Thus says the LORD:
When Israel was a child I loved him,
out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the farther they went from me,
Sacrificing to the Baals
and burning incense to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
who took them in my arms;
I drew them with human cords,
with bands of love;
I fostered them like one
who raises an infant to his cheeks;
Yet, though I stooped to feed my child,
they did not know that I was their healer.
My heart is overwhelmed,
my pity is stirred.
I will not give vent to my blazing anger,
I will not destroy Ephraim again;
For I am God and not man,
the Holy One present among you;
I will not let the flames consume you.
– Hosea 11:1-4, 8e-9
This passage is so powerful! What is the Lord saying here?
First, we need to consider that God has chosen his people – at this time the people of Israel – to be a special group of people. He looks upon them as though they are a first-born son. He is not only their God, but also their Father. His love for them is so powerful and it’s His first desire to be a Father who teaches them everything and shows them how to live and how to find true joy. This is desire of every good father, so of course it’s the desire of the best Father.
The problem, though, is that the people of Israel have a tendency to act like a group of rebellious teenagers. They are rebellious to what their Father teaches them. They disobey his commands. They even try to act like they have other fathers – hence the mention of them sacrificing to the Baals. Their true Father will lead them to true joy and happiness, while their false fathers always lead to false happiness, a happiness that is only temporary. This is what the first part of the passage is all about. The Father’s people were enslaved in Egypt, and their good Father swooped in and rescued them (see: the Book of Exodus). He led them away from their place of slavery, yet they wanted to go back because they were rebellious children. They insisted on their own way instead of submitting to the way of their Father. He gave them heavenly food, yet they constantly complained that the food wasn’t good enough for them. The story of Israel is a story of a good Father constantly providing for his first-born son even while the first-born son seems to completely reject his Father.
Will the Father ever give up? NO! This is the second part of this passage. The part we skip in the reading (11:5-8d) talks about the consequences of sin – Israel is going to be led back into slavery – but this part we get is speaking about the Father’s faithfulness to his first-born son. He will not give up! His love is so powerful that he will always be fighting for his child to return to his Father. The thing is, though, that the choice must be the first-born son’s choice. The Father’s people are going to have to choose to reject their rebellion, they are going to have to sacrifice their love for their false fathers, if they want to return to their true Father. He’s not going to save them if they don’t want to be saved.
The same goes for us, the Father’s new first-born son. The Father has not stopped fighting for us – He’s even gone so far as to send his Son Jesus to take on our punishment. The Father has not stopped longing for us to reject our false fathers. Look at how much our true Father loves us – His love is so strong that he has given himself to us time and time again throughout history! He wants to show us true joy and happiness instead of the false and temporary happiness our false fathers show us. Yet the decision must be ours. If we are to be restored by the Father through Jesus Christ, we must cooperate in the redemption by sacrificing our love for our false fathers and returning with our full hearts to our true Father. Our Father is not going to give up on us, but the choice to cooperate with his grace must be ours. Will we return?