GOD LOVES LIKE A “GRAND” FATHER

 

Week of February 20, 2011

 

Bible Verses:  Hosea 11:1-11

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson is about how God demonstrates Himself to be a tender, loving Father who desires to be intimately involved in our lives.

 

God Pursues Us:  Hosea 11:1-2.

 

[1]  When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. [2]  The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.  [ESV]

 

The atmosphere changes in chapter 11. We leave behind the tumult of war and the slaughter of innocents to move back through time to the peaceful period of Israel’s early history. It was a time marked by the greatest event in her national experience – the exodus from Egypt. Hosea pictures Israel in this period as an infant, dependent on an adult for care and training. The analogy is one of deep tenderness. The picture of divine love in this section is almost unparalleled in the Old Testament as Yahweh is pictured as a loving father and Israel as His infant son. The love of which Hosea speaks found expression in the exodus, an event that was foundational to Israel’s understanding of God. It finds frequent expression in the Old Testament. Like other events, the exodus was often invested by Old Testament writers with a significance that extended beyond its original implications. Hosea, for example, uses the Egyptian bondage as a motif for the impending Assyrian captivity, and he gives the exodus broad significance when he applies it to Israel’s future restoration. According to the comparative structure with which verse 2 begins, Yahweh’s call to His people to come out of Egypt did not represent the only time He called. He called them on later occasions as well, but the more He called, the more they went away from Him. Like a loving father who beckons to his child because he wants to express his love to the child, Yahweh beckoned to Israel, but Israel was an uncaring son who ran insolently from Him. The repeated calls that followed the initial call to Israel to leave Egypt are expressed in the plural (they were called). Hosea says that while Yahweh continually called to Israel, the people kept sacrificing to the Baals. This statement emphasizes God’s longsuffering nature. He did not snuff out the people for one or two instances of insolent behavior. Yahweh is the persistent lover, but Israel persisted in her rejection of His love. The years, indeed the centuries, rolled on, but ultimately God’s patience ran out and the end came.

 

God Nurtures Us:  Hosea 11:3-4.

 

[3]  Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. [4]  I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. [ESV]

 

The fault for the nation’s sinfulness was in no way Yahweh’s. Using the image of the tender, patient parent training a child to walk, God proclaims His own innocence. There is both irony and pathos in these words. He had held little Ephraim’s hands as Ephraim took his first hesitant steps, and cared for him when he was sick. Yet Ephraim did not even acknowledge this compassionate attention. The one who tenderly cared for and raised the child may be guiltless before the law if the child is incorrigible [Deut. 21:18-21], but still hurt by the child’s rejection. Israel could not see that Yahweh had been the key to their well-being as He taught them to walk through their history, holding them by the hand. Upon reaching adolescence, they showed themselves to be ingrates, unconcerned to fulfill their calling to sonship. Though He had guided them out of Egypt and through the wilderness, faithfully healing their afflictions, His loving care had gone for naught. Verse 4 appears to shift to a different metaphor; that of concern for a dependent animal rather than for a dependent child. God leads the animal gently, with cords of kindness and bands of love just as He taught the child to walk, taking him by the arms. He makes the animal more comfortable by graciously removing the yoke, just as He eased the child’s misery by healing him. This imagery illustrates further the beneficence of God toward Israel in the exodus and in the wilderness. The yoke is the symbol of oppression and/or servitude in the covenant vocabulary. Israel’s rescue from the house of bondage is like the lifting of the yoke from the jaw of an animal. The reference to reaching out and feeding the animal probably symbolizes the constant presence of Yahweh with Israel, and His feeding them, even miraculously, as in Exodus 16:4-35 and Numbers 11:4-34. The verse, in sum, is a masterful illustration of divine grace and condescension.

 

God Will Not Abandon Us:  Hosea 11:5-11.

