The sons of Ephraim were archers equipped with bows, yet they turned back on the day of battle. They did not keep the covenant of God and refused to walk in His Law; they forgot His deeds and His miracles that He had shown them. Psalm 78:9-11 NASB
Turned back – You’re in the fight of your life. It might seem calm and peaceful, but until evil is eradicated, God’s kingdom is at war with human and spiritual forces. And you’re an archer, equipped for battle (as Paul clearly suggests in Ephesians 6). Of course, others have played this role in the past—and failed. The sons of Ephraim turned back. The Hebrew is הָפְכוּ from the verb hāpak, meaning “to turn, overturn.” It’s important that the verb is not shuv. These archers are not “turning around” or “returning” (shuv). They are running away. They are AWOL from the battle.
Why? Why did they run when they were needed most? The answer isn’t cowardice. It isn’t even fear. The answer is disobedience, and not because they did not follow the orders given by the military leaders. It’s deeper than that. They didn’t obey God’s commandments. They didn’t live according to God’s instructions. In other words, they were not Torah obedient. As a result, they forgot (šākaḥ) what He did.
Actually, there’s a bit more to this story. First, notice that they didn’t keep the covenant because they refused to follow the commandments and ordinances of God. This isn’t a simple mistake. This is māʾēn. Its occurrences take us right back to Egypt.
Especially significant are those occasions when Pharaoh (Ex 4:23; 7:14; 10:3) or Israel refused to obey God’s commands. They simply “refused to walk in [God’s] law” (Ps 78:10). Israel also refused to repent (Hos 11:5; Jer 3:3; 8:5) or to receive instruction (Jer 5:3; 9:6 [H 5]; 11:10; Zech 7:11).
This is deliberate denial. Not ignorance. Not confusion. This is conscious rejection, the Frank Sinatra syndrome: “I did it my way.” As a byproduct, they forgot. But šākaḥ isn’t just “not remember.” It also means “to ignore.” Again, deliberate.
It is in God and man’s reciprocal relationship, that the verb šākaḥ finds its most steady use. About ten times it is used as an antonym for zākar “to remember” as in Deut 9:7, “Remember, never forget how you provoked Yahweh your God in the wilderness.” Or, šākaḥ may be used as an antonym for yādaʿ “to know” especially in Hos 2:13 [H 15]; 4:6; 13:4–6 (Wolff). To forget God is not to know God.
To forget God is to ignore his commandments (Deut 8:11). To forget God is to follow other gods (Deut 8:19); to forget God is to stand in fear of harm and danger, to live fretfully and timidly (Isa 51:13). To forget God is to challenge him (Ps 106:13).
What is the result of these deliberate acts? Failure. Cowardice. AWOL. Treason. The sons of Ephraim were one generation away from the miracles of the Exodus. We are hundreds of generations away from those demonstrations of God’s power and care. But we are subject to the same mistakes, perhaps even more so. The battle rages on all kinds of fronts. Pray you will not be AWOL when it matters.
Topical Index: hāpak, to turn, māʾēn, to refuse, šākaḥ, to forget, Psalm 78:9-11