Your Maker Is Your Husband

1 “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
    break forth into singing and cry aloud,
    you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
    and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
    and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
    and your offspring will possess the nations
    and will people the desolate cities.

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
    be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
    and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
    like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
    says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
    but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
    I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord, your Redeemer.

“This is like the days of Noah to me:
    as I swore that the waters of Noah
    should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
    and will not rebuke you.
10 For the mountains may depart
    and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
    and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

11 “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted,
    behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
    and lay your foundations with sapphires.
12 I will make your pinnacles of agate,
    your gates of carbuncles,
    and all your wall of precious stones.
13 All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
    and great shall be the peace of your children.
14 In righteousness you shall be established;
    you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear;
    and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
15 If anyone stirs up strife,
    it is not from me;
whoever stirs up strife with you
    shall fall because of you.
16 Behold, I have created the smith
    who blows the fire of coals
    and produces a weapon for its purpose.
I have also created the ravager to destroy;
17     no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
    and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
    and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 54:1-17 ESV

This chapter speaks of the coming blessings of God, made possible by the suffering servant of God. The content of these verses is directed at the people of Judah and is intended to encourage their hope and trust in God, even in the midst of their present circumstances. God has clearly shown them that He has a long-term plan for them. While they would suffer because of their rebellion against Him, they would not be completely or permanently abandoned by Him. And, He comforts them by guaranteeing His commitment to them.

“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with great compassion I will take you back.
In a burst of anger I turned my face away for a little while.
    But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord, your Redeemer. – Isaiah 54:7-8 NLT

It is interesting to note that, in the 17 verses that make up this chapter, God is referred to by a range of different names. He is called their “Maker,” the one who fashioned them out of nothing. Their very existence was His doing. And not only had God given life to each and every Hebrew, He had created the nation of Israel to which they belonged.  And then He had made them His wife. He had betrothed Himself to the people of Israel. We see the language of the marital covenant reflected in Exodus 19 when God called them into a special relationship with Him.

“‘And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites.” – Exodus 19:5-6 NLT

And the people had responded to His proposal by declaring, “All that the Lord has commanded we will do!” (Exodus 19:8 NLT). And yet, the bride would prove to be unfaithful. She would not keep the covenant she made with her Husband. In fact, God later indicts His wife, accusing her of adultery.

“If a man divorces his wife
and she leaves him and becomes another man’s wife,
he may not take her back again.
Doing that would utterly defile the land.
But you, Israel, have given yourself as a prostitute to many gods.
So what makes you think you can return to me?”
says the Lord. – Jeremiah 3:1 NET

And yet, just a few verses later, God calls on His bride to do just that.

“Return, O faithless children, declares the Lord; for I am your master.” – Jeremiah 3:14 ESV

The Hebrew word translated as “master” was actually used as a play on words. It is ba`al, and you can see its similarity to the name of the pagan God, Baal. But what is even more significant is that the Hebrew word ba`al can be translated as “husband.” God was Israel’s master because of His role as their husband. And, as their husband, God had remained faithful to His covenant promises. He had not wandered or committed spiritual adultery. He had not chosen another bride. And the text goes on to explain why. Because He is the “Lord of hosts” and “the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 54:5 ESV). He is mighty in power and morally pure. This is what made His decision to wed Israel all that more remarkable. And it is because He is the Lord of hosts and the Holy One of Israel that He will keep His covenant promises to them.

The book of Deuteronomy emphasizes the unique relationship between God and the people of Israel.

For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure, His covenant wife.

“The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

Israel had not been more beautiful. The had not come with a sizeable dowry. There was no benefit to God in this relationship. He wed Himself to her because of the promise He had made to Abraham.

“I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” – Genesis 17:7 NLT

God, Israel’s faithful Husband, would become their kinsman-Redeemer, buying her back out of her slavery, which had happened as a result of her infidelity. This strange relationship between God and the people of Israel is outlined in the book of Hosea, where the prophet is told by God to marry a prostitute and bear children with her. Then, when Hosea’s wife proves unfaithful and falls back into prostitution and, eventually, becomes enslaved, Hosea is commanded by God to redeem her from her slavery.

And God will use this real-life scenario to illustrate His relationship with the people of Israel. He even uses the wordplay mentioned earlier, cleverly revealing the uncomfortable similarity between ba`al (husband) and Baal (a false god).

“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more.” – Hosea 2:16-17 ESV

The day was going to come when Israel would no longer confuse their true Master or husband with the false gods of the pagan nations. They would no longer prostitute themselves to a host of other gods, breaking their covenant promise with their one true Husband. Why? Because God would call them back. He would restore them.

