Summary: Hosea shares with us a beautiful description of the unconditional love of God the Father for his children, and his continual call to repent and return to his embrace.
The Tender Love of God
I. How do you picture God? When God was first described to you, what were you told about him?
This summer I read a book entitled “Memories of God” by author Roberta Bondi, who is the Professor of Church History at Emory University’s School of Theology. She remembers back to the days of her childhood, and to her first experiences of learning about God at the Forked River Baptist Church in Union City Kentucky.
Every night I would come back for the revival with my great aunts. Brother Smith’s message was always the same, and it was not designed for the easy listening of children. “Sinner!” he would shout. “You are all sinners! Are you ready for hell? Do you think you can keep your sins hidden from your heavenly Father? Don’t you think your heavenly Father knows what you do in secret? Do you think he can’t see into your hearts? Well I’m here to tell you judgement is coming, and it’s coming soon!” He would go on preaching like this for a long time, until finally he switched gears, and started preaching John 3:16. “Yes,” he would say, “You are a sinner! But God loves you. He loved you enough to send his son to die for your sins. Only believe – believe that God loves you, or he’ll send you to hell forever!”
During the alter call, while I sang all the verses of “Just as I am Without One Plea” I would try my best to flee from the wrath to come by believing that my heavenly father loved me – sins and all – Only I could not believe it. How could God love me in spite of my sin, if they were ban enough to make God’s own Son die? (p.23)
Roberta grew up with an image of God that I suspect many of us have been taught at one time or another. God is a stern, Holy Father who tolerates no imperfections or weakness. God looks down in wrath upon the sinful world. God is the stern Father who demands justice – a blood sacrifice for sins. Jesus is the loving Son, willing to pay the penalty and assuage the father’s wrath. If we believe in Jesus, God the Father will tolerate us – for the sake of the Son whom he loves.
If you’re among the many people, like Roberta, who grew up with this image of an angry, vengeful, wrath-filled God who couldn’t wait to punish the world for it’s sins, then I hope this morning to offer you a different view of God of the Bible.
Our Scripture passage comes to us from Hosea, one of the minor prophets in the OT. Hosea lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the late 8th century BC. His description of the relationship between God and people one of the most beautiful I have ever heard….
"When Israel was a child, I loved him and out of Egypt I called my son…
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk…
I took them up in my arms
I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.
I was to them like those who lift infants to their checks
I bent down to them and fed them"
What a beautiful picture of the tender love of God.
Here God is like a Father who carefully teaches his son to walk – gently holding his small hand…
Or a mother who cradles her infant child to her cheek, delighting in the smell of her baby’s hair, the soft touch of her skin, her tiny body cuddled close in her arms.
Here God is not concerned with flaunting his dominance, but delights in watching his child grow… he teaches him to walk… and leads him forward through each step of life with kindness… feeding them, and helping them to grow strong.
God himself defines our relationship to him as family – we are his beloved children, whom he deeply loves.
Hosea points to the story of Exodus as the proof of God’s love…. The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, and God heard their cries – and out of Egypt he called his son. He raised up a great leader Moses and through him he showed his power, patiently revealing his love and his protection again and again, until the Israelites trusted him enough to let him lead them out of Egypt. With great patience God directed them – not pulling or tugging, but gently leading with cords of kindess and bands of love. He offers them the law, and teaches them to walk with him. He feeds them manna and provides them with water, gently bending down to heal them. When the harsh desert conditions threaten death, again and again he bends down to heal them.