The Love Of Our Father
Last Sunday morning we shared the story of the Lost Son. We heard that the message of the parable was not so much about the Lost Son as the love of the father. Tonight we once again are reminded of the love of a father. I dare to say that our second scripture reading gives us an Old Testament version of the same theme - the love of a heartbroken father for his lost daughter...
Brothers and sisters, I am of the opinion that this chapter is one of the boldest in the Old Testament indeed in the whole Bible ‑ in exposing to us the mind and heart of God in human terms. Here we find one of the Bible's strongest expressions of divine emotion. In the parable of the Lost Son, Jesus hinted that the lovesick father personifies God. In Hosea 11 God states this categorically himself. Here in Hosea chapter 11 we experience the burning passion and the infallible holiness of God's love. Here we have a vivid experience God's unconquerable mercifulness at work. Here we hear that God's holiness is the foundation of his non-stop mercy.
What does this mean for our understanding of God? Dear friends, we sometimes have the tendency to refer to the picture of God presented in the Old Testament as that of a God of wrath and the picture of God presented in the New Testament as that of a God of love. Hosea chapter 11:8-9 reminds us that this is as far from the truth as can be. God as he reveals himself in the Scriptures is a God of love!
Why then are we tempted to see the picture of God as revealed in the Old Testament as one of wrath? Because we are always in danger of thinking of divine majesty in terms which we have learnt from earthly rulers unconstrained by law, 'the kings of the Gentiles' whom our Lord summed up in Luke 22:25‑27 in contrast to Himself.
Even when we speak of God as Father we hesitate in case we read too much into the word. I want to put it tonight to you that our chief danger lies not in reading to much into it, but in reading too little from it. When we think of God as a father, we are more often than not drawing our ideas either from an earthly father's indulgence, caring too little for his children. Or we draw our ideas from our self-indulgence. It is so much easier for us to take the convenient path of a domestic tyrant. Because this tyrant resembles us. And it is nice to have an excuse for our indulgence, by framing it on God! We are his image - like father like son ...
However, here, by contrast, we are made to see this title in terms of accepted cost and anguish. God is a father rebuffed, torn between agonizing alternatives. This picture of God may seem for some as too human altogether. This is the price God is willing to pay for bringing home to us the fact that divine love is more, not less, ardent and vulnerable than ours. Do we really understand this? That God's love is at the same time more intense and more defenceless than ours? Yet, this is the message of Hosea 11.
For as God reminds us in verse 9 while correcting our inverted values: 'I am God and not man.' Brothers and sisters, once more, it is the God of love, who cannot reject his own even when they reject him. Because of his love he cannot pour out a measure of his wrath which will satisfy any human standards. That is why God, though his beloved child Israel deserves his wrath, can be nothing else but a lovesick father. But there is a different tone here as well. It is not only that God can be nothing else. He does not want to be anything else but a lovesick father.
We may think this is a weakness. According to human standards we reason that a parent is not suppose to let his children abuse him like that. But this is not the message of this Scripture verses at all. No, the message is that God is still busy trying to win back his lost child. Even while they abuse him, despite of the outright rejection, despite the blunt cold-shoulder, God is a father who still tries to convince his stubborn child of his loving care.
We need to remember that as in chapter 3, it is He, not we, who sets the pace and who stays the course against every discouragement and provocation that ingratitude can offer. This is the picture Hosea wishes to portrait of God.
However, if we wish to appreciate this portrait of God as a loving father for what it is really worth, we have to look at the portrait of his beloved child, Israel as well. Brothers and sisters, more than once we are reminded in the book of Hosea of the bright promise of Israel's youth. Israel was the apple of God's eye. He was willing to do anything to make sure that his child will grow in a secure environment. God gave his child a land and prosperity. Eventually Israel was very impressed with God's gifts. But what so often happen with spoiled children, happened with Israel. Their gratefulness towards God for his grace rapidly faded. Soon after the newness were rubbed off, God's gifts were forgotten.
But what makes it even worse is the fact the Israel did not only forget the gifts, but the giver of the gifts as well. How would we react if not only our gifts are forgotten, but we are forgotten as well? Would than not hurt tremendously? I can still remember an incident where my father greeted one of the well known people of our town in a shop at the neighbouring town. The man asked my father: “Am I supposed to know you?” I could see the hurt in my fathers eyes. Many years later, a few weeks before my father's death, the same man came to my parent's home to ask for help. My mother told me that my father helped him reluctantly because he could not forget the incident many years ago.
Brothers and sisters, our heavenly Father also has a very long memory. Even though he is forgotten, God still meditates on his relationship to Israel. God recalls the history of his relationship with Israel. Please trace this recollection with me. Because we are human we would expect him to establish the grounds for judgment when he is contrasting his loving care for Israel with their unfaithfulness. We would expect the announcement of punishment. But all we experience in God's meditation over this relationship is the magnitude of his love. God's grace shines out at once in the words 'I loved him' in verse 1.
Dear friends, when God uses words like this within the given context of our text verses, it does not imply the involuntary emotional reaction which it tends to mean to us. It implies a choice as free as it is affectionate. Even though Israel may have forgotten God, Israel is still 'my son' to God.