For the Lord has called you
    like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
    says your God. – Isaiah 54:6 ESV

And God confirms this commitment when He tells them: “my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed” (Isaiah 54:10 ESV). And verses 11-17 contain an amazing account of how God will bless His wayward wife, showering her with gifts and His goodness, all in spite of her unfaithfulness.

While the peoples of Israel and Judah were currently experiencing affliction, all as a result of their unfaithfulness to God, Isaiah assures them that a day was coming when they would be redeemed and restored by God. And the imagery in these verses portrays a beautifully restored and repopulated city of Jerusalem. The walls, battlements, and foundations are described as being made of precious stones. The city is filled with children who are being instructed in the ways of the Lord. It will be a time of great peace, free from oppression and fear. This seems to coincide with the New Jerusalem, as seen by the apostle John and described in the book of Revelation.

“Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” – Revelation 19:9-11 ESV

Jerusalem becomes the symbol of the bride, the nation of Israel. It will be the home where God will dwell with His people. But more important than the physical description of the city is the description of its two primary occupants:

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. – Revelation 19:22-23 ESV

Isaiah 54 is a prophetic promise outlining God’s intentions toward His covenant wife, Israel. At the time at which Isaiah penned this chapter, Israel and Judah were barren, desolate, afflicted, and facing more of the same. But God was reassuring them that He would remain faithful. He would be unwavering in His marital vows, even to the point of redeeming His wayward wife out of captivity and restoring her to a right relationship with Himself. And God closes the chapter with His personal guarantee to do all that He has promised.

“This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
    and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” – Isaiah 54:17 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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They Shall Return.

I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 

O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit. Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them. – Hosea 14:4-9 ESV

The northern kingdom would end up in exile in Assyria. They would fall to the Assyrian army and see their beloved kingdom come to an abrupt and ignominious end. And their fate would be well-deserved, the result of their ongoing rejection of God and refusal to live according to His commands. And yet, these closing verses of the book of Hosea remind us of something remarkable that will happen in the future. They point to a coming event that reminds us of the unfailing love and unwavering faithfulness of our God. In spite of all that Israel had done to offend God, He would one day save and redeem them. He boldly states, “I will heal their apostasy” (Hosea 14:4 ESV). Even as they await His coming judgment, He comforts them by saying, “I will love them freely” (Hosea 14:4 ESV). While His punishment of them was inevitable, His love for them was inexhaustible. He would remain faithful. The prophet Isaiah recorded the words of God that remind us of His unfailing love.

For I will not fight against you forever; I will not always be angry. If I were, all people would pass away—all the souls I have made. I was angry, so I punished these greedy people. I withdrew from them, but they kept going on their own stubborn way. I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them. I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far,” says the Lord, who heals them. – Isaiah 57:16-19 NLT

Without God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness, “all people would pass away.” There would be no hope for anyone. And even when His people “kept going on their own stubborn way,” God saw, but said, “I will heal them anyway!” Rather than simply giving them what they deserved, He would give them His undeserved mercy and grace. He would lead them, comfort them, and cause them to worship Him once again. What they could not bring themselves to do, He would do for them.

The day is coming when God will restore His people. Israel will once again enjoy a right relationship with Him. He will be their God and they will be His people. Isaiah speaks of this coming day.

In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to bring back the remnant of his people—those who remain in Assyria and northern Egypt; in southern Egypt, Ethiopia, and Elam; in Babylonia, Hamath, and all the distant coastlands.He will raise a flag among the nations and assemble the exiles of Israel. He will gather the scattered people of Judah from the ends of the earth. – Isaiah 11:10-12 NLT

With the return of Christ and the establishment of His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem, the nation of Israel will be miraculously restored to the land and renewed in their relationship with God. “He will make a highway for the remnant of his people, the remnant coming from Assyria, just as he did for Israel long ago when they returned from Egypt” (Isaiah 11:16 NLT). This will all be the work of God. It is part of His divine plan for the nation of Israel and for the world. He will keep the covenant He made with Abraham. He will fulfill the promise He made to David that one of his descendants would sit on his throne in Jerusalem and reign forever (2 Samuel 7:16). Our God is a faithful, covenant-keeping God. He keeps His word. His love is unfailing and His commitment to His promises, unwavering.

