The prophecy of Hosea has been describing the sins and coming judgment against the northern nation, Israel. God has described that their love is like a mist that disappears. God has revealed that they have false hearts that are not truly repentant, but merely say the words. Israel has corrupted themselves, reject God’s prophets, and rely on their own ways and power. Chapter 10 ends by picturing a complete destruction of the nation. It is with this background of judgment that God is going to express the most amazing display of his character in these final chapters.
Recalling God’s Love For Israel (11:1-7)
God begins this paragraph by reminiscing about his love for Israel. God loved Israel as a child and called Israel his son as he brought them out of Egypt. We see God calling Israel his firstborn son in Exodus 4:22-23. However, the more God called his people to himself, the more they turned from him. It is a terribly sad picture. The more God showed his love and drew his people into a relationship with him, the more they wanted to run away from him. They continued to sacrifice to their idols and love their false gods. This is a picture of extreme rebellion and disobedience. You call the child’s name and the child runs in the other direction. This is horrifying disobedience. But it was God raised his child, Israel (11:3). It was God who carried Israel and healed them. God led them in kindness and love, removing their burdens from them. But they did not understand that God healed them and helped them. So they ran the other direction.
This is why judgment must come against the nation. In verse 5 we read that judgment comes because the people refuse to return to me. Look at the description in verse 7. “My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all.” The people are bent in running from God. They are trapped by their own perversity. They refuse to respond to God’s pleadings and continue to rely on their own counsel and plans (11:5-6). They believe that their plans are superior to God’s plans. Yet notice that verse 7 says that the people are calling out to God. How ironic that the people call out to God while they are bent on running from God. God does not accept this. We cannot call to him while we continue to live how we want. We must not view God as our genie who does what we want. We want to make God in our image and be what we want him to be. So we call out to him, trying to get him to do what we want, rather than submitting to his will because he is the Lord, not us. So God will not answer those who cry out to him while still running from him.
God’s Restoration (11:8-12:5)
But now we have a shocking stop to the descriptions of the people’s sinfulness and the judgments that must come. Listen to the words of verse 8. “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?” We are able to hear the emotions of God. God is distraught because his love is so deep for his people. How can I give up on you? How can I turn you over and that be the final word? How can I let my people experience a full disaster? In verse 8 we see that God cannot bear to treat Israel like Admah and Zeboiim. Remember that these were two of the cities of the plains, along with Sodom, Gomorrah, and Zoar. God utterly destroyed Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim for their extreme sinfulness. This is what is due to Israel. But God cannot give up on his people. God cannot utterly destroy them like he did the cities of the plains. Look at the end of verse 8. “My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” God still has a heart for his people and he overflows with compassion. We must see that this is the character of God. This is what God said of himself in Exodus 34:6, that he is merciful, gracious, and abounding in steadfast love. God will not execute his burning anger and will not come in wrath (11:9). The picture is that God’s judgment against Israel will not be the end. Even though we read the messages of judgment in chapters 6-10, this will not be the last word from God. God will not come in final wrath without any hope. God relies on his own character as proof. Notice in verse 9 God explains, “For I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst.” This statement is also made in Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29. The point is that God is not wishy-washy or duplicitous like humans. God says that this will not be a final judgment on Israel and that he will not change his mind. He will carry out what he says.
Verses 10-12 picture the coming restoration that God has promised will occur. The people will follow the Lord. When the Lord roars like a lion, his children will hear his voice and come to him (11:10). They will come out of their slavery and be restored in their homes. The imagery is that Israel will be brought home to the Lord again in the future. But you will notice that God is not ignoring the sins of the people. From Hosea 11:12-12:6 God reminds them of their sinfulness again. God will punish for their sins (12:2). The nation acts like their father, Jacob (12:3-5). So the picture is very much what we see the apostles proclaiming in the New Testament. You are sinful and God is going to save you in spite of your sinfulness. Judgment will come. Judgment must come. But I am offering a way of escape so that you can return the Lord.
Return To The Lord (12:6-14)
Now look at verse 6 to see the power of God’s hope for the people.
“So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” (Hosea 12:6 ESV)
God declares the way to return to the Lord. You will look to God for help and wait for him as you maintain love and justice. Essentially, do right while you wait for God’s rescue. God is going to do something to bring the people back and the people needed to wait for it to happen. But as you wait, do right. Do good. Cling to love and justice.
