All military veterans experience a sense of sadness, shame, and anger when one of their own commits treason. How could anyone betray the nation and undermine the constitution of the United States for money or other personal gain? Did not the oath to protect one’s country against its enemies not mean anything at all? Our study of loyalty to God centers around Israel’s betrayal of His direct commands. Their disloyalty resulted from years of a lifestyle that gradually hardened their souls against God. Individuals slipped away from God without being aware of what happened.
An outstanding sign of their disloyalty could be seen in their flippant insecurity (vv. 1-3). Israel was not so far gone as to be unaware of God’s efforts to bring them back to Himself. They counted on His forgiving nature. Since He had “torn” them, He could be counted on to heal them. Because He had “smitten” them, He would bind up. In their shallow attitude, they told each other the miracle would come in a couple of days. The moment would be like the sun rising to bring about a new day. His blessing would be showered upon them as refreshing as a rain resurrects the parched land. God knew there was no substance to their high-sounding phrases. It was all hypocritical.
The Bible provides evidence that loyalty cannot be coerced (vv. 4-7). Our text begins with a lamentation about the squandered potential of the Northern Kingdom, symbolized by Ephraim and the Southern Kingdom, Judah. All their goodness had about as much durability as the sweetness of the morning dew. As soon as the sun arose, the dew (goodness) was evaporated. God had been actively engaged in efforts to correct their wicked ways, but to no avail. He had tried to correct their character by sending the prophets to remind them of their covenant relationship with Him. Reminding the people through the prophets accomplished no long-term changes. Neither did the subsequent judgments effect changes, as their history proves. The people simply blamed God for their discomfort and tragic outcomes. They dealt “treacherously” against Him. They could never comprehend that what God really desired was mercy, and sacrifice, and knowledge of Him, not burnt offerings. They were defective in the innermost being.
Similarly, loyalty is impossible to those who by nature are rebellious (vv. 8-11). The focus of God’s complaint shifts to Gilead, located in the mountainous section east of the Jordon River. That land had been assigned to the one-half of the tribe of Manasseh, plus Gad and Reuben. The fertile lands extending from north to south to the east of the Jordan became known as The King’s Highway, notably because kings of Gilead, Ammon, and Moab located their capitals in that narrow strip of land.
The relative isolation from Israel proper of the 2 ½ tribes to the east allowed them to lapse into rebellion against God. Gilead gained the reputation of harboring revolting sinners, polluted with blood. In its mountains, robbers waited for the opportunity to attack unwary travelers. The priests scattered across the land banded together to rob and kill. We can imagine the sordid acts they committed in what the Bible calls their “lewdness.” Neither does the Bible explain the “horrible thing” committed by Israel, but it probably relates to the pollution of the temple by bringing in idolatrous images and practices. Israel was in a state of rebellion, pledging allegiance to false gods.
In summary, loyalty to God is impossible for an individual whose religion is half-baked (7:1-2). The Bible intensifies the accusation against Ephraim. A national attitude is impossible except as it reflects the level of morality of the individuals. To bring the point forward, the Bible compares Ephraim’s morality to a baker who builds a fire to warm the oven (v. 6), places a cake of bread on a pan over the fire, and then forgets about it. The result is “a cake not turned,” burned on the bottom and raw on the top, half-baked (v. 8). Their religious fervor had been cooled by the infusion of ungodly loyalties and practices. The compromised loyalty of individuals eventually became a national scandal which precipitated God’s anger and subsequent judgments.
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