August 24, 2009
The Ghost of Ephraim, Part One
by Charles R. Swindoll
Psalm 78 is a hymn of history. Being a Maskil psalm, it is designed to instruct those who ponder its message. The opening words command us to listen . . . to incline our ears to what the composer, Asaph, has to say. Immediately we realize that he is recounting the unhappy days of disobedience which characterized the Jews during their rebellion and wandering. Throughout the psalm, Asaph contrasts God's faithfulness and patience with Israel's failure and unbelief. The ancient hymn was, no doubt, sung in a minor key.
My eye fell upon verse 9 recently as I was on a safari through the Scriptures. I was intrigued by a strange stroke of the psalmist's pen:
The sons of Ephraim were archers equipped with bows,
Yet they turned back in the day of battle. (Psalm 78:9)
These men of Ephraim were adept with bow and arrow. Furthermore, they had sufficient hardware to handle the enemy's attack. They possessed both skill and supplies in abundance . . . but you couldn't tell it! On the "day of battle" (that is, the first day of the fray) they "turned back." Like foxes hunted by hounds, they ran. The sound of battle made them as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Although well-armed and capable with their weapons, they lacked in steadfastness. On the surface they were a highly-polished, impressive-looking, rugged company of muscular men. They were as smooth as a Marine drill team, running through the manual of arms like a fine-tuned machine. No one faulted "E" Company at inspection. Everyone's sandals shone like polished chrome. But underneath the dress-blues, written across their soft underbelly, was a more accurate description---coward. The fastest maneuver they ever accomplished was the waving of the white flag. The only weapon they ever used to restrain the enemy was a cloud of dust as they retreated en masse, in a hurry.
What an indictment! The sons of Ephraim loved Memorial Day parades and target practice, but as soon as the going got tough, they ran out of their shiny sandals heading back to the barracks. The original quitters. Discipline and guts were nasty words in the Ephraim camp. Their watchword was ease and their slogan was "Make a good appearance." But behind the thin veneer of valor was the brittle, plastic shell of surrender.
Ephraimites live on, you know. They have invaded the ranks of churches and families, and until difficulty comes, you cannot spot them. They ape the lifestyle of heroic saints to perfection. Their words and prayers, verses and vows shine like Ephraim's arrows at dawn. But let the hot rays of hardship beat upon their backs and they melt like butter on the back burner. They "just can't handle the battle" . . . they "can't take the pressure" . . . they opt for the easy way out. They run. They come for counsel but reject the demands of Scripture. They want a medicine man with a quick cure, not direct advice to repent, reestablish biblical relationships, and restore God's method for living.
Years ago on a Los Angeles radio talk show, author Anna Sklar uncovered an incredible statistic from her book, Runaway Wives. Twenty years ago for every wife or mother who walked away from her home and responsibilities . . . 600 husbands and fathers did so. Today, for each man who now does that, two women do.
Selah! Pause and let that sink in.
Understand, I'm not advocating either, nor taking sides that one is better than another. I am simply amazed at the unbelievably rapid rise in modern-day women who choose escape as a favorite method of "coping." Contrary to our great American heritage, many of today's citizens would rather switch than fight . . . or, quite honestly, quit than stick. That which was once not even an option is now standard operating procedure---the preferred plan to follow. Homes and churches across the country are haunted by ghosts of the Ephraimites.
The quitting habit creates a strange undertow which complicates rather than corrects our difficulties. The ability to "turn off" responsibilities is now in vogue. There was a time when the going got tough, the tough got going. No longer! Now it's, "If you start to sink, jump, don't bail." It's, "If it gets hard, quit, don't bother."
Is there a battle you're facing today? Write down five reasons why you should not surrender. For inspiration, look at 1 Timothy 6:11-16.
Excerpted from Come Before Winter and Share My Hope, Copyright © 1985, 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.