-Rev Melissa Fain-
1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 The more I called them, the further they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and they burned incense to idols. 3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up in my arms, but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I led them with bands of human kindness, with cords of love. I treated them like those who lift infants to their cheeks; I bent down to them and fed them. 5 They will return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria will be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6 The sword will strike wildly in their cities; it will consume the bars of their gates and will take everything because of their schemes. 7 My people are bent on turning away from me; and though they cry out to the Most High, he will not raise them up. 8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart winces within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I won’t act on the heat of my anger; I won’t return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a human being, the holy one in your midst; I won’t come in harsh judgment. 10 They will walk after the Lord, who roars like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. 11 They will come trembling like a bird, and like a dove from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord
Hosea 11:1-11 CEB
When I was around my son's age, I used to think the Israelites got in trouble pretty much every single year from the moment they called Israel home. From the major to the minor prophets- it all takes up about ¼ of the Hebrew Bible. Then I learned there are stories that overlap, prophets that were called at the same time, but to another group of Israelites. I wanted to know- why?
Every prophet is unique in their own way. Jeremiah was the Prophet in exile. Elisha was the hot-tempered Prophet, while Elijah was the Prophet called to pass on the torch. Samuel was the Prophet called to start a dynasty, while Jonah was unwillingly called to the enemy. Hosea, our Prophet for today, was the only Prophet who was native to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Basically, while Israel started as one big country in the beginning…
(You know- Joshua fit the battle of Jericho. The walls came tumbling down. Saul says he’s king of the new country. Nope. It’s the youngest Shepherd boy, David, son of Jesse. David kills Goliath, and is later anointed king. He marries multiple women then falls in love with the one he couldn’t have. After getting that woman’s husband killed in battle, he marries her and sires Solomon. David would have many sons sired from multiple mothers. Those boys did not get along. It’s a mess that includes rape, murder, and war. It led to one of the sons staging a coup that actually kicked David out of the north for a bit. David passed away, Solomon was named king, and Jereboam, one of the sons, was not having it. Jereboam left with 10 of the Northern tribes, calling it Israel. The Southern part, that included Jerusalem, was led by Solomon. It was called Judah. The unity of Israel once they had a king did not even last one generation.)
I shared this cliff notes version of Israelite history because with every Prophet in the Hebrew Bible being Judean except Hosea, we should wonder how God is going to talk to a self-exiled people.
For starters, God names their failure. They are like uncontrolled doves or pigeons. They have no purpose. They are flying without a destination. They gave themselves away. Instead of finding vassals, or countries that could give their allegiance to them and therefore God, they became vassals to other countries. These countries worshipped Baal, and now so had the Northern Kingdom. Therefore, God’s action will always include naming our failure. See it like our spiritual lives being on an epic map. We always need to come to terms with where we ended up. Here’s where we are, and here’s how we ended up here. Own it. Nothing is going to take it back. Pretending it doesn’t exist won’t change anything.
Then, God names what is going to happen. For the Northern Kingdom, they are going to fall. They can’t keep a king, and Assyria is going to use that to their advantage. We often translate this as God’s wrath. In reality, we should see this more as the consequence of our poor choices.
This scripture is very parental in that way. God even talks of the Northern Kingdom like a mother swaddling a baby. I believe good parenting let’s their kids know how they failed and tells them the consequences of their failure.
But, while there are ministers who stop at the brimstone, this scripture does not. God finally talks about love. I love how the bird analogy comes back again.
God becomes like a roaring lion. We should see that like a scary action. That loud noise is mentioned for a purpose. Have you ever heard a loud noise and seen birds take off? See, God’s okay being the bad guy if it gets the people back on track. The Northern Kingdom were like disorganized pigeons, but God’s willing to scare them away from the danger.
We know this is more than wrath because there is a phrase used that reads “return to me.” In Hebrew it’s a phrase used in ancient love poetry.
God’s love is like a golden chord. It’s always dropped down to us like a lifeline, a reminder of eternal love. Even when we ignore the call to grab it, it’s still there. Even when, in our personal rage, we cut it, it remains, waiting for us to tie it back.
God’s love did not stop because the Northern Kingdom took their ball and made a new home. God’s love did not end when they chose to worship Baal. Yes, there can come a point when our choices were so poor, the path back to God will hurt, but only to burn out the iniquity so we can once again grab that loving connection once again. God’s love is bigger than our sin. God loves to bring us out of sin. God does not want our destruction. God wants to destroy what keeps us from God, because God loves.
Resources: (Books I used to write this)
Harper Collin's Study Bible
The Prophetic Literature (Dr. Jordan Petersen)
The Harper Collin's Bible Dictionary