God’s love never fails. His mercies are new every morning. That is the nature of God. But His love is a holy love and no matter how much He may want to save us from the consequences of our sins, like any good parent Yahweh disciplines us that we may learn and change our ways. Unfortunately, Israel was not learning and not changing. Instead, they were bent on rebellion.
As we pick up Hosea 11 this morning…
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.
We can see from this passage that although God has compassion for Ephraim, they were filled with lies, while Judah “still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One.” Therefore, Israel would soon go into captivity to Assyria, in 722 B.C., while Judah, the southern kingdom, would last another 150 years to the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C., although they would experience other conflicts with the Babylonians prior to that.
Yahweh’s compassions are expressed so passionately in vv. 8…
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.
These four rhetorical questions show just how hard it was for Yahweh to give them up to the ultimate punishment that God had warned them about in Deuteronomy 30. They are strong expressions of divine emotion, specifically, love, for His chosen people. He did not want to give them up or hand them over.
In highly anthropomorphic terms, the Lord pours out his irrepressible love; Isa. 49:15 and Jer. 31:20 express the same sentiment. The relationship between God and his chosen must not be viewed as a formality. These emotional outpourings demonstrate that the Lord is a person, filled with compassion—unlike the lifeless Baals. His affection weighs heavier than Israel’s ingratitude, and he cannot bring himself to renounce his people, even though they renounce him. (ESV Study Bible)
He did not want to treat them as He had Admah and Zeboiim. “Admah” and “Zeboiim” were cities that God annihilated along with Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Gen. 10:19; 14:2,8; Deut. 29:23). Why Hosea mentions them instead of Sodom and Gomorrah is unknown. God could not bring Himself to deal with the cities of Israel as He had with those towns. He would not totally and finally destroy them.
His heart of judgment (which was entirely appropriate) was turned upside down into a heart of compassion. Thus Wolff says…
“Israel will not be completely ‘overturned’ as the cities mentioned here; rather, there will be an ‘overturning,’ that is, a change, in Yahweh’s heart.”
Yahweh could not give them up because his heart recoiled within Him and his compassions were stirred up like a raging fire. Because of who He is, He could not press ultimate judgment and destruction upon them.
Though their sin deserved it, God will not wipe out Israel. He will leave a remnant, and will ultimately restore the nation. The love that the Lord has for his children restrains him from obliterating them. He will preserve Israel through a remnant (cf. Rom. 11:5).
Again, Yahweh roots this surprising response in His own character: “for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”
His sentence against His people was thus a matter of the necessary carrying out of the requirements against a wayward child (cf. Deut. 19-23) and not a matter of human vengeance. Indeed, Yahweh is a holy God—One who desires to see that holiness resident and active in His people (v. 9). And not seeing it, He must punish, but will not ultimately destroy them.
The mention of God as the Holy One is in accordance with His special relation to Israel as His covenant people. Isaiah speaks of the Lord as “the Holy One of Israel” more than a score of times.
These verses, more clearly than anything except the example of Jesus Himself, show that God’s love is holy and His holiness is loving. You cannot separate the two. God will always act in loving holiness and holy love towards His chosen.
Jesus met the demands of God’s holiness and expressed God’s love at the cross, where sin was punished but we were forgiven.
James Smith, in an 1860 sermon entitled “Rills from the Rock of Ages,” emphasizes this difference between God and us…
Let us meditate on this declaration of our God for a few moments.
“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I am infinitely patient, and not soon moved to take vengeance upon My sinful and rebellious creatures!
“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I am ready to forgive, and receive back the returning prodigal to My heart and home!
“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I receive great sinners, taking to My heart, and putting among My children — such despicable ones as no one else would notice or regard!
“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I pardon again and again, not only first offences — but repeated transgressions, forgiving and forgetting them forever!
“I am God — and not man,” and therefore bear with such numerous affronts, such gross ingratitude, such inexcusable conduct — in My own people!
“I am God, and not man,” and therefore I invite, entreat, and beseech such base backsliders to return unto Me, and prove the power and freeness of My forgiving love!
“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I save freely, fully, and forever — such degraded, depraved, and desperate sinners, to the praise of the glory of My grace!
“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I remain faithful to My promises and covenant engagements, amidst all the changes and faithlessness of My fickle people!
“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I give such rich, costly, priceless gifts — to the poor, destitute, and unworthy sinners!
“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I hear, accept, and answer, such poor, imperfect, and worthless prayers — which, no one else could tolerate, much less approve!
“I am God — and not man,” and therefore I work such wonders — wonders in providence, and wonders in grace; wonders in the world, and wonders in the heart!
“I am God — and not man,” and therefore, I have prepared such mansions, and will confer such a glorious kingdom — on sinners who have no claim upon Me, nor the least reason to expect any good thing from Me!
Yes, because He is Jehovah, and changes not — therefore we poor, sinning, changeable creatures are not consumed!
Believer, to you the Lord says, “I am God — and not man!” Therefore expect from Him as God — and act toward Him as God! He can do exceedingly and abundantly, above all that you can ask or think! Do not measure His heart by yours — but remember that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His thoughts higher than your thoughts, and His ways than your ways!
Charles Spurgeon also observed that there are many differences between God and man in the matter of forgiveness.
- Man cannot hold back his anger very long.
- Man cannot bear with others when he is tired, stressed, or annoyed.
- Man will not reconcile if the person who offended him is a person of bad character.
- Man is often only willing to be reconciled if the offending party craves forgiveness and makes the first move.