Hosea would have us remember: “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them” (Hosea 14:9 ESV). The reason we should faithfully walk in the ways of the Lord should be because of His faithfulness. When we read of God’s commitment to keep His promises to Israel, we should be encouraged that He will do the same for us. He will not leave us, forsake us, turn His back on us, or fail to keep His promises to us. His love for us will never end. His future restoration of us to a permanent and sinless relationship with Him is guaranteed. Nothing can separate us from His love. As God promised the nation of Judah regarding their exile in Babylon:

You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:10-11 NLT

The people of Israel will one day be restored. A remnant of His chosen people will enjoy unbroken, undeserved fellowship with Him. And those of us who have placed our faith in Christ will also know what it means to enjoy the benefits of God’s grace and mercy as we spend eternity with Him, not because we deserve it, but because He is loving, faithful and a promise-keeping God.

Who Is Your God?

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.” – Hosea 14:1-3 ESV

In verse 16 of chapter 13, God warned of the gruesome manner in which many of the Israelites would die at the hands of the Assyrians:

Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open. – Hosea 13:16 ESV

Many would die in battle against the Assyrians, but their deaths would be in vain. Pregnant women and innocent children would suffer tragic and hideous deaths as the Assyrians attempted to wipe out the next generation of Israelites in order to prevent future rebellion.  The judgment that was coming would be devastating and impossible to escape. So Hosea pleaded with his fellow Israelites to return to the Lord.

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. – Hosea 14:1 ESV

The Hebrew word he used is שׁוּב (shuwb) and it means “to turn back (to God), repent” (“H7725 – shuwb – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It carries the idea of restoration and point to a future day in which God would reestablish His covenant relationship with His people. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word can also mean “to bring back, refresh, restore.”  There is a sense in which God is calling His people back to a right relationship with Himself, but its ultimate fulfillment will be His responsibility, not theirs. At the same time, God was calling them to acknowledge their sin. He wanted to hear them say, “Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you our praises” (Hosea 14:2b NLT). The acknowledgement of their sins against Him was an essential part of their return to Him. They would also have to recognize and repent of their misplaced trust in things other than God. “Assyria cannot save us, nor can our warhorses. Never again will we say to the idols we have made, ‘You are our gods’” (Hosea 14:3a NLT).

One of the hardest things for us to do as God’s people is to admit our unfaithfulness to God. It is not that we lack faith. It is that our faith is misplaced. Our trust is misappropriated. Rather than relying solely on God, we turn to other sources for assurance, comfort, security and salvation. For some, their own intellect becomes the go-to source of their rescue. They learn to think their way out of any troubles or trials. For others, financial resources become the means of their salvation. They learn to buy their way out of moments of distress, discomfort and dissatisfaction. Money and materialism become their gods of choice. And yet, God would have us acknowledge our false gods. He desires that we admit our wandering hearts and prodigal faith. But that will not happen until we learn the sometimes painful lesson that our bank accounts, portfolios, talents, resources, careers, or friends cannot save us. They make lousy gods and even worse saviors. But as long as we think they can provide us with any sliver of hope and help, we will never fully return to and place our faith in God.

The whole point behind God’s coming judgment against Israel was to get them to realize that their salvation was in Him alone. He wanted them to come to the conclusion that He was the soul source of salvation. He desired to hear them say, “No, in you alone do the orphans find mercy” (Hosea 14:3b NLT). That statement carries with it a recognition of need. Orphans are inherently needy. They have no resources, no means of self-reliance. And that is exactly the attitude that God desires in us. But like the church in Laodicea, we can arrogantly claim, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!” (Revelation 3:17a NLT). But the reality is, “you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17b NLT). We can wrongly assume we are spiritually healthy and in no need of a healing. But Jesus would remind us, “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Matthew 9:13b NLT). If you don’t think you need God, you will not return to Him. And why would you? As long as you think you have another trick up your sleeve, another option available to you, you will not seek God’s help. In fact, for most of us, God can become an option of last resort. We turn to Him only when all else has failed. We call on Him only when our other sources of salvation have run out or proven unreliable.

But God longs for us to see Him as David did. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety” (Psalm 18:2 NLT). God longs that we see Him in those same terms. That we would be able to say, “He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” (Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT). But instead, we can become like Israel, who “became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed! Then they abandoned the God who had made them; they made light of the Rock of their salvation” (Deuteronomy 32:15 NLT). And sadly, the same can be said of us that was said of them: “You neglected the Rock who had fathered you; you forgot the God who had given you birth” (Deuteronomy 32:18 NLT).

But God’s desire is that we return to Him. He wants us to abandon our other sources of salvation and to rely solely on Him. He wants to be our rock, shield, and tower. But if we don’t think we need Him, we will never fully return to Him. As long as our faith is focused on anything other than Him, we will never fully recognize our need for Him.

 

No Ransom. No Redemption.

He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper. Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities? Where are all your rulers—those of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes”? I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath.

The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb.

