Last week we started Hosea 11, noting how grandly this chapter presents Yahweh’s love for Israel. We noted that in verse 1 we have that nostalgic look back at Israel’s beginning and that seemingly bright future. God, in His elective love, had chosen Israel out from among all the nations, not for anything good in themselves, but simply because He wanted to.
They, however, no matter how good God had been to them, spurned His goodness and His love and turned to other gods. Those gods were less demanding, although they never delivered on their worshippers expectations.
This was represented in vv. 1-2, which we talked about last week:
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.
Today we will pick up at verse 3, but let me again read the whole chapter, verses 3-11…
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.
So Hosea continues the father-son metaphor into verse 3. Just as a human father would give loving attention to a son trying to learn to walk, so Yahweh had taught them by supporting them and then healing them when they scraped their knees.
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.
As Roy Honeycutt says…
“There are fewer pictures which more graphically portray a parent’s loving care and a child’s complete dependence” (Hosea and His Message, p. 74).
H. Ronald Vandermey writes:
“Note how the words of this verse parallel Moses’ statement regarding Israel’s being carried through the wilderness as a father carries his son (Deut. 1:31-32; 32:10-11)” (Hosea-Amos, p. 65).
Israel in the wilderness was like an infant son. Yahweh lovingly taught Ephraim to walk. Just as we teach our children to walk, one of the first steps of independence in their lives, so Yahweh taught Ephraim to walk, with the hope that they would grow to maturity.
C. S. Lewis, in the chapter called The Law of Undulation in The Screwtape Letters, an imaginary tutelage between Screwtape, a senior demon, and Wormwood, his protégé. Screwtape is explaining to Wormwood how God treats his favorites, by taking away his presence just like a parent eventually stops holding their child, in order for him to learn to walk on his own. Here is what Lewis, through Screwtape’s devious, but accurate understanding, claims:
“He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
Not only was Yahweh there teaching Ephraim, but He was also nearby training them, being “present” so that He could, at times, hold them up and keep them from falling. I don’t imagine Israel was aware of how often Yahweh had kept them from falling to temptation, just as we are not.
He keeps us from falling, guiding us in paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake (Psalm 23:2). But He also heals us when we do fall. Or, as David says in Psalm 25:11, he forgives our iniquity, “though it is great,” again, for His name’s sake.
The VERB “healed” (BDB 950, KB 1272, Qal PERFECT) is often used for God forgiving sin, as seen in Hosea 5:13, 6:1; 7:1; Exod. 15:26; the parallelism of Ps. 103:3; and Isa. 1:5-6, examples of national sin described in terms of a physical disease (also note Isa. 53:5 and I Pet. 2:24-25).
The sad reality is that we, like Israel, tend to forget how much God has helped us along the way. Ephraim “did not know,” or, more accurately, “did not acknowledge,” or “did not call to mind” God’s help all along the way—teaching, holding, healing; instructing, training, forgiving.
Despite this dynamic expression of love and identification, “They did not know that I healed them” (v. 3). How insensitive each of us can become to the Lord’s grace. This theme appeared earlier in Hosea’s indictment of Israel for receiving the gifts of God but ascribing them to Baal (cf. 2:8).
The line “did not know that I healed them” (v. 3b) alludes to the story of the Exodus. In particular it looks back to Exodus 15:22-26, the story of the bitter water at Marah, which Moses miraculously purified after praying to Yahweh. God then commented on this incident
26 saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.”
Hosea’s allusion to this incident implies how the Israelites quickly forgot both how the Egyptians were afflicted and how God repeatedly restored health to Israel in the wilderness (e.g., Numbers 21:6-10).
Hosea is drawing a strong contrast here between Yahweh and Baal. Although they now had affections for Baal, it was not Baal who had taken them out of slavery in Egypt and took care of them every step of the way to the Promised Land. Baal had done nothing for them; Yahweh had done it all.
Although some believe that Hosea continues the image of a father and son in verse 4, it is likely that he is communicating the same underlying concepts through a different image, that of a master and his ox. The image of a loving herdsman taking care of his animal is in view here.
