The Tenderness of God
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.
This section comes from Hosea chapter eleven, in which God is recounting His historic relationship with Israel from His perspective. This section is loaded with good stuff! There is prophetic imagery speaking of Christ, emotional language depicting the longing of God for His people, and other marvelous stuff!
When I read this section I see the heart of God aching for His people. I see His tenderness expressed in fatherly care. I get an overall sense of God speaking to me, calling me to just let Him love me. God did not heal Ephraim because Ephraim entreated Him. God did not lead His people with love and gentleness because they asked Him to. No, God did all of this because of who He is and the place that they have in His heart.
In context God is speaking sorrowfully, as though His heart aches with longing, mourning over how His people have continually gone astray to worship idols. I find in my own life, I too wander away, not to bow down before idols exactly, but to hide from His love. See, I am a walking contradiction guys. I love God, and I yearn for His love, but when God starts getting too close, I bail and retreat. Why? Because I am afraid of His love. His perfect acceptance of me, His desire for me, His affection for me are all things I crave with everything in me, but I also fear it. His love is so pure so good! And I know me, I mess things up, I self-sabotage, I have lived entrenched in insecurity for so long that it has become comfortable.
But when I read this I hear Him loud and clear. I hear Him calling me to let Him heal my legs, and lift me to my feet. He desires to obliterate that crippling lie and restore me through truth. He wants to lead me gently, lovingly, with chords of tender kindness. One commentary I read put it like this, "Israel is an ox whose yoke God loosened and whom God gently led to the promised land, hand-feeding it along the way." He wants to lead me hand-feeding me along the way, slowly, painstakingly, building my trust in Him. He wants to loosen the yoke from my jaw. The yoke was often a representation of the law. God wants to remove the legalistic bits from my mouth that I would no longer be guided by it, and lead me in freedom and grace.
To some Christians what I just described would compel them to book a counseling session of some kind and frantically try to weed these behaviors and attitudes out. But for me I realize that God is a good Dad, He sees this garbage, He isn't worried about it, He has already begun leading me in love, feeding me from His hand, and sowing tiny little seeds of trust into my quivering heart. This section of Scripture describes relationship. God longs for us to trust Him, to count on Him. His heart twists and aches for us to recognize His heart and passion for us! But He is willing to put in the work, to meet us in our nonsense, and lovingly build truth and trust into us.
Relationship with God is better when its messy. The mess is an invitation to experience God's goodness in ways that build within us true faith and confidence in His nature. Watching God labor over us, nurturing us, and caring for us, softens us in ways that no sermon, no counseling session, no amount of human effort ever could.
I hear in this passage an invitation to chill the heck out and simply let Him love me. To abandon all those thoughts of trying harder, and replacing them with trust. I am going to take Him up on that. I invite you to do the same!
Garrett, D. A. (1997). Hosea, Joel (Vol. 19A, p. 224). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.