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Hosea 11:1-11

Love Hurts. That is one of the main messages found in Hosea 11. In that chapter, Hosea casts God in the role of a rejected, loving parent. Previously the prophet had envisioned God as a rejected husband and then as a diligent farmer tending his crops and animals. Each image helps us grasp the depth of God’s profound love for people. But the image of God as parent in chapter 11 provides a glimpse into the heart of God that we do not always notice. Here we are reminded that loving someone can hurt.

Any who have taken on the job of parenthood knows that it is not for the faint of heart. Being a parent requires significant sacrifices along with huge doses of forgiveness and patience. Love always does. Sleep, personal ambitions, hopes, dreams, dignity, and more will be sacrificed on the altar of parental love again and again.

No wonder God adopts the metaphor of parenthood to convey his love for people. As Hosea 11 describes, God called to his people like a loving father beckoning his child to come to him. Yet, they ran the other direction as children sometimes do. God pulled them out of the dead end life of Egypt and led them to new life in the Promised Land. Like every doting parent, God delighted to see his children experience those first wobbly steps, taking their little hands and removing obstacles before their tiny feet. God led them to a mountain and gave them guidelines for living meaningful and blessed lives. He even stooped down to engage the messy job of feeding them manna and quail when they could not feed themselves.

Yet, Israel did not appreciate what God had done for them. According to the wilderness stories in Exodus and Numbers, they constantly murmured and complained. As children will often do, they did not even seem to notice all that God had done for them. God’s love was rejected. His heart was stomped on. How painful to be rebuffed. You can hear the anguish in God’s voice, “He doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of him” (v 3 NLT).

Even during Hosea’s time Israel continued to show the same disregard for God’s love. Life had been good under Jeroboam II. Israel’s economy and political clout nearly equaled Solomon’s influence two centuries before. Yet, like the rich man in Jesus’ parable of Luke 12, people thought their success derived from their own hand rather than God’s. So they “built bigger barns” of political and economic connections with their neighbors. Important trade relations with wealthy Phoenician merchants required adjustments to Israel’s values, of course. Further economic development demanded cheap labor and exploitation of those without a voice. Additionally, buying into religious beliefs of political allies helped secure Israel’s economic network. Unfortunately, Israel’s religious leaders, the priests, seemed to have led the way in spiritual compromise. “They call me the Most High, but they don’t truly honor me,” the LORD noted (v 7 NLT; see also the indictment of priests in Hosea 4:4-10).

I wonder what compromises we make today to maintain our successes. What “adjustments” to our beliefs and values do we make in order to secure economic and political advantages? What sort of “barns” do we build to ensure our future?

With tears in his eyes, God watched his children experience the consequences of their choices. They returned to an Egyptian like bondage and ended up serving Assyria within a decade of Jeroboam II’s death (v 5). By 722 BC Israel felt the full impact of its decisions when Assyria’s military machine completely destroyed Samaria and deported survivors to distant lands. It was not a pretty scene with enemies crashing through gates, “trapping them in their own evil plans” (v 6; NLT). Oh, the pain of watching a child make poor choices. Only parents of a wayward child can fully understand God’s anguish at such a time. (Maybe a parent in your congregation would be willing to share their story this Sunday.)

Still, God could not give up on his children. Though rejected and hurt, God determined to pursue those he chose to love. God would not protect his own heart by abandoning his children. That would be safer and it might be what humans would do. But God is different. God is “not a mere mortal;” He is “the Holy One living among you” (v 9 NLT). God cannot bear to see them treated like the pagan cities of Admah and Zeboiim who went down with Sodom and Gomorrah. He could not let them go like that.

Rather than give up on his children, God continued to dream of a time when they would return and “follow me” (v 10 NLT). Ever optimistic, God envisioned a day his wandering child would be “home again” (v 11 NLT). Like the father of the prodigal son in Luke 15, God never gave up hope. One day, neighbors and family would gather for a feast to welcome home his child.

Some may think this picture of God as a doting parent is too sentimental, a little over the top. Can God really be so emotional about people? Does God actually feel the pain of rejection from them? Would God allow his heart to be ripped open and laid bare like this? Apparently He would and He does. In a moment of telling self-disclosure God reveals to the prophet, “My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows” (v 8 NLT).

Hosea makes no apology for transmitting the words he heard God speak to him. The prophet whose wife had abandoned him for a life of prostitution understood. He knew the pain of love rejected. He had experienced life with one who wanted “to build bigger barns” and forget about the one who cared for her. Hosea also knew a God who had felt what he had felt. The message of a God whose love relentlessly pursues a wayward child was no mystery to the prophet Hosea.