Summary: Throughout salvation history, God acts out his loving nature. He continues to call people out of ’Egypt’: out of fear, out of oppression, out of loneliness, out of meaninglessness, out of bondage of every kind. He never gives us up.
Sermon by Di Appleby
Many of us have heard a parent’s anguish when talking about their teenager. Perhaps you were the teenager I am about to introduce to you. Perhaps you’re the parent.
A 16 year old and the parent are engaged in constant battles. At this point in the story, she is barely speaking to her family and on several nights in the past month, she hadn’t bothered to come home at all. The parents have tried grounding her, withholding pocket money and using other forms of punishment, but to no avail. The daughter has lied to them, deceived them and found a way to turn the tables on them by saying ’It’s your fault for being so strict!’
The mother spent one night standing at the window, staring out into the darkness, waiting for her to come home. She felt so angry! She was furious with her daughter for the way she manipulated her, and her husband, and for the way she would deliberately hurt them both. The mother knew however, that her daughter was hurting herself more than anyone else.
And yet, when her daughter came home that night, or rather the next morning, the mother wanted to wrap her arms around her, to love her, to tell her that she wanted the best for her. She was a helpless, lovesick mother, wanting above all else to forgive and begin anew. Her daughter was alive and she was home!
Chapter 11 of Hosea has been described as one of the boldest in the Old Testament in exposing to us the mind and heart of God in human terms.
God’s chosen people knew how to wound him and he was crying out in anger and in pain.
We’ve already seen an unforgettable picture of God’s forgiving love with the imagery of the husband and wife in chapters 1-3 of Hosea, but now we’re seeing an equally memorable picture of God’s nurturing love with the image of God the parent and the people as God’s child.
The situation addressed in chapter 11 assumes that some Israelites are already in Assyria as captives (v 11). The cities of Israel have not yet been destroyed but will be shortly (v 6), and the people will be taken captive (v 5-6). Chapter 11 moves through four parts:
The Past: Out of Egypt (vv 1-4)
This is where the parent/ child imagery is introduced. The emphasis in these early verses is on what the parent has done for the child. ’I’ statements dominate. Look at them. I loved, I called, I taught to walk, I took them up in my arms, I healed, I led them, & I bent down to them. Yet the child is ungrateful, not acknowledging the parent’s care.
We could say that the early history of Israel, her childhood, was spent in Egypt, set apart for the world’s ultimate blessing. Israel was described to the Pharaoh then as God’s ’first-born son’ (Ex 4:22ff). Through God’s providence, Israel had taken refuge in Egypt, but needed to return to its own land to fulfil its calling. Although it had been threatened with extinction through the massacre of its infant sons, it was miraculously delivered.
(Not surprisingly, by the way, the infant Christ was also threatened and delivered. Matthew (2:15) uses the words from Hosea ’out of Egypt I have called my son’, to speak of Jesus being restored to God’s land to fulfil the task marked out for him.)
I wonder whether it was just my experience, or was it made easier because God was working in me, that loving a very young child was easy. We endure sleepless nights and interrupted thoughts; we curb our personal ambitions and desires because a newborn is utterly dependent on us for survival. As children move towards independence, we let them drop food on the floor as they insist they feed themselves, we let them walk out the door in the striped tights with the tartan skirt, the fairy wings and the football beanie and we even let them ride their bike to the shops, knowing that we will have to pull both child and bike up the hill on the way home.
While it’s difficult to be consistent as a parent when there are lots of pressures on us, those early years are full of lots of loving responses from our children which are rewards indeed for an exhausted parent. Without too much effort we can love our children, patch up their hurts, carry them, feed them and comfort them.
But then they grow up! We get a taste of it when the toddler shouts ’no’ or they exercise a ’go slow’ campaign when you want to be in the car in 5 minutes. But when they criticise something you’ve done, raise their voice in defiance, tell lies about where they’ve been, take money from your wallet, swear at you or strike you, it’s hard to love them. Imagine how much harder it would be to bear the rebellion of the teenage years, if our children caused injury to someone through drink driving, if they were involved in brawls outside nightclubs, if they made money during their uni years through prostitution or drug dealing. But children are also hard to love when they’re inactive; when they spend their days on the Internet, in cafes, sleeping, eating, being depressed or completely self focussed.