Hosea 11:1-9 Father God, I Wonder

Sun, 14/12/2014 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

Most of us have too small a view of God’s fatherly love.

There are a number of reasons for that.

Some of us have had bad experiences of fathers; our memories are not all happy ones. So we take our own experience, and imagine that God is like fathers we knew. He domineers. He’s a tyrant. He looks out for himself but not for us. Or whatever it is.

Others of us had really good fathers. They loved us; we knew it; we respected and loved them. So we assume that God as father is like them. Like them, but no better than them.

Others of us have a one-sided view of God as father. We picture him as spoiling his children. He’d never say no, he’d never allow anything harsh to happen to us. We project a soft and sentimental view of fatherhood onto God.

In any case, it is a wonderful thing that we can call God our Father. It’s more wonderful than we’ve begun to imagine.

Where in the Bible could we turn for God to tell us about his fatherly love? It may surprise you to learn that one of the best places is actually in the Old Testament. The idea that God’s people can address God as father is not a new idea for the New Testament. God first called his people “my son” at the Exodus, when he rescued them from being slaves in Egypt in the year 1447 BC.

The rest of the Old Testament, and then the New Testament, puts flesh on the bones of the idea that God is our father. And possibly the best passage to read is Hosea chapter 11.


We need a little background to Hosea before we look at this chapter. Hosea ministered in the northern half of the kingdom of Israel, roughly the same time as Isaiah. By this point, but the people had been turning their backs on God, going after other gods. Hosea job was to warn them of God’s judgement, but also to reassure them of God’s faithful love for them.

Chapter 11 opens with an echo back to the Exodus from Egypt. When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

God asks his people to remember their rescue from Egypt. It was a moment when God loved them. It was the moment he first called them his son. Think back, he says, and let’s apply this to where you are how.

Each of the 3 paragraphs in this reading gives a different side of God’s loving fatherly character.

Patient Nurture

First, patient nurture, verses 1 to 4. Patient nurture.

The pictures in verses 3 and 4 are familiar to any parent.

In verse 3, God teaches his new son to walk. Those first tottering steps. Taking him by the arms, gently leading him. There’s be bumps and scratches. It’s inevitable, but God was the one who healed his son. He rubbed it better.

And then in verse 4, it’s feeding time. It’s a very moving picture. Children are much shorter than we are. God gets down to his son’s level, so that he can feed him.

They’re lovely pictures – God teaching his son to walk, God stooping down to feed his little boy.

As well as painting God as a tender father, these might also point to what God did for Israel in their earlier years. After they left Egypt, they came to Mount Sinai where God gave them his good laws. He taught them how to walk. He also fed them. With water. With meat. With bread. With his word.

It’s a beautiful picture of God as Father. And it’s the same God we see in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament God told his people how to walk. Jesus lived the perfect life that we could never live, and then sent his Spirit to live in us, to change us from within. Little by little, we learn to walk like Jesus. And Jesus is the one who fed five thousand people one day, drew water for the woman of Samaria, fed his disciples with fish. Most of all, we feed on him.

That’s God the Father, in gentle nurture. But the heading I gave these first four verses was patient nurture. Why patient? Because of verse 2: Out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.

It’s a tragic verse. The more I called , they more they went away from me. The child God gently nurtured was a very stubborn one, who did not respond to his loving touch. And yet he led, he fed.

Or the end of verse 3: But they did not realise that it was I who healed them. Israel’s not a toddler any more. Now she’s a stroppy teenager. Who refuses to recognise just how much her father has done.

This is good news for people like us. None of us is perfect. We don’t credit God for all the good he does for us. We don’t respond to his leading. He offers to feed us, but we prefer the toxic fare of the world around us instead. So what does he do? He gives more grace. He gently stoops down to feed us again, to put us back on our feet.

There’s the first portrait of God our heavenly Father: Patient nurture.

Firm Discipline

Second, firm discipline, verses 5 to 7. Firm discipline.

The language of these verses is anchored in the situation of Hosea’s day.

There’s a word-play in this paragraph on the word “to turn”. Start with verse 7. My people are determined to turn from me.

That’s the heart of the problem for the people of Israel, and it’s the heart of our problem too. We don’t stay on the path God puts us on. Instead of keeping living for him, we turn. We turn from him. We turn to other things that don’t deserve central place in our lives. For Israel it was the Baals, the false gods. For us, perhaps it’s career, or family, or the dream house we want to own. The result is the same – we turn from God.

