God has loved and called us from the beginning. We failed to respond as we should, but instead of abandoning us, God seeks to continue to pursue us. Like a loving parent, God will not give up on us.
Through this lesson students should:
Understand that God loves us with the love of a parent.
Understand that God must allow us to reap the consequences of our unfaithfulness, but…
Understand that God will not give up on his children.
Catching up on the story:
Israel finds herself facing a crisis brought on by their desire to protect themselves from the oncoming Assyrian invasion. They have gone to war with Judah, which has greatly weakened them so that they will not be able to withstand the upcoming war. Israel begins to utter words of repentance. They are the right words at the right time but they are of little help because Israel has failed to live in faithfulness to the covenant.
God begins to wonder aloud what it is that he will do with Israel. It seems that God has tried every conceivable plan to help Israel be the people that he desires them to be but to no avail. As we jump from chapter six, which we studied last week, to chapter 11, this week’s passage, we find that Israel continues to be condemned for their behavior. Now they are seeking help and protection from other foreign powers instead of truly seeking God’s help. They have sown wickedness and will now reap injustice at the hands of the Assyrians. Soon Israel will be destroyed and they will no longer be the nation they once were. Now Hosea, as he has done throughout the book, offers words of hope amidst the words of doom and judgment.
Hosea 11 can be split up into four individual segments. The first segment is comprised of verses 1-4 and deal with Israel’s history with God. The second part, verses 5-7, depict Israel’s present and immediate future. The third section, verses 8-9, speaks about God’s present refusal to give up on Israel. Finally, verses 10-11, speak of Israel’s distant future. This final section does not depict a future that Hosea or his contemporaries will see but gives hope for Israel’s descendants. The voice speaking in all of chapter 11 is the voice of God.
I Called My Son: 11:1-4
While most of Hosea has worked with the image of Israel as God’s unfaithful wife, the image shifts to another common analogy for Israel’s relationship with God: that of parent and child. God begins the chapter by relating how it is that God and Israel entered into the parent-child image. While certainly the relationship between God and his chosen people begins back with Abraham, the part of the story that dominates this image is that of the Exodus. God saw an abused and mistreated child in slavery in Egypt. In the call of Moses, we get these words from God in Exodus 4:22-23, “Israel is my firstborn son…Let my son go.” The image here is of adoption. Israel is not God’s child in a biological sense, nor is Israel an heir so that anything is owed to him. Rather, God has adopted Israel out of love and compassion.
This adoption is rooted in God’s initiative and love. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son.” God’s love moves him to rescue Israel from the oppression of Egypt and it is in that redeeming act that Israel becomes God’s child. Present in the Exodus narrative is also the call. Israel has a choice to enter into a covenant with God. Israel responds positively, for a while that is. This early response of Israel to God’s love and call serve as a comparison to Israel’s movement toward her current present. The more God called her, the more she went away. Israel’s rebellion is shown in two ways. First, she refuses to continue to respond to God’s call. Israel rejects her status as a child and refuses to accept the guidance and direction that God as parent offers. Second, Israel refuses her status as children of God by chasing after other gods and worshiping the Baals. While God had been faithful, Israel failed to live as she should have (Stuart, 178).
Despite Israel’s rejection of God as a parent, it was God who taught Israel to walk. When Israel fell down it was God who bent down and picked them up, bandaging their wounds and setting them on the path again. Yet, Israel refused to recognize or realize that it was God who offered so much care for them. The parenting image is extended as God states that he acted toward them as a loving parent who bends down and picks a small child up and offers the warm cheek to cheek embrace that all parents long to lavish on their children. It’s an image of safety, love, and affection with which parents will easily identify. This rich imagery offers us a glimpse into the heart of God toward his children. Throughout Israel’s formative years, it was God who provided for them in loving and steadfast ways. Yet, that love and care which God lavished on Israel have now been rejected.