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the Lord, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open. – Hosea 13:9-16 ESV

If God does not intervene, man is helpless and hopeless to do anything about his condition. Without God’s help, man is incapable of delivering himself from the inevitability of sin’s ultimate outcome: death. The Israelites, even before the division of the kingdom, had proven themselves unfaithful to God by exhibiting their ongoing unwillingness to honor Him as God. Soon after they had entered the land after their 40-year of wandering in the wilderness, they exhibited their propensity to disobey God. The book of Judges chronicles their repetitive cycle of sin, which started with their unwillingness to obey God and completely remove the pagan nations from the land.

Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages… – Judges 1:27 ESV

Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer – Judges 1:29 ESV

Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron – Judges 1:30 ESV

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco – Judges 1:31 ESV

And on and on it went. The entire book of Judges is a sad chronicle of their on-again, off-again relationship with God. The people would turn against Him, and God would punish them by allowing their enemies to defeat them. The people would cry out in despair and God would provide them with a judge to deliver them. There would be a short time of repentance, and then the cycle would repeat itself. The book of Judges ends with the sad statement: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 ESV).

It was not long before they demanded that God give them a king just like all the other nations (1 Samuel 8:5). And God gave them exactly what they asked for – King Saul. He would prove to be a faithless king who God would remove and replace with King David. And David would be followed by his son, Solomon, who would prove to be a wise and successful king, until the latter days of his reign, when he, because of his many pagan wives, allowed the worship of idols to make its way into the nation. God split the nation in two, and Israel, the northern kingdom, would end up with a king just like Saul. Jeroboam would prove unfaithful as well, leading the people into idolatry and away from the worship of Yahweh. And now that God’s judgement was coming, He sarcastically asked of them, “Now where is your king? Let him save you! Where are all the leaders of the land, the king and the officials you demanded of me? In my anger I gave you kings, and in my fury I took them away” (Hosea 13:10-11 NLT). God had given them ample opportunity to repent, but like a child in the womb, they refused to come out when the pains of delivery increased.

So God asked, “Should I ransom them from the grave? Should I redeem them from death?
O death, bring on your terrors! O grave, bring on your plagues! For I will not take pity on them” (Hosea 13:14 NLT). This verse should jump out at us. Because ransom and redemption is exactly what God has accomplished for those of us who are in Christ. He has paid the price for our sins and ransomed us from the death sentence that was hanging over our heads. He has redeemed us from death through the sacrifice of His own Son, who died in our place. As a result, we no longer need fear death or the grave. Paul quotes from this very passage when he writes,

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die,j this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” – 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 NLT

It is God who ransoms and redeems. There is no help or hope without Him. The Israelites were going to learn that deliverance was impossible without God. Their kings would prove impotent. Their armies would be exposed as incompetent. When destruction came, their gods would be non-existent. They would learn the hard way that deliverance comes only through the Lord. Trusting in kings, chariots, allies, weapons, wealth, wisdom, false gods or anything other than God would prove fruitless and devastatingly deadly. Their destruction would be complete. No ransom. No redemption.

As Peter said in his defense at his trial before the high priest and the other religious leaders, “Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10-12 NLT). Salvation comes only through the Lord. There is no salvation through anyone or anything else.

There Is No Other Savior.

When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel, but he incurred guilt through Baal and died. And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!” Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window.

But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open. – Hosea 13:1-8 ESV

It would seem that the northern kingdom of Israel was unfamiliar with the old adage, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Because that is exactly what they had done. They were guilty of turning on the very one who had chosen them and blessed them by making them a nation. When God had divided the nation of Israel after Solomon’s epic fall from grace, He had chosen Jeroboam from the tribe of Ephraim to be the first king of the northern kingdom. That is why God held the tribe of Ephraim responsible for the direction the nation had taken. It was Jeroboam who came up with the bright idea to make two golden calves and establish their own places of worship, so that the people would not be tempted to return to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh. Eighteen years into his reign, Jeroboam rebelled against the southern kingdom of Judah and declared war against them. King Abijah of Judah had some very condemning words to say to the people of Israel just prior to their battle.

And now you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord in the hand of the sons of David, because you are a great multitude and have with you the golden calves that Jeroboam made you for gods. Have you not driven out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made priests for yourselves like the peoples of other lands? Whoever comes for ordination with a young bull or seven rams becomes a priest of what are no gods. – 2 Chronicles 13:8-9 ESV

Abijah warned them, “O sons of Israel, do not fight against the Lord, the God of your fathers, for you cannot succeed” (2 Chronicles 13:12 ESV). And he was proved right. The southern kingdom of Judah ended up routing the Israelites in battle, destroying 500,000 of their men in the process. “Thus the men of Israel were subdued at that time, and the men of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the Lord, the God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 13:18 ESV). King Jeroboam escaped, but would never regain his power. In fact, the chronicler tells us, “Jeroboam did not recover his power in the days of Abijah. And the Lord struck him down, and he died” (2 Chronicles 13:20 ESV). As Hosea puts it, “He incurred guilt through Baal and died” (Hosea 13:1 ESV).

