In compassionate terms, the LORD speaks about Israel. He speaks about how He loved the people as a child and son, liberated them, taught them to walk, cherished them in His arms, cared for them, nurtured them and raised them. How painful is the great ingratitude with which the people have answered all that love of God. That is why God must punish the people and take distance from them. But not forever!
God will ultimately take care of His people in love and accept them again. In this chapter there is more talk about Israel’s hope than about his downfall. The theme changes from judgment about Israel into blessing for Israel.
1 God’s Love for His People
1 When Israel [was] a youth I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.
In verses 1-4, God introduces Himself to His people in various ways. In verse 1 He is a loving Father and Israel is a youth and His son. In verse 3a He is the Teacher Who teaches Ephraim to walk and the Comforter Who takes him in His arms when he has fallen. In verse 4 He shows Himself a loving Husband who is connected with Israel through bonds of love. He is also his Redeemer Who lifts from him the yoke of slavery under which he suffers.
He is not far away from them, but descends to their level to be close to them as a Neighbor to be able to give them food as a Caretaker. Paul also points to God’s care for His people, especially during the wilderness journey: “For a period of about forty years He put up with them [or: took care of them] in the wilderness” (Acts 13:18).
The love of God, that is what His people, then and now, must constantly be reminded of. That love is the secret why He does not completely and definitively stop dealing with His unfaithful people. God’s love finds reason in Himself to keep expressing Himself, even though the way in which that love expresses Himself is not always the same.
All God’s actions originate from His own love and not from the objects on which His love focuses. Israel has no added value for God above other nations (Deu 7:7-8). Unlike many great nations of the earth who all build and sustain their kingdom through strength and violence, God has built and sustained His people through love. There is no power in the universe greater than the power of God’s love.
However, God reminds Israel not only of His love for them, but also of the beginning of His relationship with them: “When Israel [was] a youth.” In Ezekiel 16 we also read about God’s love for Israel in the early days of the people. There the LORD tells how He found Israel as a helpless baby and how He took care of the baby in His love (Eze 16:1-14).
As we get older, it is good that we remember God’s love in our youth. Our ‘youth’ means the period in our lives that we have heard about the Lord Jesus and we have become aware of His love and care for us. This can be when we were children, young in age; it can also refer to being young in faith, the time after we had come to faith, which can also have happened at a later age.
Thinking back to being receptive to God’s love in the early days is of great importance. After all, God’s love has never changed. If we no longer enjoy it, it is not because of Him, but because of ourselves. Certainly we miss a lot ourselves, but Who misses it even more, is God. He wants so dearly to express His love to His people as His child.
Let us not close ourselves off to that, but open ourselves (again?) to it and thus take the admonition to heart: “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 1:21). This means that we constantly realize that God’s love goes out to us. We often forget this and go outside the realm of God’s love. Towards each other we may have the desire that Paul has for the believers in Thessalonica: “May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God” (2Thes 3:5a).
Then there is something else. The LORD does not only call Israel “a youth” or “a child”, but He also calls him “My son”. With Israel as a “child” we can think of a certain helplessness. A youth or child asks for care and endears the feelings of the parents. With ‘son’ we think more of adulthood, someone with whom a parent can discuss certain things. A son is someone with whom you can consult and who can think and act independently. He knows his father’s thoughts and can make them his own and thus act in the spirit of his father. He can represent his father. Youth and son are the same person, but with a different approach. It was the same with Israel and so it is with the believer who belongs to the church.
God has called Israel as His son from Egypt (Exo 4:22-23). He has freed the people from bondage, so that He can share His thoughts with Israel and show through Israel into the world Who He is. Unfortunately, Israel did not respond to this. But there is Another Who has answered that. That is the Son of God, the Lord Jesus. It is not for nothing that this verse from Hosea is quoted when the Lord Jesus is born and has to flee immediately into Egypt because of Herod and then return to Israel (Mt 2:14-15).
Israel has failed, but God puts His Son in their place. His Son will go through the history of Israel again, but He does so without failure and everything to the glory of God. We have seen such a comparison also with regard to Israel as a vine (Hos 9:1).
2 God’s Effort and the People’s Reaction
2 The more they called them,
The more they went from them;
They kept sacrificing to the Baals
And burning incense to idols.
