In most families, it takes a fair bit for parents to kick their kids out of home. (For my dad, the standing threat was he’d kick me out if I got an earring. I never got to test if he was serious, because I’m not into unnecessary pain. Or earrings, for that matter. In my teens, I once wore a stick-on one to church on April Fool’s day; he spent the morning edging around the church trying to tackle me to remove it, while I was being shielded by all the twenty-something guys who thought it was great fun. He also would use me and my sister in sermon illustrations, so this is part of the enduring payback. The thing is, had he not mentioned it, I wouldn’t have even thought about wearing an earring – which means I can trot this story out in connection with Rom 7:7-8, too. But back to Hosea.)
In Hosea 11, we have God depicted as a conflicted parent – one who has every right to kick his wayward son, Israel out of home, who’s had far more than his ears pierced, tattooed himself with the names of most of the local prostitutes (see Hosea 5), and stolen from the family multiple times to feed his growing addiction to methamphetamine, which causes him to be a dangerously bad influence on his impressionable younger brother, Judah (Hos 4:15). As a parent, God is torn, simultaneously feeling love and anger, compassion and rejection. What will he choose to do? Will he kick Israel out? And if so, will it be for good?
Hosea 11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
God is reminiscing about Israel’s “childhood.” Like parents of teens tend to do, looking back with fondness at when you’d put them on your knee and feed them, and wishing they were that small again. (And for some reason, airbrushing out the 3am screaming and nappy explosions.) He’s remembering what he did for them, rescuing them from oppression and potential extinction when they were an enslaved minority in (Hebrew baby-killing) Egypt. You might remember that that Matthew also quotes this about Jesus (Matt 2:14-15), whom God similarly protected by removing him from (baby-killing) Herod.Hosea 11:2 But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.
But instead of being grateful to the parent who had done so much for them, they went chasing after other sources of security – idols who made ruthless demands on them, rather than their loving father who was willing to share freely with them everything he had.Hosea 11:3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them.
Israel seems to have wiped their memory of what God had done for them during their childhood.
Like my kids. I only recently discovered that they’ve pretty much forgotten all the years I spent watching their favourite TV shows and movies with them. Songs whose inane tunes haunted me during nights of insomnia – a few weeks ago I found out they don’t even remember the “Ning Nang Nong” from Playschool. Or movies like Monsters Inc. – of which I can quote most of the dialogue – are only dim memories for them, if that. (Even now, their dirty socks left lying around the house are, for me, a “twenty-three nineteen” emergency.)
Except for Israel, it was worse. They had wilfully forgotten everything God had done for them.Hosea 11:4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.
God has nursed, fed, and burped Israel; but they don’t remember it. In the desert, he’s done his own version of “here comes the aeroplane” – but they’ve chosen to forget the miracle of manna. They’ve grown up, and they don’t want anything to do with him anymore.Hosea 11:5 “Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent?
So they’ll reap the consequences, when God stops protecting them. They’ll have to fend for themselves, when they can no longer steal a fifty from Dad’s wallet on the way out of the house. Instead, they’ll become the property of their pimps and dealers. They’ll be stuck back in “Egypt” – the place of slavery and oppression. They’ll be owned by the Egypt of their own day, Assyria.
God’s decided to kick his wayward son out of home, and into exile:Hosea 11:6-7 A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets and put an end to their plans. My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they [possibly referring to the false prophets?] call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them.
God’s giving Israel the independence they’ve asked for; they’ll experience the consequences of their rebellion.
But then we get to the turning point; a rather abrupt change of mood. We became used to that in the first three chapters of Hosea, where each message of judgement was met by a sudden message of hope and restoration:Hosea 11:8a How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim?
(Remember that Ephraim was the tribe in which Samaria, the capital northern kingdom of Israel, was located. So “Ephraim” was often used as shorthand for the political head of the nation, much like we might use “Canberra,” “Macquarie Street,” or “Capitol Hill” to refer to the Australian, New South Wales, and American governments, respectively.)
God seems suddenly overcome with a different emotion – something many parents would be familiar with. He’s both hurt and angry at his child’s rejection, yet can’t bring himself to cut them off completely. He can’t see his child destroyed in the same way as Admah and Zeboyim (two smaller towns near Sodom and Gomorrah, which were destroyed along with them – see Deut 29:23). There has to be some hope of restoration.
Hosea 11:8b-9 My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities.
God’s fatherly compassion is aroused: in this parental metaphor, he’s changed his mind. Although Israel deserves to be destroyed completely, he won’t do it.
Interestingly, the reason he gives is this: “For I am God, and not a man.” Elsewhere in the Old Testament that’s associated with not changing his mind:1 Samuel 15:29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind. Numbers 23:19 God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?
But here, ironically, it’s why he does change his mind. A mere human parent would, at some point, have their patience tested beyond breaking point. But the love and mercy of the divine parent will always be greater.
That, to me, is the point of this chapter. Humanly speaking, rebellious Israel is done for. But we’re talking about God, here, who is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Ex 34:6-7). This chapter is about undeserved mercy; and points us subtly towards the time when God will again call his Son out of Egypt to restore his people.Hosea 11:10a They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west.
This contrasts with the scary lion image back in 5:14 who will “tear them to pieces and… carry them off.” Now, the lion is still scary – but he’s once more on Israel’s side, and they will come, trembling, at the sound of his roar. He’s still not safe; in the words of Mr. Beaver from the Narnia series, talking about Aslan: “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”Hosea 11:11 They will come from Egypt, trembling like sparrows, from Assyria, fluttering like doves. I will settle them in their homes,” declares the Lord.
Here, restoration is linked with the return from exile. A return to the land is linked with a change of heart for God’s people, and with peace and stability. (This was the theme of our February Why Jesus? series.) And it’s interesting that Matthew’s Gospel quotes the first words of this chapter in connection with the Anointed One who came to announce the long-awaited return from exile, gathering “the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one” (John 11:52).
Even if the brother who stayed at home may have been a little grumpy about it.
To think about
Some of you may have had parents who have mistreated you, maybe even kicked you out of home (deservedly or undeservedly). Some may have had excellent, loving parents. But all of us have a divine parent who exceeds even the best human examples we can think of.
Spend some time in prayer thanking God for his parental love that never gives up on his children, no matter how wayward we are.