But Jeroboam left a legacy. His golden calves, false priests and pagan worship centers remained. And as Hosea makes clear, even with Jeroboam gone, the people of Israel “sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen” (Hosea 13:2 ESV). Despite their humiliating defeat by Judah and the loss of their king, the people of Israel remained committed to their false gods. They stubbornly clung to their man-made idols, crafting them out of precious metals and then kissing them, desperately hoping that these false gods could become viable substitutes for the one true God.

But Hosea warns that their efforts will prove futile. Their days are numbered. He describes their future as bleak, saying, “they will disappear like the morning mist, like dew in the morning sun, like chaff blown by the wind, like smoke from a chimney” (Hosea 13:3 NLT). And God reminds them, “I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior” (Hosea 13:4 ESV). He was to be their one and only God. Those idols to whom they offered sacrifices were not gods at all. They were statues made by men and were incapable of hearing them, let alone helping them. There was only one source of salvation and that was God. He alone could be their savior. He alone had the power to hear their prayers and provide them with help and hope. It was He who had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and led them to the land of Canaan. It was He who had provided them with victory over the inhabitants of the land and given them farms, vineyards and houses they had not built. As God reminded Joshua, “I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build – the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them” (Joshua 24:13 NLT). And Joshua would go on to warn the people:

So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord. – Joshua 24:14-15 NLT

The people had chosen. They had decided to serve false gods rather than the God who had delivered them from captivity and blessed them beyond measure. They gladly accepted the blessings of God, but then became fat and happy, slowly forgetting the one who had chosen them and set them apart. They ended up biting the very hand that fed them. God pulls no punches in describing their unfaithfulness: “they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me” (Hosea 13:6 ESV). Once they had become satisfied with the blessings of God, they ended up forgetting the God behind the blessings. The provisions became more important than the Provider. The gifts meant more to them than the Giver. And in their minds, they rationalized that if one God is good, more gods is better. In fact, their philosophy seemed to be: the more, the merrier. More gods, more blessings. More shrines, more potential saviors. But they were going to learn that there was no other savior. Like a wild beast, God was going to attack them, and their false gods would prove poor substitutes for Him and lousy saviors from destruction.

Our Gracious God.

Jacob fled to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded sheep. By a prophet the Lord brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded. Ephraim has given bitter provocation; so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds. – Hosea 12:12-14 ESV

Jacob, whom God later renamed Israel, had twelve sons. These sons became the twelve tribes of Israel. And tend of those 12 tribes made up the northern kingdom of Israel after the nation had been split apart by God after the reign of Solomon. Only Judah and Benjamin made up the southern kingdom of Judah. But long before the nation of Israel divided and even before they were a kingdom at all, Jacob had fled to the land of Aram in order to escape the wrath of his twin brother, Esau, whom he had cheated out of his inheritance. It was there that Jacob (Israel) had to serve Laban as a shepherd in order gain his daughter, Rachel’s hand in marriage. After seven years of service, Laban tricked Jacob by giving him his older daughter, Leah, instead. It would take another seven years of service as a shepherd for Jacob to earn the right to marry Rachel. This story was to serve as a reminder of the nation of Israel’s humble beginnings. They had started out in the land of Aram, as nothing but sheepherders. Then God providentially arranged for Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons, to be betrayed by his own brothers and sold into slavery. He ended up in Egypt, but eventually, through the sovereign hand of God, would become the second-highest official in the land. And when a famine struck the land of Canaan, Jacob sent his 11 remaining sons to Egypt to seek aid. There they discovered their long-lost brother and were shown grace, forgiveness and love. Rather than punish them for their acts against him, Joseph provided them with a place to live. It was in Egypt that Jacob and his sons would live and work as shepherds, tending the flocks of the Pharaoh.

