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CHAPTER XVIII

THE FATHERHOOD AND HUMANITY OF GOD

Hosea xi.

From the thick jungle of Hosea's travail, the eleventh chapter breaks like a high and open mound. The prophet enjoys the first of his two clear visions—that of the Past.595595   See above, p. 253. Judgment continues to descend. Israel's Sun is near his setting, but before he sinks—

"A lingering light he fondly throws

On the dear hills, whence first he rose."

Across these confused and vicious years, through which he has painfully made his way, Hosea sees the tenderness and the romance of the early history of his people. And although he must strike the old despairing note—that, by the insincerity of the present generation, all the ancient guidance of their God must end in this!—yet for some moments the blessed memory shines by itself, and God's mercy appears to triumph over Israel's ingratitude. Surely their sun will not set; Love must prevail. To which assurance a later voice from the Exile has added, in verses 10 and 11, a confirmation suitable to its own circumstances.

When Israel was a child, then I loved him,

And from Egypt I called him to be My son.

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The early history of Israel was a romance. Think of it historically. Before the Most High there spread an array of kingdoms and peoples. At their head were three strong princes—sons indeed of God, if all the heritage of the past, the power of the present and the promise of the future be tokens. Egypt, wrapt in the rich and jewelled web of centuries, basked by Nile and Pyramid, all the wonder of the world's art in his dreamy eyes. Opposite him Assyria, with barer but more massive limbs, stood erect upon his highlands, grasping in his sword the promise of the world's power. Between the two, and using both of them, yet with his eyes westward on an empire of which neither dreamed, the Phœnician on his sea-coast built his storehouses and sped his navies, the promise of the world's wealth. It must ever remain the supreme romance of history, that the true son of God, bearer of His love and righteousness to all mankind, should be found, not only outside this powerful trinity, but in the puny and despised captive of one of them—in a people that was not a state, that had not a country, that was without a history, and, if appearances be true, was as yet devoid of even the rudiments of civilisation—a child people and a slave.

That was the Romance, and Hosea gives us the Grace which made it. When Israel was a child, then I loved him. The verb is a distinct impulse: I began, I learned, to love him. God's eyes, that passed unheeding the adult princes of the world, fell upon this little slave boy, and He loved him and gave him a career: from Egypt I called him to be My son.

Now, historically, it was the persuasion of this which made Israel. All their distinctiveness and character, their progress from a level with other nomadic tribes292 to the rank of the greatest religious teachers of humanity, started from the memory of these two facts—that God loved them, and that God called them. This was an unfailing conscience—the obligation that they were not their own, the irresistible motive to repentance even in their utmost backsliding, the unquenchable hope of a destiny in their direst days of defeat and scattering.

Some, of course, may cavil at the narrow, national scale on which such a belief was held, but let them remember that it was held in trust for all mankind. To snarl that Israel felt this sonship to God only for themselves, is to forget that it is they who have persuaded humanity that this is the only kind of sonship worth claiming. Almost every other nation of antiquity imagined a filial relation to the deity, but it was either through some fabulous physical descent, and then often confined only to kings and heroes, or by some mystical mingling of the Divine with the human, which was just as gross and sensuous. Israel alone defined the connection as a historical and a moral one. The sons of God are begotten not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.596596   St. John's Gospel, i. 12, 13. Sonship to God is something not physical, but moral and historical, into which men are carried by a supreme awakening to the Divine love and authority. Israel, it is true, felt this only in a general way for the nation as a whole;597597   Or occasionally for the king as the nation's representative. but their conception of it embraced just those moral contents which form the glory of Christ's doctrine of the Divine sonship of the individual. The belief that God is our Father does not come to us with our carnal birth—except in possibility: the persuasion of it is not293 conferred by our baptism except in so far as that is Christ's own seal to the fact that God Almighty loves us and has marked us for His own. To us sonship is a becoming, not a being—the awakening of our adult minds into the surprise of a Father's undeserved mercy, into the constraint of His authority and the assurance of the destiny He has laid up for us. It is conferred by love, and confirmed by duty. Neither has power brought it, nor wisdom, nor wealth, but it has come solely with the wonder of the knowledge that God loves us, and has always loved us, as well as in the sense, immediately following, of a true vocation to serve Him. Sonship which is less than this is no sonship at all. But so much as this is possible to every man through Jesus Christ. His constant message is that the Father loves every one of us, and that if we know598598   See below, pp. 321-3. that love, we are God's sons indeed. To them who feel it, adoption into the number and privileges of the sons of God comes with the amazement and the romance which glorified God's choice of the child-slave Israel. Behold, they cry, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.599599   1 John iii.

