As we saw last week, the story of Hosea tells us about God’s faithfulness to his people even in the face of their lack of faithfulness to him. Though Israel had played the harlot, the unfaithful bride and wife who turned away from her LORD to follow other gods, God nonetheless remained a patient and faithful groom and husband. In this morning’s passage another familial metaphor, that of parent and child, is provided to make the same point as Israel, the disobedient child, turns away from the LORD, her loving Father. What continues to be evident is how our faithful LORD longs and cares for his people despite their unfaithfulness. Though he will judge his people for their wicked deeds and for turning away to other gods, nonetheless, in the midst of his judgment the LORD ever seeks for his people to return to him.

And so as our passage opens we see the LORD remembering the days when his now-wayward offspring was but a child. As stated in verse 1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” In this simple verse, a number of important themes are introduced. First and most obviously, the LORD viewed Israel as his child. Again, one intimate relationship, that between a husband and wife which we considered last week, has been exchanged for another, that between a parent and child.[1] Second, what is evident throughout this passage is how pivotal the event of the Exodus was for Israel’s identity as a nation singled out for the LORD’s affection and attention. As to this singling out, in the book of Deuteronomy we read,

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. 10 But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him. 11 Therefore, take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws I give you today.[2]

So, too, when the LORD gave Moses the Ten Commandments, he began by identifying himself and his relationship with Israel by stating, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”[3] So we see how the LORD delivering his people from Egypt by way of the Exodus hundreds of years earlier should have been remembered and indelibly written in the heart of every Israelite for, against all odds, powerless, enslaved Israel escaped; against all odds, powerless, enslaved Israel was delivered from the Egyptian superpower by the LORD’s passing over while smiting the firstborn of the Egyptians.[4] And, subsequent to that devastating judgment, the LORD went on to deliver Israel, his child, out of Egypt by way of his servant, Moses, when he caused the waters of the Red Sea to part so that Israel could walk on dry land to safety. Yet when the Egyptians sought to follow, the walls of the sea fell down upon them and their war chariots and horsemen were all destroyed.[5]

Again, this deliverance by the LORD should have proved a seminal moment among the nation of Israel, one that was never to be forgotten. It should have resulted in Israel knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the LORD was with them and for them; that he would never let them go. But it’s a rare people that manage to keep their stories alive and here, approximately 700 years after this powerful deliverance by the LORD from their slavery to the Egyptians,[6] the descendants of those who had been delivered so powerfully from their enemies had now willingly wandered away from their loving LORD. Those who had once been the LORD’s son called “out of Egypt” no longer embraced their identity as his children. Instead, as stated in verse 2, “But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals[7] and they burned incense to images.[8]” By her behavior Israel had renounced the LORD as her father. She had chosen to follow other gods. She had closed her ears to God’s call. She had chosen to turn to the gods of Baal and serve them instead.

The tragedy of this betrayal is stated beginning with verse 3 as the LORD rehearsed some of the ways in which he had called and cared for his people. “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms;” As we noted last week, the name of Ephraim—the largest tribe in Israel—is being used here as a way of referring to the northern kingdom. Ephraim is the name of the corporate child of Israel. This is such a tender picture, isn’t it? Who among us hasn’t either helped a toddler walk by walking behind or in front of them, lifting up their little arms to help steady them, or seen a proud parent doing so—always with a smile on their face—as they guide their little child along in their tentative, unsteady steps? So, too, had the LORD done for his people. He had raised them, as the Proverb says, in the way that they should go.[9] He had provided them his Law that they might learn to walk; that they might know how best to live; that they might know what loving him and each other looked like in practice. And the LORD had also provided them with leaders and prophets that they might follow in his ways which are always for the good of those who know him. He had kept them clothed and provided them with food; he had cared for them in ways big and small. The LORD had been a tender and loving Father to Ephraim, to Israel, his child.[10]

Yet, now his child had departed from the way in which their Father had trained them. As stated at the end of verse 3 “[B]ut, they did not realize it was I who healed them.”[11] This is the same language that was used when Israel was spoken of being an unfaithful wife. In chapter 2, an unfaithful Israel is portrayed as going after other lovers and in verse 8 of that chapter the LORD similarly stated, “She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold—which they used for Baal.” Though the LORD had been the source of these many good and essential provisions, Israel had chosen to credit and follow Baal instead. Yet all along it was the LORD who had been watching over them. As stated in verse 4, “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” Again, these are such vivid and touching images.[12] The LORD Almighty who made heaven and earth; the LORD Almighty who made everything that exists, speaks of leading his people with “cords of human kindness, with ties of love.” He likens himself once again to a loving adult “who lifts a little child to the cheek” in a display of tender affection. And part of that affection includes caring for this little child as he “bends down to feed them.” In the history of Israel we once again see this provision displayed most prominently when after the Exodus from Egypt the LORD provided manna and quail in the wilderness.[13]

