Summary: God is our loving Father.
The Holy One, Hosea 11:1-11
The story is told of a man and his boy who was with him, when a little fellow, in Scotland, and for the first time he possessed what in that country is known as a top-coat. They were walking out one cold day, and the way was slippery. The little fellow’s hands were deep down in his pockets. His father said to him: “My son, you had better let me take your hand,” but he said you never could persuade a boy with a new top-coat to take his hands from his pockets. They reached a slippery place and the boy had a hard fall. Then his pride began to depart and he said: “I will take your hand.” and he reached up and clasped his father’s hand the best he could. When a second slippery place was reached, the clasp was broken and the second fall was harder than the first. Then all his pride was gone, and raising his little hand he said: “You may take it now”; and his father said: “I clasped it roundabout with my great hand and we continued our walk; and when we reached the slippery places,” said he, “the little feet would start to go and I would hold him up.” This is a picture for the Christian. I am saved not so much because I have hold of God as because God has hold of me, and He not only gives me shoes with which I may walk and which never wear out, but Christ holds my hand in His and I shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck me out of His hand. (J. Wilbur Chapman, Heartwarming Illustrations, accessed: QuickVerse)
This story is of particular interest to me, as the father of sometimes stubborn, and always strong-willed, able, little boys. My feeling of intimacy with this story is made even greater by the content of my text today.
Right at the center of this text is the illustration of God’s love for His “son,” the nation of Israel, often, and here, referred to in the Bible as Ephraim, after the largest of the 12 tribes of Israel, that tribe whose name is taken from their patriarch Ephraim, who was one of two sons of Joseph (Ephraim / Manasseh).
Interestingly, Just before Jacob died, he pronounced benedictions and maledictions with predictions on the future to each of his sons. Judah was assigned the role of leader. Jacob predicted Zebulon would live by the coast. Three of the sons, Reuben (the first-born), Simeon and Levi were scolded; the last two for their massacre of the people of Shechem.
Their sister Dinah had been assaulted by a man of Shechem and Simeon and Levi had exacted what they considered appropriate revenge. Reuben was criticized for carousing with one of his father's concubines.
As punishment, Levi was not assigned a territory, (rather the Levites would serve as priests) but each of the other brothers was. This should mean 11 tribes, but Joseph received two portions (which should have been the right of the eldest legitimate son), one in the name of each of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
Later, when the Nation of Israel divided into two Kingdoms the Northern Kingdom was most often called Israel, after its patriarch Jacob who, God had renamed Israel or Ephraim, after his son, and the largest tribe of Israel.
The Southern Kingdom was referred to as Judah, after its chief (leader) tribe.
Moving from this brief background into the “meat” of our text, looking squarely at this passage, we see primarily a message of God’s love for His son, Ephraim, that is the Nation of Israel. This is the account of God’s love for Israel.
While in most of the writing of the prophet Hosea the imagery of Israel as the unfaithful bride of God is used to describe God’s relationship to His chosen people, National Israel and in a fuller Spiritual Israel (The Church), here the prophet’s writing diverges into the imagery of God as father and Israel as son.
In verse 1 the prophet records the word of the Lord saying, “When Israel was a child, I love him…” In verse 3 God says, “It was I who taught Ephraim (remember the relative interchangeability of Israel and Ephraim) to walk, taking him by the arms…”
Then in verse 4 the imagery changes a bit to that of gentle herdsmen when God says, “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.”
Unlike the cruel taskmaster who abuses a beast of burden, the Lord, though mighty, though all powerful, though controlling every aspect of our present and future life, here is said to lead Israel with love, not with force; grace not anger.