Hosea 7:8-9, “Ephraim has mixed himself among the peoples; Ephraim is a cake unturned. Aliens have devoured his strength, but he does not know it; Yes, gray hairs are here and there on him, yet he does not know it.”
The history of Ephraim is a tragic thing to behold. The religious experience and the repentance that Ephraim underwent were temporary and fleeting, like a morning mist that dissipates with the advent of the sun. With each act of disobedience, with each willful rebellion, with each refusal to repent, Ephraim’s strength was being devoured while he remained ignorant of it.
For Ephraim the aliens that devoured his strength were, departing from the Lord, burning incense to Baal, committing adultery, cursing, lying, stealing, murder, mixing with the nations, and stubbornness. This is by no means a detailed list, and as hard as it might be to believe, the sins of Ephraim extended beyond those just mentioned.
With every act of rebellion, with every sin committed, the spiritual strength of Ephraim was devoured, and he became weaker, thereby becoming more susceptible to the attacks of the enemy. The growing weakness of Ephraim was evident to all, in the graying hairs, except to Ephraim himself who considered himself unaffected.
To this day there are things that devour our spiritual strength, that sap us of our energies and cause us to become visibly weaker with the passage of time. I want to discuss, if only briefly some of the things that devour our spiritual strength, because if we know the causes, we can guard our hearts against them.
There is nothing more pitiable than a man who was once spiritually strong, become spiritually impotent and not even know that his strength has been devoured by certain things he allowed in his life.
The first sin that devours strength faster than we would like to acknowledge, is pride. Pride is a sin! It is a sin that God abhors, and is disgusted by. There are a multitude of examples, both in our present day, and in the Word that opens our eyes to the destructive power that is pride. One of the most vivid examples of the destructive power of pride is the first King to ever rule over Israel, namely Saul. The reason I mention Saul, is because the aftereffects of his pride reverberated in the lives of the entire nation, and they felt the weight of his sin for generations after his passing.
Looking back at the history of Saul, it is easy to conclude that pride was what devoured his strength, and left him a shell of his former self. As a young man, Saul had a spirit of humility and simplicity.
During their first encounter, when Saul was out looking for his donkeys, and sought the aid of Samuel to show him which way he should go, Samuel speaks some glowing words concerning Saul for God had shown him that Saul would be king. Saul’s answer to Samuel’s praise was one of utter humility, as he said, ‘Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families in the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak like this to me?’
So basically Saul said, I know who I am, I know the family I come from and the tribe from which my family comes from, and I don’t deserve this praise. From this position of utter humility, Saul allowed pride to leech its way into his heart, and his end was less than glorious or pleasing to God. In the end, because of his pride Saul was rejected by God.
1 Samuel 15:23, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.”
Pride is the mother of both rebellion and stubbornness, because pride keeps an individual from submitting to the authority of God, and deceives them into believing that they know best. Pride devours the spiritual strength of men, depleting their level of obedience and submission to the point that they become nonexistent.
Saul had everything; he was king over Israel, the power of God resided in him, yet due to pride he forfeited all that God had granted him becoming pitiable among men.
The second sin that can readily devour one’s strength is disobedience. It is undeniable that Jonah was tasked with a difficult mission. Jonah was told to go to Nineveh, a solitary messenger, with no preparation in advance of his arrival, with no one renting a hall, or putting up fliers, and no one heralding his arrival. Add to all of this the fact that the message he was commanded to proclaim was not one of cotton candy and candied apples, but rather of destruction within forty days, and one could understand how this could overwhelm a man and cause him to flee from before the face of God.
Often when we look at someone like Jonah, we have a tendency to view the largess of his disobedience, and take comfort in the idea that our disobedience is small compared to his.
‘Sure I’m disobedient in some areas, but it’s not like Jonah’s disobedience. I mean, compared to Jonah’s disobedience my own is infinitesimal.’
What we fail to understand is that small disobediences ruin the soul just as thoroughly as large ones. Disobedience is disobedience, it is not quantified by how big or little, it must be repented of. In His goodness, God will forgive, but we must repent. We cannot bypass repentance just because we think our disobedience was miniscule to someone else’s. God doesn’t grade on a curve. His standard is fixed, and remains the same for all of mankind. Whether one disobeys of five billion, God is not trying to fill heaven and so in a pinch will decide to lower His standard of obedience. He is the same yesterday, today and forevermore.
Another thing that can devour our strength is neglecting our own spiritual walk. Even the most humble and obedient servants can sometimes fall into this snare, of getting so caught up in ministry, getting so caught up in reaching the lost, getting so caught up in preaching, or helping the poor that they grown neglectful and become indifferent toward their own spiritual wellbeing.
During the time of the judges in ancient Israel, there was a man by the name of Samson. We all know the sad story of Samson, and witnessing his dramatic downfall should be as a warning sign to all who aspire to serve God.