Over time, the lot of the descendants of Jacob changed dramatically. Their numbers increased remarkably and the Pharaoh, fearing they might one day rise up against him, ordered that they be enslaved. And they would remain slaves for 400 years. That is, until God sent His prophet, Moses, to lead them to freedom. With the help of God, Moses would guide and protect them, helping them not only escape the slavery of Egypt, but discover the freedom and blessing of their own land, promised by God to their ancestor, Abraham, many centuries earlier. As with Jacob in Aram and the Israelites in Egypt, the ten tribes that made up the northern kingdom of Israel in Hosea’s day would know what it meant to live in a foreign land as little more than slaves. They would discover the humility of living under the control of another. They had chosen to reject God as their leader. And so Hosea announced, “But the people of Israel have bitterly provoked the Lord, so their Lord will now sentence them to death in payment for their sins” (Hosea 12:14 NLT).

Theirs would be a spiritual death, a forced removal from the land of promise and the subsequent separation from their God. They would find themselves living in exile in a foreign land, far from home and experiencing the feelings of loneliness and abandonment that so often accompany disobedience to God. Like King David, they would know what it means to cry out in desperation: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:1-2 ESV). Their lips, once accustomed to fine wine and the art of lying, would cry out:

Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
our belly clings to the ground.
Rise up; come to our help!
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love! – Psalm 44:23-26 ESV

From their perspective it would seem as if God was distant. But it was they who had abandoned God. They had walked away from Him. As Isaiah, the prophet so aptly described, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6a ESV). That statement, part of a Messianic prophecy, not only describes the sad state of the nation of Israel, but the condition of every human being who has ever lived. Isaiah went on to say, “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 43:6b ESV). Jesus, the Messiah, would serve as the sacrificial substitute, bearing the punishment of God against mankind, paying the penalty for their transgressions.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5 ESV

Jacob’s years in Aram, the 400 years of slavery by his descendants in Egypt, and the captivity of the kingdom of Israel in Babylon are all examples of God’s punishment against the sins of man. But they also illustrate God’s grace and mercy. Jacob was ultimately restored to his family in Canaan. His descendants were set free from their bondage in Egypt. One day, God will return the people of Israel from their exile in foreign lands and restore them to a right relationship with Him. And through His Son, Jesus Christ, God has made it possible for all men to be made right with Him.

because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors. – Isaiah 53:12b

Undeserved mercy and grace. Unmerited favor. Unearned forgiveness. Unfailing love. The story of Israel is the story of mankind. They had returned God’s blessings and bounty with ingratitude and unfaithfulness. But God continually conserved a remnant. He refused to destroy them completely. As Joseph told his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5b-8a ESV). As isaiah told the people of Israel, “I will preserve a remnant of the people of Israel and of Judah to possess my land. Those I choose will inherit it, and my servants will live there” (Isaiah 65:9 NLT). And as the apostle Paul wrote, “It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them” (Romans 11:5 NLT).  Our God is merciful and patient. He provides a way where there was no way. He offers forgiveness where none is deserved. He gives grace when none is due. He provides salvation in place of condemnation. He is our gracious God.

The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. – Psalm 103:8-12 NLT

God-lessness Leads To Ungodliness.

A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress. Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.” I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast. I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables. If there is iniquity in Gilead, they shall surely come to nothing: in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls; their altars also are like stone heaps on the furrows of the field.– Hosea 12:7-11 ESV

The people of Israel lived a lie. They seriously thought they were able to pull the wool over the eyes of God, that He was somehow ignorant of their sinfulness. They even believed that their many blessings, in the form of wealth, power, abundant crops, and growing families, were a sign of God’s approval of them. Yet, like a dishonest grain merchant who cheats his customers by using rigged scales, the Israelites were guilty of deceit and dishonesty. They simply saw themselves as clever and resourceful, and they believed their success was a sign of God’s approval. They prided themselves on their wealth and arrogantly believed their sins were somehow hidden and undetectable by others.

Like so many Christians today, the Israelites saw their material abundance and wealth as a sign of God’s approval. They believed their affluence could be directly attributed to God and His pleasure with them. But they were in for a rude awakening. God was about to radically re-align their perspective. They were going to go from living lives of abundance and wealth to abject poverty. They would find themselves living in tents just like their ancestors had done while slaves in the land of Egypt. No more plush, comfortable homes. Gone would be the days of sumptuous clothes and delicious meals. Once a year, at the Feast of Booths, the Israelites would build temporary shelters made from branches in order to commemorate the years their ancestors spent wandering in the wilderness. Now they were going to experience what it was like to live in these shanties 365 days out of the year. Their sudden fall from grace would be a rude awakening, shattering their ill-conceived notion that affluence was somehow a sign of God’s approval.

