Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone. (Hosea 4:17)
After the people of God split into two nations – Judah and Israel, the largest and most influential tribe in the northern kingdom was Ephraim. Therefore, it isn’t unusual to find the prophets addressing the nation of Israel as “Ephraim.” Here in Hosea 4:17, we have a vivid – and tragic – example of this address: Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.
When the people of God went after idols, it wasn’t because they got a thrill out of bowing down to a statue. It was because the longed for the things the idols represented. Baal was the weather god, and in an agricultural community, farmers often felt they needed to make the weather god happy to ensure rain. Astoreth was the goddess of sex and fertility. People “worshipped” her for the sake of illicit pleasure with a temple prostitute or to appease her for more fertility in the family, flocks, or fields.
When the people of God went after idols, there was rarely a conscious rejection of the Lord God. More often, they just believed they were “adding” the worship of a local deity to their worship of Yahweh. In their minds they said, “We still love the Lord, it’s just that we also want to honor these other gods.” But the Lord God of Israel would have none of it. When He saw that Ephraim was joined to idols, He pronounced His judgment: Let him alone.
On the face of it, it seems like a pretty mild judgment. Let him alone – it doesn’t seem very tough. Most criminals would be happy if the police and courts would just leave them alone. Any debtor would be thrilled if their creditors simply left them alone. But when God leaves us alone, it is judgment.
In the case of ancient Israel, it was judgment because God knew what was coming. When the mighty Assyrian army comes against them, they may fight for themselves – God will let him alone. When a crisis like that comes, suddenly we don’t want God to leave us alone. We desperately beg for His help. But sometimes God says, “You didn’t want Me, so I will respect your wishes. You handle this one on your own.” That’s a bad place to be in.
We don’t want God to leave us alone because we need Him to protect us against our spiritual enemies. Satan wanted to sift Peter like wheat, but Jesus did not leave Peter alone to face the attack. Jesus prayed for Peter, and he emerged victorious (Luke 22:31-32).
We don’t want God to leave us alone because we need Him to protect us against ourselves. Left to ourselves, with our own sinful hearts, we will surely drift away from the Lord. All God must do to make certain a man goes to ruin is to simply let him alone. Our prayer should always be, “Lord, don’t leave me alone. Keep working on me.”
In fact, He never leaves us. It’s just that sometimes He will respect our desire to be left alone. At the end of it all, if you don’t want God to leave you alone, then don’t leave Him alone. Pursue God like the widow who wouldn’t quit (Luke 18:3-5) and you’ll never have to worry about being left alone.