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Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Studies in Hosea (12) (Hosea 11)

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Study Number 12

(Hosea 11)

What a beautiful chapter Hosea 11 is! So far the emphasis has been on God's judgments upon sinful Israel, but now, beginning with this chapter, the prophet shifts his emphasis and presents us with a wonderful display of divine love. Hosea writes of this love of God in reference to Israel's past, present and future.

In verses 1 through 4 the prophet reminds Israel of God's love for them in the past:

When Israel was a child, then I loved him and called my son out of Egypt. As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images. I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them.

The Lord compares Himself to a father who has trained his son, but this son has turned out to be unresponsive and ungrateful.

Actually, what we have here is composite picture of a father and a mother as well as a husband and shepherd. God has been all this to His people: loving, teaching, nursing and feeding them patiently and tenderly.

How did that people respond to this tender, loving care of Jehovah? They went from me, the Lord complains, and sacrificed to Baal and burned incense to graven images. They did not know that I healed them and refused to return. They are bent on backsliding.

The contrast is striking. On the one hand we see Jehovah the persistent Lover, and on the other hand there is Israel which despises His love. What is to be done? How should the Lord deal with such unthankful people? There is only one thing He can do really: give them up. Yes, Jehovah must abandon them. That's what they deserve!

Yet the Lord cannot give them up. He will punish His people. Indeed, He will discipline them severely by causing the Assyrians to invade the land. They will destroy Israel's cities, enslave the people and carry them off to exile. Those who will manage to escape will make their way to Egypt and find a temporary refuge there. Eventually, they too will meet with hardship. All will feel the rod of God's anger because of their sins.

But God will not destroy them completely! At this point God says something very strange, something very amazing and beautiful. This is what He says in verse 8, How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.

The Lord knows Israel deserves punishment. He has every right to abandon them for good. But He can't do it. There is something that is holding Him back. Hosea portrays the Lord as being inwardly divided, not sure about what to, even vacillating. What was it that was holding the Lord back from giving Ephraim up? It was love! My heart churns within me, my sympathy is stirred, the NKJV translates here. Justice said: Israel must be punished; but love and mercy said: Israel must be spared.

How could Jehovah say this? Was there something in that people after all that enabled God to be lenient? Some good quality that He had overlooked at first? No!

When I look at Israel and when I look at the church today, I see nothing there that might give the Lord cause for leniency. But there is something in God! There is something that caused Him to say, How can I possibly give you up? How can I let you be destroyed like Admah and Zeboim, those two small cities near Sodom and Gomorrah who shared the same terrible fate as their bigger sisters? I cannot do it!

Some people have problems with passages like this one. A God agonizing over what He will do? Is that in keeping with what we know about the God of the Bible? Is He not the unchangeable One Who knows exactly what to do no matter what situations arise? John Calvin says that the Lord here accommodates Himself to our weakness. God, Who was willing to take man's nature upon Him, does not hesitate to portray Himself as a man who has been offended by someone and is now debating with himself what to do. How shall I deal with this situation? What am I going to do? I should punish that man, yet I can't make myself do it.

Justice comes with its claim and says: Lord, Israel's sins are great and many--they deserve Thy wrath. But mercy steps up and pleads: Lord, art Thou not God? Thy people's sins are terrible, but is there no other way to deal with them? Are they not Thy covenant people? What about this special relationship which Thou Thyself hast established with them! Therefore, spare them, Lord, for their father's sake, for Abraham's sake and for Israel's sake.

When the Lord hears mercy pleading like that against justice, He exclaims, How shall I do it? I cannot do it!

Calvin is right, I believe. God wants us to know how disinclined He is to punish sinners. Judgment, Isaiah says, is His strange work, the work He does not at all enjoy doing. He delights in mercy.

Another thing we learn from this passage is that no matter how great our sins may be, the Lord is willing to forgive them. We see this not only here in Hosea, but in many other places in Scripture, for example, the terrible sins of the Jews when Jesus lived among them. Yet we read that Christ looked on Jerusalem and wept over it. He knew that city would be destroyed and the very thought made Him feel infinitely sad. After they had committed the greatest possible sin, namely killing the Lord of glory, what does Jesus tell His disciples shortly before His ascension? Go and preach repentance and remission of sins, beginning at Jerusalem!

Surely, here is encouragement for a poor sinner who wonders whether God will hear my prayer for mercy. If God finds it so hard to punish sinners, if He presents Himself here as One looking for ways and means not to pour out His wrath on those who have long offended Him, would He not be very eager to grant your request for pardon?

If you come pleading for mercy, you are asking for something that He is already more than willing to give you. If you are afraid to perish in your sins and are looking for a way to escape, He is even more anxious to provide such a way out. He has no desire in your death and destruction. He wants you to live and be happy forever.

Sometimes we ask a favour of someone who is just waiting for an opportunity to do the very thing we are asking. Your son just got his licence to drive and is looking for every chance to get behind the wheel. So one afternoon you say to him, John, would you drive me to the mall a minute, I have to pick up something at Wal-Mart. Would I? John says, let's go!

So it is here. The very first glimmerings of repentance, the weakest desires to confess your sins and to ask for pardon are things the Lord loves to see and He is most anxious to respond to. He is waiting to be gracious.

The Scottish preacher Ebenezer Erskine puts it this way in one of His sonnets. He introduces Christ as saying to a sinner,

If thou the least desire now hast
To be redeemed by me.
It is my Father
Who gave this desire to thee?

As anxious as the Father is to save us and as reluctant to punish, so eager He was to pour His wrath upon on His own Son. There was no hesitation there; no anxious debate with Himself whether He should go ahead with it. Swift judgment overtakes Jesus when His hour has come and He enters Gethsemane. Now is my soul troubled, He exclaims as the cup of suffering is pressed to His lips.

When God comes to deliver up His people to punishment, He says, How shall I give thee up? How shall I deliver thee? But no such expressions come from His lips when it concerns His Son. Then no reluctance, no hesitation is in evidence, and no shrinking back. Instead, what we find Scripture saying is that it pleased the Lord to bruise Him.

God does not delight to grieve the children of men, nor does He afflict willingly. But when it comes to Christ there is only wrath and no mercy at all, despite Christ's urgent pleas for exemption: Let this cup pass from Me. Heaven remained silent. God spared not His own Son, Paul says. Why? As the same apostle says, God spared not His own Son but gave Him up for us all, in our stead, as our Representative and Surety.

That is why He can spare us! Four times our text uses the word how--how can I, etc. This is how. Because of Christ, Who in the fullness of time would pay for Ephraim's sins of idolatry and spiritual harlotry, and your sins as well!

Who is a God like unto Thee, asks Micah, another prophet, that pardoneth iniquity and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger forever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.

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