COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 11:8 How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within Me, My repentings are kindled together. 9 I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city.” (Hosea 11:4-7)
God is noted for having a “heart” – for being tender, sensitive, and longing for the fellowship of His people. Thus God referred to David as a man “after Mine own heart” (Acts 13:22). He promised to raise up a faithful priest who would do what was according to “Mine heart” (1 Sam 2:35). Speaking of the Temple Solomon built, the Lord said, “Mine eyes and Mine heart shall be there perpetually” (1 Kgs 9:3). Through Jeremiah He promised, “I will give you pastors according to Mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer 3:15). Speaking of His determination to bless His people, the Lord said, “Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with My whole heart and with My whole soul” (Jer 32:41). However we choose to think about the Lord, it is well for us to include this aspect of His being, which is most fully revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom “all Fulness” dwells (Col 1:19).
Our text reveals this aspect of our Lord’s being – His heart. We must not shun to embrace this representation of the Lord, even though it has been corrupted by many. The Lord’s purpose is to bless, not to curse. While it is true this intention can be “frustrated” (Gal 2:21), it is good for us to ponder this revelation of God. It will provide encouragement for the soul that is cast down, and incentive for those who desire to come closer to the Lord. If we are insightful, we will be able to trace our own recovery to the Lord’s determination to bless us. Properly seen, this facet of the Divine nature produces a spring of thanksgiving.
HOW SHALL I GIVE THEE UP?
“ 11:8 How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within Me, My repentings are kindled together.”
HOW SHALL I GIVE THEE UP? Other versions read, “How can I give you up?” NKJV/NASB/NIV Although Israel richly deserved to be utterly removed from the face of the earth, yet the great heart of God hesitated to do so. Their sin, despicable though it was, had caused His lovingkindness to shine all the brighter. How refreshing this must have been to the remnant who remained among the people. That is the people for whom these words were spoken, as well as those who believe on the Lord in our time. If ever a people is punished, it is not due to the lack of consideration on God’s part! That is why it is so utterly reprehensible to hear unlearned people say, “If God is so loving, why does He allow” this or that to happen? Such foolish words are not to be found in our mouths.
Hear the Lord as He pleads with a wayward people. “Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For though I spoke against him, I earnestly remember him still; Therefore My heart yearns for him” (Jer 31:20).
HOW SHALL I DELIVER THEE? That is, deliver them over to their enemies. Other versions read, “hand you over,” ESV “surrender thee,” JPS “deliver you up,” NAB and “let you go.” NLT Some versions represent the verse as asking how God would save the people. “How may I be your Savior,” BBE “How shall I protect thee.” DOUAY This phrase is a restatement of the first expression from a different perspective – “give thee up.” The first emphasizes God letting them go. The second underscores giving their enemies power over them.
HOW SHALL I MAKE THEE AS ADMAH? HOW SHALL I SET THEE AS Zeboim? These are two cities that were overthrown with Sodom and Gomorrah. There were five cities slated for that destruction. They are named in Genesis 14:2, together with their kings: Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, and Zoar. Zoar was spared in consideration of Lot, who fled there from Sodom (Gen 19:22-23). Admah and Zeboim were among the cities of which it is written, “And He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground” (Gen 19:25). Jude says they suffered “the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7).
The first clauses of this verse are not speaking about God merely chastening Israel. Rather, He is affirming that He cannot find it in His heart to utterly destroy them, leaving nothing remaining – as He did with Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim. He will not deal with them after the manner of Admah and Zeboim, to whom He gave no further consideration. In strict accord with His lovingkindness, He will leave a remnant!
MY HEART IS TURNED WITHIN ME. Other versions read, “My heart churns within Me,” NKJV “My heart is turned over within Me,” NASB “My heart is changed within Me,” NIV “My heart recoils within Me,” NRSV “My heart is overwhelmed,” NAB and “My heart is torn within Me.” NLT The idea is that the utter destruction of Israel – even though such a judgment was deserved – caused His heart to react against such a thought. He could not bring Himself to do such a thing because of His purpose, and the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That is, the sin of Israel was so grievous that it was in the mind of the Lord to utterly destroy them. However, in mercy, He deferred from carrying that out.
This is not the first time such a Divine response was registered against this people. At Sinai, God threatened to “consume” the people (Ex 32:10). When they refused to enter the promised land, choosing to believe the ten unfaithful spies, God again threatened to “smite them with pestilence, and dishinherit them” (Num 14:12). In both cases, “the Lord repented of the evil He thought to do unto His people” (Ex 32:14; Num 14:20). He did not do it for the sake of the people, but in consideration of both His nature and His promises. Nor, indeed, did the people go unpunished. However, just as in this text, the people were not utterly destroyed.
MY REPENTINGS ARE KINDLED TOGETHER. Other versions read, “My sympathy is stirred,” NKJV “My compassions are kindled,” NASB “My pity is stirred,” NAB and “All My tenderness is stirred.” TNK Here there is a remarkable blending of wrath and mercy, punishment and consideration. This is the sort of thing for which Habakkuk prayed: “In wrath remember mercy” (Hab 3:2). It is what David sought for Himself: “rebuke me not in Thine anger, neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure” (Psa 6:1). The Psalmist portrayed this Divine manner in these words: “But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned He His anger away, and did not stir up ALL His wrath”(Psa 78:38). In this text, that aspect of God’s nature is being aroused.
WHAT GOD WILL NOT DO
“ 9a I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim . . . ” Now, the Lord holds forth a promise – something that will have a strong and effective appeal to the believing heart, yet something to which the hardhearted will be absolutely blind.
I WILL NOT EXECUTE THE FIERCENESS OF MINE ANGER. God does NOT say He will not execute His wrath, but that He will not put into effect “the fierceness” of His anger. It will not flame forth so as to utterly consume the people, as it did in the days of Noah, or when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.
Even as Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace could be heated to “seven times” hotter (Dan 3:19), so God’s anger can have such an intensity that survival is absolutely impossible. Both Moses and David referred to this as God’s “hot displeasure” (Deut 9:19; Psa 38:1) – of which Moses was “afraid.” Moses also spoke of “the fierceness of His anger” (Deut 13:17). We also read of “the fierceness of His great wrath”(2 Kgs 23:26).
No one is able to stand before, or survive, God’s overflowing anger, when He “whets His sword,” and “bends His bow” (Psa 7:2). When the Lord sharpens His “glittering sword,” there is no hope of survival. Thus Nahum writes, “Who can stand before His indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him” (Nahum 1:6). God now says through Hosea that He will NOT execute this kind of anger against Israel.
I WILL NOT RETURN TO DESTROY EPHRAIM. Other versions read, “I will not destroy Ephraim again,” NASB and “nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.” NIV The Lord promises He will not continue to strike Israel until they are beyond all recovery. This is another way of saying He would, in fact, have mercy upon them, even though they will be severely punished. Through Jeremiah, God spoke in a similar manner: “I will surely have mercy on him, says the LORD. Set up signposts, Make landmarks; Set your heart toward the highway, The way in which you went. Turn back, O virgin of Israel, Turn back to these your cities” (Jer 31:21).
God would NOT make a “full end” of the people. Even though the whole land would be made desolate, as God affirmed through Jeremiah, “yet will I not make a full end” (Jer 4:27). Again He promised, “Nevertheless in those days, saith the LORD, I will not make a full end with you” (Jer 5:18). And again He cried out, “For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished” (Jer 30:11). How marvelous are the promises of God!
A REMNANT SHALL BE SAVED. With great faithfulness, the Lord reminded Israel that He was not going to completely destroy them. “For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return”(Isa 10:22). “For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this” (Isa 37:32). “Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries” (Ezek 6:8). Isaiah cried out, “Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah” (Isa 1:9). Paul appealed to this prophecy, establishing that to this very day, “there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom 9:29; 11:5).
It is God’s manner to preserve a remnant. He did it through the Seth and his seed (Gen 4:25-26). He did it in Noah and his family (Gen 7:1; 1 Pet 3:20). He did it again in Lot, saving him and his daughters from a pervading destruction (Gen 19:12-26). A remnant was preserved in Jezebel’s wholesale slaughter of the prophets (1 Kgs 18:4; 19:18). There was a “remnant” in the days of Ezra (Ezra 3:8), and Ezra confessed it. “And now for a little space grace hath been showed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in His holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage” (Ezra 9:8).
Again, these are words to the faithful remnant, such as the prophet Shemaiah was commanded to speak “to the remnant of the people” (1 Kgs 12:23). They were to look for the mercy that God promised, just as surely as you who are in Christ are to “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 1:21). That mercy will be brought to us in the day of God’s wrath, when the earth, the works that are therein shall be burned up, and the wicked are punished (2 Pet 3:10-12).
I AM GOD
“ 9b . . . for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city.” Now, the Lord accounts for His commitment to NOT completely eradicate the people. The conduct of Israel certainly did not justify such a response from God. In no way were they worthy of a remnant being retained among them. From the standpoint of Divine justice, it was right for to have been blotted out like the Amalekites. But there is more to God than justice. There are other Divine traits that are joined together with His justice, allowing for the preservation of a remnant among a decadent people.
I AM GOD, AND NOT MAN. What a marvelous declaration: “For I am God, and not man!” Other versions read, “Because I am God,” DOUAY and “I am God and not a mere mortal.” NLT He is accounting for Israel not being obliterated or annihilated. Through Malachi, the great God of heaven said it this way: “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal 3:6). The Psalmist said it this way: “But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned He His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath” (Psa 78:38). That is not merely what the Lord did, that is the way the Lord IS. It is His nature! This is why Jeremiah confessed, “It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not” (Lam 3:22).
In all of its varied facets, salvation is traced back to the fact that God is God, and not a man. Whether it is preserving a remnant in the ark, Lot from a fiery holocaust, or us from the day of wrath – it is God’s nature that compels Him to save. Even the strange prophet Balaam was given to say this: “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” (Num 23:19). God’s thoughts and ways are not like those of men (Isa 55:8-9). Men are to refuse to think of God as though He was like unto them. God does not bear man’s likeness, but man bears His – marred though it be. Thus it is written, “These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes” (Psa 50:21).
THE HOLY ONE IN THE MIDST OF THEE. God’s faithfulness is not only traced to His Godhood, but to His holiness as well. “The Lord IS righteous,” without any exception whatsoever (2 Chron 12:6). He is righteous in severing the binding cords of the wicked (Psa 129:4). He is righteous in allowing a remnant to escape His fiery wrath (Ezra 9:15). “God is righteous in all of His ways, and holy in all of His works” (Psa 145:17). Whether He is chastening or administering comfort, He is holy. Whether He is removing the wicked or preserving the godly, God is holy. If he raises up Pharaoh, then throws him into the sea, God is holy. If he raises to Nebuchadnezzar to chasten His people, God is holy. During the administration of the Law, the Lord said “I am holy” (Lev 11:44-45; Psa 86:2). To those living under the administration of grace, He says the same: “I am holy” (1 Pet 1:16). Do not miss the power of this declaration! God says He will not destroy Ephraim because He is the Holy One in the midst of them!
I WILL NOT ENTER INTO THE CITY. Other versions read, “I will not come with terror,” NKJV “I will not come in wrath,” NASB and “I will not come to destroy.” RSV The idea is that God would not draw close to them, personally entering, as it were, into their city. The full impact of His glory would not be shown, even though He was in their midst. The reason for this withdrawal was the consuming nature of His holiness. As it is written, “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29; Deut 4:24; 9:3).
When the Law was given from Sinai, the Lord came closer to the people. His “feet,” as it were, touched the holy mount (Ex 24:10). Even in that abbreviated appearance, the people were forbidden to go up into the mount, or touch its base, lest they die (Ex 19:11-12). When a holy God comes within close proximity to a sinful people, destruction looms on the horizon. This is what happened at Babel (Gen 11:5). It is also what happened at Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:21). When God “came down,” confronting Aaron and Miriam with their sin against Moses, Miriam became leprous (Num 12:5-10).
There is an irreconcilable conflict between the sinfulness of man and the holiness of God. In Israel’s case, even the remnant was preserved by God NOT entering into their city. In compassion, He stood afar off that the nation not be absolutely destroyed. This was done because He is God, and because He is holy. From our point of view, it was because of His promise to the fathers, and remembrance of the remnant. This is how God is! This is why the church remains in the world, even though in the form of a remnant