The Lord Is Compassionate
How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? ... My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.Hosea 11:8
Do you ever wonder where your sins leave you? Have you ever sinned very seriously against the LORD and then wondered whether the LORD would reject you? That's the question the Israelites were about to struggle with.
Hosea told the Israelites that they were about to be sent into exile. Earlier in Hosea he compared Israel to an unfaithful wife who had gone after her illicit lovers. And now in Hosea 11 God spells out the case against them. They refused to repent, sacrificed to the Baals, and burned incense to images. How would he now deal with this unfaithful wife? God says that they would go to Egypt and Assyria would rule over them. It was going to be an extremely difficult experience for the Israelites and they would struggle with the question: Who are we if God sends us out of the promised land? Are we still his children? Does he still love us? Or does this mean that he has forsaken us completely?
God answered that question already in Hosea 1-3. There he told Hosea to take back his wife Gomer after she had proven herself unfaithful to him. This is an image of what God would do for his children.
And in Hosea 11:8-9 God tells us why. He says, "How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim." The LORD says that he can't give up his people or treat them like Admah or Zeboiim. We should understand that these were towns in the vicinity of Sodom and Gomorrah and were destroyed together with them (Deut 29:23). The LORD will not treat his people like those cities. Sending them into exile does not mean that he is destroying them totally. On account of his justice, many of them would suffer deeply and only a small remnant of them would return. But that doesn't mean they would cease to be his children. He would again act to save them because, he says, his heart is changed within him and all his compassion is aroused. Our Father is deeply compassionate. He is a God who is moved to pity when he sees the suffering of his people.
This theme of God's compassion comes back time and again in the Bible. The first thing God reveals about himself to Moses in Exodus 34 is that he is "the LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness." After David sinned in numbering the fighting men, and the angel of the LORD killed 70,000 Israelites, in 2 Samuel 24 we're told that the LORD was grieved because of the calamity and he told the angel to stop. In Psalm 78 we are told how the hearts of the Israelites were not loyal to the LORD in their time in the desert. But verse 38 says, "Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath." In Psalm 106:44-45 we're told that when the Israelites wasted away because of their sin,
He took note of their distress when he heard their cry; for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love, he relented.
Do you see the extent of the compassion and grace of the LORD? And so also when his people were suffering in exile, God's compassion would be aroused and he would bring a remnant to the promised land.
And the reason he does this, he says, is because he is God, not man (v. 9). He is the Holy One among them. It is natural for us to give vent to our anger and to ignore the suffering of others. In contrast, it is God's glory that he is slow to anger and that he loves to show compassion.
And then you see the profound depths of God's compassion because it means that he himself has to pay for our sins. As Hosea alludes to in verse 1 of our chapter, the reason the LORD has compassion on his people is because Christ bore his wrath for us.
Do you understand that the LORD delights to show mercy also to you and the rest of his people? Do not his compassion and grace move you to a profound sense of gratitude, a desire to show compassion to others, and a deep longing to worship him with all you have?