(Expanded May 31, 2021)
Ephraim is another name for the northern part of Canaan, the kingdom of Israel. The Israelite kingdom was the first to feel God’s chastening rod by means of deportation. The southern kingdom, Judah, soon followed Israel into exile. Hosea, one of the late prophets, had a message about the “Israelite” kingdoms that is bolder than shocking. Whores go whoring, and Hosea saw it up close in his personal life and in the kingdoms. There is not a nice girl in the resume presented by the people who were in the room.
Prostitution in the Pentateuch was not a talking point about potential filth in the people’s psyche. God warned Israel about prostituting herself with the abominable practices of the Canaanite people, and he predicted that they would do so repeatedly.
Fleeting Goodness, Prophets and Priests
We can go only so far if we are satisfied with a wooly-eyed look at the popular story. God’s mercy does extend into eternity and we are aware that even a proverbial seven decades for us get our act together is more than adequate. We would be caught in a web of the spider who catches the unwary with a narrative of infinite cycles of apostasy and return (repentance). The popular line is that Israel-Judah has been through the cycle of estrangement, chastisement, and restoration. What is left can in no way be called a kingdom. When the judgments so often include death (as in the wilderness journeys, the enabling of enemy assaults and invasions, and hundreds of individuals executed by the government) there is not much to attach to infinite cycles of sin and restoration.
On one occasion Yahweh offered David options for punishment. David chose to be chastised by God rather than humans. This question – “what shall I do to you?” – is something different.
O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goes away. Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and your judgments are as the light that goes forth.
Here the prophet reports that Yahweh has a case to make about the value of his repeated corrective measures. It is obvious that there is no such thing as an endless cycle of spurn and return. One day the piper’s hand comes out, waiting for his pay. “What shall I do to you?” from Yahweh signals that the prescribed measures have not brought about the wellbeing everyone craved. The cutting down of the people by prophetic declarations and by His own decrees is the divine response to momentary goodness. Goodness in a prayer in the morning is like the dew. Goodness in a multitude of offerings is fleeting.
Prophets and priests transgress like humans
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.Hosea 6:6-7
Gilead is a city of them that work iniquity, and is polluted with blood. (Hosea 6:8) And as troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way by consent: for they commit lewdness. (Hosea 6:9)Hosea 6:8-9
Two places of opportunity were provided for the covenant to become at least expedient if not fulfilled: the sacrificial services and the medical practices of Gilead. There is supposed to a balm in Gilead (Jeremiah 8:22, 46:11, 51:8). Rather rather than burnt offerings there might have been mercy. We know who made the decisions about the worshipper’s expenses for sacrifices. Every sin by a priest (reported) required a bull. A ram might do, or two doves and two pigeons might suffice for a person with less means (Lev. 5:7). We can see how the practice of selling animals as a part of the temple service was vulnerable to filthy captialism.
Prostitition sinks the ship
Horrific things were happening elsewhere too. In Judah the effect of a broken down marriage, due to partner defilement, was in full view in New Testament times.
I have seen an horrible thing in the house of Israel: there is the whoredom of Ephraim, Israel is defiled.Hosea 6:10
There is a tacit resignation to Judah’s stiffneck after end of the exile. When the Persian returned the captivity (reversed the exile) one might have expected the Gentile uncleanness and desire for foreign gods would have ended. It is not surprising that the resistance to God and the sleeping around continued in New Testament times, even as the temple compound became an even more colossal monumental testimony to the people keeping up the marriage appearance. The king was Herod. The king was Caesar.
Also, O Judah, he hath set a harvest for you, when I returned the captivity of my people.Hosea 6:11
What happens to a defiled wife or even a betrothed partner is assigned in the Law. It is highly unlikely that a couple will want to stay together in such situations. Even though a familiarity with God’s ways and words reveals that we should only say “never” when He says “never” fixing broken things a relationship with a defiled spouse is not happening without a crisis.
“If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me? declares the LORD.Jeremiah 3:1
Supporting the state of Israel to defy the solution of the Palestinian Problem only goes the affirm that finding a nice girl in the ancient picture of Israel, Judah, or any of the nations is unlikely and improbable. One would have to zoom in in a few seconds of antiquity to find the nice girl. We still believe that where we see shut doors God sees open doors. Where the law depends on prisions the Son of Man imposes liberty. In the modern picture of Judah and the nations it is equally unlikely and improbable to find a nice girl.