This post is part of a reflective Lenten series, originally published as Facebook posts on my personal account.
Lenten practice, day #33.
Reference: Hosea 11:1-11
Phew, finally a break from the ranting about how awful Israel has been.
This chapter is wonderfully refreshing: it starts with some reminiscing about Israel’s innocence when it was a child. This is interesting because it provides the reader with another image of the deep love God feels for his people. First marital love, now parental love. This is helpful because it provides a point of reference for those who aren’t married (like myself, holla), but it’s also helpful because the additional example forces us to abstract out commonalities between the two images to gain a better (less particular) understanding of exactly how God views us. (Interesting paradox that only happens with God: the more broad the explanation, the more exact.)
That is to say, the addition of the parental love makes it clear that the love between God and man is not sexual. Many mystics describe their intimate experiences with God in erotic terms, explicitly stating that it is the closest human act they can use to describe the total self-gift found in communion with God, but clarifying that the relationship with God isn’t corporal. Instead, having the parental image thrown in there helps us to extrapolate commonalities: His love is deep, unconditional, free, and unbeatable.
God (speaking, again, through Hosea) makes a fascinating assertion when he says in verse 4, “I drew them [to myself] with human cords / with bands of love.” He draws us into him using things natural to us (human bands), bands of love. In other words, they aren’t coercive. He doesn’t force us to love him. Rather, he gently tugs on the heartstrings of our desires to show us that those heartstrings are really connected to him.
He loves Israel so much, in fact, that after she runs from him again and again, he allows her to go to Assyria (where she had been running). He allows her so that she might see that her heartstrings aren’t connected to it. She needs to see that none of her deepest desires can be fulfilled by Assyria or their practices or their customs. Her connections to Assyria are as artificial as the gods who drew her there. But by allowing her to stumble, she learns how wonderful it is to be where she can walk smoothly. By running away, she learns how wonderful her God really is. This is reiterated in verse 6: “Because they refused to repent, their own counsels shall devour them.”
The next bit is titled “End of Exile” and describes God’s perspective after his children have stumbled and desire to come back. With their sincere desire to return, he willingly allows them to and he promises to take pity on them. His perfect, always appropriate pity.
Buuuuut the title of the next chapter reminds us that this end of exile is really a prophecy not a description of events yet passed, so brace yourselves for tomorrows return to lamenting Israel’s infidelity.