This has been a tough week for our community. A 13-year-old boy was struck by a car and killed on his birthday, right in front of the school as everyone was coming in for the day. The event has sent a shockwave of trauma throughout the community.
It is only natural to question God in this moment. What kind of a God would allow this to happen? What kind of God allows children to suffer?
I think of parents this week. I think of the anguish a parent feels when a child is lost.
I think of another type of parent who watches their children turn away from them and make life choices that are harmful and self-destructive. The pain that tears apart a parent’s heart as they watch a child spiral into self-destruction is horrific.
I think of God’s heart.
The Narrative Lectionary text for this week speaks directly to a parent’s pain and to the question “What kind of God…”
Hosea 11:1-11 is a beautiful love poem from God to the beloved child, Israel. This poem shows us the heart of God.
The following illustrations will provide historical context for the passage so that the beauty and weight of this poem will come through in all its bitter sweetness.
Hosea’s ministry took place during the Divided Kingdom, under the reign of Jeroboam II in 2 Kings.
Ephraim is another term for Israel. The name means fruitful. It is a bit of irony to call the rebellious nation by this name.
When Jeroboam took the ten tribes away from Jerusalem and the temple, he established two golden calves in Israel and said, “These are your gods that brought you out of Egypt.” This error led the Kingdom of Israel into a downward spiral that led to full Baal worship and self-destruction.
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:24-29 is a familiar cautionary tale, even today. The story reminds us what can happen to people who turn from God and hurt others. What we often forget is that there were two other cities in the same plain that were also destroyed. The words Admah and Zeboiim, for Hosea’s listeners, would strike the same horror as Sodom and Gomorrah do for us.
Admah and Zeboiim were wiped out as consequences of their actions. This is the trajectory that Israel is on and to which Hosea speaks.
Israel is flanked by two Empires. Egypt is to the west and Assyria is to the east. These cardinal directions are important to remember.
These Empires clashed repeatedly and the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were the battle field. Israel and Judah were constantly tempted to either make war or seek unholy alliances with the Empires. It was a violent and turbulent time.
It is into this context that the prophet Hosea speaks to the Kingdom of Israel, to Ephraim, God’s son.
God describes the wayward son.
Feel the indignation and jealousy begin to rise in God’s voice. I am the one who cared for them, not those other gods.
Feel the rage in God’s voice in these words. Turn them over to their own wicked ways! Let them burn! They deserve it!
These are honest emotions that any parent would naturally feel, but never admit to others.
Something changes in God’s heart. The realization of Israel’s suffering collides with God’s deep compassion for this child.
God’s heart recoils.
I don’t want them to be destroyed like Admah and Zeboiim.
I love Ephraim.
God is not a petty human, seeking vengeance. God is loving kindness. God’s compassion overshadows all transgression.
The lion of Judah has a mighty roar. It calls the weak and terrified cubs out of hiding. It beckons them to come home.
Some day, the precious children will be restored. All is not lost.
The Messiah, the lion of Judah, will restore God’s people.
God is with us. Emmanuel.
This is Good News!
This is the heart of God.
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