EPHRAIM'S SYNDROM AND THE LEISURE OF FAITH
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Isaiah 28 (NIV)
7 And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions. All the tables are covered with vomit and there is not a spot without filth.
9 "Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast? For it is: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule ; a little here, a little there."
11 Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, to whom he said, "This is the resting place, let the weary rest"; and, "This is the place of repose"-- but they would not listen. So then, the word of the LORD to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there-- so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured.
14 Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers who rule this people in Jerusalem. You boast, "We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place."
16 So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed(see no haste). (RSV) I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place. Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the grave will not stand. When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by, you will be beaten down by it. As often as it comes it will carry you away; morning after morning, by day and by night, it will sweep through."
The understanding of this message will bring sheer terror.
The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you. The LORD will rise up as he did at Mount Perazim, he will rouse himself as in the Valley of Gibeon-- to do his work, his strange work, and perform his task, his alien task. Now stop your mocking, or your chains will become heavier; the Lord, the LORD Almighty, has told me of the destruction decreed against the whole land.
23 Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say. When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil? When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cummin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field? His God instructs him and teaches him the right way.
27 Caraway is not threshed with a sledge, nor is a cartwheel rolled over cummin; caraway is beaten out with a rod, and cummin with a stick. Grain must be ground to make bread; so one does not go on threshing it forever. Though he drives the wheels of his threshing cart over it, his horses do not grind it. All this also comes from the LORD Almighty, wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.
People of God:
If you are familiar with the history of Israel and the words of the Old Testament, you know that Ephraim was a common designation for the Northern part of the Jewish nation in the time of Isaiah. Whereas the south was called Judah, the northern tribes were called Ephraim. What most people don't realize is why that designation came to be. The source of how the northern tribes of Israel received the designation Ephraim lies at the heart of this passage that we have read together.
So let me start with a few minutes of history.
You remember that under the leadership of Moses and Aaron, God led the nation of Israel - the descendants of the 12 sons of Joseph - the twelve tribes of Israel, out of Egypt. Under Joshua's leadership, the twelve tribes overtook the land and Joshua designated specific areas to each of the twelve tribes. As you can see on this map, 8 of the tribes were in Northern Israel, geographically, southern Israel included Benjamin and Judah, Simeon and Reuben. The area given to the tribe of Ephraim was not that large - but the Ephraimites who had included some of the most heroic fighting men in Israel were given some of the best, most fertile land in the entire region, the wreath of the nation.
Because they were given this fertile region, the tribe of Ephraim prospered - Ephraim means "to be fruitful." They grew in wealth, they grew as an economic force, they started growing in size. Its economy flourished. Its cities were well built and fortified. Ephraim became well known not only for its beauty, but also for its luxuries and its indulgence, this passage records its reputation for excessive parties. Ephraim also grew in size. By the time of King Solomon, the better portion area of the tribe of Manasseh was ruled by the district governor of Ephraim. This governor's main job was to get enough taxes to supply provisions for Solomon's lifestyle - taxes which the people of Ephraim, who had a particular attachment to their wealth, did not appreciate. When Rehoboam, Solomon's son took over the rulership of the nation, and he wanted to continue the lavish lifestyle his father had, it was Ephraim that led the northern tribes in rebellion against Rehoboam and his taxes, a rebellion that divided the nation of Israel between North and South. The South was called Judah (though it included Benjamin,) the North included the other 10 tribes of Israel, and by the time of Isaiah, these tribes together collectively were called Ephraim because Ephraim was the dominant tribe.
What was characteristic of Ephraimites was not only their excess, their success and their wealth, what was characteristic was also that they never had enough. They always were expanding. The blessing, the Lord's provision, did not satisfy! They wanted more and more. Success had to be followed by greater successes. A great crop had to be followed by greater crops. If their wealth was not increasing, if their good times were not better than the last good time, then it wasn't a good time at all. They resented the throne in Jerusalem. They resented their own lack of power even though they had some of the fiercest fighters for the nation within their boarders. They were driven to have more - more - with a little more effort, a little more wealth, a better house, a bigger chariot. Ephraimites were characterized by their upsizing business, taking care of themselves, their kingdom, their concerns. Their society was socialized toward growth and dissatisfaction with the status quo and so they were driven people always trying to outdo what was done before.
"Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule ; a little here, a little there."
These are words of success, improvement, accomplishment, expansion. They were short words, for us very hard to translate, but the phrasing seems to denote a relentless work ethic, command and oughts, pressures to perform. These were the words that characterized these people. For them the promised land was not a land of rest, it was the land of opportunity, of expansion, of empire building. The territory given them was not a place of repose, is was the fortress from which expansion occurred. Accomplishing everything themselves, so they thought, and being very successful at it, they thought they could even deny death, deny even the reality of the expanding Assyrian kingdom from the north, thinking that they themselves would not be affected.
Ephraim trusted in their own strength, their own accomplishments, they became faithless people in a land given to them so that they could rest from their striving. And in judgement for their faithlessness, God gave back to them the very words they lived by "Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule ; a little here, a little there." When God pours out his judgement, you see, there is no rest for the wicked. For upwardly mobile Ephraim which found the blessings of God unsatisfactory, there would only be more work!