God had sent His prophets, and they had warned the people to repent or face His coming judgment. They had had visions, spoken in parables, and repeatedly pleaded with the people to hear what they were saying and return to the Lord. But the people had rejected their messages and, in some cases, killed the messengers. Even Jesus declared of the city of David, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34 ESV). The people of Israel were unwilling to return to God. They had stubbornly refused His prophets, rejected their message, and remained committed to living life on their own terms. But God warned, “they shall surely come to nothing” (Hosea 12:11 ESV). Their altars to false gods would become like heaps of stones lying at the side of a plowed field. Their entire way of life was going to come to an end. Everything they put their faith and hope in – their wealth, material assets, false gods, fruitful fields, prolific families, and foreign alliances – would prove unreliable and no longer be available.

Ungodliness is essentially God-lessness. It is attempting to live your life with God removed from the center of it. It is the result of refusing to include Him in every area of life, of not giving Him access to and influence over the everyday affairs of life. When we convince ourselves that God doesn’t care about what we watch on TV, what we purchase with our money, how we spend our time, or where we place our hopes, we become ungodly. That doesn’t mean that everything we do is immoral or sinful. It simply means that God becomes less and less an influence over the everyday decisions of life. Our lives become essentially God-less. And it doesn’t take long for a God-less life to manifest itself in godless decisions and ungodly behavior. The Israelites had long ago left God out of the everyday mix of life. He had become an afterthought. He was their god in name only. They gave Him lip-service but not heart-allegiance. They wanted His blessings, but not His influence over their lives. As God declared through the prophet Isaiah:

These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

God went on to declare:

What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their evil deeds in the dark! “The Lord can’t see us,” they say. “He doesn’t know what’s going on!” How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”? Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”? – Isaiah 29:15-16 NLT

God-lessness can take the form of us deliberately leaving God out of our lives or simply assuming He is oblivious to what is going on. But any thought on our part that God does not care or that we can keep Him in the dark is misguided and, ultimately, dangerous. God wants to be engaged and involved in every area of our lives. But when we deliberately decide to leave Him out, our decision making will become God-less and our lives will gravitate toward ungodliness. And while we may experience what appears to be success and enjoy what feels like happiness, we will soon discover that abundance, without God, is actually poverty. Happiness, apart from God, will only result in misery. The call of Jesus to the church in Laodicea applies to many of us today:

“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” – Revelation 3:17-19 NLT

Return To God.

Ephraim feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind all day long; they multiply falsehood and violence; they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt.

The Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us—the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord is his memorial name: “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” – Hosea 12:1-6 ESV

Jacob was the common ancestor of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. His life had been a contentious affair, and it started at his birth. He had come from the womb clutching the heel of his twin brother Esau. He would grow up to be a man who depended upon trickery and deceit to get what he wanted. But it was after his face-to-face encounter with God, where he wrestled with the Lord, demanding that He bless him, that his name and his life were forever changed. Jacob called the name of the place where his encounter with God took place, Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Genesis 32:30 ESV). had been given a new name. And it was there that God gave him his new name. “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28 ESV). Israel means “he strives with God.” Jacob, in desperate need of God’s blessing, was willing to physically fight with God in order to receive it. For the first time in his life, he knew he needed God. He could not live his life on trickery and deceit any longer.

Much earlier in his life, Jacob had had another encounter with God. It was at a place called Luz. Moses records what happened there.

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:11-15 ESV

Jacob had renamed the place, Bethel, which means “House of God.” And years later, after God had changed his name to Israel, he was instructed by God to go back to Bethel.

“Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. – Genesis 35:1-4 ESV

It is interesting to note, that while Jacob commanded his household to put away their foreign gods and worship God alone, he did not destroy the idols, but hid them under a tree near Shechem. His obedience to God was incomplete. While the idols had been buried, the peoples’ desire for them had not gone away. Years later, when they had been returned to the land after their more than 400 years of captivity in Egypt, the descendants of Israel would continue to prove their unfaithfulness to God through the worship of false gods. And Bethel would be one of the cities where Jeroboam, the king of the northern nation of Israel, would set up a golden calf and command the people to worship it. He turned the place called “House of God” into a place to worship false gods. It was as if the idols Jacob had buried under the tree had been dug up. Their influence upon the people of Israel had never really diminished.