We would think that the people would be very grateful that they have finally been freed from the heavy slave yoke. In the beginning this is also true. In Exodus 15 they praise their Liberator (Exo 15:1). But soon after that it becomes clear how wandering they are. Again and again they wander away from God. In the book of Judges we see them leaving God over and over again. He calls them back again and again, but each time they make it worse than the time before. They sink deeper and deeper into the swamp of their own will and idolatry (Jdg 2:10-19).
“The more they called them”, indicates the efforts God made to call “them”, the people, back to Him through His prophets, “they”. He has done this over and over again. But the people no longer want to face the prophets. They walk away from them. As soon as they see a prophet, they avoid to encounter them. They prefer to continue their idolatry undisturbed.
3 Teaching to Live as Child of God
3 Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them in My arms;
But they did not know that I healed them.
God taught Ephraim to walk, He taught him to stand on his own two feet, He raised him to independence. God gives His children teaching, lessons. That teaching does not just consist of giving them directions, showing them the way from beginning to end. Teaching to walk is mainly about our behavior on that road and what we can encounter there: the speed, the dangerous intersections, the places where we can take a break, where we can get food and what kind of food is best. God has given the whole Bible to His people for this purpose.
Especially the book of Deuteronomy is full of statutes and ordinances that the people have to learn. If they listen to it, they will do well and continue to enjoy the blessings of the land God has given them (Deu 4:1). Paul says to Timothy – and over his head to us – how important the Scriptures are as the only means by which we can learn to walk (2Tim 3:14-16). He points out to him the holy Scriptures “which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation” (2Tim 3:15). By “salvation” is meant: the achievement of the end goal.
Timothy is already a child of God, but he must also ‘learn to walk’. The equipping for this lies for every child of God, just like for Timothy, in reading the Bible. And when things go wrong, when we fall, there is the helping hand of God. He lifts us up, comforts us, puts us down again and we are allowed to walk again. In this way we get to know God as the God Who “carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place” (Deu 1:31).
In spite of all the evidence of care and comfort, the people do not acknowledge all of God’s loving concerns. The word “healed” at the end of this verse refers to the injuries a child suffers when it falls while learning to walk. The Israelites will often have literally hurt themselves while going through the wilderness with its many sharp stones and boulders.
Still, the healing Hosea refers to seems to relate not so much to the body, but more to the spirit. How many times have the people doubted the love of God, for example when they have no water or food. And God always gives what they needed. He heals them from their grumbling. He is also in this respect “the LORD … your healer” (Exo 15:26). But they do not acknowledge that He does this, they have no eye for it.
4 God Leads His People to Himself.
4 I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love,
And I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws;
And I bent down [and] fed them.
Incessantly and by ever-changing means, God has shown and let His people feel how much He loves them. The “cords of a man” are cords that fit human weakness. They are means that God has given to man as aids and that perfectly match his weakness. They are cords that are adapted to man and are therefore able to help him to stay on God’s way and go that way to His honor.
We can think of the whole priestly service that God has instituted. It is completely focused on the fact that the people can remain in fellowship with God, or can come back when that fellowship has been disturbed by sin. Thus “we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as [we are, yet] without sin” (Heb 4:15).
We can also see such cords as “bonds of love”. Everything God does to connect His people with Himself happens out of and with love. God’s love is a searching and leading love. Whoever goes to the Lord Jesus as a sinner, goes to Him because the Father leads him there. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (Jn 6:44a).
He who loves the Lord Jesus also feels his own weakness to follow Him and will ask Him if He wants to draw him: “Draw me after you” (Song 1:4a). If God pulls, it is His love: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer 31:3).
If God has drawn His people so much in love to Himself and also leads them, it also means deliverance from the yoke of slavery. God acts out of love and proves His love to the object of it. Hereby no yoke fits under which one is burdened (Gal 5:1). To walk at the side of God is to walk lightly, where the burden of sin no longer presses down.
Unfortunately, a Christian, just like the Israelite, can allow sin into his life again. Then the pressing yoke is felt again. Life becomes heavy again. David also experiences this after his sin with Bathsheba, when he has not yet confessed it: “For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me” (Psa 32:4a). Only when he confesses his sin will there be songs of deliverance (Psa 32:5-7).
The words ‘bent down’ mean ‘to lean over’, ‘to go down’. It is: coming closer. God comes down in the Lord Jesus, leans over to man and comes close to him. The Lord Jesus, who is God, has become Man. In Him God has come so close to man that He becomes His Nearest. In that position He wants to take care of man, His people, and He feeds him.