To Egypt They Shall Go: 11:5-7
We move on from a description of the past to a depiction of the present and near future. Because Israel has spurned God’s loving parental care, Israel will once again return to Egypt. This language of returning to Egypt has its roots in the covenantal curse language of Deuteronomy. The threat of the covenant was that if Israel were unfaithful she would return to Egypt. For Hosea’s purposes, Israel will not return to Egypt, but Egypt is a stand-in for Assyria. As the next line displays, Assyria will be the instrument of God’s judgment on Israel. Because Israel has refused to return to God they will return to Egypt in a metaphorical way. Once again, as we have said throughout our study of Hosea, the judgment that Israel receives was clearly lined out as covenant stipulations in Deuteronomy. God is not acting capriciously; he is holding Israel to her part of the covenant. This is the beginning of Exile.
Verse six depicts the nature of the coming invasion. Assyria will invade and completely overcome all of Israel’s fortifications. That the sword will rage inside the cities, which were surrounded by thick walls with defensive fortifications on them, points to Israel’s complete defeat. The sword is specifically mentioned to consume Israel’s oracle-priests. These priests no doubt had a hand in continuing to lead Israel in her worship of Baal but also led Israel’s leadership in confirming her misplaced trust in other foreign powers who promised to help protect her from Assyria. Their real crime is that they failed to lead Israel to trust that God would be the one to protect and provide for them.
There are some textual difficulties that make offering a precise translation to verse seven very difficult. Scholars disagree on how it should be rendered. Each translation carries with it a slightly different meaning. The NRSV’s translation seems to offer a general consensus about the nature of the verse if we take “Most High” to refer to someone other than the God of Israel. It makes sense, in the context of the section, to understand that Israel continues to be rebellious and seek after some other god or king who will provide for them but who will ultimately be unable to lift them up out of their current quagmire.
How Can I Give You Up? 11:8-9
The tone shifts again as we move from outlining Israel’s failures as a child to God’s unrelenting concern for the children he loves. The section is set off by a series of questions wondering how in the world God can abandon Israel. For Israel, the punishment for a rebellious child was death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). If the imagery that God has been using in chapter 11 holds true, Israel’s punishment will look a lot like death. Yet, Israel’s complete destruction is not what God desires. God wonders out loud how he could bring Israel to utter ruin.
The cities of Admah and Zeboiim were cities that were near Sodom and Gomorrah and were destroyed alongside those cities. Once again, the covenant curses of Deuteronomy (29:32) offer these cities as examples for what will happen to Israel if she is unfaithful. The called for punishment for Israel’s rebellion will only leave behind rubble and waste.
God’s wondering leads him to announce that he will not execute the prescribed punishment on Israel. In Hebrew, the heart is the center of the will and of understanding. God’s understanding of the situation and his divine will remain true to his eternal nature of compassion and mercy and so he will not completely destroy Israel. God’s wrath and sense of justice are perfectly balanced by his compassion and love. Israel must pay some of the price for he unfaithfulness, but she will not receive the full sentence.
Verse nine gives us more insight into the nature of God. God will not execute his anger because he is not like you and I. He is not humans who are all to often controlled by our passions. God is the Holy One who has the freedom to act in compassion and mercy.
A Trembling Return: 11:10-11
A time is coming, declares God, when Israel will come to her senses and begin to return to the Lord. That day will come when God roars like a lion and his children respond. They will come trembling back to him in repentance and contrition. They will return to God and he will return them to their land. As we said at the outset, this image is not one of Israel’s immediate future, but of a day that Hosea and his hearers will not see. The hope, strengthened by the previous section, longs for a day when Israel will once again be called God’s children and they will respond with the same faithfulness that God has displayed toward them.
There are many parallels to this passage in Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. Jesus’ story about a son who squanders all of his father’s love and wealth captures the essence of God’s desire for us. Even though we wander off, even though we do unspeakable damage to the ones God loves, God is watching for us, hoping that someday we might return. This was God’s plan for Israel in Hosea, and this is God’s plan for us today when we wander off.
It would be difficult to read this passage in Hosea and not identify with it on some level. Perhaps you identify with it as a child who has experienced the love and faithfulness of a parent who guided and taught you through your formative years. You have experienced the love and faithfulness of parents who would do anything to see that you became all that God desires you to be. If this is the case, then rejoice in the knowledge that the love with which your parents loved you is just a fraction of the love that God has for you as his child. He longs to hold you to his cheek as your parents held you. Go now and offer God’s embrace to the world around you.
