Hosea 11 would make a great Hallmark movie. Not that it’s lame, like most of those movies, but that it really tugs at your heart strings. It is not difficult to picture a court room with parents and a rebellious child standing before the judge. Of course it will take a somewhat different set of cultural eyes to really grasp what is happening in this text.
In ancient Israel rebellious children were to be stoned before the assembly for their rebellion. Not honoring your father and mother was a serious offense in that day. Today it produces guilty laughs and giggles amongst teenagers. They all acknowledge their having blown this commandment. I doubt it would have evoked such giggles in ancient Israel.
In Hosea 11 we have a court proceeding where Yahweh’s fathering is on display as well as his son’s—Israel’s--unfaithfulness. After hearing of Yahweh’s kind love and care for His children, coupled with Israel’s rebellion, the judge issues a guilty verdict and pronounces the sentence.
“They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king…the sword shall rage against their cities…and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all.”
Can you see the picture? Yahweh’s beloved child is being taken away because of his rebellion. He is guilty. He must be punished. It’s even a more painful picture when we realize that the father in the story is also wearing a judge’s robe. He is the one handing down the sentence. He is the one giving the guilty verdict. His son deserves death and punishment.
Then in verse 8 the father emerges out from the judge’s cloak:
“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel”
“I can’t give up my baby. I cannot execute the punishment on Israel. I will withhold my wrath.”
Why Hosea 11:8 is in our Bible
If we are not careful we will misread this text and insert our 21st century emotions and parenting methods into the text. It is not as if Yahweh is saying, “It’s okay I’m going to keep loving you no matter what you do. You just live how you want to and you know that no matter what decisions you make or how many times you hurt me, daddy is still going to keep loving you.” No, Yahweh’s parenting is much bolder than this. His love and His parenting is transformative. Israel will be punished, but he will not destroyed.
Furthermore, Yahweh is holy. He cannot simply sweep Israel’s sin under the rug. Hosea 11:8 is only in our Bible’s because of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the True Israel, the Greater Son, was handed over so that the Lesser Son would not have to be. The Lord was able to withhold the full fury of His wrath because that very same wrath would be poured out upon Jesus on the cross, where he took the rebellious child’s punishment.
God is able to not “hand you over” because He “handed over” Jesus into the hands of wicked and sinful men. He hung on a tree, cursed, so that rebellious children--like you and I--could be in a relationship with the Father.