Hosea 11:1-11
Love's Persistence

Copyright 2013 (c) American Journal of Biblical Theology 
www.biblicaltheology.com     Scripture quotes from KJV

How many parents have had to deal with the nurturing of a rebellious child?  Certainly, any adult who reads these words might find this question easy to answer:  literally all parents have had to deal with such rebellion issues at some time or another, with many finding this to be one of the most frustrating and worrisome areas of parenting.  What are some of the circumstances that lead to a child’s rebellion against parental authority?  Sometimes there might be some fault on the side of the parent if authority is demanded without being balanced with demonstrated love.  Rebellion comes more frequently from a child’s perception of a set of standards that are required by the parent that are not consistent with the set of standards that the child perceives in the life of their parents, or in the influences that they accept outside of the home.  It is the latter form of rebellious behavior we are considering in this study.

When parents provide a set of boundaries for their children that include rules of discipline, culture and conduct, they are doing so in order to nurture the child to grow to their full potential.  Parents must do this to keep their children safe from unnecessary harm, often protecting them from unnecessary pain, and preparing them for a productive and happy adulthood.  Unfortunately, from the perspective of the child, this may be very difficult to understand.  The child lacks the wisdom of the parent, and often cannot see the value of these boundaries, or even the necessity of obedience at all.  Children are bombarded with lifestyle images from the media (particularly television, video games, movies, and the internet), and from their relationships at school and play that are often in conflict with the demands of the home.  Children must choose whether to be obedient to their parents, or to follow the way of the world.  Consequently, listed as one of the Ten Commandments, there are many references in scripture that place disobedience to parents in lists of grievous sins.[1]

In this study of the writings of Hosea, we find the prophet comparing the state of Israel as that of a rebellious child, a child that is enamored by the sensual attractions of the evil world and rejecting the authority of God.

Hosea 11:1.  When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt

Where did the “childhood nurturing” of the nation of Israel take place?  We might initially assume that the nation of Israel was started in the land of Canaan when Abraham settled with his son Isaac and his grandson, Israel.  However, a famine in Canaan soon drove Israel’s family to Egypt.  We may actually observe the formation of the Hebrews as a unified nation during their time in Egypt, a period that lasted nearly 400 years.  Joseph and his brothers settled there, away from the influence of Canaan, during that time of drought.  The families flourished in the northern, fertile bottomland of the Nile river, in a nation under the authority and protection of the Egyptian Pharaohs.  Though the state of the Hebrews was initially considered one of honor by the Egyptians, changes through the generations caused them develop into a united and cohesive unit by the persecution they started to experience as their numbers grew larger.  We find that there was little attraction to Egyptian culture that would serve to undermine the unity of the Hebrews.  Consequently, the land of Egypt was an advantageous place for the nation to be born.  When we think of the Hebrews in Egypt, we probably first think of their state as persecuted captives, necessitating their deliverance through Moses.  However, if we look deeper, we can see how God used this setting as an incubator with which to birth the nation in to a unified body, one with a single identity, and one that God would use for His ultimate purpose.

Referring to Israel as His “son,” who is called out of Egypt as a nation, we can observe that there is also an important prophetic message integrated into Hosea’s historical narrative: that out of this nation God would bring His Own Son into the world.  This reference is not obvious to us in the text, but was quite evident to the ancient Hebrews.  This passage was understood to refer to the coming of the Messiah, the Son of God who would save people from the just consequence of their sins.  The voracity of this prophecy is verified in the Gospel of Matthew.[2]

Hosea 11:2.  As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.

God called the nation out of Pharaoh’s Egypt in the exodus, led by Moses, and brought them back to the promised land of Canaan, the land that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel) initially settled.  Much like a baby who grows to self-actualization and starts to interact with the surrounding world, the release of the Hebrews into the world came with a similar set of conflicts that were based on ignorance and disobedience.  The people found the rules for living that God placed before them to be far less attractive than the rules (or lack of them) that they perceived from the surrounding worldly cultures.  One can easily apply this phenomena to the nurturing years of a child who lives with the contrast of a relatively unruly life experienced outside of the home with the stricter life that is typically demanded inside the home.  Every adult can certainly remember those childhood and youth activities that were experienced outside the home that were never described to their parents simply because those parents would not have approved.

