When Ephraim spoke trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died.…
This passage portrays anew the dreadful prevalence of apostasy and idolatry throughout the nation. "The same strings, though generally unpleasing ones, are harped upon in this chapter that were in those before" (Matthew Henry). Much of the imagery continues to be anthropopathic; the prophet exhibits an apparent tumult of contending passions in the Divine mind towards unfilial and rebellious Ephraim.
I. EPHRAIM WAS ONCE ALIVE. He had been so, both spiritually and temporally. The time was when the tribe of Ephraim, and the other nine tribes over which it cast its shadow, contained many God-fearing families. Joshua, the illustrious hero who led the Hebrews into Palestine, was of this tribe; and to him, doubtless, it owed not a little of its subsequent eminence. The "life" which once dwelt in Ephraim was reflected in:
1. God's mercies towards him. (Vers. 4, 5.) The Almighty set his love upon Israel; and "in his favor is life" (Psalm 30:5). God had manifested himself to his people in the Exodus from Egypt. He "did know Ephraim in the wilderness;" he visited him there in pity and love - revealing his will at Sinai, feeding the people with manna, bringing them water out of the rock, leading them by the cloudy pillar, and delivering them from their enemies. He "led Joseph like a flock," and at last "made him to lie clown in the green pastures" of Canaan - a land which was "the glory of all lands." The Lord had set up his tabernacle in Ephraim; for Shiloh was a city of that canton, and the sacred tent remained at Shiloh for upwards of three centuries.
2. His own influence. (Ver 1.) "When Ephraim spake, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel." In the early days of the nation Ephraim had been the most powerful of the twelve tribes. Long before the lamentable disruption of the Hebrew state, it had exercised a sort of control over the others. It had a high reputation, and commanded unfeigned respect. At length Ephraim became itself a kingdom, and as such seemed for a time strong and prosperous, and was regarded by Judah as a formidable rival.
II. EPHRAIM IS NOW DEAD SPIRITUALLY. Spiritual life consists in union with Jehovah, and is maintained by communion with him. But sin separates from God, and gradually kills the life of the soul. Now, Ephraim in his prosperity had apostatized from God. The Divine complaint is, "They have forgotten me" (ver. 6). Although the people owed everything to God, they allowed the very abundance of his gifts to become the means of withdrawing their hearts from him. In the time of Hoses the nation was really "dead in trespasses and sins." Again, in this passage, the prophet laments the manifestations of this state of death.
1. The Baal-worship. (Ver. 1.) "When he offended in Baal, he died." The introduction of the Phoenician idolatry involved Israel in spiritual ruin. The rites of that idolatry were in the highest degree obscene and cruel; and by the Law of Moses every breach of the first commandment was to entail terrible penalties. Yet, notwithstanding all, Israel went aside to serve Baal and Ashtaroth, and thereby became morally degraded and spiritually destroyed.
2. The image-worship. (Ver. 2.) Although Jeroboam's sin (1 Kings 12:28) was manifestly distinct kern that of Ahab (1 Kings 16:81-88), and in itself by no means so heinous, it had yet been the beginning of the evil disease which, under Ahab and Jezebel, culminated in the spiritual death of the nation. Image-worship is idolatry; and the "kissing of the two golden calves had led to the multiplication of idolatrous images all over the land. The people in their blindness were addicted in their private life to all manner of will-worship." How melancholy that Ephraim should forsake Jehovah to bow down to manufactured gods - "all of them the work of artificers"!
3. The self-worship. (Ver. 6.) Ephraim abused his prosperity to such an extent that his heart became at once steeped in materialism and elated with pride. He minded earthly things. His "pasture became everything to him; he was greedy, and could never have enough. Jeshurum waxed fat, and kicked" (Deuteronomy 32:15). Selfishness and insolence and tyranny were born of Ephraim's abundance; he became puffed up with self-sufficiency, forgot Jehovah his God, and "died."
III. EPHRAIM WILL SOON BE DEAD OUTWARDLY. As the dissolution of the body follows death, so the temporal ruin of a state is the natural result of its moral decay. In cherishing his pride and pursuing his idolatries, Israel was busily digging his own grave. As his wealth and power increased, he steadily deteriorated in moral fiber, and thus gradually lost his prestige and reputation. So:
1. His destruction shall be swift. (Ver. 3.) This part of the prophecy probably belongs to the time of Hoshea, the last of the kings of Israel, who was "cut off as the foam upon the water," and in whoso day the unhappy Ephraimites were carried away into Assyria. The captivity, therefore, was now at hand. The suddenness of the impending transplantation is indicated by four similitudes - "the morning cloud," "the early dew," "the chaff," and "the smokey." Such is the result of the prosperity of nations which continue to be incurably wicked; the time comes at last when the whole fabric of the commonwealth suddenly falls to pieces
2. It shall be dreadful. (Vers. 7, 8.) Here also there are four comparisons - a "lion," "a leopard," "a bear," and "the wild beast." These shall come down upon the flock in their fat "pasture," and devour them. It is remarkable that the same fern beasts reappear in Daniel's vision of the four world-empires (Daniel 7.), and that they are combined into one bestial form in "the wild beast" of the Apocalypse (Revelation 13:1-3). Alas! Jehovah, who has been the Shepherd of Israel, is now compelled to become Israel's Devourer! He will send the Assyrian - strong as a lion, fierce as a leopard, and savage as a bear - to tear the very heart of the nation. Thus would Israel "destroy himself" (ver. 9), being carried away into sudden exile and total oblivion
1. "Righteousness exalteth a nation" (ver. 1).
2. "The Lord is a jealous God;" "His glory he will not give to another, neither his praise to graven images" (vers, 2, 8)
3. God destroys our idols that we may learn to "kiss the Son;" for he is "the true God and eternal life," and "there is no Savior beside him" (veto. 3, 4).
4. The dangers of material prosperity to all who neglect those means of grace which make prosperity safe (ver. 6).
5. "Pride goeth before destruction" (ver. 6).
6. The great moral evils of our age (intemperance, impurity, profanity, infidelity, social disorders, etc.) constitute a call to God's people to more faith and prayer and Christian activity. - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died.