For the most part, the prophet Hosea presents Israel’s misdeeds not as violations of an abstract, impersonal law, but as actions that betray the love that exists within a family. The book begins with Hosea portraying Israel as the Lord’s unfaithful wife. In chapter 11:1-11, he describes Israel as the Lord’s estranged and rebellious child.
Like a father, the Lord loves his children, the people of Israel whom he delivered from slavery in a foreign land.
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The Lord helped his children take their first steps. He carried them in his arms. He stooped down to feed them. He put band-aids on their owies. He held them to his chest and nuzzled his cheek against theirs. The Lord was not a cruel or abusive parent; he led his children with cords of human kindness and bonds of love.
Nevertheless, his children have repeatedly run away from him to offer their allegiance to idols. They love Baal more than they do their own father.
The verb “call” makes a repeated appearance in Hosea 11:1-11. God called Israel out of Egypt, giving birth to the nation of Israel. The more God calls, however, the more Israel goes away from him. The people running from him call out to their idols, but the idols don’t answer.
Hosea presents Israel with only two options: return to the one who gave you birth by delivering you from bondage, or return to the bondage from which he delivered you.
The heavenly father called out to save them, but his foolish children would not return. As Israel’s other prophets foresaw, there would be consequences to Israel’s disloyalty and estrangement. The people would suffer greatly. The sword would ravage their cities. Their idols and their false prophets would be destroyed. The nation that was given birth out of bondage would return to bondage.
The prophet Hosea, however, cannot leave the story there. The Lord laments over his children:
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
The Lord simply cannot treat his children like he does the other sinful nations of the world.
So the Lord says,
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not totally destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
Exile and bondage indeed lie ahead for the Lord’s rebellious children, but the Lord will return them to the land. The children who ran from their heavenly father will come flying home from the east and the west. They will come “trembling” at the sound of the lion’s roar, for how else could they face the eternal God whose love they had betrayed.