In the beginning of this verse God is the ‘leading’ God who takes His people to Himself. At the end of the verse God descends to His people and wants to be with them. He wants to share their needs and provide for them. God is the same for us. He comes to us in our need and wants to give us what we need.
In our verse the giving of food still seems to refer to the ‘child Israel’. Food is important for growth. Also spiritually we can only grow if we take the spiritual food that God gives us. That spiritual food comes from the Bible. A spiritually healthy Christian will have a healthy hunger and thirst for the Word of God (1Pet 2:2).
5 Back to Egypt
5 They will not return to the land of Egypt;
But Assyria—he will be their king
Because they refused to return [to Me].
Verses 1-4 give a comprehensive overview of God’s attitude of love and acts of grace toward His people. Everything is appropriate to bring the people to voluntary dedication. Nevertheless, God has pointed out Israel’s ingratitude between the lines in these verses. Therefore, if it has turned out that all of God’s declarations of love have been rejected by Israel and God has to announce that He, in turn, must reject them, this does not come as a surprise.
“The land of Egypt” here symbolizes a land of slavery, a slavery that they will actually endure in Assyria. “Assyria—that will be their king” means that they will come under the rule of the Assyrians (cf. Hos 9:3).
6 The Downfall Is Certain
6 The sword will whirl against their cities,
And will demolish their gate bars
And consume [them] because of their counsels.
The sword of war in the hand of the king of Assyria, their enemy, will strike them. He will overcome them. Their gate bars, i.e. the fortresses and other defenses, will not ultimately keep the enemy outside their gates. This will happen “because of their counsels”, which seems to indicate that it is precisely through their self-conceived solutions, through which they believe they can stop the enemy, that they give the enemy access to within their walls. The human being who does not take God into account is always playing into the hands of the enemy.
We have an example of ‘self-conceived gate bars’ in the rules set up by some local churches about separation from evil. Boundaries are meant to keep evil out of the church. But if more and heavier bars are devised than Scripture indicates, then what God wants to see in the church as His testimony on earth is ‘demolished’. Believers who live with the Lord and in obedience to His Word are refused to take part in the Lord’s Supper because they do not conform to “their counsels”, which are the counsels of that local church. Such a fellowship loses the hallmark of a church of God.
7 Bent on Turning From the LORD
7 So My people are bent on turning from Me.
Though they call them to [the One] on high,
None at all exalts [Him].
Although the people have been told that they will be deported, God here again speaks of “My people”. This should serve to make the people aware again that they have a relationship with God. The people do not only wander off, but they also “bent on turning from” Him. Nothing can bring them on the right path, let alone remain on it.
“They”, that are the prophets, “call them”, that are the people, “to [the One] on high”. A prophet is an intercessor. They also call upon the people to return to the One on high. But the people do not listen. As a whole, “non at all”, they do not honor Him, but they choose to persevere in sin.
8 How Can I …?
8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart is turned over within Me,
All My compassions are kindled.
Verses 8-11 are like a window through which we can look into the heart of God. We can see that there is a future restoration for His people. After the announcement of the judgment, which must come, it is as if God wants to prevent the thought from coming to an end with His people.
With Admah and Zeboiim it is. Those cities no longer exist. At the same time as the turning upside-down of Sodom and Gomorrah, they disappeared from the face of the earth. God has threatened to treat His people like Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim (Deu 29:23).
The reminder of what He had to do with those cities causes great inner turmoil with God. “My heart is turned over within Me” means that His heart resists, it ‘takes a different direction’, it ‘changes its mind’. God repents the evil He intends to do to them. This is only possible because God foresees that His people will repent (cf. Jdg 10:16; Jer 31:20).
His compassion, which is kindled fully and not just a little, is a guarantee that the people will be freed from the misery into which they have fallen through their own guilt. This is always the case with Him in relation to man and His people. With Him is always present what is appropriate for the situation, both the feelings of love and compassion and the power to act.
The question “how can I give you up, … surrender you?”, did not occur to God when He gave up His Son on the cross, when He did not spare Him. From that giving up and surrendering His Son comes a new and miraculous ‘How?’ in view of us: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:32).
9 God Is God and Not Man
9 I will not execute My fierce anger;
I will not destroy Ephraim again.
For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst,
And I will not come in wrath.