 

[5]  They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. [6]  The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels. [7]  My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all. [8]  How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. [9]  I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. [10]  They shall go after the LORD; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; [11]  they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the LORD.  [ESV]

 

[5-7]  Suddenly the extended metaphors of past history stop, and Hosea’s audience hears their coming punishment. The blunt historical reality of exile and servitude is brought home to them. Assyria takes the place of Egypt as the land of the conquering enemy which indicates the beginning of exile and a reentrance into bondage. Assyria is called here Israel’s king which surely implies the end of the kingship and national sovereignty in Israel. In contrast to the days when Israel was cared for tenderly by their father, the coming days will bring the fulfillment of His promised wrath. Their flagrant apostasy is summarized in a reference to their stubbornness: they have refused to return to me. That is the irony of the covenant curse in Deut. 28:68 upon which this verse is partly based. What Yahweh rescued His people from (slavery), He will return them to, because of their disloyalty to His covenant. For the third time in the passage we read a description of how Yahweh’s love is spurned. This time, that love has reached it limits. The Israelites will become subject to Assyria by being conquered in a bloody war. Verse 6 consists of three statements describing what the sword of the Assyrians will do to Israel. The focus of the three statements is on the verbs: rage, consume, devour. First, warfare (the sword) will occur in the various cities. In times of war, people gathered from the countryside into the cities which were surrounded by high, thick walls topped with fortified battle stations. For Yahweh to announce through Hosea that the battle would reach to the inside of the cities was a way of saying that the Assyrians would breach the Israelite fortifications, enter the cities, and kill their inhabitants. The sword is identified most often as the means of destruction for covenant infidelity. Second, this sword will consume their gates which represent protection for the people. The third statement deals with false counsels probably from the false prophets of Israel. These false prophets were essentially diviners and predictors who foresaw good things for Israel instead of the destruction that was in fact at hand. Their words in these days undoubtedly contrasted sharply with those of Hosea. These false favorable predictions encouraged Israel’s apostasy by giving no sense of urgency to abandon Baalism, idolatry, multiple shrines, and other covenant violations. Therefore, when the sword comes, they must be killed. Verse 7 brings to a conclusion the protestation of Yahweh against His unruly people. It restates the utter infidelity of the nation, and their unified apostasy from Yahweh in favor of Baal.

 

[8-9]  A sudden shift provides hope for Israel. After Israel’s full punishment for disloyalty has taken place through Assyria’s conquest and exile of Israel, Yahweh will restore His people. This follows the pattern of events predicted in Deut. 4:25-31. In exile, Israel will turn back to Yahweh. On the basis of this repentance, Yahweh will restore the nation. As a nation in the land of Canaan, Israel was finished. But in terms of God’s plans for the world, His people’s history had just entered its second stage. The sayings which follow must be understood in this light. Because of His great mercy and compassion, God will not destroy Israel completely. Yahweh’s change of heart is a product not of whim or circumstance, but of His eternally consistent nature. He is a compassionate God whose basic desire toward His people is to win them back to Himself. Though Yahweh has every right under the covenant to eliminate Israel from the earth, as the fourfold use of not in verse 9 indicates, He will not. He would be justified in carrying out His burning anger, destroying Ephraim and coming at them in wrath. Yahweh now announces that He will restore Israel because His character includes grace. He is not one of the Israelites whose emotions might reflect arbitrary passions and whose wrath might be vindictive rather than equitable. He is God the Holy One. To be Holy is to be set apart from typical human things so as to reflect Godlikeness. Of course, God Himself is the essence of Godlikeness. From a human point of view, however, His holiness embodies all that makes Him different from humans, and especially the qualities that elevate His thinking and moral behavior above their usually petty standards. The promise by Yahweh not to destroy Ephraim is not a promise of mercy for those alive in Hosea’s day, but for their descendants, the remnant that will follow. To righteous followers of the covenant, those who heeded Hosea’s message, it would nevertheless be a source of great encouragement.

