Commenting on Hosea 11 the Scots commentator George A Smith said this. “Passing by all the empires of earth, the Almighty chose for Himself this people that was no people, this tribe that was the slave of Egypt. And the choice was one of love only: ‘When Israel was young I came to love him, and out of Egypt I called My son.’ It was the adoption of a little slave boy, adoption by the heart; and the fatherly figure continues, ‘I taught Ephraim to walk, taking him upon Mine arms.’ It is just the same charm, seen from another point of view, when Hosea hears God say that He had ‘found Israel like grapes in the wilderness, like the firstfruits of an early fig tree I saw your fathers.’ “
This is how the Jewish Publication Society Version renders Hosea 11:1,
I fell in love with Israel
When he was still a child;
And I have called [him] My son
Ever since Egypt.
Theodore Laetsch renders it, “When Israel was young, then I began to love him, and from Egypt I called My Son.” And G. Adam Smith points out that the verb stresses the point or moment at which something happens and renders it, in line with the previous two, “I came to love” Israel. The picture generated by the words in the text is clear. One day God was looking around at the nations he had created and his eye passed over powerful Assyria, sword in hand and with its lean and rippling muscles. Then he looked long at gorgeous Egypt with its wealth, culture and centuries of mystery before he caught sight of a little slave child. Helpless, bewildered and, to God, a lovely little boy. Here was a child with no power, no national history and no land to call his own and God’s heart went out to him at that time and he came to love him and adopted him as his son.
As the infant grew God taught him to walk (11:3). Hunkering down in front of him as fathers do, He rested the little boy’s hands on his own hands and arms and slowly backed away, allowing the child to support himself on his father’s arms. Looking like a little mechanical toy, with stiff legs as if he had no knees, he put one foot in front of another, grinning and gurgling as he staggered along. And when he stumbled and grazed his knee it was God that soothed and healed it (11:3). It was all so long ago. The little boy was too young to appreciate how dependent he was on his ever-present and attentive father but that didn’t matter because the joy of loving parents in their tiny girls and boys that toddle all over the place needs no special mention in those days. And so it was with the Holy Father, so these verses tell us. They spoke of days when all was warmth and affection and pleasure but now, as Hosea writes, Israel has grown old and suffers from senility and premature ageing (7:9) and God is pictured as a father pacing up and down the room anguishing over how to help him. (Compare 4:17 and 11:8, for example.)
The very reading of such texts makes it clear that it’s a crime to reduce the Story of the Bible to legal categories with an unhealthy stress on juridical words like “justification.” In light of truths told as Hosea tells them, to reduce the Bible to a book of wise maxims or a generalized moral code to which we must respond is tragic! It is more than a riveting romance, more than a Story of holy love reaching out but if it is more it certainly isn’t less!
I know the anthropomorphisms of scripture mustn’t be taken too far! Of course! And isn’t it Hosea that reminds us that God is not a man (11:9)! So, okay, we’re not to take them too far but we’re not to forget that God wasn’t ashamed to liken Himself to all that is best in fathers and mothers and that finally (praise His name!) He wasn’t even ashamed to become one of us—permanently!
The special relationship Israel had with God he was given in trust. It was for the world that Israel was called and it is for the world that the NT church is called. When we read the description of the churches in the NT we sometimes wince and wonder and as we look around at them today (or in the mirror) we sometimes wince and wonder even more. Does that not make sense? Yes, it does. “Sense” within certain parameters.
Still, its irritating to listen to the peevish or those who easily take offense denigrating her, though they never ever lifted a hand to help her or they flung away because their expectations weren’t met—a Demas sort of move!
With more justification, let those who have been profoundly mistreated by her, cry unto her God—that we can understand! But when those she nourished with a sense of Jesus-imaging righteousness and care, when those who wouldn’t know the meaning of justice if it hadn’t been for her—when they join the sneering crowd of critics and whine about the poverty of “organized religion” we’re seeing an entirely different picture. When preachers barely ever mount the pulpit without parading her failures, beating her without mercy though they know right well that she too is sinful and weak, that she too needs a cup of cold water, that she too is naked and in need of clothing and warmth and forgiveness—when we see and hear that, we don’t wonder that “outsiders” humiliate and shame her.
Yes it makes sense to hear her criticized, but we still need to remember passages like this in Hosea. There’s something just not right about one of God’s people acting or speaking as if he/she isn’t a part of the “family” and there’s something risky about ceaselessly scorning God’s children when the Holy One who knows them best says He loves them. There’s a text somewhere where God says, “He that curses you, him will I curse; he that blesses you, him will I bless.” I’m sure it says something like that.
(Wise all knowing Holy Father you know what fools we are at times, how shallow our love pools are and how quickly they dry up when too many come to drink from them. You know well that we make judgments about things and people when we don’t know enough and aren’t pure enough to make them. We have heard wonderful stories of you and we believe every one of them and we heard you say (Hosea 11:8-9) of your People that even in their deep and treacherous apostasy that you wouldn’t execute the fullness of your wrath on them because you are God and not a man. Sometimes we realize only a God can save us and only a God like you will want to save us. We do our best (don’t we? do we?)—the best that we sinners can do, we suppose. You must save us, Holy One or we won’t be saved. We’re glad that you know everything and that you alone love us and will provide a flawless justice in that coming day. Our thanks and our request in Jesus name.)