Summary of the text:
This is God’s own lament: a brokenhearted father mourning the loss of a still-living son. Throughout the book, God has led Hosea to draw from moments of Israel’s past. Here, while the text says “Israel,” it is also appropriate to personalize this as “Jacob,” especially since the Northern Kingdom is referred to as “Ephraim” in this passage. In this context, with the North being “Ephraim” and the South being “Judah” (v.12, not in the lectionary) the reference to Jacob’s God-given name of “Israel” connotes a lament for the whole of God’s people and the journey on which He has led them. As such, we can see these laments not simply as those for a nation, but for God’s own wrestling with His deeply personal love.
The sign-act of Hosea marrying a prostitute comes full circle here as well, as God laments His own beloved being “called” by others: other nations, other worship, other gods. God remembers the baby steps, the love of a Father for a son, and laments the son’s obliviousness to that love.
With v.5-7, we find the prediction of Israel’s fate not posed as condemnation but as a rhetorical question, the natural result of the shunning of God’s love for the complacent entitlement to worldly pursuits. Previous chapters consistently mentioned Egypt and Assyria, and the contemporary Israelites (Ephraim) had sought to forge bonds with Egypt as a defense against Assyria. Through Hosea, however, God notes that in aligning with the current Egypt, they will rediscover their status in ancient Egypt in the form of Assyrian conquest.
Nevertheless, God remains compassionate, remembering that His particular love for Israel compels Him to withhold the same fate that has befallen others. This, of course, is a reminder that God’s love is God’s choice, wholly initiated by Him and not a common affection borne of experience or admiration. Israel did not earn it; it was given to them. God is sickened by the thought of dealing with them harshly.
Finally, we see that God does have a plan for redemption that those whose hearts are turned toward Him again will follow. The lion’s roar could be a number of moments, whether return from exile of Judah (see chapter 12), Jesus’s arrival and people’s acceptance of the gospel, the predictions of Romans 11, the consummation of God’s final Kingdom, etc. Hosea’s listeners did not know the options, but thankfully we do.
Of the many words available in this passage, one from v.4 may capture both the beautiful nuances of the Hebrew language and the conflicted love that God feels. Verse four says,
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.
The word “cords” is the Hebrew “chebel.” It can mean “cord, rope, territory, band, or company.” It can also mean “pain, sorrow, travail, pang.” Finally, in true Hebrew fashion, it can also mean either “union” or “destruction.” That certainly sums up the painful side of love, and the term “heartstrings” appropriately conveys the ability for our heart to be harmonious or discordant, major or minor. Whether the music of our heartstrings is joyous or painful, it is still our heart and the tugging upon it is still the music of love.
Themes for Preaching
Who Loves You Back?
Timothy Keller has done great work on idolatry and wayward sons in Counterfeit Gods and The Prodigal God, respectively. Neither are long and if you haven’t read them, you can handle them quickly via Audible on your daily commute. Anyway, in these and other works on idolatry, there is the emphasis that we often love things that offer promises but do not offer love in return. Hosea 11 is a witness—by God’s own words—that He loves us and wrestles with that love even in spite of our own waywardness. When the rest of the world judges, condemns, and ceases to love, God offers us not mere condemnation, but an insight into His own heart here in Hosea 11.
Relating to the accompanying passages for the day:
Offer of Redemption
In Psalm 107:1-9, 43 we see in the first two verses a statement of God’s steadfast love and an assertion that there are those who will be redeemed. This Psalm also reminds us that those who cry out to God in their distress in the wastelands will be heard and filled.
Temporal vs. Eternal
The Ecclesiastes passages, Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23, introduce the pondering of Solomon of what is fleeting in this world and what is eternal. Israel had turned away from God for temporal gain, attempting to hand down this waywardness from one generation to the next. The point was coming, however, when they would be conquered and there would be no more to hand down.
Confidence in Trial
In Psalm 49:1-12, we find a statement of how we should comport ourselves in the world if we have heeded Hosea’s words and taken them to heart. Verse 8 reminds us that “the ransom for a life is costly,” which of course turns us to redemption and confidence in Jesus.
Fleeting Confidence in the World
The parable of the rich fool, Luke 12:13-21, reminds us again of the fleeting nature of things of this world. An excellent exploration of this can be found in Michael Frost’s talk at the 2008 Presbyterian Global Fellowship gathering. Frost’s talk extends the themes carried by numerous prophets that the people’s priorities should be turned toward their God-given community.
Allen Thompson is senior pastor at Fairview Presbyterian Church in North Augusta, South Carolina. Allen attended Pittsburgh Seminary (M.Div.) and Fuller Seminary (D.Min.) His wife, Kelsey, is a Marriage and Family Therapist, and they have two children.
Allen enjoys golf, hiking, camping, cooking pigs, ice climbing, and live music. He loves to imagine being in the story and culture of the Bible, wondering how we might have responded to God then and how we can follow Jesus now. As an “ideas” person, Allen is passionate about working with others to find out how God is calling us to use the many gifts and resources the Holy Spirit provides.
Allen holds a Doctor of Ministry (Fuller Theological Seminary) and a Master of Divinity (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary).
“The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
-C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (link to full quote)
“it is one of Hosea’s emphases that Israel’s sin, so far from springing from ignorance or hardship, was their reply to heaven’s kindness and concern.”
-Derek Kidner, The Message of Hosea
Key Sermon Illustration
Consider the 2018 movie, Beautiful Boy, based on a father’s memoirs of walking with his son through methamphetamine addiction. The movie traces the father’s memories of the son’s childhood and juxtaposes them with his struggle to help the son with present-day addiction struggles. Here’s the trailer if you are not familiar with it. Even if you don’t watch the movie, at least watch this trailer. Even if you don’t use it in the sermon, it will inform your preaching and understanding. As you will see, it’s the pain-stricken love of Hosea 11 in a nutshell.