“So My people are bent on turning from Me.
Though they [God’s prophets] call them [Israel] to the One on high,
None at all exalts Him.
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, O Israel?
…. My heart is turned over within Me,
All My compassions are kindled.” -Hos. 11.7-8
Hosea 11 contains one of the most remarkable self-disclosures of God in the whole of Scripture. Upon reading it, one is struck with a heightened sense of the Divine emotions, the intensity of Fatherly love, and the impassioned longings of a holy Creator Who desires to show mercy far beyond the point of pain. We would do well to lay our souls before it afresh.
Not too long ago, I had a rather “non-pastoral” interaction with a leader in the Body of Christ. Without going into the details, let me just say that he was terribly suspicious of any activity in the Church that was marked with human emotions in the least way. The whole event left me with a sense that the Lord must be quite stoical, unemotional, and incapable of relating to the feelings of human beings. While still “catching my breath” from that interaction, my daily readings took me to Hosea 11. The revelation of God contained therein is totally contrary to what this particular leader had conveyed.
In fact, the description of Yahweh’s impassioned plea with Israel totally transcends the reach of any human language, and I believe Hosea’s experience was something like trying to describe the force of a hurricane wave just after being washed ashore by its power. What can you say that will fit the magnitude of it? I find it remarkable that, as Hosea shows, God loves the way that He does, and that He feels a grief, a compassion, and a Fatherly affection that far supersedes anything we’ve ever known.
Hear OT scholar James Luther Mays on this portion:
Yahweh’s self-disclosure through the speech of Hosea reaches an unusual level of intensity and power in this chapter. The portrayal of Yahweh as a father caring for a son achieves an explicit tenderness and detail unmatched in the Old Testament.
…. The emotion and commitment of love is introduced as the basis and power of Yahweh’s way with Israel; and a theme of revelation appears which finds its climax finally in the New Testament.
(Hosea by J.L. Mays, WJK Publishers; 1969)
In the days of the Great Awakenings, Whitefield and Wesley, Finney and Edwards all suffered indictments against their meetings from critics. Much of the criticism they heard was the result of ’emotionalism’ from the participants, or ‘enthusiasm’ as the critics then called it. While there were certainly excesses in every historical revival, there have always been those souls who could not bear the idea of anything emotional transpiring in religious gatherings, and who felt the need to raise a cry against it. Of course, their names are not nearly as remembered as the true Kingdom laborers whom they were criticizing. (Be assured that wood, hay and stubble will burn entirely at the Judgment, but it is already going up in smoke today.)
While there are fleshly emotional displays in various kinds of Christian meetings (and perhaps they are more flagrant in our day than any other!), this does not discount the remarkable truth that God Himself is an emotional Being. His loyalty to covenant and servant is intensely emotive; that is to say, He burns with love and holy jealousy, and His emotions actually awaken our spiritual consciousness from numbness and indifference as well!
I still remember one of my teachers asking the congregation over a decade ago:
You don’t think God has emotions? Remember, He’s God, we’re the image!
In other words, our make-up is based on His, not the reverse. The trouble is, we have sin and deceit within, and our emotions are without the wisdom and truth of God. So it could be said that in many ways, the process of discipleship has to do with learning to live and walk upon the foundation of Christ so solidly that our emotions are immersed and aligned with His own.
In verses 1-4 the Lord gives us a remarkable view into His own Fatherly feelings toward Israel. Though Israel went away from the pleadings of the prophets, though they sacrificed to the Baals and burned incense to idols (v. 2), He could not forget that when “Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.” The God of consuming fire who shook the mount, was also the One “who taught Ephraim to walk,” “took them in My arms,” “led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love,” and “became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws,” bending down to feed them. The heightened intensity of fatherly love is here expressed, and as Mays wrote, it “achieves an explicit tenderness and detail unmatched in the Old Testament.” This is His way with Israel, and it is His way with every one of His children also. Do we know Him in this fatherly way, or have we been too busy-minded to let Him be a Father to us? As we see so profoundly expressed here, He longs to take us “out of Egypt,” out of the spirit of this age, and to embrace us, lift the yoke from our jaws, lead us with cords and bonds of love, and feed us from His own hand. What lovingkindness!
