“Because Ephraim hath made many altars to sin, altars shall be unto him to sin " (Hosea 8:11).
The Lord will not permit the plural form of any word which he has consecrated. The word "altar" is right, but the word "altars" is wrong. The word "temple" is permitted, but when Israel buildeth " temples" he offends against God. Ephraim became busily religious. It was not enough for Ephraim to have an altar; he must have an altar everywhere! Thus his very religion became irreligious. His piety became practical atheism.
Ephraim tried to do what men are in every age attempting—to make up for the complete, solemn, grand, overwhelming idea of God by the creation of an endless number of petty and distracting details; hence we have creeds, standards, dogmas, forms, tests of orthodoxy, and other altars innumerable and unnameable. We should not pluralise God's singularity. We must not attempt to complicate that which God has made strikingly simple; so simple that a child-mind can approach it and comprehend it.
The altars which Ephraim built were to be unto him as occasions of sin. Where Ephraim meant to pray he was to find a new temptation created by his own evil genius. We are led astray by our own craftiness. Our theological wisdom often becomes the means of our practical impiety. We turn religion into a scheme, a plan, a philosophy, something which human genius can create, invent, administer, overrule, patronise, and thus we drag down an idea which ought to be infinitely transcendent within the limits of our own understanding, and within the influence of our own humiliating patronage.
The time will come when men will be ashamed of their formal mechanism and creeds which they intended to be as altars and final tests of religious correctness. Let us beware of our inventions, for they come out of a heart that is not right; let us beware of our formal orthodoxies, for they may be the offspring of a cleverness that is itself perverted.
Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord ; there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism ; there is one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. God always insists upon the singular number; there is only one Name given under heaven amongst men whereby we must be saved; there is one cross, one atonement, one priesthood, one revelation, one baptism of the Eternal Spirit. To split up the unity into diversity, and to find multiplicity in what was intended to be simplicity, is a temptation to which the human heart is constantly exposed ; it brings its own stings and pains; it leads to confusion, humiliation, and disgrace.
These words spoken so long ago, are still relevant today.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Tags: Joseph Parker, Hosea, Altars