The description here is in harmony with the figurative language built upon the agrarian imagery of Hosea 10:11-13 and also provides a literary hook between the two chapters.
It is instructive that the Scriptures teach us to be compassionate towards our animals, to not abuse them but to take good care of them. Here Hosea continues the complaint of Yahweh against 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.
Notice that unlike verse 3, which ended by showing how Ephraim failed to acknowledge all the good that Yahweh had done for them, here the emphasis is totally upon what Yahweh had done. Verse 5 will pick up Ephraim’s failure.
Instead of driving Ephraim, he led them. He led them “with cords of kindness, with the bands of love.” Unlike Egypt, who had bound them with a heavy yoke and showed no compassion upon them, Yahweh leads them gently.
Of course, this should remind us of the great invitation of Jesus Christ, to those burdened down by Pharisaic legalism, bent under the weight of the stipulations and accretions to the law of Moses, Jesus said…
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Here Yahweh says that he loosens the yoke, enabling them to eat as they plow. Leon Wood notes, “Often a cattleman would lift the yoke from an ox’s shoulders, so that when it bent over to eat, the yoke would not slide down over its face and impede its feeding” (Hosea, 212-213).
We are saved because we are drawn by the Father’s love, the Son’s sacrifice and the Spirit’s call. In John 6:44 Jesus speaks of the impossibility of us coming to salvation apart from the Father drawing us…
44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.
Not many, not some, but no one can come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ unless the father draws him.
Of course, in another of John’s writings, in the book of Revelation, near the end John is told to write:
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:17)
But even here, where our desires are involved, there is also the calling of the Spirit and the church (gospel preachers) that awakens the desire in the heart of those who have developed a spiritual thirst for Jesus Christ and eternal life.
So Spurgeon explains…
“Understand, then, it is true that no man comes to God except he is drawn; but it is equally true that God draweth no man contrary to the constitution of man, but his methods of drawing are in strict accordance with ordinary mental operations. He finds the human mind what it is, and he acts upon it, not as upon matter, but as upon mind. The compulsions, the constraints, the cords that he uses, are ‘cords of a man.’ The bands he employs are ‘bands of love.’” (Spurgeon)
We are also sanctified because of the drawing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, placing within us God-honoring, righteousness-loving desires, and then giving us the enabling to do that. This is what Paul is saying in Philippians 2:12-13. Beginning in the last part of verse 12…
work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
We don’t work for our salvation. It is a free gift, according to Ephesians 2:8-9. But we do work out our salvation, we live in the power of our salvation in every sphere of life day by day. But, we can only do this because God works in us (v. 13). He is always working in us “both to will” (giving us new and holy desires) “and to work” (giving us the power to say “no” to temptations and yes to Jesus).
Any time we have a desire to do what is right and good and true, it comes from God, not from ourselves. Whenever we actually follow through and do what is right and good and true, that is not because we had the willpower and the strength to accomplish it, but because God provided that power. It was working within us.
Yahweh was doing something similar for Ephraim. He brought them out of slavery to Egypt, giving them freedom (within the boundaries of the law). He loosened their restraints and “bent down and fed them.”
Almighty Yahweh, before whom we should always bow, stooped down to feed them. This reminds me, and probably you as well, of that wonderful passage of Paul in Philippians 2, where he shows the servant attitude of Jesus Christ…
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Christ came down; He bent down; He served and died on the cross. Yet He was and is and forever will be the King of kings and Lord of lords!
The point in these two verses is that just as any good father or animal owner would act and compassionately toward his child or animal, so the Lord has dealt tenderly—even most affectionately—with Israel.
Derek Kidner, in his characteristic way of driving the point home, says:
“Every detail of this pampering drives home the extraordinary graciousness that Israel has experienced, far beyond anything that she had any right to expect, or any prospect of receiving at the hands of their new masters. The next paragraph will make the last point brutally clear” (The Message of Hosea, p. 102).
Referring to verses 1 through 4, and verse 8, G. Campbell Morgan wrote:
“… do you know of any passage in the Old Testament or the New, more wonderful in its revelation of the love of God than that?” (The Unfolding Message of the Bible, p. 202).
