II. D. The worst judgment: divine abandonment (17)
“Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.”
The Lord does not intend to lead Israel to repentance. For His decree is, Conscience, let him alone; Ministers, let him alone; Spirit of God in the Word, let him alone. There comes a day, too, when godly parents must let him alone, for they die and pass on to heaven. They cannot exhort and warn him anymore. Let him be oblivious to his backsliding until he slides into hell. He loves his enslavement to sin preferring to be let alone! He does not want to be pestered by his concerned brothers and sisters in the Lord, nor to be bothered by the elders and the minister. He gives them all a wide berth. But if let alone in sin he shall die in his sin.
Ephraim is Israel since Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin in the idolatrous superstition of the golden calves. He was the source of all this evil. Jeroboam’s intention was not to displace Jehovah with idols, but to use the figure of an ox, or bull, as a symbol of power, i.e., of God in His power. It was not to be the worship of images but of God represented by the images. This is the rationalization of the Roman Catholics in defense of their image worship. But we in our churches have trouble with idols. One has a problem with the idol of alcohol. Another with the idol of drugs; still another bows down to Baal and Ashtoreth, going around a whoring. Or one has listened for decades to the preached Word but is always a stony-ground hearer. How awful to persevere in any idol-sin to the point where God is provoked to hand down the sentence, Let him alone! Then it is that “he…being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Prov. 29:1). So the Lord was done with the Pharisees. “Let them alone; they are blind leaders of the blind.” (Matt. 15:14). Finally, the Lord says, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is unrighteous, let him be unrighteous still….” (Rev. 22:11).
What happens when God lets a sinner alone, gives him up (Rom. 1)? Like Cain, he goes out from the presence of the Lord. Like the Jewish Sanhedrin, he becomes a persecutor of believers. Like the son of perdition, he gets deeper and deeper into sin. His conscience becomes seared and sin- hardened. He becomes a scoffer, a sceptic, an enemy of truth. Then no more does the Lord say to the devil, Let him alone. Nor will He say to Death, Let him alone. He will nor say to Judgment, Let him alone. He will not say to infinite, eternal misery, Let him alone.
Then ought not we to pray in conviction of sin, of righteousness, and judgment, “God helping me. I will not be one of those of whom God shall say, ‘Let him alone’”?
II. D. The worst judgment: divine abandonment (17).
1. They shall not correct one another (4).
“Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another; for thy people are as they that strive with the priest” (4). Ordinarily, we are to reprove the sinner (Lev. 19:17), but here is a command to do so no more. Why not? Because there comes a time when the Lord will cease to call all men including the reprobate to repent (Acts 17:30), because the time has come to abandon them to destruction (v. 6,14), and because they will not cease from sin, no matter what! (Rev. 16:10, 11). We have good commentary on “for thy people are as they that strive with the priest.” We find this in II Chron. 25:16. The priests were given to Israel to preserve them in the truth and in the knowledge of God. The prophets were sent to call them back to the truth and knowledge from which they had departed. But there comes a time when the prophet, directed by the Lord, will no more strive with nor reprove those who have apostatized. He, representing God, let them go to determined destruction.
- God will not punish them (14).
“I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses (husbands) when they commit adultery; for they themselves are separated with whores; and they sacrifice with harlots; therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall.”
Not being punished, i.e., not being stopped dead in their tracks, for the scandal and disgrace brought on their families for the sexual immoralities committed by both the single and the married women, they would continue in it until their apostasies all worked through to ruin and judgment. Calvin says that if “is a just punishment when adulteries prevail and when vagrant lusts promiscuously follow.” So that not to punish is a form of punishment!
“For they themselves,” i.e., the husbands, for the men were primarily responsible and guilty. They were the ones who “went to Baal-peor, and separated themselves to ‘that Shame,’ and their abominations were according as they loved.” (Hosea 9:10b). “They themselves are separated with whores.” They had separated from their wives, and from God and His pure worship to separate themselves to the Baal-peor god of shame.
