The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle; 10 they did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law. 11 They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them. (Psalm 78:9-11)
The men of Ephraim—that is, the tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel—fall into grave idolatry. So completely do they abandon God’s covenant (verse 10) that God delivers them into the hands of Assyria. In contrast to the southern kingdom, Judah, which returns from exile (as we’ll see in the sermon this week!), the northern tribes are lost forever. Those who do remain in the land intermarry with their pagan neighbors, producing the mixed-religion Samaritans so disdained by their southern neighbors during the time of Jesus.
What exactly went wrong for the northern kingdom? Verse 11 gives us the short but shocking diagnosis: “They forgot what he had done.” That’s it. No soul autopsy necessary. The cause of spiritual death is readily apparent. Though God had astonished the Israelites time and again with his marvelous deeds—saving them from Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, leading them across the Red Sea on dry land, sustaining them with bread from heaven, producing water from a rock to parch their weary souls—they didn’t remember. As soon as circumstances threatened “on the day of battle,” they turned from the living God.
Suffice to say we are equally susceptible to spiritual amnesia. We are in the midst of a battle of sorts, and many of us are feeling the cumulative effects of four months of social distancing, economic disruption, virtual “church,” and all the attendant stress. Will we forget? We, who have seen God’s wonders even beyond what the men of Ephraim knew, living this side of the cross and resurrection? Take some time today to remind yourself of glorious gospel truths. Remember God’s goodness and love, power and wisdom. On the day of battle, facing the giants of temptation, anxiety, confusion, and despair, do not forget.