Preacher: Phil Swain Bible Readings: Hosea 11:1-9 As we continue the Narrative Lectionary Old Testament series, we have moved into the “prophets” section. Hosea is know as a prophet who uses a number of analogies to describe God’s relationship with us – but instead of focusing on the most well known of these analogies, we are delving into chapter 11 where God is described both as a loving parent and a roaring lion. How can these images give us insight into the way that God relates to us, and together we will ponder the question, “Is God’s relationship with us dynamic … does it change over time or is God the same yesterday, today and forever.”
How is your relationship with God going?
Just take a moment and ponder that.
How is your relationship with God at the moment?
Now, let me ask you – how is God’s relationship with you going? How might God answer that question? How is God feeling about you and the state of this relationship?
Interesting question, isn’t it…
Now – let me ask you to ponder one more thing…
How did those questions make you feel? Like, what stirred inside you when I asked you about your relationship with God? Guilt? Flatness?
But what about when it was God’s relationship with you? I know for me, it was a might lighter feeling. Why is that? Is it because we know that God loves us and is faithful and much less fickle about our relationship than we are?
Today in our journey through the Old Testament we are moving out of the history section and into the prophets – these amazing messengers from God who were called to bring God’s word to the people in a very difficult period leading up, during and after the defeat and exile by Assyria and Babylon. Our reading today came from the book of Hosea – and I think that this book is an amazing because it gives us a insight into how God thinks and feels – and in particular, how God feels about God’s relationship with the Hebrew people – and how God feels about our relationship with us.
It does this by using several different images or metaphors to help us understand how God is feeling about this divine/human relationship. And if you know the book of Hosea, you would know that the main analogy God uses is the one of a marriage of which Hosea the prophet actually lived out.
Hosea was married to Gomer who struggled with faithfulness. God compared Hosea’s pain of similar to God’s pain when we are unfaithful to God (a bit like Kevin talked about last week in his Idol sermon). And God encouraged Hosea to reflect unconditional love and acceptance in his relationship with Gomer, because that is how God loves us … unconditionally.
This marriage analogy is a large part of the Hosea story … but is not the analogy in our reading today … lets zoom in on chapter 11. It’s an interesting chapter this one because it is not really written as God speaking to Hosea … or even God speaking to the Hebrew people. It is almost like God is internally reflecting and just speaking out loud. It’s like we are given this glimpse into the mind of God as God wrestles with how God feels about the relationship with us.
God starts in verse 1 – “When Israel was a child, I loved him…”
We are introduced to another analogy of this divine/human relationship. Not as partners in marriage but this time – God as parent and we as a child. It is an analogy that is throughout the Bible… that we are God’s children.
Verse 1 continues – “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”
When using this analogy of a parent – the Bible describes it in two ways:
That we are God’s children from Birth … like in Psalm 139 where God says that he knew us and loved us before we were born. But the Bible also talks about the idea that we are adopted by God, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 1 or Romans 8 or Galatians 4 – that God chosen us and adopted us as God’s own children.
In this analogy in Hosea “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” … which do you think it is? Born into God’s family or adopted? It’s not clear … maybe both?
You see, this special relationship between the Hebrew people and God started with Abraham and the forefathers. It was the promise to Abraham that his descendants would be God’s people – which implies born into God’s family.
But there is something adoption like about the way that God is musing in verse 1. God speaks like a foster parent who can’t help but step in and embrace the hurting child. “When I saw you suffering in Egypt, something within me changed. You were like a child who needed help, You needed that provision and protect … and love … that a parent brings. When I called you out of Egypt … it cemented that you are family. You are my children.”
So God in verse 1 is remember back … when Israel is a child … but in verse 2 we get the picture that the Hebrew people are no longer children but more like rebellious teenagers. I call them but they walk away from me. I have told them not to worship idols but here they are doing the exact thing that I am telling them not to do.
Most commentors like to add this extra dimension to the parent analogy in Hosea 11 … that it is not just about God being parent but God adjusting to being a parent of an almost adult child … and the difficulties that come with that.
I was chatting with Gielie about this during the week and what struck us is that this sort of implies that God’s relationship with us is dynamic. Yes, we believe that God is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow … but the way that God relates to us, or God’s relationship with us is not static but changes or grows or develops. Just as a parent relates differently to their children as they grow from a young child to a teenager to an adult … the relationship dynamic between God and us also changes and grows. I find this really interesting and exciting … and is certainly reflected in our reading.
