God’s Love for Israel
Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate, once wrote, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, nor is there anything you can do to make God love you less! His love is Unconditional, Impartial, Everlasting, Infinite, and Perfect.”1 This description aptly expresses God’s love for Israel.
God appears in this chapter as a loving Father grieving over Israel, His rebellious son. Israel’s rebellious attitude was inexplicable in view of all that God had done for the nation. God birthed Israel; and through the centuries, He nourished, instructed, and protected the nation. But Israel proved to be an ungrateful son who insulted God by acts of immorality, idolatry, and indifference. Like any wayward son, Israel needed chastening. In His sovereign love, God corrected the prodigal nation in order to restore it to a loving relationship with Himself.
God demonstrated His love for Israel from its inception as a nation. Hosea said, “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt” (v. 1). God is pictured as a tender, loving father who adopted Israel to be His son and entered into a covenant relationship with the nation. His choice of Israel was an act of pure, sovereign grace, not due to any merit within the nation (Dt. 7:6–8). He displayed His love by delivering Israel from 400 years of Egyptian bondage. The prophets repeatedly used this deliverance as an illustration of God’s power on behalf of His people.
The phrase called my son out of Egypt also is applied typologically to Jesus Christ in Matthew 2:15. Israel, the covenant people, is the type; and Jesus the Messiah is the antitype. Both Israel and Jesus went to Egypt for protection— Israel because of a severe famine in Canaan during the days of Joseph; Jesus because of Herod’s threat to kill all children two years and under in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hosea’s statement is a historical reference to Israel’s physical redemption from Egypt. Matthew’s statement refers to Jesus the Redeemer who provides spiritual redemption from the bondage of sin and eternal death.
The nation responded to God’s love like a wayward son. To correct Israel’s waywardness, God sent prophet after prophet who pleaded with the nation to repent and return to the Lord. Hosea said, “As they called them [the prophets sent by God], so they [Israel] went from them; they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to carved images” (v. 2). The more God called, the more Israel rejected Him and rebelled against His love. Turning a deaf ear to God’s prophets, the nation chose to practice idolatry instead.
Like a loving father, God had cared tenderly for the nation during its journey through the wilderness:
I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms, but they knew not that I healed them. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love; and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid food before them (vv. 3–4).
This statement of guiding and guarding Israel through the wilderness is tender and touching. The Lord took Israel by the arm to guide the nation over difficult obstacles, so it would not stumble and get hurt. When Israel fell during times of testing, God was there to heal its wounds.
God’s love and compassion for Israel is like that of a herdsman who cares for his heifer. The herdsman repositions the yoke’s strap under the ox’s jaw, enabling the animal to eat its food with ease. With a handful of grain, the herdsman bends down and tenderly feeds his animal. God did not lead Israel like a dumb animal, with ropes and halters. He guided Israel with cords of tenderness, kindness, and love; compassionately and continually, he eased the nation’s strain and burden. For 40 long years, God graciously provided food and water for Israel during its wilderness wanderings.
Israel was more than willing to enjoy God’s generous gifts and gracious love. But like an ungrateful son, Israel took God for granted, disobeying His commands and disregarding His will.
Although God is long-suffering, His patience has limits. As any good father should, He had to correct wayward Israel for its ingratitude and rebellion. Hosea said, “He (Israel) shall not return into the land of Egypt, but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return” (v. 5). Egypt is a symbol for the new type of exile Israel would face in Assyria. With the collapse and capture of Israel’s political leadership, the king of Assyria would control the nation’s government. Thus Israel would have no king (cf. 10:3, 7, 15). Because the Israelites refused to repent, their bondage at the hands of Assyria would be far more severe and last longer than their time of slavery in Egypt.
Judgment hovered over Israel like the legendary sword of Damocles and, in God’s time, would strike the nation:
And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his branches [i.e., villages], and devour them [i.e., demolish the bars and bolts of their gates], because of their own counsels (v. 6).
The sword would whirl around as it swept the land, devouring Israel’s cities, villages, and defenses. Destruction would come on Israel because it went to Canaanite deities, such as Baal, for deliverance from Assyria, rather than going to the Lord.
