Thursday, August 11, 2016

Hosea 11 - How Can I Give You Up?

If YHWH picks you to be one of His spokesmen, you can be pretty sure of two things. One, this is a great honor if you can pull it off; and two, your life is going to get pretty problematic really soon. A cursory review of the people who have been tapped by God (not the modern, "I'm a prophet" sort of people; the real ones in Scripture) will easily bear this out. 

Hosea is a wonderful example of this. Perhaps best known for the story of he and his wife, Hosea is directed to take a wife of whoredom. As the story progresses there are a number of infidelities and reunions between the couple. Eventually, Hosea's wife Gomer, gives birth to three kids. Now if you're a prophet, not only does your life become problematic, but various aspects of it will be used to help spread the message YHWH wants communicated. Such is the case for Hosea. Those three kids are named by YHWH Himself and they aren't flattering names. They mean, in order, Jezreel, No-Mercy (or Not-Pitied), and Not-My-People. These three kids' names are part of Hosea's message to God's People. The first may well be the basis or cause of the other two named realities to come. Jezreel, where the blood of innocents has been shed and YHWH pursued unfaithfully, will result in there being No-Mercy for Israel, and Israel becoming not the people of YHWH. We can imagine the sorts of abuse Hosea would have born having had these judgments and proclamations as his message.

This message is the theme of Hosea's prophecies to Israel.

It is remarkable then, that in chapter 11, beginning in verse 8, we read these lines:

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
     How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
     How can I make you like Zeboiim?
My heart is changed within me;
     all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
     nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man--
     the Holy One among you;
     I will not come in wrath.

After promises of judgment and causing deliberate signs to be delivered in the very names of Hosea's children, YHWH here declares His compassion and His desire not to harm Israel. Hosea includes urgings to return to YHWH like these lines in chapter 12:

But you must return to your God;
     maintain love and justice,
     and wait for your God always.

I will heal their waywardness
     and love them freely,
     for my anger has turned away from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
     he will blossom like a lily.
Like a cedar of Lebanon
     he will send down his roots; 
     his young shoots will grow.

There will be restoration eventually but even now, if Israel would return to her God, calamity could be forestalled. Alas, she will not. Even so, there remains a time in the future when YHWH will restore her. A time when Israel will become strong and vibrant again - after her travail.

The message of Hosea is that God does not overlook persistent evil, but will punish it. This punishment is not something He wants to do -- God is much more willing to forego any punishment because the punishment is intended as discipline rather than wrath. If the lesson can be learned soon, the discipline will not be needed.

YHWH prefers compassion and mercy; He punishes to correct, not for punishment's sake. Unfortunately, we humans are a stubborn bunch and we throw ourselves almost headlong into worthless pursuits that result in discipline. God much rather would bless us with life in the Garden with Him than have us in the wild places estranged from Him. In fact, that is always the promise and always the offer - return to me and I will bless you; or I stand at the door and knock.

The choice is ours. God has come in the person of Jesus for the purpose of overlooking our sin and restoring us to life with Him. What will we do? What will you do?

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