But we cannot be loved by God and left where we are. Beyond the grace there lies the long discipline and destiny. We are called from servitude to freedom, from the world to God—each of us to run a course, and do a work, which can be done by no one else. That Israel did not perceive this was God's sore sorrow with them.

The more I600600   So rightly the LXX. called to them, the farther they went from Me.601601   LXX., rightly separating מִפְּנֵיהֶם into מִפָּנָי and הֵם, which latter is the nominative to the next clause. They to the Ba'alim kept sacrificing, and to images294 offering incense. But God persevered with grace, and the story is at first continued in the figure of Fatherhood with which it commenced; then it changes to the metaphor of a humane man's goodness to his beasts. Yet I taught Ephraim to walk, holding them on Mine arms,602602   So again rightly the LXX. but they knew not that I healed them—presumably when they fell and hurt themselves. With the cords of a man I would draw them, with bands of love; and I was to them as those who lift up the yoke on their jaws, and gently would I give them to eat.603603   The reading is uncertain. The לֹא of the following verse (6) must be read as the Greek reads it, as לֹו, and taken with ver. 5. It is the picture of a team of bullocks, in charge of a kind driver. Israel are no longer the wanton young cattle of the previous chapter, which need the yoke firmly fastened on their neck,604604   x. 11. but a team of toiling oxen mounting some steep road. There is no use now for the rough ropes, by which frisky animals are kept to their work; but the driver, coming to his beasts' heads, by the gentle touch of his hand at their mouths and by words of sympathy draws them after him. I drew them with cords of a man, and with bands of love. Yet there is the yoke, and it would seem that certain forms of this, when beasts were working upwards, as we should say against the collar, pressed and rubbed upon them, so that the humane driver, when he came to their heads, eased the yoke with his hands. I was as they that take the yoke off their jaws;605605   Or lifted forward from the neck to the jaws. and then, when they got to the top of the hill, he would rest and feed them. That is the picture, and however uncertain we may feel as to some of its details, it is obviously a passage—Ewald295 says "the earliest of all passages"—in which "human means precisely the same as love." It ought to be taken along with that other passage in the great Prophecy of the Exile, where God is described as He that led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble: as a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord gave him rest.606606   Isa. lxiii. 13, 14.

Thus then the figure of the fatherliness of God changes into that of His gentleness or humanity. Do not let us think that there is here either any descent of the poetry or want of connection between the two figures. The change is true, not only to Israel's, but to our own experience. Men are all either the eager children of happy, irresponsible days, or the bounden, plodding draught-cattle of life's serious burdens and charges. Hosea's double figure reflects human life in its whole range. Which of us has not known this fatherliness of the Most High, exercised upon us, as upon Israel, throughout our years of carelessness and disregard? It was God Himself who taught and trained us then;—

"When through the slippery paths of youth

With heedless steps I ran,

Thine arm unseen conveyed me safe,

And led me up to man."