Another reason for Israel’s destruction was its continual backsliding. God said, “And my people are bent [hung up on] to backsliding from me; though they [God’s prophets] called them to the Most High, none at all would exalt him” (v. 7). No one in Israel heeded the prophet’s message because sin had lured the nation into such deep moral apathy that its ears were dull of hearing.
The Law of Moses required that every rebellious son who would not obey his father or heed his reprimand be put to death (Dt. 21:18–21). Israel was such a son. He flaunted God’s love, took for granted God’s mercy and compassion, ignored the many warnings of judgment, and deserved to be annihilated. But God’s great love for His covenant people would not allow Him to abandon Israel.
God expresses His lament and deep love for Israel in four rhetorical questions:
How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver [surrender] thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboiim? Mine heart is turned within me; my compassions are kindled together (v. 8).
Admah and Zeboiim were two cities that were annihilated with Sodom and Gomorrah when God rained fire and brimstone on them (Dt. 29:22–23). Though Israel deserved the judgment of Admah and Zeboiim, God’s heart revolted within Him at such a thought. Instead, He turned from His fierce anger to show Israel mercy and compassion.
God has an eternal relationship with Israel. He chose her, called her, cared for her, and chastens her when necessary; but it is not His divine purpose to destroy her:
Thus saith the LORD, If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD (Jer. 31:37).
God will never annihilate Israel because of the promises He made in the Abrahamic Covenant.
Although Israel will be severely punished for her sin, God always tempers His justice with divine compassion and will not obliterate the nation: “I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God, and not man, the Holy One in the midst of thee, and I will not enter into the city” (v. 9). Nor will God return to destroy Israel as He did during the Assyrian invasion. On the contrary, He tempers His chastening with compassion and covenant love, in hopes that His punishment will result in Israel’s restoration and redemption.
Keep in mind that God’s judgment on Israel, His son, is both punitive and remedial. Everything that befell Israel was intended to chasten the prodigal nation back to God. No man can question God’s actions because the Lord is “God, and not man, the Holy One in the midst of [Israel].” God always does what is just and right, whether we understand it or not.
Abruptly, the subject switches to a future time when God will summon Israel back to the land for the Kingdom blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant. Hosea used a number of metaphors to express Israel’s return: “They shall walk after the LORD; he shall roar like a lion; when he shall roar, then the children shall tremble from the west” (v. 10). In the past, God destroyed Israel like a roaring lion (5:14); in the future, He will call Israel back to its land with His roar. During the return, “they shall tremble like a bird out of Egypt, and like a dove out of the land of Assyria, and I will place them in their houses, saith the LORD” (v. 11). No longer will Israel be like a “silly dove” (7:11), flittering around in confusion, but will be like a dove flying home, trembling with excitement, as it returns in haste to its nest. In the future, the people of Israel will return swiftly to their land from all over the world to experience God’s blessing in the Millennial Kingdom. This promise is affirmed by the words, “saith the LORD.”
Chapter 11 ends with God representing Himself as a man enveloped by Israel’s sin. “Ephraim encompasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints” (v. 12). Hosea had exposed Israel’s unfaithfulness and hypocrisy through lies and deceit. The nation had pretended to worship Jehovah while practicing idolatry. Although the King James Version contrasts the faithlessness and insincerity of Israel to the faithfulness of Judah, Jewish Scriptures render the last verse differently. They show Judah as defiant also. The Hebrew word rud, translated “ruleth” (v. 12) means “to wander restlessly” or “to be unruly” against God. Judah, despite all her privileges (Temple, priesthood, covenant promises), was like a restless, unruly animal that cast off all restraints and wandered away from its master—just like Israel. Most commentators accept this interpretation, which seems to be the teaching of verse 12.
On the other hand, God faithfully keeps His covenant promises of redemption and restoration to “the saints” in both Israel and Judah. Likewise, God will bring redemption and restoration to a generation of Jewish people who will come to Him in repentance. In the Kingdom Age, Israel’s sorrow will turn to joy as the once-wayward son experiences spiritual renewal through God’s loving compassion.