Hosea 11:8 (HCSB)
8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I surrender you, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? I have had a change of heart; My compassion is stirred!
This passage contains the big message of hope the Israelites were surely awaiting while hearing this book from Hosea. Although, be assured, there is still the outlining and reminder of Israel’s great sin, yet this pericope is one of hope for a future restoration.
The metaphor employed here is the Father-son one. God, the loving Father, who rescued his son, Israel, from Egypt, taught him to walk, provided for him, and guided him through times as a loving dad, reflects upon Israel’s constant rebellion all along the way. You can feel the anguish as God recounts Israel’s Baal worship, ignorance of His healing, and their “turning from Him”.
And then, in the pivotal verse of the passage, Hosea 11:8, there is this switch, an about-face, on the part of God. This seemingly sort of struggle comes through in His rhetorical questions. How can He give up His son? How can He treat His son like the cities that were destroyed? And suddenly the plan takes a twist! Certainly we had plenty of allusions to this in prior passages, but this section is bold and memorable due to the contrast. God’s mercy and grace are at play here, the plan is not total destruction, but we see the plan is for God’s people to return to Him.
Be assured, the punishment is still part of the plan. The exile is still coming, the death and destruction at the hands of Assyria are still on the agenda, but the ending has a twist now, with God “settling them in their homes”.
I want to dive into the last line of Hosea 11:8 as well: “I have had a change of heart; My compassion is stirred!” I always find verses that talk about God “changing” his mind interesting… and challenging. My understanding of the nature of God is that He is omniscient, both at the present time, and at all points in time past and future. So, it would seem that God knew He was going to change His mind? And what’s more, it would seem that for God to actually change His mind would suggest there is a “better” way for Him to do things, which, as the perfect Being, would always be His course of action… so why ever have the first way as His choice? Finally, the changing of a mind typically means something has occurred that has impacted one’s decision making process: a piece of information has been revealed, there has been a revelation of a wrong thought pattern, etc. But the idea of God having something “revealed” to Him is contrary to who God is. So how do I reconcile this? Typically I interpret verses like this as simply metaphor, a personification of God that conveys the situation in a way that man can better wrap his head around what is happening. Perhaps here it is used to convey just how serious the sins of Israel were, and just how close they were to the brink of total destruction, and thus further emphasizes the amazing power of God’s saving grace. Whatever it is, it seems clear that it should not be taken literally, nor should any weight be put into the notion that God is being influenced by external circumstances and events. God remains in full control, unshakable, all-knowing, and full of justice, grace, and love.
Lord, thank You for the promise of restoration! Ultimately we have the promise of eternal life with You due to Your perfect sacrifice for us. Israel in Hosea is just a foreshadow of that grace and mercy, yet we can learn just how dangerous our sin can be in separating us from You. I pray we turn back to You, we fly back like flocks of birds, to settle with You. Amen.