Notice what hinders people from returning the Lord in verse 8. The people say they are rich and have wealth. They think they are without sin. Now we have noted the prosperity of Israel as a hindrance to loving God and practicing righteousness. We add another problem with the people. They just do not see that they have a sin problem. They think that they are fine. What they are doing is okay. They are the people of God. There is nothing wrong with what they are doing. Friends, this is our biggest problem: our inability to see what we have done wrong. We live right in our own eyes and do not see our sinfulness. This is what blocks our restoration and healing. We are physical prosperous and believe we are spiritually rich. Therefore we cannot see how we wrecked our lives by our own sins.
I want to spend time thinking about what God has told us and the message this is to be for our lives. Let us bring all of these points together to hear what God was telling Israel and is telling us today. First, the people are deserving of complete destruction but will not experience this because of God’s love. God loves his people. God loves his creation. God wants to be with his people and must give multiple opportunities for people to return to him. God is not a “one and done” God. He loves his people and gives his people chance after chance to come back to him. In fact, how often does God say that he is taking away blessings or bringing us trials in our lives so that we will return to him? Trials are intended to awaken our souls so that we will change our lives so that we will not have to suffer eternal judgment. God jars us in the most amazing ways and truly in the most painful ways. It hurts and it is hard to go through life’s trials. But God is doing good by us so that we will look to him and stop resting our hope on this life and the people of this world. God is a God of compassion and love. He desires to rescue every soul and he will turn your life upside down to save you from yourself.
Earlier we talked about how we can treat God like a genie who must grant our wishes. But think about how grateful we can be for as often as God has not answered our prayers the way that we wanted! In our limited vision of life we plead with God to do something only to later find out how glad we are that God did not do that. We are trusting God to always do what is best for us even when we do not understand what God is doing. We trust God even when God does not answer prayers the way we want. We trust God even when we are deep trials, knowing that God is transforming us and purging us. We must not resist what God is trying to do in our lives and do to our character.
Second, what keeps us from receiving God’s healing is that we do not see what we have done. We are amazing at making excuses for ourselves. We reject that we have sinned because we think that we are justified in our behavior. We justify our anger, wrath, retribution, malice, sharp words, selfish behaviors, sexual immorality, and the like. We fail to see how doomed we are if we look to ourselves and how much we need God’s help. We will unfortunately act like the disobedient child who runs away from the calling of the Lord. But God wants us to see that he is a loving God who is calling out to us.
In fact, I want to draw our attention back to Hosea 11:1 as our third point in our application. In Hosea 11:1 we saw God reminiscing about how he called Israel his son. But the response of the people was to reject his calling. What we then saw was rather than God giving a final judgment for their rejection, God says he will not give them up but will restore. This is the message that Matthew is seizing on when he quotes this passage in Matthew 2:15. Turn to Matthew 2:15.
Herod was attempting to kill Jesus, Joseph and Mary took Jesus and fled to Egypt and stayed there until the death of Herod. Matthew says that this event fulfills what Hosea said in Hosea 11:1. Now we just looked at Hosea 11:1 and we know that Hosea was not referring to Jesus but to Israel’s past when they were in Egypt and God rescued the nation from slavery. So what is Matthew doing? There are two things that Matthew is doing. First, Matthew is showing how Jesus is the new Israel who accomplishes the new exodus. Israel was God’s firstborn son but Israel failed due to its sinfulness. Jesus is God’s firstborn son but will not fail because he will not be sinful. He will do all that God said to do. Therefore, when Jesus comes out of Egypt, it is the start of the new exodus.
This leads directly to Matthew’s second message. Hosea said to wait for God to rescue because judgment will not be God’s last word. God will help and God will save. By quoting this sentence of Hosea, Matthew is showing that the arrival of Jesus on the scene is God’s last word. God is going to save through him. Jesus will be the way that God will show his steadfast love. Jesus will be the way that God will bring his people home. Jesus is how God will bring people to himself. Jesus is how God’s rescue plan would be put into action. God would help people return by sending his Son. Let us not think much of ourselves but be poor in spirit. Let us think much of our God so rescues us even though God’s final word should be judgment, not love. God does not give up on you and give you another chance to come to him.