What was the attraction of the world that the Hebrews were introduced to?  The Canaanites practiced a pagan religion that was based upon ignorance, sensuality, and the immediate gratification of base desires, a basic worldly view that we can observe in much of today’s culture.  The Baals (Hebrew Baalim, a subset of the pantheon of Canaanite mythical gods) were created by the imaginative people of Canaan to explain the properties of nature that were not understood in any other way.  They created a mythical god that they believed produced rain, a god that caused seeds to grow to plants, there was a god that provided fertility in plants, animals, and people.  The sun and moon had their gods.  Wind and fire had their gods.  Even war and pestilence were assigned gods who were given authority over them.  Through generations the people were taught that they would be rewarded by this pantheon of gods by practicing religious rituals that included child and animal sacrifice, temple prostitution, and the burning of incense.  This latter ritual, though seemingly less destructive than the former, was believed to acknowledge the authority and to appease the anger and wrath of these Canaanite gods, and by copying this practice, the Hebrews would be rejecting the authority of the one true God.  Incense is still used today as a primary means of “communication” with the pagan gods of eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. 

Today’s world is quite similar, and its base philosophies are simply the product of ancient Greek culture.  Rather than use the words “child sacrifice” we practice abortion as a form of childbirth control.  The sensualities of this world are practiced in the consumption of drugs, prostitution, and pornography.  Power in this world is expressed in influence, fame, and material possessions.  Just as the high-powered sensuality of this culture can attract people away from the one True God, the same world of temptations existed in the time of the early Hebrews, and they were likewise attracted.

Hosea 11:3-4. I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them. 4I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them.

One can observe the lament of a parent over a wayward child when we read Hosea’s description of God’s lament over the rebellious and apostate nation of Israel.  There is a time in the nurturing of a child when the parent takes care of all of that child’s needs.  Prior to its ability to care for itself, every child must be nurtured from birth.  Without parenting, a baby will die.  A caring parent carefully feeds, clothes, and houses the child from birth.  The parent teaches the child to walk (a word that can also be used as a metaphor for other initial developmental steps.)  A universal characteristic of teaching a child to walk is to hold their hand as the parent leads the child through his/her first steps.  The LORD refers to this same action as a metaphor for His guiding and protecting hand.  A parent ministers to the injuries of the child, much as God does so by His healing power.  As a parent demonstrates love toward the child, God demonstrated his love towards the Hebrews as they grew as a nation. 

After the time of nurturing, it was necessary that Israel be given its opportunity to fulfill its purpose: to be a priest to the nations, proclaiming the one True God to the world while being obedient to Him.  In much the same way, we nurture our children and prepare them for entrance into the world with the desire that they will continue to be obedient to appropriate authorities, and be a confident and  positive influence in the world rather than become overpowered by it.

Hosea 11:5-6.  He shall not return into the land of Egypt, but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return. 6And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his branches, and devour them, because of their own counsels.

By the time that Hosea is writing, the rebellion of Israel against God is nearly complete.  Israel, as a nation, is far past the point of repentance, and has proven this over and over again.  Like a child that has rebelled to the point of complete estrangement, Israel has left God.  Israel no longer has any interest in God, and resists any attempts for contact to be reinitiated or retained.  Israel has rejected and persecuted the prophets, the messengers that God has sent to seek their repentance.  The final consequences of this rebellion is beginning to be realized.  The protection that God has always provided is compromised by their estrangement.

Israel will not return home to its place of nurture, represented here as Egypt.  This verse does not refer to the bondage in Egypt, as such a return to bondage will be realized at the hands of the Assyrians.  However, the bondage they will experience will have a profound and different purpose.  The bondage in Egypt brought the nation together.  The bondage in Assyria will tear it apart.