Those speedy recoveries from the blunders of early wilfulness, those redemptions from the sins of youth—happy were we if we knew that it was He who healed us. But there comes a time when men pass from leading-strings to harness—when we feel faith less and duty more—when our work touches us more closely than our God. Death must be a strange transformer of the296 spirit, yet surely not more strange than life, which out of the eager buoyant child makes in time the slow automaton of duty. It is such a stage which the fourth of these verses suits, when we look up, not so much for the fatherliness as for the gentleness and humanity of our God. A man has a mystic power of a very wonderful kind upon the animals over whom he is placed. On any of these wintry roads of ours we may see it, when a kind carter gets down at a hill, and, throwing the reins on his beast's back, will come to its head and touch it with his bare hands, and speak to it as if it were his fellow; till the deep eyes fill with light, and out of these things, so much weaker than itself, a touch, a glance, a word, there will come to it new strength to pull the stranded waggon onward. The man is as a god to the beast, coming down to help it, and it almost makes the beast human that he does so. Not otherwise does Hosea feel the help which God gives His own on the weary hills of life. We need not discipline, for our work is discipline enough, and the cares we carry of themselves keep us straight and steady. But we need sympathy and gentleness—this very humanity which the prophet attributes to our God. God comes and takes us by the head; through the mystic power which is above us, but which makes us like itself, we are lifted to our task. Let no one judge this incredible. The incredible would be that our God should prove any less to us than the merciful man is to his beast. But we are saved from argument by experience. When we remember how, as life has become steep and our strength exhausted, there has visited us a thought which has sharpened to a word, a word which has warmed to a touch, and we have drawn ourselves together and leapt up new men, can we feel297 that God was any less in these things, than in the voice of conscience or the message of forgiveness, or the restraints of His discipline? Nay, though the reins be no longer felt, God is at our head, that we should not stumble nor stand still.

Upon this gracious passage there follows one of those swift revulsions of feeling, which we have learned almost to expect in Hosea. His insight again overtakes his love. The people will not respond to the goodness of their God; it is impossible to work upon minds so fickle and insincere. Discipline is what they need. He shall return to the land of Egypt, or Asshur shall be his king (it is still an alternative), for they have refused to return to Me....607607   Ver. 6 has an obviously corrupt text, and, weakening as it does the climax of ver. 5, may be an insertion. 'Tis but one more instance of the age-long apostasy of the people. My people have a bias608608   Are hung or swung towards turning away from Me. to turn from Me; and though they (the prophets) call them upwards, none of them can lift them.609609   This verse is also uncertain.

Yet God is God, and though prophecy fail He will attempt His Love once more. There follows the greatest passage in Hosea—deepest if not highest of his book—the breaking forth of that exhaustless mercy of the Most High which no sin of man can bar back nor wear out.

How am I to give thee up, O Ephraim?

How am I to let thee go, O Israel?

How am I to give thee up?

Am I to make an Admah of thee—a Ṣeboim?

My heart is turned upon Me,298

My compassions begin to boil:

I will not perform the fierceness of Mine anger,

I will not turn to destroy Ephraim;

For God am I and not man,

The Holy One in the midst of thee, yet I come not to consume!610610   For בעיר, which makes nonsense, read לבעור, to consume, or with Wellhausen amend further לא אובה לבער, I am not willing to consume.

Such a love has been the secret of Hosea's persistence through so many years with so faithless a people, and now, when he has failed, it takes voice to itself and in its irresistible fulness makes this last appeal. Once more before the end let Israel hear God in the utterness of His Love!

The verses are a climax, and obviously to be succeeded by a pause. On the brink of his doom, will Israel turn to such a God, at such a call? The next verse, though dependent for its promise on this same exhaustless Love, is from an entirely different circumstance, and cannot have been put by Hosea here.611611   They will follow Jehovah; like a lion He will roar, and they shall hurry trembling from the west. Like birds shall they hurry trembling from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will bring them to their homes—'tis the oracle of Jehovah. Not only does this verse contain expressions which are unusual to Hosea, and a very strange metaphor, but it is not connected either historically or logically with the previous verse. The latter deals with the people before God has scattered them—offers them one more chance before exile comes on them. But in this verse they are already scattered, and just about to be brought back. It is such a promise as both in language and metaphor was common among the prophets of the Exile. In the LXX. the verse is taken from chap. xi. and put with chap. xii.


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