Samson was a judge of the people, a man upon whom the Spirit of the Lord moved, a man who not only killed a lion but tore him apart with his bare hands, the selfsame man who killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey he found on the ground.
This was the man who no bonds could hold, and who armies feared, yet because he neglected his spiritual walk, because he did not watch over his relationship with God, he became a grinder in a prison, being bound in bronze fetters, with his eyes plucked out.
As tragic as this might seem, to me the most tragic thing of all takes place before the Philistines captured him, when he woke from his sleep and purposed to himself to shake himself free of the Philistines that were attempting to overtake him, not knowing that the Lord had departed from him.
Here he was thinking he had the strength he’d always had, here he was thinking he had the might he’d always possessed, yet the Lord had departed from him, and Samson found himself powerless and impotent.
Men cool in their relationship with God over time if they do not fan the flames of their love for Him. Samson did not fall suddenly, but he did fall. He neglected his spiritual walk and paid the ultimate price for the neglect.
Negligence leads, and inevitably so, to choosing the wrong path, and making fatal decisions. God had bestowed an awesome power upon Samson, but due to his carelessness, and the fact that Samson did not cherish the gift he had been given, God simply removed His power from Samson. Now some might say that God is not an Indian giver, and I agree, He is not, but we can forfeit His gifts, we can force God to depart form us by neglecting or otherwise abusing them. God will not reside in a dirty vessel, and an impure heart. Yes, God departed from Samson! I know this might not sit well with some, but the Word is the Word.
Judges 16:20, “And she said, ‘the Philistines are upon you, Samson!’ So he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!’ But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.”
Living on the bottom of the ocean, where the light does not penetrate, deep water fish actually lose their sense of sight. Because they were away from the light for so long, these fish lose their ability to see. When a man is apart from God, when he willfully turns his back and walks in the opposite direction from where God is standing with open arms, they lose their spiritual senses, and their spiritual strength is devoured.
Another example that we can use is that of a perfectly healthy man immobilizing his arm for twelve years. If somehow he managed to keep the arm unmoved for twelve years, that arm becomes atrophied, even though it is perfectly healthy. Blood is still pumping through the appendage, but because the man has not flexed his muscles in such a long time it becomes useless.
If we have light, then we must walk in the light. If we have convictions then we must live our convictions, and do our utmost to follow the will of God.
Having seen the means by which our strength can be devoured, what are the signs that we can look for in ourselves as warnings that this is taking place in us?
For Ephraim the sign that his strength was being devoured was gray hair. This, thankfully since my hair is graying at a disturbing rate, is not one of the signs we need to look for in our own lives.
One of the most common signs that something is devouring our spiritual strength is a continued and pronounced neglect of studying God’s Word. It is imperative to study the Word of God, to nourish ourselves with His Book, and no matter how long we’ve been in the faith, no matter how many years we’ve been in ministry, we never outgrow the need for being in the Word regularly.
How can I do the will of God if I do not know it? How can I know the will of God if I do not read the Book in which His will is revealed? Can we honestly say that we can receive the Holy Spirit’s daily nourishing and encouraging absent the Word? It is the Word that lights our path, it is the Word that illuminates our understanding, and it is the Word that reveals God’s will to us and for us.
Another sign that something just isn’t right is neglecting personal prayer time. Prayer is our means of communicating with God; it is the avenue by which we share our burdens, our joys, our sorrows, and the means by which we thank Him for His daily blessing. Prayer is fellowship with God! It is beautiful and fulfilling and necessary on a daily basis so that we grow from strength to strength, rather than have our strength devoured by those things which so readily threaten to ensnare us.
The last thing to look out for is neglecting service, neglecting to do good, and neglecting the opportunities we have to share Jesus. When we come to Christ we are transformed, and His nature becomes our nature. We can’t help but call people to repentance, we can’t help but reach out to the lost, nor can we help but be there for the poor, the widow and the orphan. When we cease doing these things, when we stop being the hands, the feet, and the heart of Christ, then we must search our hearts, and look into the mirror of the Word that we might discover if something is devouring our strength.
Our Christian walk is constant and perpetual. It is not reserved for one day per week, it is not reserved for when we have nothing else to do, but we must daily walk with God, daily seek His face, and daily read His Word.
As a famous musician was discussing the daily practice of his chosen instrument he said, ‘if I don’t practice one day I feel it; if I don’t’ practice for two days, my friends feel it; if I don’t practice for three days, the whole world knows it.’
This should be our mindset as we daily go about bringing glory to God, that if we miss one day of fellowship with Him, we will feel it, if we miss two, those around us will know it, and if we miss three, the world will see we are no longer in communion with Him.
With so many means by which the enemy attacks, with so many ways in which our strength can be devoured, we must be diligent in walking with God daily, for He is able to deflect the fiery arrows of the enemy and keep us safe in His embrace.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.