Summary: It is a mystery, but our unchangeable God wants us to understand that He is not without compassion.
A STIRRING IN THE HEART OF GOD
Through His speaking in the first person, and in what He says, this chapter offers us a unique view of the tenderness of the LORD toward His people (Hosea 11:1a). Moses reminded the people that the LORD ‘did not set His love upon’ them for any other reason than ‘because the LORD loves’ them (Deuteronomy 7:7-8a). He does not love us because we deserve His love, but He loves us because of what He has accomplished on our behalf through the Lord Jesus Christ.
The LORD named Israel ‘My firstborn son’ (Exodus 4:22); the voice from heaven declared of Jesus, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17). Israel is the type of our Lord, and our Lord is the ultimate manifestation of all that Israel typologically represented. Israel was called out of Egypt under Moses (Hosea 11:1b); Jesus was called out of Egypt under the guardianship of Joseph (Matthew 2:15).
Yet hardly had the children of Israel left Egypt than they began to complain. Just as God called them, so they went from His face (as Hosea 11:2a might be read). They sacrificed to the Baals (cf. Numbers 25:3) and burnt incense to carved images (Hosea 11:2b; cf. Exodus 32:4; 1 Kings 12:28-29).
“I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms,” complains the LORD. “But they did not know that (it was) I (Who) healed them” (Hosea 11:3). How quickly we forget the LORD who saved us, and who led us even through the wilderness of our backslidings (cf. Acts 13:18)!
“I drew them with cords of a man” - gentle cords -, and “bands of love: and I was to them as those who take the yoke off (literally) their jaws” (Hosea 11:4) - such is salvation, for all who are saved from their sins. Furthermore, the LORD sent bread from heaven (cf. Psalm 78:25). The incarnation is implicit here: we see the LORD reaching down in order to draw up (cf. John 6:33).
A superficial reading of Hosea 8:13 and Hosea 9:3 might suggest that Ephraim is about to return to Egypt: but the fact that now we have the rendering “he shall NOT return into the land of Egypt” (Hosea 11:5) seems to suggest that this has been a metaphor all along, in which “the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to repent.” In other words, a second captivity, just as the return from exile would be viewed as a second exodus (cf. Jeremiah 23:7-8).
As a matter of fact, Israel had been wooing both Egypt and Assyria in these troublesome times, flitting from one to the other like a silly dove (cf. Hosea 7:11). This is the nature of their “counsels” (Hosea 11:6), which can only result in the consequent devastation of their cities. If we are “bent upon backsliding from” the LORD (Hosea 11:7), then even our ‘prayers’ become a mockery. When we would give up on God, we should not be surprised when God exposes us to the consequences of our own sin (cf. Romans 1:28).
Listen to the expression of pain from the mouth of the LORD (Hosea 11:8; cf. Jeremiah 31:20). How can He give us up, hand us over, treat us like the cities of the plain? His heart churns, His sympathy is aroused!
Such is God’s mercy that He will not execute the fulness of His anger against His Ephraim, His Israel. The reason is not far to seek - it is because He is God, not man. He is “the Holy One in our midst” (Hosea 11:9), who would rather we come to repentance (cf. 2 Peter 3:9) than He come with terror.
The Father sent the Son to ‘seek and to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19:10). The Father and the Son together sent the Spirit to bring light to a lost world. Having sent His Word and Spirit, the Father, like the father of the Prodigal, awaits our return (cf. Luke 15:20).
God had it in mind all along not to cast off Israel for ever (cf. Romans 11:1). They shall yet “walk after the LORD. He will roar - and His sons shall come trembling from the west” (Hosea 11:10). Is there a hint here that ‘they’ without ‘us’ shall not be complete (Hebrews 11:40)?
They shall come “trembling” like a bird from “Egypt” (i.e. captivity), and as a dove from Assyria (Hosea 11:11; cf. Isaiah 11:11; Zechariah 10:10). Ephraim is still God’s dear son (Jeremiah 31:9-10; Jeremiah 31:20). Is there a hint here of the ‘fulness’ of the end times (cf. Romans 11:12; Romans 11:15; Romans 11:25-26)?
It is a mystery, but our unchangeable God wants us to understand that He is not without compassion (Hosea 11:8). Perhaps it is an incarnational mystery? Listen to Jesus weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 13:34).