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Hosea 11:2, 3 says,
2 The more they called them, the more they went from them [or, “from Me”]; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols. 3 Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms; but they did not know that I healed them.
Yahweh was the God who called Israel out of Egypt, but Israel was like a rebellious child who runs in the other direction whenever his Father called him. The Septuagint texts reads, “they departed from My presence.” Recall that this was what Jonah did as well, the prophet whose heart reflected the condition of Israel. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, but he went the other direction toward Tarshish.
Yet Yahweh was Israel-Ephraim’s Father, the One who taught His son to walk. Yahweh is the One who took Ephraim in His arms when he fell and scraped his knees. Yet it was as if Ephraim did not know his own Father.
The Yoke of Captivity
Hosea 11:4 continues with a different metaphor, saying,
4 I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love, and I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws. And I bent down and fed them.
Israel had been put into bondage to other nations six times in their earlier history in the time of the judges. This bondage was a wooden yoke, as Jeremiah described it. Each time of captivity was “with bonds of love,” as opposed to bonds of cruelty. With each time, God had loosened the yoke by loosening the straps binding the yoke to the neck of the ox. Furthermore, God had “bent down” (gone out of His way) to feed them and care for them, as a man cares for his ox.
In spite of God’s loving judgments, Israel-Ephraim remained in rebellion. For this reason, the prophet says, the next captivity was to be much more rigorous and long. Hosea 11:5, 6 says,
5 They will not return to the land of Egypt; but Assyria—he will be their king, because they refused to return to Me. 6 And the sword will whirl against their cities, and will demolish their gate bars and consume them because of their counsels.
Though the prophet had already said (metaphorically) that Israel was to return to Egypt (Hosea 8:13; 9:3), he specifically contradicts himself here, saying, “they will NOT return to the land of Egypt,” but rather, they will go to Assyria. Obviously, he had used Egypt as a metaphor for bondage or captivity, rather than as a literal place. The prophet makes it clear that Assyria was to be their new “Egypt.”
We find the same metaphor used in Zechariah 10:10. This metaphoric “Egypt” allowed other prophets to compare Israel’s deliverance from Egypt with their end-time deliverance at the end of their Assyrian captivity (Isaiah 11:16), without insisting that Israel must literally come out of the land of Egypt. But meanwhile, Israel was to be conquered by war and destruction. The sword was to demolish their cities and the gates of walled cities. The gate of a city or town was the public place where the judges sat. Hence, it represents the government. When the gates are demolished, the government is destroyed, being replaced by those conquering the city.
A Father’s Compassion
Hosea 11:8 says,
8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart is turned over within Me; all My compassions [nichuwm] are kindled.
How could our loving heavenly Father give up His children permanently? Could He treat Israel as Admah and Zeboiim? These were smaller cities destroyed by fire along with Sodom and Gomorrah (Deuteronomy 29:23). The prophet shows us that divine judgment that is administered by a loving God is not permanent. Even if judgment is severe, it must end at some point. Why? Because God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). The pain of judgment causes God’s heart to be “turned over,” or overthrown, changed, or turned.
In the broader picture, God’s love extends to the whole world, for John 3:16, 17 says,
16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.
On the surface, this statement seems to contradict Jesus’ words in John 5:26, 27, which says,
26 For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself, 27 and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.
Jesus, then, was given authority judge the world—and we (His body) with Him (1 Corinthians 6:2). The real question, then, is the manner of judgment, rather than the fact of judgment. It is only when we see that all righteous judgment comes from a God of love and that His law puts limitations upon judgment, that we are able to comprehend that judgment cannot be forever. His love limits judgment, however severe, and this is reflected in the divine law itself.
Hence, Jesus will indeed judge the world, but He was not sent to lose most of His creation through permanent and unending judgment, “but that the world should be saved through Him” in the end. Scripture everywhere speaks of divine judgment for sin, but even the severest judgment has no power to resist the law of Jubilee.
This is the love and compassion (nichuwm) of God. What He speaks to Israel is not an exception, but a shining example of the love of God toward all of His children and toward all of the nations of the earth. His compassion (nichuwm) is from the root word nacham, which means “to comfort.” See Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort, O comfort My people.” It is the word which prophesies the coming of the Comforter, that is, the Holy Spirit. Essentially, the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Truth, is the compassion and comfort of God, which in turn is derived from His love. This is the Truth of His inherent nature, and if we do not fully comprehend His love and compassion in relation to His judgments upon His children, then the work of the Holy Spirit within us has not yet fully matured.
Hosea 11:9 continues,
9 I will not execute My fierce anger; I will not destroy Ephraim again. For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
The nation and government of Israel-Ephraim was obviously destroyed in God’s “fierce anger.” Many of the people died in that destruction. But His judgment was not designed to destroy them, as the judgments of men might do. God says, “I am God and not man,” implying that the judgments of men are without compassion. The judgments of men decree unending punishment, because we never read in Scripture that “man is love.” Only God is love, and man’s love equals the love of God only when His law is fully written on his heart.
God’s judgments, then, can only be different from the doctrines of men. Men interpret biblical judgment that is said to be olam as “everlasting” punishment, whereas God treats it according to its original definition, “hidden, unknown, indefinite.” There is huge difference between infinite and indefinite.
Hosea 11:10, 11 concludes this section with the key to understanding the basis of God’s compassion and love in regard to His self-imposed limitations on righteous judgment.
10 They will walk after the Lord. He will roar like a lion; indeed, He will roar, and His sons will come trembling from the west. 11 They will come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will settle them in their houses, declares the Lord.
This is a New Covenant statement: “They will walk after the Lord.” It is a prophetic statement of fact—not wishful thinking. It is based on the second covenant, wherein God vowed to make them His people and to be their God (Deuteronomy 29:13). This New Covenant, set forth in Jeremiah 31:31-34, is quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12, telling us that it was unlike the first covenant which God made with Israel when they first came out of Egypt (in Exodus 19:5-8).
The first covenant was man’s vow to God; the second was God’s vow to man. Men broke the first covenant, for all have sinned. But God cannot break His own vow, in which He said, “I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Hebrews 8:10).
In other words, God will initiate this by the power of His own will, and the will of man will be unable to resist it in the end. Men will indeed respond, not because they will have the power to fulfill their own vow, but because they will be unable to resist the will of God. Of course, there is a long interim in which men do indeed resist the will of God. Such resistance is built into the divine plan. But in the end, they will indeed be God’s people, and God will be their God.
To whom does this apply? Hebrews 8:11 says, “all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.” Moses tells us in Deuteronomy 29:14, 15,
14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.
This is interpreted by Jeremiah and by the author of the book of Hebrews to mean “all shall know Me.” It is not wishful thinking. It does not merely give men the opportunity to repent by the power of their own will. It is a divine Statement of Intent, which God has the power to accomplish fully, and which man has no power to stop. God’s will is stronger than man’s will. He knows how to turn the hearts of men to repentance, and though most of them do not repent during their life time, every knee will bow at the Great White Throne judgment and there confess Him as their Lord to the glory of God the Father.
This section of Hosea ends in Hosea 11:11, though the chapter, as given to us by Stephen Langton in the thirteenth century, adds one more verse.