Scripture reading: Hosea 11:1-9
QUICK!, tell me everything you know about Hosea!
That’s what I thought. In fact, my answer would have been pretty minimal as well before this week when I started preparing for this message.
Hosea is a prophet who lived in the northern kingdom that we have been talking about through the last few weeks. Remember that the Israelites have split into two kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judea in the south. Hosea is writing to the people in the northern kingdom at a time when the nation is under great threat from outsiders who wish to take them over.
Hosea spends much of the book chastising the people and calling them back to faithful lives. You may remember from two weeks ago, this nation was founded on the principle of worshipping false idols to keep people from returning to Jerusalem where they worshipped God at the temple, which was in the southern kingdom.
It is during the life of Hosea when the northern kingdom finally falls. And you can feel it in his writing. He writes passionately, you can feel the emotion as you read it. He wants the people to come back to knowing God. It’s the only way he sees they can be saved, for they cannot do it alone.
How bad is it? He begins writing in chapter 1 by calling the people whores and adulterers. They have broken their relationship with God by abandoning Him for other gods. In using a marriage metaphor, Hosea shows the people have broken a covenant relationship with God. They made promises on both sides, and while God has been faithful to those promises, the people have not.
For 10 whole chapters Hosea is beating up the people verbally. Hosea 10 ends with these words,
“You have plowed wickedness,
you have reaped injustice,
you have eaten the fruit of lies.
Because you have trusted in your power
and in the multitude of your warriors,
therefore the tumult of war shall rise against your people,
and all your fortresses shall be destroyed,
as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle
when mothers were dashed in pieces with their children.
Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel,
because of your great wickedness.
At dawn the king of Israel
shall be utterly cut off.”
This weekend has been a tough weekend.
We’ve watched with horror with the rest of the world as Paris was under attack from terrorists. We’ve probably even questioned how such a thing could ever happen. Who could do this?
All very good questions.
People throughout history have made decisions to destroy. They have all chosen a path contrary to what normally should happen in the day-to-day life of a civil society. History is littered with these stories.
Millions of people have died undeservedly because someone thought they had a better way than someone else. Because they thought they knew better. Because they wanted their own way.
Acts of righteousness. Acts of pride or greed. Acts of exerting power or authority. Acts of genocide because they didn’t like how a particular group of people live their lives.
Is there any wonder people by the millions are fleeing Syria? They are fleeing because a Paris happens there every day.
And we weep because of it.
We, the people of this earth, have forgotten how to love our neighbour.
When we get to Hosea 11 we read of a God who loves us despite our failings. The metaphor changes from one of a marriage to one of a parent with a rebellious child.
“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.”
How often do parents pull their children out of harm’s way when they don’t even know it? When our children learn to walk, a parent is always within arms reach to catch the child when she falls. When they are making decisions parents are there to help them when the choice they make is not the right one.
And when they become rebellious teenagers, parents are still there offering love and support, even if it’s not wanted.
We are reminded early on in the reading that God continued to call to the Israelites, but they turned away from Him. They chose to worship other idols, other gods. Yet God remained faithful, always. A loving parent who could never turn his face away from His children.
As we read through this passage, we can still feel the passion, the love coming through in this time of rebellion.
“I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.”
Back to the imagery of a parent with an infant. Lifting a child to your face, being close and intimate. Making those little noises we all make when we’re face to face, cheek to cheek with a baby. Moments of love.
This is our God’s love for His children. God has created us, and He loves us.
Think of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10,
People were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)
We are all children of God, and He loves us more than we can ever know on this earth. Yet, we still rebel, we still turn away from Him thinking, “I can do this, I don’t need any help.”
Continuing in our passage in Hosea,
“They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.
My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.”
You can almost feel the pain of a broken heart. God wants so badly to be in relationship with His children, but they refuse to acknowledge Him. Instead they choose to fight and turn away.
Rejected over and over again, how will God respond?
Let’s read the final two verses of our passage and see.
“How can I give you up, 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.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.”
God continues to offer love.
How often have you tried to influence someone to a greater cause? Trying to change their behaviour and attitude, only to be rejected or ignored. Maybe you’ve had a rebellious teenager, or been that teenager, ignoring the loving parent who simply wants the best for you.
How did that make you feel? How did you respond? Did you continue to love your child? Were there times when you acted strongly and sought to break the relationship? Maybe… it happens.
But God chose not to destroy the relationship. God chose to continue to love. God still continues to choose love.
ISIS? God loves them even though they break His heart because they have completely abandoned their neighbours and choose to kill out of hate and fear.
The people of Paris? God’s love is there. The internet is full this weekend of people pouring out their love and support, people I’d never expect to see say it, have said they are praying for Paris.
Have you made what you feel to be an unforgivable mistake? Something you have been carrying with you and been burdened by? Something that keeps you from fully experiencing the love of God in your life?
If you are, then let me paraphrase theoe words of Hosea again.
“How can I give you up, my child?
How can I give up on you?
… My heart recoils within me;
My compassion grows warm and tender”
God has not given up on you. God will never give up on you. His love is always near, always available, always for you.
Just as His love waits for those who attacked innocent people in Paris to come to Him for healing and forgiveness.
Just as Jesus welcomes the children, he welcomes us, flaws and all, into a relationship with our Father in Heaven.
If we seek Him we will find Him. If we turn from our sin and our anger and turn to Him, we will find love. The love of a parent who is far more loving than we might deserve, but loving none the less.
It’s fitting that Hosea used imagery of parenthood and marriage. These relationships are often the closest relationships we will have in our lives. And it’s because of how close we are, how much trust we place in our spouses and our parents and children, that these relationships can also cause the greatest heartbreak. An unfaithful spouse, and broken relationship between parent and child, these can cause unbelievable pain in our lives. But they also can be sources of unbelievable love.
The nation of Israel, the northern kingdom, turned their back on God, but He never turned His back on them. Nor will He turn His back on us. The relationship may be broken, but the love is still there.
This is the love of our Father. He is always with us, always watching over us. He is there to catch us when we stumble and fall, and He is there to help us stand back up again.
The story of the people of the northern kingdom may be coming to an end as we pass through the Old Testament, but the story of God’s love never ends.
In Jesus the love continues, because he has overcome death so that we might live in God’s love forever with him.