Hosea: The Loneliness of God

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Hosea 11

 

Chapter 11 of Hosea comes as a relief to the Bible reader.  Up to this point in the book, the emphasis has been on the blatant rebellion of God’s people.  But here, the emphasis changes; it is now on God.  So, it’s a relief to read about something other than the awfulness of Israel.  Yet at the same time, those feelings of relief are mixed with feelings of palpable sadness.  Throughout this chapter we see the deep loneliness of God on full display.  Because it is God who is lonely, the loneliness is profound and deep; far deeper and far more profound than our concept of what it means to be lonely.

It’s hard to imagine God being lonely.  Of course, this our way of looking at how Israel’s sin affected Him; we are really clothing God in our emotions.  God is not a human; He does not think or process things the way we do.  And yet, consider the intimacy for which man was created.  Man was created so that God could have fellowship with him!  So imagine how God must feel when those created for fellowship with Him pretend He does not exist.

We look with disgust at people like Pharaoh, who, when Moses demanded that he let God’s people go, responded like this:

“And who is Jehovah, that I should listen to him, and let Israel go? I don’t know Jehovah and I will not let Israel go.”  (Exodus 5:2  TLB)

Denying God does not mean He is not real.  Ignoring God does not make Him go away.  Pharaoh did not have the knowledge of God that the children of Israel had or that we have today.   We Christians who treat God with disrespect and who dishonor Him by our behavior do so at our peril.  Worse than that, we break God’s heart just as Israel did.  When believers understand the depth of love that God has for those He created, it’s hard not to take seriously the words of Psalm 103—

I bless the holy name of God with all my heart. Yes, I will bless the Lord and not forget the glorious things he does for me.  He forgives all my sins. He heals me.  He ransoms me from hell. He surrounds me with loving-kindness and tender mercies.  He fills my life with good things! My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!  (Psalm 103:1—5  TLB)

1.  What God did for Israel

In these verses, God reminds Israel of a number of things they may have forgotten about.

He loved them.

When Israel was a child, I loved him as a son… (Hosea 1:1a)

This is really an amazing statement.  When Israel was a child, like any child, he had no wisdom, accomplishments, or strength to glory in.  Yet that immaturity and awkwardness did not stop God from loving him.  There is a foreign concept for man’s finite mind to grasp.  We think of “love” on an emotional level, but it’s different for God.  Martin Buber, a renowned Jewish philosopher, saw three kinds of love written of in Hosea.  In Hosea, God’s love is:

  •   A demanding love, 11:1—4;
  •  A wrathful love, 9:15;
  •   A merciful love, 14:4.

Love is not the basis of salvation, but it is the motivation of salvation.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16  TLB)

God’s love for sinners is completely objective; it does not depend on them.  God loved Israel as a child and He loves sinners the same way.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  (Romans 5:8  TLB)

He rescued them.

…I…brought him out of Egypt.  (Hosea 11:1b  TLB)

Out of bondage and suffering, God rescued Israel.  The deliverance of God’s people was how He manifested His love for them.  Love is action-oriented.  Declaring one’s love for another is effortless and often meaningless.  Manifesting love is difficult but essential.  God manifested His love for the nation of Israel by getting them out of Egypt.

Literally what God is saying in this phrase is that Israel came from a life of servitude to Pharaoh to a life of service to Jehovah.  In other words, there was a change in masters.  Like Bob Dylan said, “You gotta serve somebody,” and God desired His people serve Him and nobody else.

This was a demonstration of love on the part of God for Israel, and reminds us of this New Testament passage:

For he has rescued us out of the darkness and gloom of Satan’s kingdom and brought us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who bought our freedom with his blood and forgave us all our sins.  (Colossians 1:13, 14  TLB)

The deliverance of Israel from Egypt and the salvation of sinners is a very common theme, popping up in sermons all the time.  It’s an accurate comparison, actually!  What God did for Israel is what He does for every sinner who comes to Him in repentance.

He taught them.

I trained him from infancy, I taught him to walk, I held him in my arms.  (Hosea 1:3a  TLB)

Israel’s mistreatment of God is highlighted in the second half of verse 3, but in the first half we read a remarkable thing.  God didn’t just deliver His people out of bondage, but like a patient Father, He took the time to teach them.  Implied in this is His supernatural leading.  God took the initiative to lead and guide His people in the way they should go.  What a beautiful picture of Divine patience and care.  Like parents, teaching their children to walk, God leads His people.  We may be weak and shaky, but God encourages us to walk His way, in His way.

He didn’t bring us this far to leave us
He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown
He didn’t build His home in us to move away
He didn’t lift us up to let us down.

He draws.

As a man would lead his favorite ox, so I led Israel with my ropes of love. I loosened his muzzle so he could eat. I myself have stooped and fed him.  (Hosea 11:4  TLB)

In this verse, the figure changes from a father to a farmer.  The Lord’s love for Israel is like the farmer who is wise and thoughtful enough to adjust the yoke so that his ox could feed properly.

