Monday, February 22, 2010

Hosea 11

This chapter has some touching scenes and a very important one. God, through Hosea, uses the figure of Israel as a child in verses 1-4: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son” (v. 1). In verse 3, the Lord says, "I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms;” one can just picture a father holding his little child up as it takes its first steps. Jehovah drew Israel to Him with “bands of love,” He “stooped and fed them,” and was as gentle as He could be (v. 4). But it did no good: “The more the prophets called them, the more they went from them: they sacrificed unto the Baalim” (v. 2). Thus, without a figure, the Lord said, “He shall not return to the land of Egypt; But the Assyrian shall be his king, Because they refused to repent” (v. 6). It would be a violent end, as “the sword shall slash in his cities, devour his districts, and consume them” (v. 6). Israel’s hypocrisy was evident to God, as was their determination to sin: “My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, none at all exalts Him” (v. 7). We will never fool Jehovah with pathetic cries that lack sincerity.

But the Lord is faced with a real dilemma here. Israel was every bit as worthy of punishment as people He had earlier obliterated from the face of the earth. “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred” (v. 8). Admah and Zeboiim were small towns which were also destroyed at the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah (Deut. 29:23), so it is obvious that they were as wicked as their more famous sister cities. Well, if God destroyed Admah and Zeboiim, and Israel is every bit as deserving of punishment—or He wouldn’t have mentioned the two cities in this verse—then how can He be fair to Admah and Zeboiim and not annihilate Israel? Verse 9 gives the answer and hints at something greater: “I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, The Holy One in your midst; And I will not come with terror.” “I am God, and not man.” God couldn’t destroy Israel because He had made a greater promise to mankind—the coming of a Savior through the Jewish people. And while only Ephraim is mentioned in this verse, Judah will actually become more “treacherous” than the northern kingdom (Jeremiah 3:11). Thus, the Lord can only be fair to Admah and Zeboiim in light of the more significant promise He made to the rest of mankind. He’s God, not man, and His purposes are higher than ours. Thus, He will allow the Jews to return from captivity: “And I will let them dwell in their houses” (v. 11). God seems to act capriciously to us at times, but He never does. We simply do not always see or understand His intentions, for they may be long-range in their fulfillment, yea, even far beyond our death. It might have appeared to a righteous person in Hosea’s day that the Lord wasn’t being just when He allowed Israel to survive but not Admah and Zeboiim. And it won’t be for another 700 years before the final rationale—the coming of the Messiah—vindicates Jehovah's actions. He knew what He was doing even if no one in Hosea’s day did. We simply must not judge God by our short-sighted vision. His knowledge is infinite; our is finite, and puny at best.

The chapter ends by reminding Ephraim that, though God is going to be more merciful than He ought, they still are guilty of grievous sin—“Ephraim has encircled me with lies” (v. 12). Judah, however, for the moment, gets a word of praise: “But Judah still walks with God.” There were some good kings in Judah (e.g., Hezekiah) during the years of Hosea’s ministry. That commendation will be quickly overturned, though, in chapter 12.

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