Who's to Blame
There is a trend in our society to refuse to accept responsibility for our actions. For example, those who engage in immoral behavior are described as "victims" of a sexual addiction. By defining them as victims, they are excused from responsibility for their conduct. A victim is one who is preyed upon or taken advantage of. They are not responsible for what they do. Consequently, we have absolved an entire generation of guilt. We look upon people as being addicted to anger, abusive behavior, gambling, pornography, and the list grows each month. Those involved are not to blame for what they do. They are victims.
Evidence of this trend is also found in the way we assign blame to institutions for the evils of society. We want to blame the government, Hollywood, and public education for the decline in moral values and the increase in violent crimes. We want to hold industries responsible when (out of vanity, greed, or stupidity) we use their products to our harm. In the blame game, everyone is at fault except "me."
One of the results of refusing to live responsibly and accept accountability is the effect it has on future generations. Today, children are emulating the excesses of their parents. Not content to be entertained by immorality and violence, they reenact it with alarming frequency. We ask, "Who’s to blame?"
God holds both institutions and individuals accountable. That is the message that He delivers in this chapter. He assigns blame. He makes us face the fact that personal choices matter. We will be held accountable for what we do and the effect it has on others.
I. Assigning Blame – Verses 1-7
A. Accountability (1-2) "for judgment is toward you"
- No one was excused from responsibility for the downward slide of the nation.
- The priests were accountable for their compromise, dishonesty, and unfaithfulness.
- The politicians ("O house of the king") were accountable for their wicked leadership and endorsement of immoral behavior.
- The people ("ye house of Israel") were accountable for allowing themselves to be led astray, ignoring the voice of conviction and the preaching of the prophets.
Mizpah lay east of the Jordan River and Tabor lay west of the Jordan River. This was how God demonstrated the involvement of the whole nation. Everywhere you traveled in the land, people, princes, and priests had rebelled against God’s law and ignored His rebukes.
- It is significant that God began by assigning blame to the priesthood, reminding us that judgment must begin at the House of God (1 Peter 4:17).
- God places spiritual leaders above political leaders because they should have been the first to cry out against the move towards idolatry and immorality.
- Instead, motivated by selfishness, greed, and lust for power, they had endorsed the very sins they were called to combat.
Robert Yackey tells of an event from his childhood that illustrates the accountability of spiritual leaders. One Spring morning as his family drove to church, he noticed all the sheep in a neighboring pasture lying on the ground. At first, he thought they must all be asleep. Then he realized they were all dead. Over 1000 sheep had frozen to death as a late cold front descended upon the area. They were innocent victims of a rancher who had sheared them too early, motivated by a desire to get his wool to market while the price was still high. The were killed by the rancher’s greed – the one who should have known better, who should have considered the effect of his actions upon the flock he cared for. – Evangelical Missions Quarterly (3) 1994.
B. Attitudes (3 - 5a)
In verse 3, God makes a distinction between "Ephraim" and "Israel."
- Generally, Ephraim is the name of secular power. From the beginning, the Northern Kingdom had rejected God’s rule. Jeroboam I had lead the nation into idolatry and each succeeding king had followed in his steps.
- Israel is the name of spiritual promise. It is a reminder that God had not broken His covenant relationship with the people even though they had defiled themselves with idolatry and immorality.
God knew the character of the nation. He knew both the heart of its king and the heart of its people. He finds each guilty of the same sinful attitudes.
- Stubbornness– verse 4
- It was not that Israel could not change, but that they would not change.
- Obsessed with idols, they soon forgot the Lord, nor were interested in knowing Him.
The "spirit of whoredoms" refers to an obsession with idolatry and the immoral behavior that accompanied idol worship. Indulgence had become habit and habit had become compulsive behavior. The people knew that idolatry was wrong, yet they stubbornly clung to their idols. Today, their involvement would be described as an addiction. God identifies it as a choice.
- Pride – verse 5a
People, priests, and rulers wore their pride on their faces like a badge of honor. They flaunted their activities, mistaking God’s patience for either ignorance of their sins or lack of interest. Pride and stubbornness kept them from seeking the Lord or acknowledging His ways.
C. Admonition (5b-7)
- Israel’s evil influence
- Not only would Israel and Ephraim fall, but their idolatry had spread to Judah and would eventually result in its destruction
- Additionally, Israel’s unfaithfulness had resulted in the birth of "strange children," a generation to whom the truth of God was totally foreign.
- Israel’s inability to find God – Verse 6
The time would come when Israel would rush to offer sacrifices to appease the Lord and escape the painful effects of judgment. However, they would discover that God had withdrawn Himself, leaving them to experience judgment without mercy (Lo-ruhamah) until they recognized the true condition of their heart. They needed to learn that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22) and a just, humble walk with God is of more value than the blood of flocks of rams (Micah 6:7-8).