“Therefore, the people…do not understand.” Why not? because (1) they had not been taught by the priests in the knowledge of God. They had not been catechized. An uncatechized people are an unreformed people, and are especially exposed to the lusts of the flesh and all kinds of spiritual seductions. (2) The priests led the people into carnal and spiritual whoredom by their own idolatrous and immoral practices. In turn, the whorish examples of the parents led the children into the same impurities.
There are so called “churches” today where the “ministers” encourage the “Father Divine” miscegena- tionistic life-style notorious in a Negro cult kingdom of the twenties and thirties. (W.R. Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, chap. 8, “The Reign of Father Divine,” 213-221).
“Shall fall” by the seductive snares set by heathen whores (cp. Prov. 7:10, 22; 22:14). Baal-peorism is far from being stamped out of the churches. It is, as we have previously noted, all a part of ecclesiastical Babylon, Rev. 17:5. So we can agree that “all fictitious modes of worship, however much adorned by a specious guise… (are) adulteries and whoredoms.” (Calvin).
- Rather, they shall temporarily prosper (16).
“For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer.” Calvin says “a backsliding heifer” means a wanton (lascivious, licentious, lustful) heifer. This is correct. “The Lord said also unto me (Jeremiah) in the days of Josiah, the king, ‘Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? She is gone up upon every high mountain, and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot” (Jer. 3:6. See also 7:24; 8:5, 6).
“Now the Lord will feed them as a lamb in a large place.” (Cp. Jer. 11:19 with 12:1-3). Matthew Henry said, “If they wax fat and kick, they do not wax – fat for the butcher.” The wicked do often-times prosper. But it is to be pulled out of a fat pasture (the large place) as sheep for the slaughter. As they are fed and fattened in the large, lush, fat pasture, it is that they might fill up their cup of iniquity to be ripened for destruction and judgment. “The Lord would leave them in their luxuries to gorge themselves according to their lust.” (Calvin). It is a punishment when God gives men and women up to their own lusts (Rom. 1:24, 26). Asaph had admitted that he “was envious . . . when I saw the prosperity of the wicked . . . the ungodly . . .prosper in the world; they increase in riches.” (Psm. 73:3, 12). Why was it that the Lord had brought them into such prosperity? Surely it was to set them in slippery places to cast them down to destruction (73:18). For “when the wicked spring like the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish, it is that they shall be destroyed for ever” (92:7). “The
sheep that are designed for the slaughter are put into the fattest pasture.” —Matthew Henry.
Therefore, let none boast that they are sheep; that is not sufficient. For the biblical distinction is between “not My sheep” and My sheep.” Those “not My sheep” do not believe. “Unspeakably solemn was (and is —RCH) this word. They were reprobates, and now that their characters were fully manifested the Lord did not hesitate to tell them so.” (A.W. Pink). At the same time the Lord identifies the character of “My sheep.” “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me (John 10:26-27). A stranger they will not follow (v. 5); and I give unto them eternal life” (v. 28). “My sheep” is “equivalent to God’s elect” (Pink) as verses 14 and 16 of this chapter clearly show.
III. The Warning to Judah Against Apostasy and Judgment
- Avoid places of idolatry (15)
“Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend; and come yet not unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Beth-aven, nor swear, ‘The Lord liveth’”.
For example, Christian tourists should not visit, at the hours of worship, heathen temples, Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues, or Roman Catholic churches. Do not attend “the mass,” which is an “accursed idolatry.” Calvin warns, “Let all, then, who are neighbors to idolaters beware, lest they contract any of their pollutions.”
“Judah had greater advantages than Israel, having the temple, the priesthood, the place to offer sacrifices — in Jerusalem, a king of the house of David. Therefore, “let not Judah offend.” Much more is expected of Judah than from Israel. Judah has more to answer for if they do offend. Judah then, must avoid the places of idolatry, avoiding Gilgal, where all Israel’s wickedness erupted. Hos. 9:15. So they were forbidden to enter Gilgal (Amos 5:5), for (1) Gilgal was where transgression was multiplied (Amos 4:4), and (2) Gilgal was destined to go into captivity, so coming to nothing.
is Bethel, House of God, ironically called Beth-aven, House of iniquity. (Aven is many times rendered iniquity, and two or three times nothing, idols being regarded as nothings.)
— To be continued, D.V.—