Yahweh’s Passionate Love for Israel, part 1 (Hosea 11:1-2)

Over the last few months we’ve been examining Yahweh’s judgments that He would bring upon Israel for their sin.  Yet, in spite of all their sins, Yahweh still loved them.  He couldn’t stop.  He had covenanted Himself to them at Sinai.  Actually, God’s faithfulness to faithless Israel goes back even further to the Abrahamic Covenant.  That covenant was unconditional and Yahweh will keep His promises to Abraham.

However, the Mosaic covenant was conditional.  To enjoy blessings within their homeland required obedience to the law and faithfulness to worship Yahweh alone.  Because they had rejected Yahweh in favor of pagan gods and had kept breaking the law, God must discipline them.  Yet, like a loving father or mother today, while disciplining their heart is breaking and they still love their child.

Hosea 11 contains the most poignant yet touching words in all of Hosea. It features a sharp contrast between God’s tender reminiscences of His early relationship with Israel and yet His sorrow at their rejection of Him for Baal despite all that He had done for them (vv. 1-4).  His people had taken for granted His love and care for them, and the Lord was concerned for their constant lack of fidelity, which now necessitated their coming judgment (vv. 5-7).

In a second display of His compassion the Lord reveals that His abiding love for Israel would mean that His judgment could not and would not spell the end for His people (vv. 8-9).  For in a future day Israel would respond to His call and they would return to their homes and His blessings (vv. 10-11). (Richard Patterson)

H. Ronald Vandermey also notices that Hosea delves into the past, present and future of redemption. Verses 1-4 show how the past love of God for Israel was met with ingratitude, then vv. 5-7 show the inevitability of punishment in the present, while vv. 8-11 reveal how Yahweh’s continued compassion spells hope of future restoration for Israel.

Hubbard believes that this chapter, through v. 11, “draws to a close the second major division of the book which began at 4:1.  Its final words of hope (vv. 10-11) recall the promise of 3:5

5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days.

And anticipates Israel’s penitent return predicted in Hosea 14:3

3 Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands.  In you the orphan finds mercy.”

Listen to how Hosea puts this now in Hosea 11…

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. 3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. 5 They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6 The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels. 7 My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all. 8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, O Israel?  How can I make you like Admah?  How can I treat you like Zeboiim?  My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. 10 They shall go after the LORD; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; 11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the LORD. 12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43, better known as How Do I Love Thee goes like this:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

How does Yahweh love thee, O Israel?  Hosea says, “let me count the ways.”

  • He loved you when he called you to sonship, though there was nothing remarkable about you (vv. 1-2; Deuteronomy 7:7-8)
  • He loved you when you failed to acknowledge His gifts and rejected His love (vv. 3-4).
  • When you abandoned Him, He still loved you and loves you still (vv. 5-7)
  • He loves you with a compassionate agony that would not give you up (vv. 8-9)
  • He loves you with a persistence that will ultimately draw you back into a relationship of love with Him (vv. 10-11).

The theme of love is found in varied degrees throughout the book of Hosea.  From the love of the prophet, which was the basis of his purchase of Gomer, to Yahweh’s love for Israel, as reflected in one divine expression after another, the theme occurs.  Chapter 11 is the high-water mark of this emphasis.

Derek Kidner says…

This chapter is one of the boldest in the Old Testament—indeed in the whole Bible—in exposing to us the mind and heart of God in human terms.  We are always in danger of thinking of divine majesty in terms which we have learnt from earthly potentates [Kidner, by the way, is British]….Even when we speak of God as Father we may hesitate in case we read too much into the word.  But our chief danger is in reading too little from it, drawing our ideas either from an earthly father’s indulgence, caring too little for his children’s training, or from his self-indulgence, taking the convenient path of a domestic tyrant.

Here, by contrast we are made to see this tile in terms of accepted cost and anguish.  God as a father is rebuffed, torn between agonizing alternatives, may seem too human altogether; but this is the price of bringing home to us the fact that divine love is more, not less, ardent and vulnerable than ours….Once more, as in chapter 3, it is He, not we, who sets the pace and who stays the course against every discouragement and provocation that ingratitude can offer. (Kidner, Hosea, p. 100).

Hosea begins…

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

Notice that Yahweh uses both nouns (child, son) and verbs (loved and called) to shout out His amazing love for Israel.

Hosea again goes back to Israel’s beginning, when Yahweh delivered them from Egypt and brought them into the wilderness and cared for them.  More than once we’ve been reminded of the bright promise of Israel’s early days, only to rapidly fade (cf. 6:4; 9:10; 10:1, 11; 13:1, 4-6).

The word “child” indicates immaturity and helplessness, but the word “son” indicates a person who now has full rights and will be the heir.  The covenant Yahweh made with Israel was like an adoption, sealed at the Exodus and at Sinai (cf. Hosea 12:9; 13:4).

Love is the theme of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel, just as it is with you and me.  Just as “in love he predestined us to adoption” (Ephesians 1:4), so in elective love God called Israel “my son.”

Here, by the way, notice that Hosea has shifted away from the husband-wife language so prevalent in chapters 1-3.  But if there is any love that is a near rival, it is the love between a parent and child, a father and son in this case.

What man among us has not longed for a close relationship with his father?