Yet despite this provision and tender care by the LORD, his people continued to turn away from him. As stated in verse 5, “Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent?” This return to Egypt is a way of stating a symbolic captivity to the land in which they were formerly enslaved. For after their deliverance from the Exodus, returning to Egypt is what Israel historically had wanted to do. Time and again the people had grumbled before Moses and Aaron with such complaints. As recorded in the book of Numbers, “All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, ‘If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?’ And they said to each other, ‘We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.’”[14] Historically, despite the many ways the LORD had delivered and guided them, Israel looked back to their time of enslavement under the Egyptians as a kind of golden age—which it hadn’t been by far. And so now, too, they desired to follow the gods of the Assyrians rather than the LORD who had ever provided for them. As we’ve noted Hosea was prophesying in the mid-8th c. BC and within a few decades, against all expectations, Assyria, a country that at this time wasn’t prospering would gain power and overtake the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC. Yet even in the midst of this calamity Israel would “refuse to repent.” Though, as stated in verse 6, this “sword” would “flash in their cities” and “devour their false prophets”—false because they reinforced wrong beliefs rather than the true preaching of Hosea and others—and “put an end to their plans,” even so, verse 7, the LORD lamented, “My people are determined to turn from me.” Because of the continual obstinacy of his people, the LORD concluded, “Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them.”

And yet. Though the people would reap the consequences of what they had sown, the LORD’s faithfulness couldn’t be severed. His giving them up to their wicked ways and judging them would be temporary. For as stated in verse 8, the LORD asked, “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 Zeboyim?” These statements are clear indications that the LORD takes no delight in chastising his children even when such chastisement is necessary. For he loved Ephraim, Israel, his child. And historically, Adman and Zeboyim were cities in the plain that were overthrown when Sodom was destroyed.[15] The point is clear: the LORD had no desire to give up his children; he did not delight in handing Israel over to the Assyrians; he did not desire the destruction of the northern kingdom as were the cities of Adman and Zeboyim. This is why even in the midst of meting out judgment, the LORD can say, as stated beginning with the end of verse 8, “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.” As earthly parents suffer when they punish their children for their good, so the LORD is affected by the suffering of his children.

And so we read beginning in verse 9, “I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man— the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities.” Again, this punishment was to be but temporary, not permanent. This judgment wasn’t the final word. This exile wouldn’t result in the end of his people. For as stated in verse 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 from Egypt, trembling like sparrows, from Assyria, fluttering like doves. I will settle them in their homes,’ declares the Lord.”

What we see in this is that God cannot bring himself to fully renounce his people even when they renounce him. Though Israel was judged we know through the apostle Paul’s teaching that God would preserve a remnant. Paul addressed this very matter in his letter to Romans:

1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”[16]? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”[17]So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.[18]

As he did in the time of Elijah, the LORD will preserve a faithful remnant of Israel. And he will do so by means of the Gentiles who have been grafted into the vine of Israel. The LORD seeks to use those who have come to a saving faith and knowledge of Christ to draw his remnant home.[19]

For ultimately it is in Christ and through Christ that all of God’s promises are fulfilled.[20] Even the opening verse of our passage this morning is understood in Scripture as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of our heavenly Father. Recall how Matthew told of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth:

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”[21]

Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the heir of David who has come to embody Israel’s relationship to God and whose kingdom will never end.[22] For the Father’s love for Jesus, his Son, can never come to an end for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternally One. And therefore neither will the Father’s love for those who believe in and receive his Son ever end for he gives them his very Holy Spirit and in doing so he give them his eternal life.

The story of Hosea is about Israel’s lack of faithfulness to God and we should take this as a cautionary tale for ourselves. For though we may not be following after other gods nor worshipping the false gods of Baal as they did, we like they may take for granted the many ways our gracious LORD has provided for us. We ought ever remember that he is the One who has taught us how to walk, gently taking us by the arms; he is the One who has taught us how to live as he has tenderly lifted us up to his cheek and bent down to feed us. Therefore we, too, are to acknowledge him as the One who is LORD and Giver and Sustainer of all life. Though we may think we have gotten where we are by our hard work and effort, we need to remember that any success we may have had in life is only possible because he has given us life—and breath—and health—and opportunity—and wisdom—and emotions—and others to help us along; he is the One who has caused the sun to rise each day and set each night; he is the One who makes life possible.

And so more importantly, the story of Hosea is a beautiful reminder to us that God desires to have a relationship with us at the most intimate level. As last week he disclosed himself as faithful husband to an unfaithful wife, this week he has disclosed himself as faithful and tender Father to an ungrateful and hardened child. This way of speaking about himself is one that is underscored in the New Testament as well. Matthew records Jesus’ lament when he tenderly cried out, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”[23] In this analogy of an animal parent, the protective caring yet remains front and center. And we’re reminded, too, of the account of the Prodigal Son, a story about a son who, like Israel, rejected his father but whose father never rejected him but instead threw a grand party when the wayward son came to his senses and returned home to his father who welcomed him with open and loving arms rejoicing over the fact that “…this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”[24]

Dear sisters and brothers, as God singled out Israel because of his love for her, so has he singled out the Church, the body of which his Son is the head, as the unique object of his steadfast love. And as God called Israel to follow and obey him, so our LORD Jesus calls us to express our love for him by keeping his commands.[25]

For if the Exodus was the event that gave Israel its identity as God’s people, Jesus Christ dying to take away our sins and rising from death to give us his righteousness and eternal life is the event that gives us our identity as God’s people. For it is through him alone that we have been given access to our loving and heavenly Father; and it is through him alone that we can receive his life-giving Holy Spirit and so be joined with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as his people, as his body, as his Church now and forevermore.