The NIV renders the scripture quite differently than the KJV.  This passage in the NIV made heavy use of the Septuagint, the early Greek paraphrase of the Hebrew text, where the KJV is translated from the Hebrew.  Still, though the renderings are a little different, we see the same message from both texts.  Assyria is named as the aggressor that will put the cities of Israel to the sword.  Like the prophecy of Amos, destruction of the arrogant Israelite cities is assured.  The Israelites, motivated by a product of pride and ignorance, considered their cities impregnable and their future secure.  They had experienced a period of peace while the kingdom had securely passed down through three generations of one reigning family, seemingly to continue without end.  However, their security was based on an ignorant arrogance that refused to acknowledge the power of their much larger and aggressive neighbors to the East that had simply been occupied by other interests during this period.  Consequently, their future plans were folly.  Israel had no future apart from God.  Unless they would return to God, they would suffer the consequences of their apostasy, and would be literally consumed by the very world that they tried to imitate.

Hosea 11:7. And my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him.

At first this statement might sound inconsistent with God’s love.  Their determination for independence from God is clear, and God is giving them exactly what they are asking for.  God is waiting for repentance from the nation, and though in His omniscient timelessness, God knows that such repentance is not to come from this nation.  Still, how do we resolve the statement that, “If they call .. He will by no means exalt them. (NIV)”  This has to do with the nature and motivation that characterizes the calling that is described here.  The call upon God by Israel that is described here is not a call of confession and repentance, but rather a desperate attempt to be delivered from destruction by a power greater than their own.  In such a call there would still be no acknowledgement of faith in God, or any interest in turning from their wickedness. 

Some would believe that the receipt of God’s blessings and even salvation is dependent solely upon believing in Him.  The Israelites believed that they were righteous because they were in the ancestral line of Abraham, and that they believed in God.  However, satan believes in God.[3]  Belief in God is not what the LORD desires.  The LORD desires people to place their faith and trust in Him.  It is only in that faith and trust that God promises His hand of protection and provision.

We see a similar pattern of behavior in our world today.  The scriptures contain many biblical passages that teach that a life of rebellion and apostasy will result in ultimate rejection by God.  Even though we might go through this life with a disciplined appearance as a “good Christian,” and attempting to be obedient to the rules of God’s word, unless we have each made the personal decision to place our faith and trust in God, we are driven only by our own power, and are just as separated from God as those who bear no allegiance to God at all.  Jesus taught the perils of such apostasy and rebellion.  A call upon God to respond to us that is devoid of faith in Him simply treats God as our own servant, and will probably not evoke an expected response.  We find several New Testament statements that have a similar teaching:

Matt 7:21-23.  Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Matt. 25:11-13.  Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. 12But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. 13Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

We find additional examples of this teaching in Luke 6:46, and Luke 13.25.  We are not saved by the power of our good works, but by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, a presence that is received through faith in God.

Hosea 11:8-9. How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. 9I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city.

God is Holy and Just.  As Creator, God has the authority to utterly destroy His creation.  God created this universe simply by the power of His Word, and He has the ability to destroy it in the same manner.  We have seen His destructive (and consequently instructive) power in the Noahic flood and in the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Just as God cleansed his creation from sin in these two events, God could repeat the cleansing by utterly destroying Israel.  God could rain down any number of plagues to kill every person on the earth who is not obedient to Him.  When observed from the position of God’s purity, all of the people deserve such a treatment from God, just as the nations deserve such destruction today.

What keeps God from destroying the earth?  What prevents God from simply killing all people who do not acknowledge Him as God, Savior, and Lord?  God’s fierce anger is balanced by His infinite, unconditional love.  God will not demonstrate this wrath, nor carry out His anger because of the compassion He holds for his children.  We see a similar process taking place when we, as parents, are dealing with rebellious children.  The child may deserve utter rejection, but if a parent demonstrates love for that child, the door will always remain open for the child to return. 