In verse 1 & 2 God remembers the love for the child Israel … but now teenager Israel is rebellious and driving him crazy.
In verse 3 God reminisces back to child Israel again, remembering how God helped them to learn to walk – holding their hands as they took their first tentative steps. How he guided them with kindness, bent down to feed them and help them as a child, held them to his cheek. Beautiful images.
Just on the side, there is an interesting quirk with the Hebrew text here. In verse 4 when it talks about being led with chord of kindness and being lifted up to cheek … that phrase, lifted up to the cheek could also be read as a yoke around the jaw or neck. Have a look at some other translations and you will see how the translators have trouble deciding which it should be.
But maybe it is twist on how this parental / teenager relationship works. The parent is remembering those moments as chords or kindness and a loving lift up to the cheek but the teenager feels it was more like a rope dragging them around and a yoke taking away their independence.
For those of us who have teenagers or lived through those teenage years … we might have experienced those differences in perception.
Sorry – back on track … so God is reflecting to himself about these great childhood memories but now Israel like a rebellious teenager is not listening to the parental wisdom and just doing their own thing. And in verse 5 God gets a little angry at the situation… Fine, then. Return to Egypt if you think that was so good. Assyria is at your doorstep … maybe they attack and defeat you and then let’s see how your plans are then. If you’re that determined to turn from me … fine. Let’s see how that works out!
But then in verse 8, the dynamic changes again. God still talking to himself says, “But how can I give up on my children. How can I hand over Israel?” How I can treat you like Admah or Zeboyim (which are two towns that were destroyed by God’s anger when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed).
And then the most beautiful and astonishing sentence in the reading… “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.”
Beautiful because it reminds us of God’s faithfulness, God’s compassion, God’s unending love for is. This is the unchanging nature of God. The same, yesterday, today and forever!
But it is also astonishing because it once again affirms that God’s relationship with us is dynamic. God was angry and decided to step back and see how Israel’s decision to walk away played out. But only 1 verse later … My heart is changed. I might be angry but I can’t walk away. For I am God, not man. I am the Holy one among you.
Oh – wow. Are you moved by this. God can’t walk away, God is faithful and will always love us as God’s children. Beautiful
But are you also challenged by this? Yes, God’s love and faithfulness are unchanging … BUT the way that God relates to us can change. God can be doting over us like we dote over a cute baby … or God can be throwing up his hands in frustration with us because of thoughts or actions or lack of action. That’s what a dynamic relationship is about. And it should challenge us to not settle for a blah relationship with God but strive for a healthy, strong, vibrant relationship with God.
This links in with the second analogy found in verses 10 and 11. Here God is a roaring lion and when God roars we … his children … come trembling like sparrows, fluttering like doves. God is not always a meek and mild God. While the core of who God is, is love and grace and faithfulness … God is also a God who can get jealous or angry or frustrated (once again – think back to Kevin’s sermon from last week).
But even after this strong, somewhat scary, analogy, it still finishes with the line in verse 11 – That when God’s children come out from Egypt (or come from their difficult time), God will “settle them in their homes”. Not just bring them back to their land, but the much more personal – “settle them in their homes.”
So here in Hosea 11, God is reflecting out loud – about God’s relationship with the Hebrew people. God lovingly remembers them as young children, how they needed God’s love and protect. How they drew close for food and care. But now as a rebellious teenager they were disconnecting. As much as God was reaching out, they were drawing away, not listening, even being unfaithful with Baal. And that hurt God, and made God angry. But how can God give up on them. This is a dynamic relationship and as such, God’s way of relating needed to change. Just like we as parents of adult children had to learn how to change our relationship to match the changes in our kids … God had to compassionately and lovingly do that with the Hebrew people … and with us. But hear the good news. God does not give up and walk away. And the challenge for us through Hosea is to put aside our lethargic-ness or rebellion and also invest deeply into this dynamic relationship with God.
Great spot to finish – but a link into next week… Hosea was written around 730BCE. God was pleading with the Hebrew people (particularly in Hosea case, the Northern Kingdom) to turn back to God. Did Hosea’s message work? Nope. Within 10 years, Assyria swept out of the north, captured the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and took the ten tribes into captivity. From there they became lost to history. Israel only lives on through the two southern kingdoms. It’s a sad footnote to Hosea. But God was already looking at a bigger picture – and as we will see next week, there were already prophets speaking of one to come who will bring true peace, real hope and perfectly reflect this unconditional love – and we are only a few weeks from the season when we prepare for his coming. O Come, O Come Emmanuel. But more of that next week. Amen