied fortified cities. I will send fire on their cities, and it will consume their citadels (8:11-14 CSB).
They had a religion of self-will. God intends that our lives conform to the standard of the Scriptures (8:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). He expects us to be holy (set apart) as he is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). Our way of life from the inside out is to reflect God’s message and great aim, being set apart for his glory. But in Ephraimite (Ephraim is a name for the northern ten tribes) religion, the Holy Scriptures are regarded as something strange, “alien”, having no relevance to one’s life (8:12). The world thinks that godliness, marital faithfulness, self-control, prudence, humility and gentleness are strange things (cf. 1 Peter 4:4). The only relevance it knows is immediate self-gratification. This produces rebellion against God’s covenant law (8:1). Why obey something you think is weird and irrelevant?
When people refuse the Bible as God’s will for their lives, they become their own authority. What is right or wrong is then determined by human preference. Two ways Israel did this:
- They chose rulers apart from God’s consent (8:4). A parallel in our day would be ordaining ministers apart from the requirements of God’s words; namely, setting up women as teaching pastors or tolerating ministers who do not have a firm hold of the faith once delivered to the saints. Churches look for managers or marketers, because they think their problem lies in their form rather than their substance. Sound teaching that sets forth God and his glory means little to many. “Just tell me enough so that I can live prosperously, and after I die, have a prosperous eternity.” God is forgotten! They tragically are unaware that eternal life involves knowing God and Christ (John 17:3).
- They mixed themselves among the nations (8:8-10) Today the church mixes herself with the world by adopting unspiritual, ungodly, unbiblical attitudes and practices. How is the contemporary western church, claiming to be God’s nation, different from the world? What of the way she measures success? The way she markets herself? The lifestyle her members live?
They had a religion of empty ritual. Outwardly, everything seemed to be in order. Worshiping in a certain way (that is assumed to be attractive to the current lusts of the culture) is very important in Ephraimite religion. “This is the way we worship here.” Ephraim built altars for sin offerings (8:11). This looks good, doesn’t it? She seemed to confess the guilt of sin. Ephraim offered sacrifices to the Lord (8:13). Wasn’t she confessing her need for redemption and cleansing to the Lord? Do not read too much into what ritual and the recitation of the creeds are supposed to mean. Ask about the understanding of the heart. Is there love for the Lord and his truth? Are we set apart for what the Lord desires?
In reality, Ephraim’s situation was desperate. The altars were merely monuments to her sins, because she did not want to turn from her sins (8:11). It is one thing to sing the name of Jesus and speak of how kind and caring he is to affluent people in all their miseries; it is a very different matter to want to bring your life under his lordship. The Lord was not pleased with her sacrifices. She was ripe for judgment (8:13-14).
Are your sins taken away (Micah 7:18-19)? Do you have a promise from the living God that he will never remember them (Hebrews 8:12)? Such a promise and cleansing is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ and received through faith in him. Don’t build empty hopes on empty profession, your opinions, and religious rituals. Find the lasting, substantial joy of knowing God through Christ. When you come to know the Author of life, then you will experience life.
Grace and peace, David