In this verse we find the answer to the ‘how?’ of verse 8 and the reason why He does not execute His burning wrath and does not destroy Ephraim further. This answer is: He is “God and not man, the Holy One in your midst”. When a man is harmed by what has been done to God, this man reacts very differently from God. Man inflames in anger and pays back the evil that has been done to him. God acts very differently. He will let the announced punishment come over Israel, but will not destroy His people completely like He did with Admah and Zeboiim, cities that lie forever under the curse of God’s wrath.
That Israel will not be under the curse forever is because God has found a solution that no man can think of. The fact that He is God and not man also means that in His sovereignty He completely ignores man. His ways far exceed those of sinful man. God’s solution does full justice to His righteousness and holiness, but also to His plans of love with His chosen people. That solution is found in the Person and work of Christ.
In Christ on the cross, full justice is done to God’s righteousness and holiness. There God has judged the sins of everyone who confesses them sincerely before Him. Also Israel will in the future repent of the sins committed. Based on the work of Christ, they too may know that their sins have been forgiven. That is why also God’s love becomes visible in Christ. When the sins have been borne by His Son and thereby removed, the way is free to carry out His plans of love.
Israel will eventually be able to enjoy all the blessings promised by God, while God as “the Holy One” will dwell in their midst. He will not come to the city to destroy it. That God does not let His wrath burn permanently is because the Lord Jesus has been in God’s wrath.
10 Roaring like a lion
10 They will walk after the LORD,
He will roar like a lion;
Indeed He will roar
And [His] sons will come trembling from the west.
What a change! Here we no longer have what we found in verse 7, a “turning from Me”, but a “walk after the LORD”. This will happen in the future. On the basis of that fact and what has been explained in the previous section, the people will enter the millennial realm of peace and enjoy the blessing.
There is always a blessing attached to following the Lord, also for us who live now. When Peter asks the Lord Jesus a question about the reward for following Him, He answers with a remark about the future and the present (Mt 19:28-29). In Hosea it is about “the regeneration” the Lord Jesus speaks about. By this is meant the future realm of peace when everything in creation will be new.
Just before that, He will not roar against His people for the purpose of tearing them apart (Hos 5:14), but against the nations that have subdued His people. He will then openly act as a Protector for His people. He will do so on the day He will appear as the Lion from the tribe of Judah. Earlier He is a lion who tore them apart, now He is a lion who roars to call them back to Himself. He will bring Israel back from exile.
It is also possible that we should see this “roaring like a lion” in the political upheavals and events that precede salvation. The voice of God will be recognizable to God’s people in what will take place in the political field at that time.
11 Finally at Home
11 They will come trembling like birds from Egypt
And like doves from the land of Assyria;
And I will settle them in their houses, declares the LORD.
The speed and certainty with which the scattered of Israel will return to the land at the call of the LORD is compared to flying like birds and especially doves (cf. Isa 60:8). Egypt is the south, Assyria the northeast. Both countries are mentioned as countries of exile, but also as a symbol of the many nations to which Israel is scattered. The fact that they “tremble” probably has to do with the fact that they are impressed by the majesty of the LORD.
Once they have arrived in the land, He will make them live in their homes. That will be their permanent abode. They will never be driven out again. This promise is reinforced by the “speaks the LORD”. If He has said it, who will be able to change that?
12 God’s People Surround Him With Lies
12 Ephraim surrounds Me with lies
And the house of Israel with deceit;
Judah is also unruly against God,
Even against the Holy One who is faithful.
[According to the Hebrew numeration this final verse is the first verse of chapter 12.]
Ephraim is untruthful in his dealings with God. All their serving of Him when they come to His altar is hypocritical and feigned. When they surround Him with their praises and prayers or approach Him with a request, they lie to Him with their mouths and flatter Him with their tongues. They may utter beautiful sentences, but their words do not tell the truth.
They come to God with selfish intentions. He must grant their wishes. They do not shy away from the lie, as if they can fool Him! God sees that they surround themselves with their sins (Hos 7:2). However, they do not think that He sees it. Here God is surrounded by them with lies and deceit because they come to Him in that state. The thought, that He does not want to have anything to do with them that way, does not occur to them.
Judah is not yet as apostate as Ephraim. There is still a certain outward loyalty to God. There also still reigns a king from the house of David. But Judah is also unruly against God, the Holy One. God in His holiness is the only One Who is faithful (cf. (2Tim 2:13).