Ephraim – Weak, Graying and Unaware (Hosea 7.9)

"Aliens have devoured his [Ephraim's] strength, But he does not know it; Yes, gray hairs are here and there on him, Yet he does not know it." (Hosea 7.9).

In these metaphors, strength and gray hairs are opposites; one is a sign of vibrant youth and the other is a symbol of declining vitality. Or, to put it as the wise man did, "The glory of young men is their strength, and the splendor of old men is their gray head." (Proverbs 20.29). Unbeknownst to Ephraim, the strength which he had once enjoyed was no longer his; strangers had devoured [literally, eaten] his strength. During one period of oppression by Syria, the king of Israel was left with "… only fifty horsemen, ten chariots, and ten thousand foot soldiers." (2 Kings 13.7). At a later date, the king of Assyria came against Israel and exacted tribute money from every man in Israel (see 2 Kings 15.20). In these and similar actions, the strength of Israel [Ephraim] was slowly but surely eaten but the strangers [aliens] that surrounded them. The gradualism sapping Israel's strength was so slow that he didn't even realize it was happening.

The metaphor of the gray hairs has the same meaning, but the visual image is different. The picture is of an aging man whose hair begins to turn gray one isolated hair at a time until eventually he is gray-headed. The literal meaning of the phrase is that gray hairs [old age] is sprinkled upon him; it didn't happen overnight but so gradually that there was no note taken until the almond tree was in full bloom. Once again, the image is one of a decrease in vitality that was so slow that it defied detection. Everything seemed OK, all vital systems seemed to be in good order, but one morning the strength of youth had been devoured and only an old gray headed man was left.

Gradualism is the blight of many vital organizations and relationships. It is also the scourge of individual purity and strength. In the home, it is usually a gradual decrease in the things that make a home a house; words that were once kind and loving slowly lose their feelings and suddenly (or though it seems), an environment exists where seldom a kind word is spoken. Churches are also subject to a similar fate. The truths for which they once stood are slowly eroded by the pressures of culture and politics and economics; it isn't sudden; in fact, it is insidiously slow most of the time. Where once a bastion of truth stood, now a weak and vacillating corpse exists with a sign about its neck proclaiming "The Church of Our Lord!"

Gradualism dulls the senses and sears the conscience over long periods of time. We learn to measure our selves by our selves and compare ourselves among ourselves. With such a system of subjective measures it is only a matter of time until the ancient landmarks are removed and new boundaries are erected which were are not sanctioned by the Lord. Ephraim suffered and eventually died from the sinister effects of gradualism. Such was the warning of the prophet Hosea, but in spite of his pleas, Ephraim knew it not.

Avoid the trap into which Ephraim fell. Examine yourself continually against the unchanging standard of God's word. Changes may come, but when they do, you will be aware of it and have the opportunity to make needed adjustments. Ignorance in such matters is fatal.