Or, perhaps you identify as the parent in the story. You have children whom you love very deeply. You have invested so much love, compassion, and care in your children that you don’t think you can love them anymore. Your heart hurts to think of those children turning their back on you, but you know in your heart of hearts, that no matter how far they wander from you, you would receive them back and love them all the more. Rejoice in the fact that the God that has called you to be his child loves you with that same kind of love. Go forth and seek to love others, who aren’t your children, in the same way!
Perhaps you identify with Israel in the story of Hosea. Even though you have been loved and cared for, taught and fed, you as a child have rebelled against the ones who loved you. You have rebelled against God and believed that things and people other than God could bring you peace and love. You find yourself far away from God and those who love you. Hear now the voice of God, which whispers and roars, calling you back to him. Hear his voice declare that he cannot, he will not give you up. You are his child, the one he lifted to his cheek as an infant, the one he loved and cared for. Return from your exile, knowing that God once again wants to wrap you in his embrace.
Regardless of with whom you identify in this passage the truth of God’s nature is clear. Even though God must allow us to walk away from him and experience the consequences of our own sins and infidelities, our destruction and punishment is not God’s desire for us. God’s desire for us is to always return so that we might be embraced by his love and compassion and begin to walk again in newness of life.
Critical Discussion Questions:
What does God look like in this text/Who is God in this text/What is God doing in this text?
One of the reasons this passage is so well-loved is because God’s compassion, faithfulness, and love shine through so fully. While God is committed to allowing Israel to experience the consequences of her sin and unfaithfulness, God will not completely destroy her.
God is remaining consistent to his nature as one who “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.” (Psalm 145:8-9)
What does holiness/salvation look like in this text?
We are reminded that our salvation is always at God’s initiative. It was God who called us to be his children in the first place. We responded but then we walked away. It is God who continues to call us to respond so that we might receive the love and salvation that God longs for us to have.
Holiness looks like allowing the love that God has lavished so greatly on us to flow through us to the people who surround us.
How does an encounter with this story shape who we are and who we should become?
We are called to embrace the love that God has given to us despite our unfaithfulness. The appropriate response to this kind of love is always to seek to return it to the one who gave it. In our case, as Christians, the returning of the love and mercy that God has given us always looks like unleashing that love on a very unfaithful world.
Specific Discussion Questions:
Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
Verses 1-4 describe the beginning of God’s relationship with Israel as a child in the context of the Exodus event. What kind of things did God do for Israel and how are they parallel to what a parent would do for a child?
These first 4 verses describe God’s pain at raising a rebellious child. If you have children, imagine your hopes and dreams for your kids and then imagine how it might feel to have them reject your love and care for them. Describe your feelings.
Even though God describes himself as a loving and committed parent to Israel, he declares that because of Israel’s unfaithfulness she will return to Egypt. If God loves Israel as much as he says he does, why then must they still go through this punishment?
In verse 8 God asks a series of questions regarding possible punishments for Israel. Admah and Zeboiim were cities close to Sodom and Gomorrah which were destroyed at the same time. Why does God say he cannot treat Israel like Admah and Zeboiim?
What does it mean that God’s “heart recoils?” Is God changing his mind about what Israel will experience?
What does God mean when he says that he is not a mortal but God, “the Holy One in your midst?” Why is this important to remember when we think about God’s response to sin and rebellion?
With whom do you identify in this story? Are you a loving parent who has been rejected by a child? How can this passage bring you hope? Are you a child who has wandered far from God? What does this passage say to you?
What does God’s love and faithfulness toward rebellious Israel have to teach us about how we are to live towards those who are unfaithful and rebellious?
Bruce C. Birch, Hosea, Joel, and Amos, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997).
Douglas Stuart, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 31, Hosea-Jonah (Waco, TX: Thomas Nelson, 1987).
Hans Walter Wolff, Hosea: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Hosea, First American edition (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1973).