They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels. My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all.
How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. They shall go after the Lord; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord. Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One. – Hosea 11:5-12 ESV
God’s judgment was coming. It was unavoidable and would be highly deserved. The people of Israel had earned His wrath because they had spurned His love and responded to His many blessings with unfaithfulness. Rather than obeying God and taking seriously the calls of His many prophets to repent, they had chosen to follow their own counsel. They had listened to false prophets and immoral priests. They had sought false gods and pursued the protection of pagan allies. God accused them, saying, “My people are bent on turning away from me” (Hosea 11:7 ESV). And generations earlier, God had warned them what would happen if they failed to remain faithful.
After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time—if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God and arousing his anger, I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. – Deuteronomy 4:25-28 NLT
What God had so clearly warned would happen was about to take place just as He had said. The Assyrians were going to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel and take its inhabitants captive. There they would get their fill of man-made gods and discover the sad reality of life without the one true God.
There is no doubt that God was angry with the people of Israel. But like a father who grieves to see his child rebel against him and suffer the consequences, God did not enjoy the prospect of bringing judgment on His chosen people. He lovingly asks, “Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah or demolish you like Zeboiim?” (Hosea 11:8 NLT). Punishing His children was not easy for Him to do. And sometimes we neglect to realize that even God’s discipline is always done in love. Yes, He was being true to His nature as a holy and righteous God. He was obligated to punish sin and deal justly with their rebellion. But He did not do so with joy. He didn’t relish the thought of bringing judgment against His people. Because He loved them. And Moses had told the people long before they had entered the land of promise:
But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath. – Deuteronomy 4:29-31 NLT
God is merciful. He is faithful. He would not abandon His people completely. He would not forget the covenant He had made with Abraham. He would remain faithful in spite of their unfaithfulness. Yes, He would punish them and fulfill His promise to bring judgment on them for their unfaithfulness, but He would also one day restore them. And He made an important and often overlooked distinction, saying, “I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst” (Hosea 11:9 ESV). Even the misguided prophet, Balaam, understood the incomparable nature of God. “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Numbers 23:19 NLT). It was the prophet Samuel who said, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29 NLT).
God would keep His word to bring punishment on the people of Israel. But He would also keep the covenants He had made with Abraham and David. God would not completely abandon His people. They would one day be restored to the land. A descendant of David would one day sit on the throne in Jerusalem and reign over a restored and reunified nation of Israel. God assured His people, “For someday the people will follow me. I, the Lord, will roar like a lion. And when I roar, my people will return trembling from the west. Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt. Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria. And I will bring them home again” (Hosea 11:10-11 NLT).
The day is coming when God will redeem and restore His chosen people, the nation of Israel. When Christ returns to set up His kingdom on earth, God will fulfill His promises to His people. The prophet Isaiah tells us about that day:
He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish, and Judah’s enemies will be destroyed; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim. – Isaiah 11:12-13 NLT
Our God is faithful, loving, merciful and gracious. He is trustworthy and always reliable. He is not a man. He doesn’t lie. He never fails to keep His promises. And while circumstances may seem to indicate that He has abandoned us, His character assures us that He is always there and that He cares. He is in control. He has a plan.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:11 ESV