Verses 5-7 express the judgment and devastation that will strike Israel should they continue to worship idols and turn their hearts away from Him. “…. they refused to return to Me. The sword will whirl against their cities, and will demolish their gate bars and consume them because of the their counsels.” The God of Israel will not forever endure a cold shoulder from His children. When we delight in idols, and prefer the counsel of men to the word received in His holy place, His anger will build until judgement becomes a necessity. We see that here, as in all the prophets. In Hosea 11’s case, however, it climaxes in verse 7, and the level of Divine grief is too deep-seated to measure or describe:
“So My people are bent on turning from Me. Though they [God’s prophets] call them [Israel] to the One on high, none at all exalts Him.”
Hear Mays again:
The verse carries the mood of a lament, Yahweh’s sorrowing over His people, a preparation for the intense self-questioning that breaks forth from Yahweh in v. 8.
Are we untouched by this? The Creator of all things, the Lord of history, the King of the nations, lamenting and sorrowing over His people? Would we make light of our sin? Would we treat the Lord as if He is no different than the wooden idols of the nations? One who cannot hear or see, one who cannot feel or sense, one who will not respond on any level? We need to be jolted by the Spirit with a new revelation of God’s Personhood.
Mays says that Yahweh was preparing for a series of questions in verse 7, and He asks them in verse 8.
“How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?”
Are these questions asked with dryness and without feeling? Hardly. They are charged with the emotive loyalty of God Himself. Hear Mays once again:
In vv. 8f Yahweh reveals the suffering agony which Israel’s faithlessness has brought upon Him….
Through the prophet, He is disclosing His own self-examination in light of the covenant. It is a remarkable passage, where God Himself is so overcome with grief, yet so desirous of showing mercy, that He questions Himself, and allows His compassionate waters to overflow and flood out the imminence of judgment upon Israel.
“My heart is turned over within Me,
All My compassions are kindled.
I will not execute My fierce anger;
I will not destroy Ephraim again.
For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst,
And I will not come in wrath.
They will walk after the Lord….” (8b-10a)
…. His love will not let them go. In the sovereign freedom of His being God He refuses to permit the sin of Israel to lead to their annihilation. (Mays)
As history confirms, the Lord has been through many controversies with Israel, and judgments have been poured out upon her in measures that cause any sober heart to tremble. The majority of God’s covenant people have refused to turn to Him, and have been cut-off from His presence forever. Only a remnant in our day is willing to consider Him. Only a small percentage of the people Israel have been willing to consider His Son Jesus. And it will be a remnant (though I’m convinced that it may be more than a few million souls) that blesses His name from the ground of eschatological Jerusalem; ground that has been shaken like no other time in history. So many have perished without knowing the God of Hosea; the One whom Jesus called “Our Father.”
If only they had known His heart toward them. If only they would have known that “His heart turned over” within Him, and that “all” His “compassions” were kindled toward them. Oh to set Him forth, friends! Oh to hold high the banner of the Gospel in this hour, to Jew and to Greek!
The revelation of this remarkable compassion reached is zenith in the cross of Jesus Christ. How He wept over Jerusalem! How He wept over His antagonists! How He wept over the lost sheep of His house!
Israel, like all nations, had proven that within themselves they would flop on every spiritual level, so the joy set before Him was the promise that when He had been exalted in resurrection power, His Spirit would find a permanent release in the earth. He would reveal, in power and great light, the God that we only glimpse in Hosea 11.
We need to be increasingly cognizant of the emotive loyalty of the Lord. His loyalty is not based upon circumstances. It is based on His Person. He is loyal in and of Himself, quite contrary to the character of man. He is moved over mankind today, as He was moved over Ephraim in Hosea’s day. He feels compassion over Israel and the nations today just as He “felt compassion” over the dead boy and his mother in Luke 7. He is moved over you, dear soul.
He is not stoical or removed from our plight. He is intensely focused upon us. He longs to see the power of sin broken from our lives. He longs to embrace, carry, and feed us just as He has sought to do with Israel. This is not some shallow, flighty, sappy idea of God. His fatherliness is stalwart and towering, His compassions blaze past our masks and straw hiding places, and His emotions are loyal, awakening our hearts to the reality of Divine love.
Lord, may we see you as Hosea saw You? Might we come into the revelation of Your Fatherly character? We marvel at Your emotions, Lord. You are not blind toward us. You are not indifferent toward us. You have revealed the intensity of your heart in Hosea, and even more magnificently in Your Son. Might we abandon religious performance and find You in the walk of real life, hearing You, obeying You, receiving from You, following You? We recognize this as the heart of the Gospel. Take us deeper, we pray. Amen.