God doesn’t force feed anybody any more than a farmer force feeds his oxen.  God did not force Israel to serve Him, and God does not force people to serve Him today.  God makes the offers, but it’s up to man to receive them, whether those offers are offers of salvation or other blessings.

He encourages.

Oh, how can I give you up, my Ephraim? How can I let you go? How can I forsake you like Admah and Zeboiim?  My heart cries out within me; how I long to help you! (Hosea 11:8  TLB)

Remember, this is God speaking to Israel.  What a comfort words like this are, especially when we read them in context:

For my people are determined to desert me. And so I have sentenced them to slavery, and no one shall set them free.  (Hosea 11:7  TLB)

Talk about being on the horns of a dilemma!  God’s people, so deserving of punishment, yet so loved by Him that He cannot let them go.  If this isn’t unmerited love, nothing is.  The question we ask is, How could God love His rebellious people so much?  The fact is, God loved them and God has always planned to redeem them, one more time.  One day, “all Israel will be saved.”  One day, Israel will be returned to the land they called home.  Israel as it exists today is not the fulfillment of any particular Biblical prophecy.   This is the real extent of God’s love for His people, that in order to fulfill the promise of final restoration, He will endure the constant mistreatment and rebellion at their hands.

How great is God’s love for all His people?  The Son of God endured the punishment that was rightfully ours so that we may enjoy the promise of salvation and the privilege of His abiding presence.  Even when we behave as Israel behaved, God does not throw us over, deserving though we may be.  He treats us with grace because He sees us as we will become, not as we are.

He assured.

For I am God and not man; I am the Holy One living among you, and I did not come to destroy.  (Hosea 11:9b  TLB)

How is God able to love Israel—and the sinner—so much?  This is the answer!  This is vitally important for believers to understand.  God is not like us; He doesn’t work the way we work.  We have a tendency to create God in our image; we make Him like big versions of ourselves.  We give Him our thoughts and feelings.  But the truth is, God is sovereign and accountable to no one.  There are many things God does that we don’t understand, but He is God and He owes us no explanations.

This is assurance.  Why?  Because God is not a man, He loves you and blesses you even when you probably don’t deserve it.

2.  Responses?

So how do people respond to such a loving God?  Hopefully not like Israel!

They listened to other voices.

But the more I called to him, the more he rebelled, sacrificing to Baal and burning incense to idols.  (Hosea 11:2  TLB)

Isn’t that the truth?  In response to their deliverance from Egypt, Israel turned a deaf ear to God’s prophets, preferring to offer sacrifices to Baal and to burn incense to idols.  What’s really awful about what Israel did was that they trusted God during their wilderness wanderings.  Yes, they murmured and complained, but it wasn’t constant and to their credit, they did stick to the law as it was given at Mount Sinai, and they depended on the Lord.  It wasn’t until after they entered the Promised Land that they began to flex their muscles of rebellion.  It wasn’t until after they felt safe that they  began to desert the Lord.

How many of us are good at relying on God during our times of distress and weakness, yet ignore Him after He has strengthened and blessed us?

They did not recognize God’s blessings.

But he doesn’t know or even care that it was I who raised him.  (Hosea 11:3b  TLB)

The NKJV rendering of this sentence is even more heartbreaking:

But they did not know that I healed them.

How can a person NOT know they have received a healing (of any kind)?  How can a Christian NOT know God has blessed them?  Actually, it’s easy when God is not on your mind.  We humans are very self-centered and prone to think of ourselves, not of God.  When times are good, we forget about God, thinking about how good we have it because of our hard work, good fortune, or whatever.  Honestly, if wasn’t for hard times, would some of us pray at all?

Yes, we are quick to pray like crazy when we perceive that the situation is hopeless.  We are quick to grab onto God’s blessings when we can’t provide them for ourselves.  But we are equally as quick to forget about God when we think we don’t Him any longer.

They tended to backslide.

My people are bent on backsliding from Me.  (Hosea 11:7a  NKJV)

No matter what, Israel seemed hell-bent on backsliding.  This “bent” is all too common among the Lord’s people to this very day.  This is the second time the term “backsliding” is used in the book of Hosea.  We use it all the time today to describe a Christian who appears to have turned his back on the God.  But what does it mean as it Hosea used it?  It is the picture of a backsliding heifer, a young calf that, when the farmer tries to push her up the ramp into a wagon, puts her two front feet down and begins to slide backwards.  What does the farmer to?  He has to start all over again.  This is what backsliding is…stubbornly refusing to pay attention to God and stubbornly refusing to move in His direction.

When you look at backsliding that way, it’s probably safe to say that we are all guilty of backsliding from time to time.

In the midst of our periods of faithlessness and backsliding, we, like Israel, are assured that God will never leave us or love us less.  He is absolutely faithful to us regardless of how unfaithful we may be from time to time.  He is sovereign and He sees us was we will be, not as we are.

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