When Israel Was a Child I Loved Him – A Meditation on the Heavenly Father’s Love

father and sonWe recently pondered the story of Hosea’s marriage and through it had a glimpse into the heart of God. In today’s reading from Hosea, we get another look into the heart of the Father, not from the perspective of God as husband, but as Father to Israel. In this passage we get another moving portrait of a God who loves tenderly and immensely but who is also grieved at His son’s rebelliousness and all the trouble it brings.

By examining chapter 11 of Hosea, we can grow in deeper knowledge and appreciation of God’s love for us as a Father. In the reflection below, I have varied the order of the verses so as to group together parallel thoughts in the text. I show the verse numbers as superscripts so that you can see my changes to the normal order. The text from Hosea is shown in bold, black italics; my comments are in red.

I. 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 God knew and loved us before He ever formed us in our mother’s womb. This is a moving image of a Father who loves and is proud of His son. It is the tender image of God, like a father, stooping down to feed His son. There are the 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). God called for His son to come forth from that awful and fearful state.

I once was in a store and noticed that a child had become separated from his father. Suddenly he realized he did not know where his father was and 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 tender moment of rescue and bonding for father and son.

Clearly God’s son Israel was in a far worse jam than being lost in a store. When Israel cried out to God, He (through Moses and Aaron) said, “Here I am; come!” It was a tender moment of rescue and of bonding for Father and son. And so God describes with great fondness His tender love for Israel from infancy and youth.

II. Wandering son2But 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 trying to hug or console a young child, only to have him run away from us. Perhaps he was just fidgety or maybe sulking, but as we reached out he turned away and ran off as if trying to escape something he feared or misunderstood. Under certain circumstances this can be painful for us. In this passage, God expresses such a pain. He calls to His son, but His son runs further away. Perhaps it is fear, perhaps misunderstanding, perhaps aversion, perhaps not wanting to be under authority.

But hear the “grief” in the Father’s heart. I put grief in quotation marks because the way God experiences passions such as grief, anger, and sorrow is mysterious to us. In Scripture these things are said by way of metaphor and analogy. 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 brings war and calamity. All of this grieves the heart of God. God also grieves what our sin and wandering does to us today.

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 the parents, like God in this passage, reminisce about their son’s more innocent years, times when he was a joyful young child, at home instead of out running in the streets. Yes, I have seen the same grief on the faces of parents that God expresses of Himself here.

III. Hardened sinner7My people are determined to turn from me. Even if they call to the Most High, they will by no means exalt them…. 12Ephraim 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, impenitent heart. Occasionally Israel pays God lip service and the people go through ritual observances, but they are not really worshipping God. Lies, deceit, and unruly behavior are the norm. As God says in verse 8 below, this angers Him and causes Him pain and grief. We, too, are sometimes guilty of paying lip service, of going through the motions with ritualistic, half-hearted observance. Meanwhile, we stubbornly refuse to repent. We can become hardened in sin, unruly, and deceitful toward God. God is not indifferent to this.

IV. Grieved and moved Father8How 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 God considers venting His anger on them, He recoils from it. God’s heart is moved with compassion. He will not punish them as he did at Sodom. God’s mercy is stirred; He reminds us that He is not like a man who, when angry, always seems to vent that anger. God does not seek revenge; He has no egotistical need to get back at people. If He does punish, it is always with our conversion in mind.  God’s punishment is medicine. Despite our lack of love, God renews His love and extends His mercy. Thanks be to God! 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).

V. 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 is that we be with Him forever in Heaven, true home. God restored ancient Israel after the Babylonian captivity. Once again the people (his son Israel) were settled in their homes. This prefigures a far greater settling that the Father provided for us through Christ’s passion and resurrection. In the Father’s heavenly kingdom are many mansions; He wants to settle us there in our home. This is what is in the Father’s heart and what He desires for us.

Hell does not exist because the Father desires it for us, but rather because He respects our choice. 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 this love must be given freely. Thus Hell is real and many (according to Scripture) choose it and its values over Heaven.

Have no mistake about what God desires for us: a great homecoming wherein He will settle us in our true home.

Here then is another look into the heart of God—God the Father. Do not doubt His love and His truest desire for you.

Below is a video I put together. The song is a plaintive, almost mournful spiritual. The lyrics say, “Sinner, please don’t let this harvest pass … before you die and lose your soul at last.” Consider the words as coming from the Father.