This morning I want to point you to the startling parallels between the culture we live in today, and that of Ephraim. Today to, success is growth. Economies that don't grow 5% are failures. Without getting into the issues, unions like never before are fighting for large wage increases. The investment markets are regarded as failures if they don't make their 7 - 10%. Everything has to be faster, more powerful, more efficient, more expensive. National markets are becoming international markets, national banks are becoming international banks. People have found that as the power of technology has given them more time, they have less time off because they expect themselves to be that much more productive. As a result - and I will say this bluntly - the more we are getting involved in the rat race of the world, the more we are saying "Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule ; a little here, a little there." And like Ephraim, the busier we get, the less time we have for faith, for God and for rest.
Just like Ephraim - who was given the very best of the promised land, the best of the blessings of God, the best had to get better. That is Ephraim's syndrom. So to, we today, living in the first world, the best countries in the world to live in, are driven by a cycle of making our lives better and better and the business that it results in is the kind of business that overtakes our lives.
To Ephraim Isaiah said that no matter how powerful they were, no matter how accomplished and successful, the Lord would judge their faithlessness in a calamity which they, for all their resourcefulness could not escape from. And his recommendation to Ephraim was for them to look at the farmer who works hard when it is time to work hard, but then to trust in the blessing of the Lord. The Farmer plows and harrows the ground until it is ready for seeding. He then seeds it and trusts the Lord for the harvest. When harvest time comes, the farmer takes the grain, and grinds it, but once ground, repeatedly grinding the flower will not improve the flour for making bread. Enough is enough. His advice to Ephraim was to rest in the blessing of God, and be willing to say enough is enough if enough describes the blessing of God.
This passage speaks bluntly to us who live in this helter skelter rat race society, driven to perform, improve, make better, bigger, more powerful, expand, I don't need to go on. The truth is, we live in a society that ticks by this line "Do and do, work and improve, rule on rule, you ought to have this and you must keep up with the Jones; gain a little here, gain a little there, growth must continue or you have failed." Our society is plagued with Ephraim's Syndrom. Many of us are affected, effected and possibly infected - but because it is all around, we hardly recognize is symptoms, except for those nagging thoughts that we quickly repress in our mind, like the country and western song that says "I'm in a hurry and I don't know why - all I have to do is live and die."(Alabama) But the real danger of Ephraim's Syndrom is that for all our business, we don't notice the disappearance of something far more important - our faith and our trust in God that gets pushed to forgetfulness by our drive for success. And Ephraim's syndrom, once we have it tends to be a downward cycle, we spiral deeper and deeper into its clutches, for the less God fills our lives and satisfies our needs with the liesure of faith, the more we try to fill our emptiness with accomplishments and toys, and the more we fill our needs with accomplishments and toys, our desensitization to the grace of God which gives contentment increases.
Maybe you are a person who has started wondering about the drivenness of your life, Maybe you too have Ephraim's syndrom and you want to know if there is a way to break out of its cycles of emptiness.
This passage tells us the answer. Listen again to its words...
16 So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed(see no haste). (RSV)
Here Isaiah promises that in his people he will place a rock in which the people could hide from the storms of life and the one who trusts in that rock will never be dismayed. The NIV translation does not give the full sense of the original for the original has the sense of panic, anxiety, distress under stress, being overwhelmed. The RSV, which tended to be more literal translates this verse - "the one who trust will see no haste." The one who trusts, no matter what happens will be able to rest. And if you remember the New Testament, you know that this precious cornerstone of which Isaiah speaks is Jesus Christ, the one who puts his trust in Christ will find satisfaction in the grace and the promised blessing of God.
I suspect though that some of you who are listening to me are saying - "I do believe in Jesus but I still feel stuck in the rat race! How can this be?"
It is one thing to say we believe, its another thing to live it. Sometimes faith needs to be put into intentional practice. That's why God in the OT instituted the Sabbath - a day when Isarel was called to rest from its labour and trust God to provide for their needs. A day that they would focus on worship and trust God to grow their plants and take care of their businesses. A day that they could rest in the satisfaction of what they had accomplished in the hard work of the previous 6 days. A day in which, trusting in God to take care of them, they could say enough is enough.
We too have Sundays, so that we can exercise our faith, focus on worship, and trust God to take care of our concerns. We too have Sundays to put into practice the belief that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Our lives need the discipline of saying "enough is enough and for me, enough describes the blessing of God!" Take this attitude into your Sundays. Make your Sunday a focused day of worship where you will trust God to take care of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
And since this is a holiday message, use your holiday to put your faith into intentional practice, take a holiday and make it a holy-day! Not just a holiday that is an escape from the business that you always focus on, but a holiday that is an escape to trusting in God! Trust God to take care of your concerns, refocuse your stressed mind and body, refocus it on trusting the one who has promised that not a hair can fall from your head without the will of your Father in heaven. Take a holiday to be satisfied with the blessings that God has given you. Use your holidays not only as an escape from business, use them as an escape from busyness to trust.
Matthew 6:30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Psalm 46:10 "Be still, and know that I am God;
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.