Notice that we’d never admit that’s what we’ve done. Verse 7 goes on: Even though they call me God Most High. We come to church, we say our prayers, we use the right language, we look and sound like Christians. But in our hearts we’ve turned.

What should we do when we realise we’ve turned from God? The answer is repent, a word which simply means to turn around. The same word, in fact. We turn back. When Jesus began his public ministry, it’s what he called people to do. Mark chapter 1, verses 14 and 15: Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said, ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.’ It was a call to turn around, to turn back to God. The very thing Israel won’t do in Hosea’s day. Verse 5: They refuse to repent.

So verse 5 tells them the consequence of their stubbornness. Same word: Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? Long ago, they were slaves in Egypt. They’re about to get a sense of déjà vu. This time, it will be Assyria rather than Egypt, but it’s back to slavery, occupation and oppression for them.

The God who gently led and fed his people is also the God who will call time. Who will not be taken for a ride. When his people persist in turning away from him, and they won’t turn back, ultimately he’ll send them back to where they come from.

God’s fatherly love is tender, but it’s not soft. He’s not a pushover. He loves us too much for that. If we stray from the path, he will discipline us, because he wants to bring us back.

All of which is just as true for us today. The New Testament letter of Hebrews tells its readers to see the trials of life through this grid. As the loving discipline of a heavenly Father. That’s Hebrews chapter 6. Or there’s John 15. I am the vine. My Father is the gardener. You are the branches. Any branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, so that it will be even more fruitful.

Patient nurture. Firm discipline

Compassionate Devotion

And third, compassionate devotion. It’s quite hard to find a heading to sum up verses 8 and 9, because they’re so charged with deep feeling right from the heart of God. But compassionate devotion gets close.

Let me read those verses again: ‘How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man – the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities.

God’s going to send the Assyrians against his stubborn people. By right, that should be the end of his relationship with his people. They’ve been so disloyal, and so rebellious for so long. It’s time for God to disown them. Disinherit them. Cut them off.

But he can’t do it. We listen to God talking to himself.

In the time of Abraham, God destroyed 4 exceedingly wicked cities. He wiped them out completely with fire from heaven. The two you’ve heard of are Sodom and Gomorroah; the other two were Admah and Zaboyim. God should treat his people like those cities. But he can’t bring himself to do it. Deep within God’s heart, his compassion, his love, his devotion to his people is stirred.

The reason comes in verse 9: For I am God, and not a man – the Holy One among you. The word “holy” just means “set apart”, “totally different”, “unlike anything else you’ll meet”. We’re used to the word holy referring to God’s utter purity – nothing unclean can live with God. But God’s holiness is not only seen in his perfect justice; it’s also seen in his perfect love. His love is utterly unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else. He’s God, not man. With us, there’s a limit. Someone lets us down too far, we cut them out. God’s not like that. Even when his people treat him appallingly, something deep inside God cannot stop loving them.

Indeed, this side of God’s character explains the story of the Bible, the story of human history. Adam and Eve rebelled; the story should have ended there with their death. God got the people out of Egypt; they grumbled, and lost their place in the promised land, but the next generation got another chance. And so it goes on, until the grand climax: God sent Jesus. Rather than give up on the human race, God the Son became a human being. He then died on the cross to rescue us. That’s how much God loves us. What should have been the end of everything is not.

The door stands wide open. Jesus loved us, he died for us and rose again. Anyone who will turn to him, trust him, follow him, can know God’s loving forgiveness, can find God as their heavenly father. Jesus told the story of the parable of the prodigal son. The father longs for his lost boy to come home. Delighted when he does so. That’s the heart of God in Hosea 11, in Luke 15, today.

Although we then have to say that the day will come when it actually is the end. One day, Jesus will come back. Jesus told a number of parables that tell quite clearly – the door will be shut. If you’re still outside on that day, it’s too late to come in.

But until that day, the door is wide open. And so is God’s heart. He’s a God of compassion. A God devoted to us. A God full of warmth. Who longs for us to come back to him. Who longs for any ending other than shutting us out for God.

Compassionate devotion.


Jesus taught us to call God our Father. It’s how he prayed too.

How kind of God to give us a glimpse into his heart. What kind of father he is. To draw us to trust him, to enjoy knowing his fatherly love.

We see his patient nurture. His firm discipline. And his compassionate devotion.

His love is quite unlike the love you’ll find anywhere else.

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