Ephraim mixes himself with the peoples; Ephraim is a cake not turned. Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not. The pride of Israel testifies to his face; yet they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek him, for all this. Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria. As they go, I will spread over them my net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens; I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation. Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me. – Hosea 7:8-13 ESV
God had called Israel to be distinct and set apart as a people. He had given them His moral, ethical and civil code to manage their lives and to differentiate them from all the other nations. When they prepared to enter into the land of Canaan which God had promised to give to Abraham and his descendants, God had made it clear that they were not to intermarry with the inhabitants of the land.
When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 NLT
God had gone on to tell them that He had called them to be His own, not because they were many in number or somehow deserving of His blessing, but simply because He loved them. And if they kept His commands, He would bless them beyond belief.
If you listen to these regulations and faithfully obey them, the Lord your God will keep his covenant of unfailing love with you, as he promised with an oath to your ancestors. He will love you and bless you, and he will give you many children. He will give fertility to your land and your animals.
When you arrive in the land he swore to give your ancestors, you will have large harvests of grain, new wine, and olive oil, and great herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. You will be blessed above all the nations of the earth. – Deuteronomy 7:12-14 NLT
But the people had failed to keep God’s command. Rather than eliminate the pagan nations as God had commanded, they ended up intermingling with them, allowing their sons and daughters to intermarry with them, and ultimately accepting their false gods as their own. Which is why God describes Israel as a half-baked cake, made from an inappropriate combination of ingredients. Not only was the recipe unacceptable to God, Israel, like a pancake cooked on one side, was unappealing and unappetizing. They had become revolting to God.
These other nations had become like “strangers” infiltrating their midst and the people of Israel were oblivious to it. They were like gray hairs that subtly show up on a person’s head without them even noticing it. Over time, Israel had become diluted by the presence of these pagan nations. They lost their distinctiveness, their holiness. God had called them to be different and instead, they had become dangerously diluted by the presence of these pagan nations among them. Not only that, Israel had begun to turn to foreign nations as a source of help and hope. When trouble came, rather than turn to God, they made alliances with foreign powers, seeing them as their source of strength and salvation, instead of God.
God accused Israel of insurrection and rebellion. He said they lied to Him and strayed away from Him. They had failed to obey Him and now God was going to have to punish them, just as He had said He would. They had broken their covenant with God and now, all that God had warned them about was about to happen. Destruction was coming. Rather than doing things God’s way, they had chosen to follow their own path, march to their own drummer, and do things their own way. And they were about to discover that turning your back on God never turns out well. Pride and arrogance had driven their rebellious behavior and now they were going to experience humility and brokenness.
God had chosen the nation of Israel to be His people and to live according to His ways. As His children, they were supposed to stand out from among all the other nations. Their worship was to be different, because their God was different. Their lifestyle was to be distinctively different, because God had given them His law. Their relational interactions were to stand in marked contrast to that of the pagan nations among them, because God had called them to express their love for Him through their love for one another. God was to have been their source of strength, comfort, provision, protection, hope, help, joy, peace and blessing. But they were guilty of turning to anyone and anything other than God to have these needs met. They were guilty both individually and corporately. And God had had enough. God had not deserted them, they had turned their backs on God. He wanted to redeem them, but instead of repenting and turning back to God, they spread lies about Him. Rather than seeking God, they sought their own satisfaction. Rather than listening to their all-wise, all-knowing God, they followed the counsel of men whose wisdom was of this world.
As Paul warned the believers in Corinth: “Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say, ‘He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness’” (1 Corinthians 3:18-19 NLT). Like Israel, we need to understand that God’s call to distinctiveness is non-negotiable. He has set us apart as His people. He desires to bless us and to reveal His power in us and through us. He wants to be our God and to use us as a vivid illustration to the world what it means to be His children. But if we allow ourselves to become contaminated by the world, our light dims and our effectiveness diminishes. Which is why we should listen to the warning of the apostle John:
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT