The Word Made Fresh
1I loved Israel when he was young,
and I summoned my child from Egypt.
2But the more I reached out to them, the more they turned from me.
They continued sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.
3But I was the one who taught Israel to walk.
I carried them in my arms,
but they didn’t know I was the one who had healed them.
4I led them, bound with human kindness and bands of love.
I treated them like those who lift babies to their cheeks;
I bent over them and fed them.
5But they will return to Egypt, and Assyria will rule them
because they refused to come back to me.
6The sword attacks their cities and destroys their gates.
It will devour everything because of their scheming.
7For my people are determined to forsake me.
They call out to the Most High, but will not be rescued.
8How can I give up on you, Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, Israel?
How can I turn you into another Admah,
or treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart melts; my compassion warms and grows tender.
9I will not act on my terrible anger.
I will not destroy Ephraim again,
because I am God; I am not a mortal human.
I am the Holy One among you, and I will not come in anger.
10And they will come to the LORD who roars like a lion.
When the LORD roars the children come trembling from the west.
11Trembling like birds from Egypt and doves from Assyria they come,
and I will resettle them in their homes, says the LORD.
12But Ephraim has covered me with lies,
and Israel has been deceitful.
But Judah still walks with God and is faithful.
1-2: These verses move to a new metaphor of Israel as God’s wayward child. Matthew, in telling about Joseph taking Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape King Herod, quotes verse 1 to connect the story of Jesus with the story of Israel. I suppose Matthew didn’t read the next verse!
3-4: God recalls Israel’s early history the way a mother recalls her child’s infancy.
5-7: Returning to Egypt is meant mostly figuratively, meaning that they will return to slavery, although a few of them did flee south when the Assyrian army invaded. Assyria is the next and coming world power, and at their hand Israel will suffer the consequences for having turned away from God.
8-11: And yet, God agonizes over their fate. Up to this point we have listened to lengthy presentations describing God’s wrath, but now we come face to face with a God who grieves, and it is a most touching scene, one to which every parent can relate.
12: Many scholars believe this verse introduces the change of direction in chapter 12, back to the catalogue of ills. However, I read in these lines a wistful parental hope that, although Israel has turned away from God, perhaps Judah is still faithful.
God is presented as a loving parent who takes a parent’s pride in children who are obedient, but grieves in angry disappointment for the child who follows an unfaithful path. Our sinfulness is a reflection on our loss of faith in God, just as a child’s misbehavior is a reflection on the child’s rebellion against the will of the parents.