Gentle Cords and Bands of Love
Text: Hosea 11
People usually have a very limited idea of what constitutes love. They generally only want to see the positive aspects of love and deny that there are any negative aspects. Any sin that they may have committed is dismissed because “God is love!” It is argued that hell cannot exist because a loving God would never send people to eternal punishment. Ultimately, because “God is love,” people don’t think it matters what you believe. God is going to accept you just as you are and no matter what you do because “God is love.”
Because of this limited view on love, people have a hard time with passages like Hebrews 12:6: “For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” People have a hard time combining the ideas of punishment and love in the same sentence. As a whole, our society continues to struggle with the idea of being loving and firm at the same time. There is a strong movement promoting the idea that spanking ought to be made a crime. Supporters cannot imagine a loving parent swatting the bottom of their own child. It may happen one day because many parents are timid about correcting their children. They don’t want to face their child’s anger. They just want to be friends and have a loving relationship.
God had a great deal of trouble with Israel and He told them about it in a variety of ways. In Hosea 11, God depicts Himself as a frustrated parent dealing with a rebellious teenager, who represents Israel. Even though the story deals with Israel, there is much we can learn because we are not that much different. “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:11-12).
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son” (Hosea 11:1).
Egypt was a nation given over to idolatry. Hence, when Israel left Egypt they also left a land of sin and sinful practices. Israel was also serving as slaves to the Egyptians, so leaving Egypt was also freedom from slavery (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). When Israel heeded God’s call, they became His children.
“But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images” (Hosea 11:2).
Oddly, the more God called on Israel to be a holy people, the further they went after idolatry. They just could not leave their idols behind. “But they rebelled against Me and would not obey Me. They did not all cast away the abominations which were before their eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:8). Nor were they able to leave slavery behind them. “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: 'I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying, At the end of seven years let every man set free his Hebrew brother, who has been sold to him; and when he has served you six years, you shall let him go free from you.’ But your fathers did not obey Me nor incline their ear” (Jeremiah 34:13-14). Just like a teenager determined to go his own way, Israel would not obey God. “For I earnestly exhorted your fathers in the day I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, until this day, rising early and exhorting, saying, "Obey My voice." Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone followed the dictates of his evil heart; therefore I will bring upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but which they have not done” (Jeremiah 11:7-8). They did their own thing, took what God gave them, but would not have anything to do with God. “You have brought Your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and with great terror; You have given them this land, of which You swore to their fathers to give them-"a land flowing with milk and honey." And they came in and took possession of it, but they have not obeyed Your voice or walked in Your law. They have done nothing of all that You commanded them to do; therefore You have caused all this calamity to come upon them” (Jeremiah 32:21-23). Doesn’t it sound just like a teenager who takes all the benefits of living with his parents but then refuses to listen to them? “That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of the LORD; who say to the seers, "Do not see," and to the prophets, "Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits. Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.”“ (Isaiah 30:9-11).
“It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them” (Hosea 11:3).
How many of us realize what our parents have done for us during our childhood. Oftentimes we don’t fully appreciate it until we become parents ourselves. The sleepless nights when we had a fever, the gentle guidance they gave when we thought we made our own choices, the solid advice they gave that we then ignored. Somehow, when children become teens parents become the dumbest people in the world.
God had just that problem with Israel. God brought Israel up, but now they wouldn’t listen to advice that would make their life better. “If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you” (Exodus 15:26). Israel never really appreciate the aid God gave them in the wilderness. “He found him in a desert land And in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; He encircled him, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. As an eagle stirs up its nest, Hovers over its young, Spreading out its wings, taking them up, Carrying them on its wings, So the LORD alone led him, And there was no foreign god with him”(Deuteronomy 32:10-12). “The LORD your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you, according to all He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place. Yet, for all that, you did not believe the LORD your God, who went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go, in the fire by night and in the cloud by day” (Deuteronomy 1:30-33).
God gave Israel rich blessings, but the people took those very things to offer sacrifices to false gods. “For she did not know that I gave her grain, new wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold - which they prepared for Baal” (Hosea 2:8). “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master's crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider. Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward. Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints” (Isaiah 1:2-5).
“I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them” (Hosea 11:4).
