Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone! (Hosea 4:17, N.I.V.)
The tribe called Ephraim took its name from Joseph’s son Ephraim and was one of the most prominent tribes in Israel’s northern kingdom. As a matter of fact, the prophet Hosea used the name “Ephraim” in a general way to represent the entirety of that kingdom. That’s how he uses the name in our text verse.
The verse is part of a passage in which Hosea warns “Judah,” a tribal name the prophet uses to represent the entirety of Israel’s southern kingdom, to stay away from “Ephraim.” The point is that God wanted the Jews of the southern kingdom to stay away from the Jews of the northern kingdom lest they become spiritually contaminated by the northern kingdom’s pervasive idolatry. Just as a loving father would warn his child to stay away from certain people, God spoke through Hosea to warn the citizens of “Judah” to stay away from the citizens of “Ephraim.” That’s what God means by the words, “leave him alone.”
What we have here is an example of the Biblical concept of separation. God didn’t want the Jews of Judah to have any dealings whatsoever with the Jews of Ephraim. He didn’t want them to associate with those people, have business dealings with them, or intermarry with them. He certainly didn’t want them to worship with them. Believe it or not, He didn’t even want them to witness to those people. The separation was to be thorough and absolute.
For centuries God had commanded the nation of Israel to remain separate from the idolatrous nations that surrounded them, but now He was commanding one branch of Israel to remain separate from the other branch. This shows us that there can be times when God wants godly family members to separate from ungodly relatives. The old saying, “Family sticks together” doesn’t always apply, especially when certain family members go rouge against God and His word. Certainly these times of complete separation are rare, but they do sometimes occur.
Tell me, Christian, do you have someone in your life right now — be it a family member or someone else — who is hindering your walk with the Lord? If you do, have you considered the possibility that God might want you to separate yourself from that person completely? I’m not saying that He is; I’m just floating out the idea. Perhaps He even wants you to separate from an entire group of people just as He wanted each individual citizen of Israel’s southern kingdom to separate from the entire population of the northern kingdom. Whatever your specific case may be, all I’m asking is that you be open to the idea of leaving some individual or some group alone for the sake of your own godliness. Ephraims are out there everywhere, and God’s Judahs need to have the discernment to know when to avoid them altogether.