Here's the journal entry for my quiet time with God this morning.
Look: “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them.” (Hosea 11:3)
Eight-centuries before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Hosea was used by God to call God’s people to repentance and faith. If they refused to respond to God’s grace, their faithlessness, idolatry, and injustice would catch up with them; they would be overrun by powerful enemies and be sent into exile. Ephraim was the largest of the tribes of Israel and was sometimes used, as here, to describe all of God’s people, the entire nation.
God uses different metaphors to describe His relationship with His people. Sometimes, God is portrayed as husband to a faithless wife. Here, God is the nurturing father who raised His people from infancy, who now in their adolescence, have spurned God. They’ve forgotten their father, even if they sometimes still invoke His name (Hosea 11:7). They’ve forgotten that it was He Who taught them to walk, Who brushed them off and cleaned their skinned egos and hearts when they stumbled.
Listen: How easily we forget God when everything is going well. There may be no atheists in foxholes, when adversity and pain target us. We often are prayerful and pious in our desperation. But when things “smooth out,” we forget about the One Who steadied us and set us on the paths to healings of all kinds. We forget about the One in Whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
But if we disconnect from the God Who, in Jesus Christ, gives us “life...to the full” (John 10:10), we walk away from life. We walk into death Arrogance and the myth of self-sufficiency sets in. “My people are determined to turn from me,” God says of His people in Hosea 11:7. Then, when hard times come or times when we face the consequences of our idolatry and hard-heartedness, as they do inevitably come in our fallen world, we blame God for not taking care of us. Or we disavow His existence.
But this verse speaks of God’s tender feelings for His people, the same tender feelings that Jesus says God has for all the people of the world (John 3:16). He wants a relationship with us. He doesn’t want us to remain perpetually infants. God wants us to grow in our relationship with Him, in our faith. It’s we who choose either to walk away from God or to remain spiritual infants. God wants to have a grown-up relationship with Him, one in which He empowers us to live in the freedom from sin, death, and idolatry that is our childish default mode, in the freedom He gives to us to love Him and to love all of our neighbors.
To those who have been made God’s people through Jesus, Jesus says, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)
I talk with my father almost every day. I honor him as my father. I respect him. But now that dad is 88 and I’m 64, our relationship is as much one between two old friends as it is as between father and son. We have many shared memories and interests. We strive to be good to each other. That’s a little bit like the relationship God wants to develop with believers saved through Jesus, I think. God is always God: our Creator Who is infinite, eternal, perfect in love, justice, and power. To honor and worship Him as our only God and King is to give Him His due. But the One Who gives me life also wants to be my Friend. He wants me to get over myself and place myself in His hands and at His disposal so that He can make me over into the adult child of my Father that I’m intended to be.
This process of renewal, which is called sanctification, is a gift of grace from God by which He makes us over in the image of Jesus...if we will only be with Him and let Him love us and change us and show us the way. This is the process that happens, the apostle Paul says, when we all “...who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
God wants those to Whom He gives life and gives life again in Christ to grow into the men and women He meant for us to be when He first gave us life. He wants us to be able to say, along with Paul: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
Respond: Today, Lord, help me to grow up: to let go of my hubris and pretended self-sufficiency, to ignore the calls of this world’s false gods: security, acceptance by others, popularity, power, ease, comfort, stuff I don’t need, and a thousand other things I could mention. Help me to keep my eyes, my attentions and my intentions on Christ alone and so have my views of the world and my daily activities changed by the freedom only You give to believers to become all that You make us to be, all that Christ died and rose to set us free to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]