Having described His deliverance, and loving care and guidance for Israel (vv. 1, 3-4), the Lord now declares that judgment now must come to His people (vv. 5-6). This is because of their longstanding and abiding sinfulness (vv. 2, 7).
5 They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.
Although it is against His deepest desires (cf. vv. 8-9), Yahweh will “give them over” like we read He does to any civilization (cf. Romans 1:24, 26, 28) which turns their back on Him.
“Ever since chapter 7, with its picture of Ephraim flitting between Egypt and Assyria like a flustered bird (7:11), every chapter has named one or both of these great powers as her obsession and her downfall” (Derek Kidner, The Message of Hosea, p. 103).
God’s sentence for the near future remains the same as that delivered previously: in accordance with the covenantal stipulations Israel will return to Egypt (cf. 7:16; 8:13; 9:3-6). By “Egypt” is meant primarily Israel’s fall to the Assyrian forces and deportation to their lands. Even though some of Israel’s exiles might escape to Egypt, theirs would not be a pleasant experience there.
Thus, what Hosea is saying is that Israel’s judgment will be like a reversal, back to the slavery they experienced in Egypt. However, the actual physical location of this exile would be Assyria. Having rejected Yahweh as King, they would henceforth have Assyria as their king.
The key issue is their failure, in fact their refusal, to repent. Because Israel refused to “return” (Heb. shub) to Yahweh after so many appeals by His prophets (v. 2), He would “return” (Heb. shub) the nation to captivity.
This refusal to repent is ultimately what sent Israel into captivity. It was not their sins, in particular, which deserved this judgment, but their refusal to turn back to God when they had the chance.
Likewise, no one is in hell because they have sinned, but because they refuse to repent of their sin and turn in faith to Jesus Christ for salvation. This is what John is referring to in John 3:19-21.
19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
When sinners love their sin they will not come to the light, they love their sin and don’t want to be forgiven.
This condemnation of their refusal to repent is described further in v. 7…
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.
Their inclination (their “bent,” a word that means “impaled, addicted to, hung upon”) is not to draw near to Yahweh, but to turn their backs on Him. Truly, the nation was hooked on, addicted to, their sin and none was willing to turn back to Yahweh. As a result, He would turn from them. Apparently in the dire distress of those days, they would “call out to the Most High,” but it would be too late. He would not hear them and would not deliver them “at all.”
David Hubbard notes that that the word “call” ties us back to vv. 1-2 which “play on the contrast between Yahweh’s call and the seductive calls of the Baals” (Hosea, p. 203.)
Their military defeat is pictured in v. 6
6 The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels.
False prophets would counsel them to depend upon their fortified cities when their former allies turned against them. Enemy soldiers would swarm around Israel’s cities and break down the gate bars that secured them against foreign attack. All places of refuge will fail when the day of reckoning arrives.
They would consume the Israelites because of the decisions the Israelites had made to depart from the Lord (cf. Mic. 6:16). These were the result, in part, of false prophets’ advice.
Yahweh had fed His people (v. 4), but now the sword would feed on them (cf. Isa. 1:19-20).
Israel has put its trust in fortresses (v. 6; cf. 8:13-14; 10:14) and other gods (i.e., especially Baal, v. 7; cf. 9:10; 10:1), but none of these would be able to save them when the invader came.
In another listing of threes Israel’s cities are depicted as witnessing the flashing, swirling, cutting swords of the enemy, the fall of the city gates and their supposedly strong fortresses turned into graveyards. For the dead shall lie everywhere within their precincts (v. 6).
It was all so needless. If only they had trusted Yahweh who alone could protect them rather than their supposedly impregnable fortresses. Moreover, only the Lord could really promote the welfare, which no foreign power or supposed god could provide. But to the contrary, they called to a “higher power” which could do neither (v. 7).
Even in the midst of this determined rejection, Yahweh goes on to cry out…
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.
But we will have to wait until next week to answer the questions that these verses bring up.
Until next week, soak yourself in the amazing grace of Jesus Christ.