The Overwhelming Love of God
One stereotype of the Old Testament emphasizes the wrath and judgement of God. This can be seen, for example, in Old Testament accounts such as the destruction of the world through flood, the fire of the Lord consuming the outskirts of Israel's camp, the earth opening up and swallowing those who rebelled against the Lord, a bear mauling children who mocked the Lord's prophet, and the threatening judgments from the prophets against Israel's apostasy. Such texts often confuse our view of God's great love for humanity from the time of creation.
There are a number of foundational Old Testament passages which proclaim the love of God. One central text which expresses God's love with an overwhelming passion for His children is Hosea 11. The passage opens with the expression of God's love by means of a clear parent-child metaphor. In the first verse of Hosea 11, Israel is called God's child. Tension in the relationship is expressed in verse two which describes Israel's apostasy by worshiping false gods (Baals) when the Lord God had been calling to them. In the face of such rebellion, God reminds Israel of the divine love they had received from the time of their infancy. God taught them to walk, held them in His arms, healed them, led them in love, and bent down to feed them (Hosea 11:3-4). These are unambiguous images of a caring parent raising their infant child. These expressions reflect the joy and laughter of parents spoon-feeding and enticing their infant to open their mouth for nourishment, and holding little hands while coaxing a toddler to shuffle forward to take their first steps. The most moving image for me as a parent is found in the middle of verse 4. Older translations read, "I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws." However, this cattle metaphor disrupts the parent-child images which surround it. A better rendering adopted by more recent translations reads, "I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks." This image always recalls for me the tender moments when my daughters were infants and helplessly yielded to my habit of lifting them up to my face and "rubbing noses." These are the affectionate expressions of God's great love for His children.
Verses 5-7 present what might be seen as a parent's heartache over children who have gone astray and rebelled. These verses depict once again Israel's apostasy and insistence on turning away from God, thereby endangering their own lives by rejecting the one true source of provision and security in God. As a result, destruction and ruin consume them. Such events are depicted as punishment, and understood as the fatal consequences of wrongful actions.
However, even in the face of Israel's sin, God passionately proclaims God's love for His creatures. Verse 8 of Hosea 11 begins a fervent divine speech which stands out in the biblical text. God cries out, "How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart is turned over within me, All my compassions are kindled." The response to these rhetorical questions follows immediately in verse 9: "I will not execute My fierce anger; I will not destroy Ephraim again. For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst." God expresses through the prophet that God cannot bear to see His child hurt. God refuses to act in anger; God's heart is turned over within Him, God's compassions are enflamed for His beloved children! The reference to Admah and Zeboiim recalls the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Admah and Zeboiim were cities in the same valley destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah; Gen 10:19; 14:2, 8; Deut 29:23). Yet, here God refuses to enact such destruction, even in the face of apostasy deserving the same.
As the New Testament so often highlights fulfillments of the expressions in the Old Testament, God's overwhelming love as expressed in Hosea 11 is brought to a crescendo in Jesus Christ. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 legislates God's law regarding what should be done with a stubborn and rebellious son. Such a child must be stoned to death. Clearly, in Hosea 11 Israel has been identified as such a stubborn and rebellious child who should be killed. In contrast, however, God refuses to give up on Israel, and expresses an overwhelming loving commitment to restore Israel (see verses 10-11). In light of this passion, it is ironic that this God whose love cannot bear the death of a stubborn and rebellious son, actually endures the death of an obedient and righteous Son (Jesus Christ)! Through the mystery of the cross, God endures the death of a righteous Son for the sake of saving all of God's children from sin and death.
Dr. Thomas J. King, NBC Director Bible and Theology Core Program, Faculty
Filed Under: Communicator Published: 02/10/2020