The quotation of this verse in Matthew 2:15 is far from incidental. Israel in its childhood was already set apart for the world's ultimate blessing, and was described to Pharaoh as God's 'first‑born son' (Ex. 4:22 f.). By God's providence it had taken refuge in Egypt, but must return to its own land to fulfil its calling. Therefore, although it had been threatened with extinction through the massacre of its infant sons, it was miraculously delivered.
After that digression, the tragic anticlimax of verse 2 comes to us with added force. Between the great beginning and great fulfilment of the saying,'I called my son', there stretches the long age in which the words 'I called' received the worst of answers. The more God called, the more they ignored his calls.
Please allow me to interrupt myself here; brothers and sisters, it would be one of our gravest mistakes if we imagine that this off‑handed reaction to divine love and to prosperity are confined to ancient Israel alone. Familiarity can still breed contempt, and success conceit, as though the very gifts that bring prosperity were nor gifts at all, and the patient love of God were weakness. We are suppose to see ourselves in this sketch of Israel.
The tenderness of verses 3 and 4 completes the picture God. God's fatherly love, merely stated in verse 1, is now charmingly portrayed in a scene that any family will recognize, with father absorbed in coaxing and supporting the child's first staggering steps; picking him up when he tires or tumbles; 'making the place better' when he hurts himself. But Israel is a child no longer. Like some aloof and scornful adolescent he has forgotten or never realized ‑ or simply does not want to know ‑ what he owes to this relationship. Brothers and sisters, those of us who know the hearts and the moods of the adolescent, will know how hurting their unaproachebleness can be. Through their disrespect they attacked their relationship with God. Suppose your child tells you: 'I don't want to have anything to do with you!” What hurt will you experience?
Maybe you would consider it to cut all ties with this child. According to verse 7 God thought about it. But the very thought of abandoning the people He has lived amongst, to an extinction like that of the cities of the plain, stirs God to strong revulsion. Dear friends, to the father heart of God it is unthinkable to abandon his child. Even when his children deserves to be abandoned it is still unthinkable to him! This revulsion in abandonment depicts the true nature of the father-heart of God! This is the most extravagant description of mercy we will ever get.
Brothers and sisters, God's mercy, in the discussion of verses 8 and 9, decreed survival and a future for His people, when they deserved neither. We would expect that nothing facile would do, for without a change of heart survival would mean only a repetition of the past. Dear friends, this to me is the incomprehensibleness of God's grace. Israel didn't change. Nothing of the kind is mentioned. However, according to verse 8 God changed: 'My heart is changed in me; all my compassion is aroused.'
We have learned that the Lord God is unchangeable and incomparable. Since our early childhood we learned that god has certain attributes. We talk about his omnipresence, his omniscience, his omnipotence, his immutability. This is all very gripping, but is still not the actual issue at stake in Hosea. In the midst of pronouncements of destruction there recurs this theme in Hosea: 'How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! How can I make you like Admah! How can I treat you like Zeboiim! My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender'.
If we expect a chastened child, 'trembling ... trembling', that will at last come home from being a 'wanderer among the nations', because she has finally to submit to her father, we are wrong. No, the 'dove' of chapter 7:11, always sitting between Egypt and Assyria, will have its fill of both, and of the lands beyond the sea, and be thankful for its own nest. And there is only one reason for the return of this child - God's steadfast love. God's love pored out on an undeserving child will change the attitude of the child.
Brothers and sisters, it is not easy to know what stage of history is in mind here. Historically it may refer to some intermediate day of the lion's roar, such as the overthrow of Babylon which brought a remnant of Israel home to Jerusalem. But it could also refer to the spiritual homecoming of God's 'sons' (10 b) of many nations in the gospel age. This interpretation would be in line with Paul's quotation of Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 in Rom. 9:25‑26 . Or it may refer to the great turning of Israel to the Lord which is predicted in Romans 11:12, 25 ff. What is certain is that the final event will far surpass our wisest thoughts and wildest expectations.
However, there is a very important message for us in this few Scripture verses: Brothers and sisters, God prefers to love people rather than to destroy them! Anyone who reads Hosea chapter 11 verses 8-9 and says: 'I don't see that God is a God of love, is speaking blasphemously. Because here we have the most explicit pronouncement that God's love triumphs over his wrath. And exactly by doing this, God shows that he is God and not a man. A man would have executed judgement in such a situation. Israel indeed deserved it. But God is not a man. He is the God of love. He hesitates. He wishes to give further opportunity for repentance. He wants to deliver and preserve. A man would in such a situation have pushed through with his decision and executed his judgement. But God is not a man! He is God enough to change!
Now that we have come this far, what should our concludary statement be? Brothers and sisters, if God is willing to change inwardly in order for people to be saved, we who call ourselves children of God should be willing to do the same! When people treat us badly, we don't have to retaliate! When people ignore us, we don't have to lash out at them. We should react to them like our father would, with love.
Are you willing to change? Or are you so set in your ideas that the only thing you can do to those hurting you, is hurting them back? Dear friend, in the name of our Father, for the sake of our Lord, I urge you to turn away from our normal human reaction - to judge and to reject people. I urge you to follow God's example.
If my plea falls on deaf ears because my words don't carry enough weight, I refer you to my Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. He summarised the attitude we should reflect in Matthew 5:43-45: “You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”
Dear brother and sister, dear friend, the Torah stipulates the death penalty for disobedient children. God, however, loves his disobedient children. Let us follow in his footsteps. May they say of us in this regard: 'like father, like son ...' Amen.