A parent must often demonstrate “tough love” by allowing the prodigal to suffer the consequences of his/her own decisions, and parental experience can be extremely painful.  Watching a child suffer in such a manner can be devastating.  Sometimes the short-term pain of overcoming an addiction to sin can be more painful than remaining in it, and a loving parent suffers when leading the prodigal child through the process.  It is this compassion that God describes when He is dealing with the prodigal nation.  God still deals with us in the same way today.  A difference in this comparison is shown in verse 9.  God is God, and not human.  His compassion is unchanging, though His demonstration of it changes with the variety of events with which He interacts.

Rather than destroy Israel as a people, God would continue to preserve them, but allow their dispersion as a nation by the Assyrians about 745 B.C.  They would be taken from the land of the promise, but not destroyed.  Likewise, the southern kingdom of Judah would suffer the same fate at the hands of Babylon around 597 B.C.  The people of Judah did come back to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity, but did so without the presence of the Shekinah Glory of God in the temple.  A dark period of about 400 years, a period where God did not speak to the people through messengers or prophets, commenced with their return, and ended with the birth of Christ.

Hosea 11:10-11. They shall walk after the LORD: he shall roar like a lion: when he shall roar, then the children shall tremble from the west. 11They shall tremble as a bird out of Egypt, and as a dove out of the land of Assyria: and I will place them in their houses, saith the LORD.

Herein God give a few words of hope.  There will be coming a time when the people will respond to God’s call.  The roar of a lion is one that goes unchallenged.  The roar has an authority that strikes fear in the hearts of those who could be attacked, but peace and security in the hearts of those whom the lion protects.  Likewise, God’s call has an authority that will strike fear in all hearts of those who oppose Him.  The time when God roars is coming and people will come from every corner of the earth.  The “west” refers to the islands and nations west of the Jordan, and the reference to Assyria refers to the east.  The idea here is that the trembling souls will come from everywhere.  At that point God will provide them with their appointed place of abode.

This verse does not refer to the Zionist movement that calls the ancestors of Israel to reclaim and repopulate a political Israel.  Such a movement may be no more a part of God’s purpose for Israel than the rebellious nation exhibited prior to its dispersion.  This verse refers to the final judgment that will take place at the end of the age, issued in by the return of Jesus Christ.  Every soul from every nation will finally agree on one point:  God is real, and Jesus is LORD.  God has appointed a place for all.  God has created us so that those who acknowledge Him as their Lord and Savior will spend eternity with Him.  Those who have rejected God, will spend eternity separated from Him.  These are the houses to which these verses refer.

Those of us who have turned our hearts and lives over to God can live a life that expresses our appreciation to God for what He has done for us.  We live with the assurance that the house that God has prepared is the one that is with Him, and we will dwell therein for eternity.  We can also recognize that all who have rejected God, who have rebelled against His authority face eternal separation.  This one fact should inspire the compassion within us to be active in the battle.  We must make the best use of every opportunity that God provides for us to share God’s love with those who are not safely in the fold, so that the blood of their demise is not on our hands.

There is a difference in believing who Jesus is, and responding to that belief in faith.  One can believe a chair will hold your weight, but one has not expressed faith until the chair is sat in.  One receives forgiveness for sin and the eternal life with God through placing one’s trust in God, and God alone.

Let us not live with our face set towards the things of this world, and by doing so miss the fruit of the LORD’s precious promises, or live in rebellion and face an eternity separated from God, but place our faith and trust fully in Him so that we will not face the fate that awaits all those who reject and rebel against God.  Even as Israel was facing its dissolution, that event could and would have been averted by their sincere repentance.  God is always persistent in His call to return to Him.  It might be appropriate for us to listen a little more intently.


[1] Matthew 10:21, Romans 1:30, 2 Timothy 3:2, e.g.

[2] Matthew 2:19.

[3] James 2:19.

[4] Albright, William F.

[5] John 10:10.