“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”
Fathers are great, aren’t they? A lot of our attention is focused on our mothers, but I think our fathers deserve a special mention too! Whilst mothers have had their own day since the sixteenth century (in England at least), it was not until the twentieth century that fathers got their own day. Whilst mothers bring us in to the world, though, the place of a father should not be underrated, neither in the biological sense nor in the practical sense. Fathers work incredibly hard to provide for their children. They support them, they encourage them, and they love them. Perhaps it is the love of a father that is most important, since it is this love which underpins everything else that a father does.
In today’s verse, we see God displaying the love of a father towards Israel, whom he regards as a son. As a father to his people, God loves and cares for them. He provides for them. He supports and encourages them.
Most significantly for us today, though, is the fact that Matthew quotes this verse in his account of Joseph taking his family to Egypt to escape from the murderous King Herod. He sees the escape of Jesus to Egypt, and his eventual return to Palestine as a fulfillment of the words of God as quoted by Hosea. Matthew understands that God is Jesus’ father, and that Jesus is God’s son. Hosea’s words from God are seen as once as a prophecy of Jesus’ life, a prophecy that is fulfilled almost as soon as Jesus is born.
Today’s verse, therefore, reinforces our understanding of God as a father to his chosen people. As those who put our faith in God, he will in turn support us, protect us, and provide for us, just as a father does for his child. But we also see confirmation in scripture of the divine fatherhood of Christ, through the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.
In the three years or so after I left university, it seemed that every weekend in the summer months would be spent at the wedding of some friend or other. For a few years after that, things settled down, but the next couple of years look like they’re going to get busy on the wedding front again, with some of my closest friends getting married – and even my little brother!
In our current Mark Marathon mile, Jesus uses the image of a wedding to explain his relationship with those who follow him. He uses parables to describe himself as a bridegroom, and suggests that it would be inappropriate for his followers to fast whilst he is with them. The time will come when fasting is appropriate, but now is not the time, he tells them.
Jesus here picks up a theme that appears in the Old Testament. Here in Hosea, God uses the image of a marriage to describe his relationship with his people – a marriage that will last forever. This marriage will be based on righteousness, justice, love, compassion and faithfulness. These are all good qualities, and I’m sure that if anyone saw these qualities in someone, they would consider that they make a good candidate for marriage. These qualities, however, in their perfect form, can only come from God. He will freely give these to us, though, if we accept his betrothal. Is there a long list of things he wants in return? Not at all; he simply says that we must acknowledge the Lord.
God makes some amazing promises to us here, which are picked up by Christ in the New Testament. Surely it’s right to acknowledge the Lord if we get all this back in return?
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
My brother’s Christmas gift from our Gran.
Lots of families these days have video cameras to record important family moments and key events, especially in the lives of children. My family was no exception. There’s some classic footage of my brother unwrapping his presents one Christmas morning. He’s excitedly opening up a parcel, then holds the gift up to the camera and simply says, “I told Granny I didn’t want the Beano annual!” Luckily, when we played the video to my gran, she was out of the room making a cup of tea when that particular piece of footage came on!
Sometimes we give gifts to people without really thinking about it – we give them what we think they would like, when actually we don’t really know, or understand, exactly what it is they want. Sometimes, if we’re honest, we don’t even stop to give a gift much thought; I know that I have been guilty of simply buying someone something like Amazon vouchers, because I don’t really want to have to stop and think about what the recipient would really like.
Jesus is recorded quoting this passage twice in Matthew’s Gospel (in 9:13 and 12:7). On each occasion he uses it to challenge the religiosity of the Pharisees, who are carefully striving to adhere to the rules of their faith without genuinely seeking the heart of God. Jesus turns the view of the Pharisees on their head. They have misunderstood what God actually wants from them. Jesus told them that he did not come for the healthy but the sick; he has come to save sinners, not the righteous. Sometimes we fall into the same trap the Pharisees fell into, and misunderstand what it is that God wants from us.
It is clear from this verse in Hosea and from the contexts in which Jesus quoted it that God is not interested in ritual, traditions and heritage. Instead he wants us to get to know him, and to love him. He wants us to study his word and develop a better understanding of who he is. He wants us to love him as our heavenly father. Challenging, but considering how inadequate we are compared to him, quite reassuring too!
Originally published 19/9/2009; redrafted and slightly expanded 29/1/2015.