One of the most emotional and theologically stunning chapters of the Old Testament is Hosea 11. Hosea pictures the 8th century northern kingdom (Ephraim/Israel) as a wayward child. Although God, as Father, has loved and raised him, the child (nation) has just kept going further away. In fact, he has broken faith with God and deserves destruction. Listen to the chilling threat of judgment from Moses almost 800 years earlier (c. 1500 BC):
It shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will boast, saying, ‘I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.’ The Lord shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, … Now the generation to come, … when they see the plagues of the land and the diseases with which the Lord has afflicted it, will say, ‘All its land is brimstone and salt, a burning waste, unsown and unproductive, and no grass grows in it, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in His anger and in His wrath.’ All the nations will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land? Why this great outburst of anger?’ Then men will say, ‘Because they forsook the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt.’ Deuteronomy 29:19-20, 23-25
Israel deserves to be overthrown and destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah. They have turned their backs on God, worshiped false gods, formed unwise alliances with pagan nations, and committed despicable crimes against each other (see Judges 19-21!).
But wait! God’s message through the poet/prophet Hosea reveals another side of God’s passion:
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!
I will not vent the full fury of My anger;
I will not turn back to destroy Ephraim.
For I am God and not man,
the Holy One among you;
I will not come in rage. Hosea 11:8-9
The word translated “change” here is the same root verb as “overthrow” (hapak) from Deuteronomy. God’s heart has been overthrown by His fired up compassion for His people. Thus, he will not overthrow them to destruction. Do you think He could have the same passionate love for you, despite your sin and guilt? The answer is a resounding “yes!” The Holy One has compassion for you.
Is God turning back on His justice here? Is he backing away from His own law? Certainly, if God is the Creator and Law-Giver, He can freely act however he may choose. He has divine freedom. But, God is not overthrowing His holiness and justice. Paul explains how Jesus fulfills both God’s justice and love in Romans:
But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26
In His love, God passed over sin until He took on its full penalty on Himself through Jesus’ death. His justice is upheld, but we are not destroyed. What amazing love our Savior has demonstrated to us!
How will you respond to this God whose heart is overthrown for you?