This is what we celebrate every communion Sunday; this is what we ought to celebrate every day—that because of God’s steadfast love, we have had our fellowship with him restored through his Son and through his Son we can receive his holiness and eternal life and so enjoy him both now and forevermore. Through the Father’s sacrificial giving of his Son we can know that God is with us and for us; through the giving of Christ, we can know that though we may let go of God’s hand, he will never let go of our hand for nothing in heaven or on earth can ever separate us from the steadfast love of gracious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[26]

Let us pray.

[1] Other references to Israel as a son/child include Exodus 4:21–23: 21 The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’”; Isaiah 1:2, 4: Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me…. Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.

[2] Deuteronomy 7:7–11.

[3] Exodus 20:2.

[4] The origin of the Passover is recorded in Exodus 10 and 11.

[5] Exodus 14.

[6] Though there is no consensus among scholars, I take the position of many Evangelical scholars who view the Exodus as having occurred around 1450 BC. Since Hosea prophesied around 750 BC, that would leave a gap of 700 years between the two.

[7] Other instances of Israel’s fidelity to Baal and infidelity to the LORD include: Judges 2:10–13: 10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.; Jeremiah 2:23–24, 28: 23 “How can you say, ‘I am not defiled; I have not run after the Baals’? See how you behaved in the valley; consider what you have done. You are a swift she-camel running here and there, 24 a wild donkey accustomed to the desert, sniffing the wind in her craving—in her heat who can restrain her? Any males that pursue her need not tire themselves; at mating time they will find her…. 28 Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble! For you, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns.

[8] See Deuteronomy 7:25:The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire. Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it, for it is detestable to the Lord your God.

 

[9] Proverb 22:6: Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

[10] Other verses that speak of God as Israel’s Father, include: Deuteronomy 32:5–6: They are corrupt and not his children; to their shame they are a warped and crooked generation. Is this the way you repay the Lord, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?; Isaiah 63:16: 15 Look down from heaven and see, from your lofty throne, holy and glorious. Where are your zeal and your might? Your tenderness and compassion are withheld from us. 16 But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.; Isaiah 64:8: Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

[11] Other verses in the book of Hosea speak of healing. See Hosea 5:13: “When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his sores, then Ephraim turned to Assyria, and sent to the great king for help. But he is not able to cure you, not able to heal your sores.; Hosea 6:1: “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.; Hosea 7:1a: whenever I would heal Israel, the sins of Ephraim are exposed and the crimes of Samaria revealed.; See also Exodus 15:25b–26: There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”

[12] Though I am interpreting this as a parent and child, some see here a shift in metaphor displaying the tender care for an animal.

[13] Exodus 16; Deuteronomy 8:10, 15–18: 10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you…. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

[14] Numbers 14:2–4. It should be noted that “All the Israelites” didn’t include Joshua and Caleb who had scouted out the land and expressed confidence that they could overtake it.

[15] Genesis 10:18b–19: Later the Canaanite clans scattered 19 and the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and then toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, as far as Lasha.; Genesis 14:1–2, 8: 1 At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim, these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar)….Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim; Genesis 19:24–25: 24 Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land.; Deuteronomy 29:23: The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, which the Lord overthrew in fierce anger.; Jeremiah 49:18: As Sodom and Gomorrah were overthrown, along with their neighboring towns,” says the Lord, “so no one will live there; no people will dwell in it.

 

[16] 1 Kings 19:10, 14: 10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too….” 14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

[17] 1 Kings 19:18: Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.

[18] Romans 11:1–5.

[19] Romans 11:11–12, 17: 11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!… 17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root,….

[20] As Luke recounts in Jesus’ meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:27: And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

[21] Matthew 2:13–15.

[22] This was the promise made to David as recorded in 2 Samuel 7:11–17: “The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: ‘12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’ 17 Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.” See also Psalm 89:26–37: 20 I have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him. 21 My hand will sustain him; surely my arm will strengthen him. 22 The enemy will not get the better of him; the wicked will not oppress him. 23 I will crush his foes before him and strike down his adversaries. 24 My faithful love will be with him, and through my name his horn will be exalted. 25 I will set his hand over the sea, his right hand over the rivers. 26 He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’ 27 And I will appoint him to be my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth. 28 I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail. 29 I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure. 30 “If his sons forsake my law and do not follow my statutes, 31 if they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands, 32 I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging; 33 but I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.  34 I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered. 35 Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness—and I will not lie to David—36 that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun; 37 it will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky.”

[23] Matthew 23:37.

[24] Luke 15:24. The entire account may be found in vv. 11–32.

[25] John 14:15.

[26] Romans 8:38–39: 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.