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Hosea 11: Brokenhearted God

If you’re wondering how the transition of Charlie’s arrival has been for me, I will be honest with you and tell you it’s a challenge going from two to three. J.P. is particularly upset with the change, and he’s acting out—throwing food, hitting his sister, etc. We’re doing a lot of time outs at the Grano house. He knows exactly what he’s doing, too. The other day, he was kicking me as I tried to put on his clothes, and he asked, “Mom, am I being difficult?”
Well, parenting is difficult. Period. Parenting small children is hard work, but in some ways it only gets harder as they grow up; as they become teenagers and destructive choices become available to them. One of my deepest fears as a parent is the opioid epidemic that’s sweeping our country. I see what is happening to parents that I know—and I know there are even people here today who have watched a child, your own or another child you love, slip down into the nightmare, the hell of addiction. Recently in Harper Woods, near I live, a group of five young adults all OD’d, one of whom was the child of a friend of our family. He was in the ICU and nearly died, but through many prayers made it out and into rehab—only to walk out of rehab and back to the needle days later. You hear stories like this and you think, how could a child do that to their parent? He’s volunteering for his own destruction. It’s heartbreaking.
I don’t offer easy answers to this crisis, I can only say that God’s heart is broken, too. Hosea literally tells us that God’s heart is caving in on itself, as he watches Israel, his child, walk down the path of self destruction:
Hosea 11:8: My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows.
Throughout Hosea, God likens himself to a husband betrayed by an unfaithful wife. In the most disturbing and vivid example of divine enactment in all the prophets, Hosea marries a prostitute, who continues with the world’s oldest profession after she marries him. Hosea has children with her that may or may not be his biological children, and God tells Hosea what to name these children: Jezreel, or “scattered,” Lo-Ruhamah, or “not-pitied,” and Lo-Ammi, “not-my-people.” Hosea’s own life, and the lives of his children, realize God’s pain and suffering at being betrayed by the unfaithful people. For an interesting love story based on the prophet Hosea, I recommend the novel “Redeeming Love,” by Francine Rivers.
Imagining what Hosea and the children went through is devastating. How could God order him to subject himself and his children to this life of abandonment and betrayal?
Well, how could we subject God to the abandonment and betrayal God experiences?
You might say, God is all-powerful. God can’t experience abandonment and betrayal. But there’s no other way to read Hosea. Indeed, there’s no other way to read the Old Testament. God experiences emotion—particularly, God gets P.O.’d. He is watching his children make terrible choices, choices that will result in their own self-destruction. I loved you, God says. Why do you choose idols? I will protect you, God says. Why do you turn to Egypt and Assyria? We just got out of Egypt! Why did you go back? Why walk out of rehab?
Like any parent, when God looks at the rebellious Israel, addicted to self-destructive idol worship, looking for love in all the wrong places, and God sees, not the young adult Israel has become, but the innocent infant Israel once was. “Mom, am I being difficult?”
Hosea 11:3-4 says: “I myself taught Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand. But he doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of him. I led Israel along with my ropes of kindness and love. I lifted the yoke from his neck, and I myself stooped to feed him.
The NRSV translation says:
Hosea 11:4 “I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”
Here God compares the act of leading the people out of Egypt, and feeding them manna and quail, honey from the rock, to a mother intimately nursing her child and teaching him to walk. Isn’t it blasphemy to think of the all-powerful God in this way? It’s not blasphemy, it’s biblical. It’s the message of the story of the Prodigal Son, and the message of the incarnation. God loves us enough to limit his own power, to have an intimate relationship with us. That’s why God came to us in human form in Jesus Christ, and that’s why God let himself love Israel, knowing that they would break his heart. That’s also why God feels such wrath against Israel:
Hosea 11:9: I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
God has to remind himself that he is not human, that he can’t give in to his anger. He destroyed Israel once, but he will not do it again.
Scholar Richard Nysse reminds us that we can’t pass by that word “again.” It’s actually left out of the NLT translation, but the NRSV translation here is more literal. Because the kingdom of Israel was completely erased by the Assyrian invasion. If you took anything from reading these prophets, you can’t have missed the fact that God chose to, and did, allow the utter destruction of Israel, recorded in 2 Kings 17:6, and later Judah, in 2 Kings 24:2. Israel and Judah are not on life support, they are dead. The temple has been razed to the ground. The ark of the covenant is nowhere to be found. The priests have been slaughtered. Children are lying dead in the streets. The king’s line is wiped out.
And maybe there’s a message for us here. That sometimes, you can’t intervene. If only for your own survival, you have to step back and let the child do what he will do, even if it means his own death. It’s a hard truth: but if you’ve lived with an addict, you know it’s a real truth. Sometimes you have to let them hit rock bottom. You have to let go and let God. If there is hope, it’s not in resuscitation, it’s in resurrection.
Good thing our God is in the resurrection business.
Hosea 11: 10-11: “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. 11 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,” says the LORD.
We look at our children, we look at our nation, we look at our world and we see destruction and death. The hurricanes that have swept our country are devastating, but to me the spiritual, emotional, and physical illnesses that are sweeping us are more devastating still. When I hear about what young people are doing to themselves, when I think that my children are growing up around these temptations, my heart, like God’s, breaks within me. What can we tell the mother, the father, who has watched her child, his child, fall into utter destruction? We can tell them, Hosea 11:11, “I will bring them home again, says the Lord.” We can tell them God is in the resurrection business. We can tell them that God is the God of the cross and the empty tomb. We can tell them that God’s message is the same in Genesis 3 and Hosea 11 and Mark 14 and Revelation 22: “I am making all things new.”
You ask for proof? Well, Assyria is no more, Babylon is long gone, Egypt has never risen to its former glory—but God’s people, the Jewish nation, Israel, have survived. We have the cross, we have the empty tomb. But maybe the proof is not that abstract. Maybe it’s here in our hearts.
Because I ask you—whatever that child has done, to himself, to you, to us—when he steals from you, when he walks out of rehab, when he runs back to that terrible woman, when he abandons his own kid—when he breaks your heart—do you still love him?
And if you, who are mortal, can put aside your anger, your heartbreak, your sadness, and keep loving, how much more will your heavenly Father keep loving us, even when we destroy ourselves, even when we break His heart? Asked another way: when we break God’s heart, what flows out?
Hosea 11:8 tells us the answer: “My heart is broken, and my compassion overflows.”
When God’s heart was broken, compassion flowed out. When God’s body was broken, in Christ’s body on the cross, love flowed out. When God’s life was broken, love lived on. When all else is lost, hope remains. So don’t stop hoping. Don’t stop caring. Don’t stop loving. You might have to let go—but don’t forget to let God. And don’t give up.
God won’t give up—so don’t you give up either.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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