 

[10-11]  One day, Israel will return to Yahweh and then be able to return from exile. Their punishment will end, as promised through Moses. The message of verse 10 is that Yahweh Himself will announce this return, upon their conversion. The roaring of Yahweh like a lion seems to function as a symbolic representation of His calling people to hear His judgment. When the great lion Yahweh will roar, no one will fail to hear, and the restoration of Israel will be at hand. Here that roaring is emphasized by the repetition of the verb roar. Hosea’s audience presumably understood this as a signal of the new age for Israel. But the restoration promised here will apply to reconverted Israelites only. Thus first the condition is stated: the new Israel will be characterized by righteous behavior and true faith. These children will receive the blessing which could not be given to the child of verses 1-3. Israel will hurry home. Much of the language of verse 11 reflects vocabulary already employed in the book, yet the promise in the verse is nevertheless electrifying. The birds and doves are employed here as animals that can fly, thus moving swiftly back to their homes. When the return commences, nothing can stop it. The faithful will fly back, not merely to the land as sojourners or the like, but to their homes, an indication of true resettling in possession of original inheritances. Throughout Israel’s history, residence in the land was a central blessing of their covenant with Yahweh. The covenant restoration blessing of return from exile and repossession of the land will come to pass for Israel.

 

SUMMARY:  Chapter 11 reveals God’s profound love for Israel as strongly as any passage in the book. Yahweh tells of His love for the child Israel, the child’s rebellion against Him, and the punishment that must inevitably follow. But the punishment will not be mortal. The second half of the chapter reveals God’s love in an especially passionate way. He will not do that which according to legalistic human logic He ought – annihilate Israel. Rather He will make provision for their return from exile, their resettlement in peace after punishment. Though the metaphor of Israel as the rebellious child does not dominate the chapter, occurring overtly only in verses 1-6, it provides the entire passage with the flavor of a legal proceeding. Thus the accusation against the child and protestation of the parent’s innocence [1-4,7] is followed by the severe though limited punishment [5-6] and then by a change of heart on the part of the plaintiff who not only declines to press the charges to their legal punishment limit, but determines to bring the child back home. Three times the sins of the nation are described and three times the loving care and upbringing of the father are contrasted to them, even before the announcement of return from exile completes the picture of divine mercy. The passage throughout contrasts Yahweh’s sovereign holiness, and the grace it allows Him to exercise, with Ephraim’s stubborn rebellion and selfishness. Yahweh is free to be Himself – to exercise His own eternally consistent motives of compassion and protection, and to spare Israel rather than obliterate them. They deserve the fate of Admah and Zeboiim [8], but will instead be able to turn to Yahweh in exile, and be brought home to resettle the promised land [10-11]. This is because Yahweh is not a human, but God; not a sinful Israelite, but the Holy One. His ways are above their ways, he will rescue them in spite of themselves. The promise of Deuteronomy 4:30 that Yahweh cannot forget the covenant is two-sided. The covenant is restorable, but only on the grounds of the fidelity of both parties. When Israel once again fulfills its obligations, the covenant and its blessings may be quickly renewed. The joint return of Israel’s remnant began in a literal sense during the Persian regime under Cyrus (539 BC). In the broader sense Israel’s real restoration began only in Christ, the author and finisher of the new covenant. The passage is a story of how divine disappointment is overcome by divine determination to restore a people to faith. Jesus the Christ accomplished this.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         What do we learn about God in 11:1-4?

 

2.         How do the people respond to God’s love? Why do you think they ignored God like this? Do you see the same thing happening today?

 

3.         What change do you see in God’s actions towards Israel in 11:5-7? What does this change tell you about God’s character?

 

4.         Then in 11:8-11 there is another shift in God’s action towards His people. Here we see God restoring His people back into covenant relationship with Him after they repent of their sins. Note the message of hope the fourfold use of not in verse 9 gives the people. What does God’s actions in these verses tell you about His character? What does the Holy One mean?

 

5.         Note the great change that has taken place in how God’s people respond to Him from verses 2-3 to verses 10-11. These verses represent two different groups of people: those sent by God into exile as punishment for their sin and those called his children who go after the Lord. What has brought about this change in God’s people?

 

References:

Hosea, Douglas Stuart, Thomas Nelson.

The Book of Hosea, J. Andrew Dearman, Eerdmans.

Hosea, Thomas McComiskey, Baker.