8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
9 I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
In the early lines of the book of Hosea, we see God compare the northern kingdom of Israel (Ephraim) to an adulterous woman. In fact, the memorable tableau of Hosea and Gomer, a man married to a wife who willingly chooses a life of prostitution instead of faithfulness is intended to mirror the sadness of Israel’s faithlessness. God shows that those people willingly and repeatedly betrayed him, regardless of his kindness and faithfulness to them.
Of course, the Old Testament is full of the prophesies of the judgment of God that will fall on that people who turned away from the Lord. He promised them judgment for unfaithfulness before he ever entered into covenant relationship with them. The consequences of rebellion against God were part of the terms of the covenant between God and national Israel.
If we are not careful, we will read those Old Testament promises of judgment, and we will consider God to be harsh. After all, we like to think that we would be gentle and understanding if we were the ones in charge. Yet, a faithful look at the Old Testament shows us that God is truly a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love.
Notice in the verses above the sweet kindness of the Lord. His compassion is stirred toward his people. He willingly withholds the judgment that the people have more than earned. He does not enjoy doing to them what the terms of the covenant require.
Now, let us not read the words above as though God will not judge. We must not assume that the patience of the Lord and the compassion of our God somehow do away with his justice. He will be just. But, he is gloriously compassionate.
Let the words of Hosea 11:8-9 melt into your understanding of the kindness of God and the glory of the gospel. The conflict in Scripture is not one of God seeking more people to condemn and loving to crush people. Instead, the conflict in Scripture is the question of how can God exercise compassion while still fulfilling his justice. In the case of Israel and in the case of humanity, the answer is the same: the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our God has tender compassion toward those who have rebelled against him. He will judge us if we refuse him. However, God has chosen to show us his kindness by taking upon himself his right wrath for sin. Thus, we can be forgiven because of the justice of God poured out on his own Son. God’s love is incredible. His justice is perfect. His tenderness is overwhelming. And all this is present right here in the Old Testament words of God to Israel.