Ephraim and Judah
Hosea 4:15-19
Though you, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend; and come not you to Gilgal, neither go you up to Bethaven, nor swear…

In this passage, as in Hosea 1:7, the kingdom of Judah is presented in contrast with that of Israel. Here, for the first time in Hosea, we meet with the name "Ephraim." As the United Kingdom over which Queen Victoria reigns is often called simply "England," so the kingdom of the tea tribes sometimes receives the name of" Ephraim," that tribe being the most powerful of the ten, and having within its bounds the seat of government.

I. EPHRAIM'S SIN. It consisted in the subversion of the entire moral Law.

1. General ungodliness. He had broken:

(1) The first commandment, by turning from Jehovah to serve the Baalim.

(2) The second commandment, by leaving the one rightful altar, and bowing down to Jeroboam's graven images. Gilgal had once been a holy place to Jehovah, but it was now noted for the idolatries which were practiced there; and Beth-el, "the house of God," where Jacob had seen the stairway and the vision of the Almighty, is now for the same reason nicknamed Beth-avon, "house of iniquity" (ver. 15).

(3) The third commandment, in swearing by Jehovah while worshipping the calves (ver. 15).

2. General licentiousness. The worship of Baal and Ashtaroth became as impure and revolting as it is possible to imagine. The groves were the scenes of the foulest debaucheries. Every bond of truth and justice was broken. The judges loved to say, "Give ye;" i.e. they gaped for bribes, and sometimes sold their judicial decisions to the highest bidder. Morally, Ephraim was utterly degenerate; he had become just like "turned" or "sour" milk (ver. 18). He was constant in his sin: "They have committed whoredom continually' (ver. 18). He was refractory: in moral conduct he resembled a stubborn cow (ver. 16). And he was obdurate: a fearful and unholy union subsisted between Ephraim and the dead idols which he served (ver. 17).

II. EPHRAIM'S DOOM. It will fall upon him swiftly. It will come in the form of:

1. Banishment. Israel had felt the Lord's fold to be too tight, and the life within it too slow. So the ten tribes are to be driven into exile. They are to be exposed to danger like a timid" lamb" (ver. 16) in the wide wilderness of the world. A tempest of judgment shall suddenly seize them, lift them up, and carry them away like chaff (ver. 19).

2. Shame. (Ver. 19.) As long as the northern kingdom seemed strong and prosperous, its citizens gloried in "their sacrifices" to idols. But now, in these days of conspiracy and revolution, Ephraim will be disappointed in his expectation of help from the Baalim, and will be covered with shame on account of his infamous idolatries. We know that one chief result of the Assyrian and Babylonish captivities was to thoroughly wean the Hebrew nation from its polytheism.

3. Abandonment. (Ver. 17.) Judah is directed to "let Ephraim alone." God's people within the southern kingdom are to send no missionary to reprove him, or to attempt to convert him. They are to leave him to "eat of the fruit of his own way." This word spoken to Judah is often understood as if it referred to the desertion of incorrigible sinners by the Lord the Spirit. Such, however, is at best only a secondary and inferential meaning. It is evident that in this verse God himself pronounces no decree of final abandonment, for we find him saying afterwards (Hosea 11:8), "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?" The abandonment here denotes the loss of the "kindness" and "excellent oil" which belong to the reproof of "the righteous."

III. AN ADMONITION TO JUDAH. (Vers. 15, 17.) The southern kingdom is cautioned to shun the contagion of Ephraim's wicked example. For:

1. Judah's condition was meanwhile better. Up to the time to which Hosea 4., refers, Judah was comparatively uncorrupted. There had always been a difference morally and spiritually between Ephraim and Judah. The southern kingdom possessed Jerusalem, and the temple, and the Aaronical priesthood, and the royal dynasty of' David. Many of its monarchs had been godly men, who "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord." And God's restraining grace towards Judah had been so great, that if he had any saints just now in the world, these were in Judah. But:

2. Judah was in danger of contamination. The people of Judah were near neighbors to the ten thousands of Ephraim. They were brethren - two segments of the same nationality. They possessed the same great history, and inherited the same traditions. Israel, moreover, was the larger state, and the more prosperous. Jehovah, therefore, in his anxiety about Judah, warns him to keep away flora such polluting places as Gilgal and Bethel (ver. 15). The Divine counsel to him is, "Let Ephraim alone;" i.e. have no intercourse with him, lest he pollute thee. Stand off from him, for "evil communications corrupt good manners." No effort on your part will avail to cure him of his idolatry; and perchance you may yourself become a partaker of it.

3. The effect of this admonition. Judah did remember it for a time; at least, a great theocratic revival and religious reformation took place during the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah. Afterwards, however, a deep spiritual decline set in; and Judah, too, fell into the fatal grasp of Babylon only three or four generations after the fall of Ephraim.


1. We must refuse to partake of other men's sins, if we would not share their punishment. One cannot touch pitch without being defiled.

2. We must beware of the "large place" outside of the Lord's fold. The broad way leadeth to destruction. Men of firm Christian principle are sometimes called "narrow;" but we must dare to be as narrow as the straight line of God's righteousness, and at no time depart from the leading of the good Shepherd.

3. We must cherish shame now for our own spiritual idolatries, and break with every idol, however dear, if we would have confidence before Christ at his coming. - C. J.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend; and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Bethaven, nor swear, The LORD liveth.

WEB: "Though you, Israel, play the prostitute, yet don't let Judah offend; and don't come to Gilgal, neither go up to Beth Aven, nor swear, 'As Yahweh lives.'

Blustering Sinners
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