There’s a long-standing ad campaign for a youth charity, with an image of a small child in a bus shelter – ‘how young do they have to be?’ We can find empathy hard when presented with a youth or young man in crisis, threatening to us – but as they say, everybody had a mother once, and even if you have a face only a mother could love, she did. Chapter 11 opens with God recalling Israel as a child, and called out of Egypt. The loving parent is rejected. We are back to the figure of the opening of Hosea – remember?
This poetic recitation of a parent loving an infant is exactly the cry of a grieving mother of a young adult who seems ‘lost’. At some point, you can see where the choices of the young person are leading, and you let it happen. If you don’t, you become increasingly combative and controlling, and there will just be another opportunity for them to choose badly tomorrow…
In case we heard only divine anger, this chapter brings us back to the great hurt and sorrow, the loving regrets for how we exercise our freedom in relation to God’s covenant love. This is not the voice of the vengeful one. Sure, God recalls Admah and Zeboim, cities on the plain destroyed by fire and brimstone with Sodom and Gomorrah – but precisely in a clause saying God won’t do it again – and offering continued relationship for restoration of a remnant.
The geography may not matter as much as the shape of things to come, but whether it’s slavery south in Egypt, diaspora north and west in Assyria or Greece, or off to the east in Iraq and Iran under Babylonians and Persians, there is a historic hope of returned fortunes, and an ultimate one of return.
Again today, I am choosing to attach the last verse of most English versions to the next chapter, 12. You can read as you wish, but I prefer to linger on the note of hope, the promise of return and remnant. Tomorrow we face the threats again – but today set the note of compassion, repeated later this week as the book of Hosea ends.
Hosea 11 (NRSV)
1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 The more I* called them, the more they went from me;* they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.
3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my* arms; but they did not know that I healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.* I bent down to them and fed them.
5 They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.
6 The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes.
7 My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.*
8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.
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.*
10 They shall go after the LORD, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.
11 They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.
12 *Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit; but Judah still walks* with God, and is faithful to the Holy One.