John Stevenson touches on this nerve when he writes:

That touches a nerve because there is something within all of us that hungers for the love of a father.  Perhaps you are one who hungered for that which was not given.  That is very often the case.  Or perhaps you had the love of your earthly father but still hungered for a greater expression of that love and acceptance than which you perceived.  I can still hear the words of my younger brother as we wrapped our arms around one another at the funeral of our father as he said, “Why didn’t he ever talk to me?” (http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/hosea11-01.html)

It reminds me of this story…

No one could really say why he ran away. Or perhaps he didn’t, but was kicked out of his home by his father for something foolish that he said or did. Either way, Paco found himself wandering the streets of Madrid, Spain, with hopes of entering into a profession that would most likely get him killed – bullfighting. Those who train under a mentor have a good chance of surviving this profession, but Paco’s memory of his mistakes and guilt over what happened blindly drove him to this one way street to suicide.

But that was the last thing his father wanted, which is why he tried something desperate which he desperately hoped would work. There was little to no chance that he would be able to find Paco by wandering the streets of Madrid, so instead he put an advertisement in the local newspaper El Liberal. The advertisement read, “Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven! Love, Papa.”

Paco is such a common name in Spain that when the father went to the Hotel Montana the next day at noon there were 800 young men named Paco waiting for their fathers … and waiting for the forgiveness they never thought was possible!

So in v. 1 the Lord first reminded His people that when Israel was in its early days as a nation, like a youth, He loved the nation (cf. Exod. 4:22-23).  As often is the case, loving refers to choosing (cf. Gen. 12:2-3; et al.).  God chose Israel for special blessing among the world’s nations and in this sense loved him.

Nothing in Israel (or us) merits God’s love.  It is freely and graciously given.  It was not because of Israel’s religious activities, nor her strength or numbers or potential, it was simply because Yahweh chose to love them.  Deuteronomy 7:7-8 reminded a new generation of Israelites…

7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

The reference to the “oath that he swore to your fathers” in v. 8 is a reference back to the promise Yahweh had made with Abraham in Genesis 15:13-14

13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.

It was this quality of unmerited love that called Israel into existence at the time of the Exodus.  When God met Moses at the burning bush, commissioning him to go deliver Israel from Egypt, he told him he should say to Pharaoh,

Exodus 4:23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.'”

Just as it was God’s undeserved, unearned love that redeemed Israel, so it is that same undeserved, unearned love that redeemed us out of slavery to sin and Satan.  We are now part of God’s family—His sons and daughters.

This verse, Hosea 11:1, will be quoted by Matthew.  After the wise men had returned home, refusing to tell King Herod where the Christ child was, Matthew records…

13 Now when they [this is, magi] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Scholars debate over whether Matthew is taking this verse out of its context, or whether he gives us license to do the same.  One of the things we must remember is how often Matthew compared the experiences of Israel with that of Jesus.  In Matthew 3 Jesus is baptized, just like Israel was “baptized” by going through the Reed Sea.  In Matthew 4 Jesus triumphs over temptation after 40 days in the desert, unlike Israel which fell to temptation in their 40 years in the desert.  So it is not necessarily surprising that Matthew intentionally compares Israel and Jesus here.

Just like Yahweh called Israel, His Son, out of Egypt, so God will call Jesus, His greater Son, out of Egypt.  Kiel makes the comparison:

“Just as Israel grew into a nation in Egypt, where it was out of the reach of Canaanitish ways, so was the child Jesus hidden in Egypt from the hostility of Herod.”

Matthew did not mean that Hosea had Jesus Christ in mind or was predicting His exodus from Egypt when he wrote, but that Jesus’ experience corresponded to what Hosea had written about Israel.  He saw the experience of Jesus as analogous to that of Israel. (Thomas Constable)

The Scofield Bible also has this note:

“This is a reference not only to the exodus of Israel from Egypt but also to the fact that all of God’s dealings with Israel were based upon the love that He would show in calling His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, back from the comparative safety of Egypt in order that He might suffer and die to accomplish His great redemptive work.”

If Yahweh’s love is a constant theme in Israel’s history, so Israel’s stubbornness is persistent.  Verse 2 tells us…

2 The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.

This “the more I…” “they more they…” has been a repeated emphasis of Hosea, found also in 4:7 and 10:1.  No matter how much good God did for them, they turned their backs on Him!

God’s calling of Israel was not just a one-time event.  Through the prophets He had called to them time and time again, calling them back to righteousness and covenant loyalty.  But the more the prophets appealed to the people to follow the Lord, the more the people turned aside from following Him.

This must be immensely frustrating to God, to abundantly pour out His blessings, to give His children chance after chance to repent so that they can really enjoy those blessing, and to see them turn away from Him to other gods.  Somehow, the empty calls of the idols had more drawing power than Yahweh’s goodness to them.

Kidner says that “Israel’s sin, so far from springing from ignorance or hardship, was their reply to heaven’s kindness and concern” (Kidner, Hosea, p. 101).

They even went so far as to embrace Baal and to burn incense to images.  Both were in clear violation of the standards in God’s law (cf. Exod. 20:3-4; Deut. 5:7-8).

Although this was the present reality—Baal worship—in Israel, it is likely Hosea is again showing how this was a persistent problem in Israel by pointing back to the Exodus and the incident at Baal-Peor, where Israelites got their first taste of worshipping a Canaanite god.

A number of texts expand the historical perspective of the exodus account by recording the redeemed people’s whining ingratitude … (cf. Exod. 14:11; 15:14; 16:3; 17:2, 3; 32:1; Num. 11:1, 18-20; 14:2-4; 20:5; 21:5; Deut. 1:2-6).”

No matter how much Yahweh had done for them, it was never enough, never good enough.  Satan always deceives us into thinking that ultimately God is not being good to us, that He is withholding something from us that we need.  So, through sensuality or religion, he offers us something to relieve our pain or restore our pleasure.  But it is a lie.  It is an illusion.  It may bring “pleasure for a season” (Heb. 11:25) but it cannot deeply satisfy.



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Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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