- Israel’s impending destruction – "now shall a month devour them"
- A month is a symbol of a short time.
- Once judgment began to fall, it would destroy them swiftly.
II. Announcing Judgment – Verses 8-14
As we have already learned, God’s judgment would come in the form of an invasion by the Assyrian army that would result in the destruction of the nation and the captivity (and exile) of the survivors. Although history would count Israel among the victims of the Assyrian advance, the Bible records that their fall resulted from God’s judgment.
A. The futility of resistance (8-9)
In verses 8 and 9, God tells the nation to sound the alarm and rally their troops, but it would be to no avail. Their prophesied destruction would "surely" come to be.
B. The failure of God’s people
- Although Israel was the primary target of God’s judgment, Judah would not come away unscathed. Verse 10
- God compares them to landowners who remove the boundary markers between their property and that of their neighbor.
- Although Judah had not turned wholly to idolatry, they were guilty of diminishing the moral and spiritual boundaries that set them apart from Israel.
Israel’s destruction would come like a moth that eats away at clothing, its evidence outward and immediate. Judah’s destruction would come like "rottenness" that slowly destroys wood from the inside out. It takes much longer before you see the evidence, but by then it is usually too late to do anything about it.
- Again God informs the nations that they were to blame for the judgment that was to come.
- Ephraim willingly walked after the commandment [of men]. Their obsession with idols resulted from a willing rejection of God’s truth.
- When the nation recognized its "sickness," the moral decadence that was destroying its nation, instead of turning to God for healing, it turned to human agents, the Assyrians.
There are a couple of significant observations to be made at this point.
- First, isn’t it amazing that we turn for aid to the very institutions that we blame for the diseased state of our society? We blame the government and the schools for the indecency and violence that permeates our culture, yet we look to them to solve the problems we claim they have created!
- Secondly, the same human agents to whom we look for help actually contribute to our eventual destruction.
A good example of this is found in the track record of Planned Parenthood. When abortions were legalized, we turned to Planned Parenthood to conveniently and confidentially to provide them. When the pregnancy rate among teens began to rise, we turned to Planned Parenthood to provide a sex education curriculum for our schools and contraceptives for our teens. However, instead of curbing teenage sexual activity, these programs have actually been responsible for an increase in teen pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted diseases. Yet, when it has become apparent that abstinence is the only sure means of reducing these numbers, the majority of people are opting to believe the Planned Parenthood myth of "Safe Sex." Society is rejecting the truth of God’s Word for the philosophy espoused by Planned Parenthood to the destruction of the moral fabric of our nation.
B. The fact of God’s involvement
Throughout this section, God emphatically states that the events that are to come are the result of His divine activities. "I will pour out my wrath … Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth … For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion… I, even I will tear …I will take away."
God is at work behind the scenes of human history, quietly bringing His Will to pass. Although the destructive forces of war, materialism and immorality are the result of human choices, God uses them to accomplish divine purposes.
III. Anticipating A Return – Verse 15
This sermon ended on a solemn note, yet a ray of hope shines through. God said He would withdraw to His place, abandoning the nation to the consequences of their sin and rebellion. He would ignore their suffering and their frantic attempts to appease Him when the nation began to fall apart. However, He was not abandoning them. He knew there would come a day when Israel would recognize its folly, confess its sin, and seek God’s face. They would give up their confidence in every human resource and look to God alone to deliver them. At that day, they would find the Lord and He would claim them as His people again.
There are two issues of accountability.
- Accepting responsibility for our actions, refusing to blame "society," "Hollywood," or anyone else for consequences of our choices.
- Accepting responsibility for our actions, realizing that our choices always affect others.
Thomas Spurgeon has written a poem that illustrates how we as Christians have to consider how our choices affect other believers.
It was a sheep -- not a lamb, that strayed away,
In the parable Jesus told:
A grown-up sheep that had gone astray
From the ninety and nine in the fold.
Out in the meadows, out in the cold,
'Twas a sheep the good Shepherd sought.
Back to the flock and into the fold,
'Twas a sheep the good Shepherd brought.
And why for the sheep, should we earnestly long,
And so earnestly hope and pray?
Because there is danger, if they go wrong,
They will lead the young lambs away.
For the lambs follow the sheep, you know,
Wherever the sheep may stray;
If the sheep go wrong, it will not be long
Till the lambs are as wrong as they.
So with the sheep we earnestly plead,
For the sake of the lambs today.
If the lambs are lost, what a terrible cost,
Some sheep may have to pay!
- Thomas Spurgeon