*I apologize in advance that this is kinda long. It's been rattling around in my head for awhile, and I was called to write it down for you this evening.*
This evening Wendy was trying our patience. She has fully entered toddlerhood, and, during the waking hours, is never still for more than a few seconds at a time. Instead, she is constantly climbing, dancing, falling, stomping, climbing more, throwing, giggling, and running. This has complicated our evening Bible reading. Gone are the days of rocking her while she drowsily drinks the last bottle of the day, her Daddy's deep voice filling her ears with the word of God. No, now we just try to keep her in the same room with us during our reading.
Tonight our reading was interrupted twice because Wendy is fascinated with cups of water. She climbed up onto the couch and grabbed my cup of water, sitting on the end table beside the couch. (In her defense, I was using a Veggie Tales cup.) Lacking the motor control necessary for the task, she tried to take a sip, and instead doused herself, the couch, the end table, and the Kleenex box on the end table. This resulted in tears, a gentle scolding, an explanation of why we don't grab Mommy's cup, and a resumption of the reading.
Not two minutes later, her little hand shot out, grabbed the cup again, and instantly upended it, narrowly missing the digital camera and cell phone I hadn't yet put away. The look on her face was one of shock. The tears were almost instantaneous. And as I reached for her to give her a swat on the bottom and a not-so-gentle scolding, I said, "Why do you have to make things so difficult?"
I have said that to her before, and every time, it makes me think of God, our Father, watching the things we do. He has given us guidelines, blessed our lives with material things, and granted us the pleasure and support of family and friends. I know that there are truly difficult decisions in all of our lives that must be dealt with, but the majority of the decisions are pretty simple. We either do the right thing, or we don't. We either abstain, or we do the wrong thing. That's pretty basic stuff.
When I said that to Wendy, and imagined God saying it to me, over and over every day, I was reminded of Hosea 11. I was fortunate enought to take a Bible class at Harding entitled, "8th Century Prophets." It was taught by Dr. Dale Manor. I didn't really know anything about the subject or the instructor when I signed up for the class; I chose it because it was an evening class, freeing up my weekdays, and my best friend and her husband were taking it.
Hosea is like many other books of prophecy in the Old Testament. God's people were led astray, and must be brought back and/or punished. It is a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament.
In Hosea 11, however, God speaks of Israel as a beloved child. The imagery is beautiful, and heartbreaking, and convicting. It is directed specifically at Israel, but I can imagine that God feels the same about each and every one of us, every one of His children who stray.
1 "When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 But the more I called Israel,
the further they went from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love;
I lifted the yoke from their neck
and bent down to feed them.
5 "Will they not return to Egypt
andwill not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?
6 Swords will flash in their cities,
will destroy the bars of their gates
and put an end to their plans.
7 My people are determined to turn from me.
Even if they call to the Most High,
he will be no means exalt them.
8 "How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you lke Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboiim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
9 I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man -
the Holy One among you.
I will not come in wrath.
10 They will follow the Lord;
he will roar like a lion.
When he roars,
his children will come trembling from the west.
11 They will come trembling
like birds from Egypt,
like doves from Assyria.
I will settle them in their homes,"
declares the Lord.
At the beginning of the chapter, two specific things are mentioned - sacrificing to Baals and burning incense to images. Even a casual Bible student would know that those two things are specifically forbidden; we are to have no gods except the one true God. We are to worship no other, sacrifice to no other, and revere no other. That much was surely made plain to the Israelites, and yet, time and time again, they fell into the same traps of paganism and idolatry.
"Why do you have to make things so difficult?"
The imagery in verse 3 is so touching and so bittersweet. A loving father, holding chubby toddler hands and gently leading so a beloved child can learn to walk. That same child, scornfully turning away in defiance, not even acknowledging the gifts of the Father. How many times are we like that child? How many times do we refuse to acknowledge God's hand in our lives? We claim our victories as our own, not giving credit to the One who gives us everything.
"Why do you have to make things so difficult?"
God contemplates the destruction of Israel. If His children will turn from him, there will be no forgiveness. And yet, in verse 8, God speaks of His children with yearning. How can I give you up? How can I let you be destroyed? God's compassion for His people changes everything; instead of destroying them, He stays His hand, and leads them to safety and rest.
We are God's children. He loves us, and gave His only Son for us - and yet we frustrate Him to no end. We ignore His dictates. We take credit for His deeds. We tune out His voice. We go against the things He has taught us. We see the way He has prepared for us, and we stubbornly go in the opposite direction.
But God, our Father, shows us infinite grace, infinite compassion, infinite mercy, and infinite love. He has more patience than we can fathom. He knows every part of us, even the sinful thoughts we don't act on, our pettiness, our selfishness, our laziness, and our greed - and he still shows us that grace, compassion, mercy, and love.
"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name..."