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.
The Immediate Future: Back to ’Egypt’ (vv 5-7)
In these verses, the focus shifts from God to the people and ’they’ verbs dominate. Read them: they shall return to Egypt; they have refused to return to me; they are bent on turning away from me. The tone is one of accusation and announcement of punishment. The expression ’return to the land of Egypt’ (v 5) appears to have a double meaning here. As a result of the Assyrian conquests of 733 BC and the deportation of a portion of the people, some citizens of Israel did flee to Egypt as refugees. In the context of this chapter though, ’Egypt’ is a symbol for bondage. Just as the people had once been in Egypt in Moses’ time (as referred to in verse 1) so they would experience captivity again, this time in Assyria.
Even though this section consists of accusation and announcement of punishment, one can also detect a note of hope: the rebels are still ’my people’ (v 7) an indication that although the relationship with God has been strained, it has not been broken.
At this point let’s just stop and ask ourselves some important questions.
Is our ’turning’ to God or away from him?
Is our relationship with God strained? Is he being patient with us because he loves us or is God’s love for us rich and proud, because he is pleased with the way we are living for him?
The Present: The Loving Parent (vv 8-9)
Once again, the ’I’ of the Lord dominates. The Lord agonises over the coming punishment just as a parent agonises over the rebellion of a much loved child, a rebellion that causes a child to suffer. The suffering of the child causes the love of the parent to become more intense. You know how your heart goes out to a child when they’re in pain, whether they have physically injured themselves or they are enduring suffering or heartbreak of an emotional nature.
Admah & Ze-boi-im were cities destroyed with Sodom & Gomorrah in the days of Abraham (Gen 19), and the Lord resolves that such a fate will never befall his people again. ’How can I hand you over? How can I treat you like this?’ God says. He can’t do it! God continues in verses 8&9
How can I ever give you up?
How different is this response from the hard line that may have taken in families where a parent has said ’Enough!’ Out of anger and hardness of heart, children, usually teenagers or young adults, have been abandoned and left with no possibility of coming home and asking for forgiveness. As Jesus’ story of the prodigal son reminds us, God is ever waiting and watching for his children to return to him. He’s God, not a mortal like us with the weaknesses of pride or an over developed sense of our own importance or a warped sense of what is right. God is like a parent, but he is the Holy One standing in the midst of his people and in our midst saying: How can I ever give you up?
We mustn’t allow our experience of being parented or of being a parent to be used a model for the way God will parent us. We see God addressing the entire Northern Kingdom as a single, personal entity who deserves his anger, but God chooses not to act upon it. National guilt and judgement, betrayal and estrangement are interrupted by a passionate intervention driven by love. The Holy One with power, glory and awesomeness is at work among his rebellious people, disclosing to them his innermost feelings, pledging his compassion despite their disloyalty. And, God defines his otherness, his divine uniqueness, not in terms of power, wisdom or sovereignty, but in terms of love; constant, sure and steadfast.