1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.[a]
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.
The Heartbreak of a Loving God
Can’t you hear His heart breaking in those words? There is such tenderness mingled with such an ache- God reflects on the miracles of delivering His people Israel from Egypt- the great lengths he went to through plagues and parting the Red Sea to speak gently but with great strength, “I love you” to His child Israel. Yet, verse 2- the ache. The more He called, the more they refused to listen and ran after false gods. His words drip love like honey- They didn’t realize it, but I
- Taught them to walk, taking them by the arms like any Daddy would do
- Healed them
- Led them through the kindness and love of others
They Did Not Realize
His plea rings out clearly here- open your eyes Israel! I’m your perfect Daddy, lifting you like a little child to my cheek, stooping down to feed you. Please see it! Please notice! Can’t you hear my love whispering to you everywhere?
Yes, Israel had seen God do incredible miracles for them. Yet, they had just experienced a period of unparalleled economic and political prosperity, with their biggest enemy at the time, Assyria, having gone through a series of weak kings after the death of Adad-nirai III. Did they see God stooping down from heaven as the loving Father bestowing their many blessings in this period as gifts of love?
It is obvious in Hosea, they did not. It was a time of great spiritual adultery- a time when Israel poured out their love to lesser things, to foreign gods, rather than to the only true God who fiercely, jealously loved them. He knew their hearts were turned away from Him. He knew they weren’t listening. And here through Hosea, He pleads with them- if you don’t just quiet yourselves and listen to my love calling to you in everything I do for you- if you don’t return to me- Assyria is going to come in and swoop you away into captivity where you will finally stop to listen, repent and return to me and I will rescue you.
The Only Righteous Jealousy
God, the one who spins the earth in orbit and holds the stars in place, is the only one deserving of Israel’s love, of our love. He knows that the best thing for us- that which will bring about our highest joy and satisfaction in life- is when we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. When we find our highest joy in Him and bask in His love and love Him back by glorifying Him in all we do, we are doing what we are created for. It isn’t an arrogant jealousy- it is the highest form of righteous jealousy.
What? Righteous Jealousy?
Jealousy is only a nasty, sinful emotion, right? Not always. Consider it this way. Jealously is yearning for something someone else has- to the extent that you don’t want them to have it. Is that not the feeling you married people would have if you found your spouse was cheating on you? Jealously would be right for you- not a sinful emotion. God is perfect, holy, righteous- He is love. Not only is He the only one deserving of our love, but He knows that when we are loving Him, that is the ultimate and best place for us to be, reveling in what we were created for. His jealousy for Israel’s love and for our love is the only right response when we are loving lesser things rather than Him.
Always Calling to Us- But do we Hear Him?
And so, He continues to whisper, to declare, to scream, “I love you!” through the little and big things in our lives. Through that little break in the madness of your day that you were yearning for, through your favorite hot drink on a chilly day, through a breathtaking sunrise, through a kind word from someone unexpected when you’re hurting, through a card sent with love, through the kiss of your child and the hug of a friend.
These things are Him! Him saying, “I love you!” to you- even in the small things, the things we often fail to notice. What if instead of letting these moments drift by we basked in the love of God radiating to us through them?
He Leads us with Cords of Human Kindness, with Ties of Love
So many times this holiday season, God has been telling me He loves me through the love of others. It was our first Christmas here- far from all our family and long-term friends in Indiana. Adam was on-call and we had to be here. My parents in law came out to Missouri to celebrate Christmas with us, and the day they left, my parents arrived and stayed through New Years Day.
The love of our parents lavished on us and on our little boys was savory. We had all missed each other so much and the moments together were so sweet. That, coupled with cards from loved ones back in Indiana, hugs and texts from our wonderful new friends here, cinnamon rolls from the neighbors down the street, kind greetings from cashiers, getting closer to family members as my uncle passes, and the sweet welcome into our new church family as we became members. And whether I realized it at the time or not, all of this was God leading us- God saying, “I love you, my child.”
I pray that as the new year blooms, I may tune in better to hear Him and may find my highest joy in loving Him back. May this be true for you as well.
Ephesians 3:17b-19 “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”