- Man is often only willing to be reconciled if the offending party will never again do the wrong.
- Man, when he does reconcile, does not lift the former offender to place of high status and partnership.
- Man, when he is wronged, does not bear all the penalty for the wrong done.
- Man, when he attempts reconciliation, will not continue if he is rejected.
- Man will not restore an offender without a period of probation.
- Man will not love, adopt, honor, and associate with one who has wronged him.
- Man will not trust someone who has formerly wronged them.
What passes for forgiveness among men is nothing like the amazing forgiveness of God. “Suppose that someone had grievously offended any one of you, and that he asked your forgiveness, do you not think that you would probably say to him, ‘Well, yes, I forgive you; but I – I – I – cannot forget it’? Ah! dear friends, that is a sort of forgiveness with one leg chopped off, it is a lame forgiveness, and is not worth much” (Spurgeon).
God’s forgiveness is always so much more!
So, we’ve seen in vv. 1-7 Yahweh’s past dealings with Israel, how he found them in Egypt and raised them up so tenderly through the wilderness wanderings. However, despite His lovingkindnesses towards them, they turned their backs on him.
In vv. 8-9 his present turmoil is recorded for us, so that Israel could see that Yahweh loved them despite their rebellion and judgment is not due to a vengeful attitude, but rather to the reality of His holy nature. Sin must be punished; but Yahweh still loves the sinner.
Verses 10-11 record the future, Israel’s future. Verse 12 really goes with chapter 12, so we will save if for next week.
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.
Notice the contrast with verse 7. Now Israel turned their backs on Yahweh, despite his tender kindnesses, but then, in the future, they “shall go after the LORD.” That return is in response to Yahweh roaring “like a lion.” This zoomorphism has been used before, where God has been presented as a lion (cf. 5:14; 13:7; Amos 1:2; 3:8). However, this time it would not be as a lion about to devour them as its prey, but as a lion leading its cubs to safety. The Israelites would follow Him, “trembling from the west” (cf. 3:5; Exod. 19:16).
Such vivid imagery! Such contrast! God as a roaring lion, his people as trembling sparrows and fluttering doves, once flitting between the nations trying to find an ally, will now return home.
There will be a new exodus of the people from all of the lands of their exile (v. 11). Then God’s people will return to their homeland and settle down. It will be even as Garrett remarks: “Hosea’s point here is that there is to be a new exodus in which God will again play the part of the lion and deliver his people from their enemies and into a new Promised Land” (Hosea-Joel, p. 229).
All of this was prefigured in the relation between Hosea and Gomer (2:14-23). As Hosea was instructed to seek after Gomer in love and tenderness (2:14), so the Lord will call for His people to come back to Him. As that response symbolized Israel’s putting away of Baal and the rites associated with him (2:16-17), so Israel’s fascination with false gods and idolatry will be over.
As Gomer/Israel would respond in renewed fidelity to her husband (Hosea/Yahweh; 2:19-20), so the future Israelites will come in reverential trust and love to the Lord. As Gomer/Israel would experience renewed blessings based upon fidelity and a lasting relationship with Hosea/Yahweh, so God’s people will experience the long missing covenant blessings in the Promised Land.
As Stuart observes, “The faithful will ‘fly’ back not merely to the land as sojourners or the like, but to their ‘homes,’ an indication of true resettling in possession of original inheritances. Throughout Israel’s history, residence in the land was a central blessing of their covenant with Yahweh (cf. 2:18, 20). Now would be fulfilled the promise of 2:25” (Hosea-Jonah, p. 183).
Certainly Israel’s hope for the near future lay with the return from exile in lands such as Assyria and Egypt (cf. Ezra 2). Yet the prophets also often speak of a distant future when God’s people will come and find the Promised Land as an everlasting place of residence and blessing (see e.g., Isa. 40:1-11; 60:1-22; 65:17-25; Jer. 23:5-8; 32:36-44; 33:15-16; Zeph. 3:14-20; etc.).
Thomas Constable notes:
Since Assyria lay to Israel’s east, it seems that this reference to regathering from the west does not refer to return from Assyrian captivity. Apparently it refers to return from another worldwide dispersion. Presently the Israelites live dispersed all over the world.
This verse then probably alludes to a still future restoration from our perspective in history. It may refer to the restoration that Antichrist will encourage (Dan. 9:27), but it probably refers to the streaming of Israel back into the land following Jesus Christ’s return to the earth (cf. Isa. 11:11-12).
In many prophetic texts God’s near and distant future appear to blend together as a single hope (e.g., Isa. 52:4-13; 61:1-3; Jer. 16:14-15), which nonetheless does not negate a two-stage fulfillment. Many prophecies appear to find a specific fulfillment yet without exhausting fully the details in the prophecy. R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament (London: Tyndale House, 1971), 160-163 calls such cases “fulfillment without consummation.”
Accordingly, Hosea’s seemingly near future perspective may well veil a further, more final exodus. Thus Wood suggests, “Egypt and Assyria typify the many nations from which God’s people will return in the future day. Then he will settle them ‘in their homes’—an assurance of their permanent residence in their land (cf. 2:19)” (“Hosea,” 7:214).
Thus, Yahweh’s love will win out. It is a holy love that requires Him to discipline Israel right now, but ultimately it will effect their salvation. His faithfulness is not negated by their unfaithfulness.
And we can be thankful of that as well. Paul tells us that nothing, absolutely nothing, can sever us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus. In Romans 8:38-39 we hear their glorious words:
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.