God removed the heavy yoke of slavery from Israel’s neck, but this didn’t mean he left them to run free and wild. He replaced the burden of slavery with a gentle law that made their life easier and better than they had ever known. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves; I have broken the bands of your yoke and made you walk upright” (Leviticus 26:13). There had to be restrictions because complete freedom is never good for anyone. “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:25-27). Just as our parents place rules on us, designed to protect us and aid us, so God did with Israel.
But if there are restrictions, then something must be done when those rules – light as they are – are violated. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; for whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12).
Some of you have gone out for sports. The coach trains you by giving you instructions in how the game is played. But instruction alone is not sufficient to make you good at the sport. Training also involves a lot of hard work as you practice moves over and over again. Even though plopping on the couch in front of a TV would be easier and more fun, we put up with the sweat and agony because we know it is good for us. Israel faced the same sort of training. “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31).
“Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? Swords will flash in their cities, will destroy the bars of their gates and put an end to their plans. My people are determined to turn from me. Even if they call to the Most High, he will by no means exalt them” (Hosea 11:5-7).
Despite all of God’s efforts on Israel’s behalf, Israel was bent on rebelling. God was forced to severely chastize them, not because He enjoyed it but because it was what they deserved. “And the LORD God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy” (II Chronicles 36:15-16).
This is where most parents fail in raising their children. They are reluctant to allow their children to receive the full accounting of what they earned with their choices. Too many parents repeatedly rescue their children from the results of their stubborn rebellion. It might start in grade school with their child misbehaving in class. Instead of punishing the misbehavior, the parents attack the schools and tell them to be less demanding. As their child grows and follows the ways of sin (stealing, drugs, sexual promiscuity, etc.), his parents wring their hands and wonder what they had done wrong. What went wrong is that there never was a reason not to do wrong. There comes a time when a parent with a rebellious child has to say, “It was your own choice to sin, you will have to face the penalties of that choice on your own.”
“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 Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror” (Hosea 11:8).
No parent likes to see their child suffer, even if it was the child’s own fault. Even while punishing Israel’s stubborn rebellion, the suffering of Israel tore at God’s heart. Even though they were wicked, God still loved them. He recalled the treasured days of their youth when they were innocent of harm. “Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For though I spoke against him, I earnestly remember him still; therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, says the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:20).
Even though a rebellious child doesn’t deserve forgiveness, most parents are willing to offer it – if the child would just leave off sinning. God is letting Israel face the consequences of their sins, but God still holds out hope. “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways," says the Lord GOD. "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says the Lord GOD. "Therefore turn and live!"” (Ezekiel 18:30-32). Notice that God doesn’t offer to bend His standards to compromise with rebellious Israel. He asks that Israel to return from her sins, and if she does, He will accept her back. Israel didn’t deserve forgiveness, but God was willing not to totally destroy her.
“They will follow the LORD; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. They will come trembling like birds from Egypt, like doves from Assyria. I will settle them in their homes," declares the LORD” (Hosea 11:10-11).
It is difficult for most parents to put their foot down and let their child suffer for their bad decisions. Yet they have to endure watching the agony of their own child until the child’s stubborn will is broken and he finally, humbly asks to be rescued.
God had to treat rebellious Israel harshly. He had to assume the role of a strong voiced father who loudly and clearly tells his wayward son what he must do. God would roar at Israel and eventually Israel would come trembling back to God. He wasn’t afraid to scare them; He wasn’t hessitant to break their will; He wasn’t worried about their ego or their self-esteem. It was Israel’s over-inflated ego that had gotten them into trouble in the first place. They needed to be taken down several notches so that a chance to change might take place.
The cure for rebellion is a broken spirit. “The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:18-19; see also Isaiah 66:2). Once a person humbles himself, then God lifts them out of the mire of their own mess. “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would fail before Me, and the souls which I have made” (Isaiah 57:15-16). “Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1).
• In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus pulls together a similar theme of rebellion and restoration.
• Who is the father in this story? Who do each of the sons represent?
• Why did the father give his son his inheritance before he died?
• Why didn’t the father seek out his son to bring him back?
• What caused the wayward son to return?
• Did the father in any way compromise his principles?
• Why is it a bad idea for parents to protect their children from their own mistakes?
• Does a rebellious child mean he has bad parents?
• Can children be raised without punishment?
• Does punishment indicate hatred?
• Find songs which speak of humbleness or a broken spirit. Ask some of the boys in class to lead a song.
• Write a short letter to your parents letting them know you understand why they are strict with you at times.