When Jacob had wrestled with God, he had recognized the divine nature of the place. He had said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!” (Genesis 28:16 NLT). And now, generations later, his descendants had turned Bethel into gateway to idol worship and apostasy. But Hosea begged the people of Israel to return to the Lord. He wanted them to remember the faithfulness of God and turn away from their love affair with false gods. “The Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the Lord is his name! So now, come back to your God. Act with love and justice, and always depend on him” (Hosea 12:5-6 NLT). As Jacob had learned his need for God, the people of Israel needed to rediscover their desperate dependency on Him. Like Jacob in his early years, their lives were characterized by deceit, trickery, manipulation and self-sufficiency. They wanted the blessings of God without obedience to God. Now Hosea was calling them to live lives that reflected their status as God’s children. They were to exhibit love, justice and obedience. Their lives were to be characterized by faithfulness. No more wrestling with God. No more contending and conniving. Jacob’s wrestling match with God had left him with a permanent limp. And the people of Israel were going to find out just how painful resistance to God can be. God wanted to bless them, but they were too stubborn to let that happen. And sadly, there are believers today who refuse to let God bless them. Rather than submit to His will and walk in His ways, they stubbornly demand to live their lives according to their own terms. Rather than return and repent, they resist. They may bury their idols under the tree, but their love affair with them remains.

He Is God, And Not A Man.

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

A Loving Father.

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. – Hosea 11:1-4 ESV

Sometimes, because God is transcendent and invisible to our eyes, we can see Him as distant and difficult to comprehend. After all, He is the creator of the universe. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is sinless and perfect in all His ways. So we find it hard to relate to Him. While we speak of His love and rely upon His grace and mercy, it’s not always easy to feel those things in daily life. After all, we can’t experience a hug from God. We have never been able to talk a walk with Him and have Him put His arm on our shoulder to encourage us. There is a sense in which His transcendence makes Him unapproachable and somewhat aloof to us. But God would have us see Him as our Father. In fact, He uses the imagery of fatherhood throughout the Scriptures. And Jesus Himself encouraged His disciples to approach God in prayer with the word, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9 ESV).

Here in chapter 11, God addresses the people of Israel as a father would speak to his child. He reminds them of their past and jars their collective memory in order to get them to recall what their relationship with Him used to be like. He had been like a father to them. They had been like a helpless child, trapped in the bonds of slavery in Egypt. They were oppressed. They were crying out in pain and suffering. And God had heard them. When He had called Moses, God had told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8 NLT). And that is exactly what He had done. He had rescued them, set them free and led them to the land of Canaan, just as He had promised to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

God had shown the people of Israel unconditional love. He had rescued them, not because they deserved it, but because of His love for them. And yet, their response to His love had been to refuse it. The failed to recognize and appreciate the incredible miracle that the God of the universe had chosen to shower His love on them. He had adopted them as His own and yet, they had treated His love with contempt. The prophet Isaiah recorded these indicting words from God against the southern kingdom of Judah.

Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! This is what the Lord says: “The children I raised and cared for have rebelled against me. Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master’s care—but Israel doesn’t know its master. My people don’t recognize my care for them.” Oh, what a sinful nation they are—loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. – Isaiah 1:2-4 NLT

They were corrupt children who had rejected the love of God. And God uses the imagery of a father teaching his child to walk to illustrate just how painful their rejection of Him was. He had held their hand and lovingly, patiently guided their every step. He had walked alongside them, steadying their way and ensuring their safety. And then had inevitably fallen, He had lovingly healed them. Just like any earthly father would have done. It was Jesus who said of His heavenly Father, “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11 ESV). God is a faithful, loving Father. And yet, Israel, His adopted children, had forsaken Him for false gods. He had “led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love” (Hosea 11:4 ESV), but they had chosen to reject His love and come out from under His protection. Those cords of kindness and bands of love, portrayed through His holy law, had been intended to provide them with loving protection. Like a father’s rules for his children, God’s law was meant to provide appropriate boundaries and protective guidelines for their lives. But they had repeatedly broken God’s laws. They had seen them as oppressive and overly restrictive. But now they were going to understand what the yoke of oppression was really like. The generation to whom Hosea spoke had long ago forgotten the trials and tribulations their ancestors had gone through in Egypt. Slavery was not something to which they could relate. They had been born free and had enjoyed the privilege of growing up in a powerful, successful nation where problems were few and the blessings of God had been many. But the love of the Father had not been enough to hold their attention or keep them faithful.

When we fail to recognize God’s love, His fatherly care and protective presence in our lives, we find it easy to walk away from Him. Like the prodigal son who only saw his father as a source of financial blessing, we can overlook and take for granted our heavenly Father’s unceasing, undeserved love, care and protection. We can end up wanting what we can get from Him more than we want Him. We can treat Him as some kind of genie in a bottle, obligated to grant our wishes and fulfill our every self-centered desire. But God would have us realize just how much He loves us. The apostle John reminds us, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NLT). And God demonstrated just how much He loved us in a powerful and very costly manner. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 ESV). The Father’s love for His children is real. It is boundless and tireless. It is patient and unceasing. And Paul would have us come to grips with the startling reality that nothing can separate us from God’s love. “If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself” (Romans 8:31-33 NLT).