Two days ago we pondered the story of Hosea’s marriage and through had a glimpse into the heart of God. In today’s reading from Hosea at Mass we get another look into the heart of the Father, not from the perspective of God as husband, but this time, from the perspective of God as Father and Israel as son. Here too we get another moving portrait of God who loves us tenderly and immensely but who is also grieved at His son’s rebelliousness and all the trouble it brings.
Perhaps we can look at Hosea 11 and grow in deeper knowledge and appreciation of God’s love for us as a Father. I have varied the verse order just bit to group the thoughts that the text treats more as parallelisms. I have kept the verse numbers so you can see my edits to the order. The text is in bold black and italics, my comments are in red.
- Fond memories – When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son…..3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. 4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. God the Father has always loved us. Jeremiah 1:4 attests that he knew and loved us before we were ever formed in our mother’s womb by Him. Here the moving image of a Father who loves and is proud of his son is given to us. There is the tender image of God, like a father, stooping down to feed his son. There are the bands (cords) of love and kindness that are tied, almost reminiscent of the swaddling clothes of an infant. This young son had wandered to Egypt and there was vexed and troubled (by 400 years of slavery). And God called for his son to come forth from that awful and fearful state. I once was at a store and noticed that a child became separated from his father. Suddenly he realized he did not know where his father was and he cried out “Daddy….Daddy!” Then the father a mere aisle over leaned back from around the end cap and said “Here I am…..come!” It was a moment of tender rescue and also of bonding for father and son. Clearly God’s son Israel was in a far worse jam than being lost in a store. But when Israel cried out to God, God, through Moses and Aaron said, “Here I am…..Come!” ‘It was a moment of tender rescue and of bonding for Father and son. And so God describes his love for Israel from his infancy and youth with great fondness and tender love.
- Wandering son – 2 But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images…..5 “Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? 6 Swords will flash in their cities, will destroy the bars of their gates and put an end to their plans. We have all had the experience of a toddler or young child running from us when we wanted to hug them or console them. Perhaps they were just fidgety, or perhaps they were sulking. But as we reached out for them they turned away or ran off almost as if escaping something they feared or misunderstood. Under certain circumstances this can cause pain for us. God here expresses such a pain. He calls to His son, but His son runs further. Perhaps it is fear, perhaps misunderstanding, perhaps aversion and not wanting to be under authority. But hear the “grief” in the Father’s heart. I put grief in quotes since, as was said on Tuesday’s post, how God experiences passions such as grief, anger, sorrow and such is mysterious to us. These things are said by way of metaphor and analogy and they say something that is very real but exactly how God experiences something like grief is mysterious to us. God’s grief extends to what happens next. When His son Israel runs off bad things begin to happen. His son, turns to the false and fearsome gods of the Canaanites who even demanded child sacrifices. He also forms alliances with Egypt and thus incurs the wrath of Assyria. Israel’s wandering brought war and calamity. All of this grieves the heart of God. He also grieves at what our sin and wandering does to us. I have had the sad duty of burying more than a few young men who got involved in gang activity and died violently. It is often the case that their parents, like God here, remember back to their son’s more innocent years as a young child when they had more joy and less anger, when they were home instead of out running the streets. Yes, I have seen the same grief on the faces of parents that God expresses of himself here.
- Hardened sinner – 7 My people are determined to turn from me. Even if they call to the Most High, they will by no means exalt them…..12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, the house of Israel with deceit. And Judah is unruly against God, even against the faithful Holy One. God is grieved at Israel’s hard an impenitent heart. Occasionally they pay God lip service and go through ritual observances but they are not really worshipping God. Lies, deceit, and just plain unruly behavior are the norm. As God says in verse 8 below, this angers him, it causes pain and grief. We too are possibly guilty of lip service and mere ritualistic, half hearted observance. Meanwhile we stubbornly refuse to repent and can become hardened in sin and unruly and deceitful toward God. God is not indifferent to this.
- Grieved and moved Father – 8“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is moved within me; all my compassion is aroused. 9 I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man— the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath. Admah and Zeboiim were two cities destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah. But though he considers venting his anger, the Father recoils from it. His heart is moved with compassion. He will not punish as he did at Sodom. His mercy is stirred and he reminds us that He is not like a man who, having anger, must it seems always vent it. He does not seek revenge and has no egotistical need to “get back” at people. If he does punish it is always with conversion for us in mind. It is medicine. Despite our lack of love, God renews his love and extends his mercy. Thanks be to God! This is the Father’s heart who said elsewhere, As I live, says the Lord, I do not wish the death of the sinner, but rather that he turn to me and live. (Ex 33:11)
- Homeward bound – 10 They will follow the LORD; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. 11 They will come trembling like birds from Egypt, like doves from Assyria. I will settle them in their homes,” declares the LORD. The Father’s ultimate goal for us all is that we will be with Him forever in heaven our true home. God restored ancient Israel, after the Babylonian captivity and once again the people, (his son Israel), were settled in their homes. But this is a prefigurement of a far greater settling that the Father provided for us due to Christ’s passion and resurrection. In the Father’s heavenly kingdom are many mansions and there he desires to settle us, in our home. This is what is in the Father’s heart and what he desires for us. That Hell exists is not because the Father desires it for us but rather that He respects our choice insofar as His desire is concerned. He will not force His love upon us nor force us to accept the Kingdom of God and its values. We are summoned to love and love must be free. Thus Hell is real and many (according to Scripture) choose it and its values over heaven. But have no mistake what God desires for us: a great homecoming where he will settle us in our true home.
Here then is a second look into the heart of God, God the Father. Do not doubt His love and his truest desire for you.
Here is a video I recently put together. The song is a plaintive, almost mournful spiritual. The text says, Sinner please(!) don’t let this harvest pass….before you die and lose your soul at last. Consider the text as coming from the Father.