Hosea 11:1–11comment (0)
February 17, 2011
By Scott McGinnis
Related Scripture: Hosea 11:1–11
Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University
God Loves Like a ‘Grand’ Parent
The beauty of Hosea’s message lies in its accessibility. In two previous lessons, we have seen how the prophet used the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between God and Israel. Particularly noteworthy are Hosea’s depictions of God’s emotions. Frustration, anger, resignation and regret are all on display, but they never sound God’s final judgment. Instead God longed for the restoration of a covenant with Israel marked by faithfulness and steadfast love on the part of each partner. Hosea revealed a divine love that models the very faithfulness and perseverance that God expects from His people. Hosea’s challenge to his people and us is no more and no less than this: Love as God loves. This week’s text continues the exploration of God’s love but shifts the metaphor from marriage to that of parent and child.
God Pursues Us (1–2)
As anyone who has ever cared for young children knows, there is a point as children learn to walk when they discover their newfound independence. “Stop” or “come here” are interpreted by the toddler as “run away.” This text invokes the image of a child who does the opposite of what the parent intends. In love, God had called the people out of Egypt. The Exodus is a constant motif in both the Law and the Prophets that shows God’s identity rooted in the role of Deliverer. On this basis, God claimed the right to an exclusive relationship with Israel (Ex. 20:1–3), but as an unruly child, Israel had given its loyalties to other gods. Earlier we saw how its failure was a combination of ignorance and stubbornness (Hos. 2:7–13).
God Nurtures Us (3–4)
In the midst of recounting Israel’s waywardness, the divine discourse again turns nostalgic (cf. 2:15). Parents who find themselves with unruly teens no doubt long for the simpler times and issues associated with childhood. In the gentlest of images, God is depicted as teaching the toddler Israel to walk, carrying and holding, loving and nurturing, stooping and feeding. Although in our modern culture such roles are filled by both parents, in ancient Israel, these basic tasks were more commonly the purview of the mother. Such maternal images of God are unusual but not unique in the Hebrew Bible (Deut. 32:18; Num. 11:10–15; Isa. 42:14, 66:13) and serve to remind the reader of the limitation of all language used to describe God. Analogies to common human roles — father, mother, judge, king, warrior, etc. — are used throughout the Bible to describe God, but none can capture fully all of the divine essence. In this case, Hosea’s language reveals the intimacy of God’s affection for Israel and gives the context in which He will decide its fate.
God Will Not Abandon Us (5–11)
Loyalty and obedience to one’s parents were matters of the gravest concern in ancient Israel. The law allowed for persistently disobedient children to be put to death at the instigation of the parents and with the consent of the town elders (Deut. 21:18–21; cf. Ex. 21:15, 17). This tradition gives the structure for the entirety of Chapter 11, which begins with a complaint on God’s behalf as the parent of an unruly child. The threatened punishment represents an undoing of previous divine actions: The land that had been given them shall be taken away, and the people who had been called out of Egypt shall return there (5). As soon as judgment had been declared, however, God’s heart “recoils” at the thought of giving up on Israel and compassion trumps anger. In the most telling of phrases, God declared, “I will not execute my fierce anger … for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (9). Here again, words fail. It speaks to the poverty of the human imagination and capacity for a loving and just forgiveness that we cannot imagine justice without anger or mercy without resigned apathy. God’s love, however, is endlessly creative. It nurtures, teaches, corrects, punishes, prods and sustains in ways that are, at the same time, beyond human understanding and yet as close as a mother’s calming whisper. Indeed God is no mortal, and therein lies the source of our hope and praise.