“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? […] My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hosea 11:8-9).
The book of Hosea opens with the story of the prophet Hosea’s marriage to a prostitute named Gomer. God commands Hosea to marry a prostitute as an illustration of His own relationship with Israel. As Gomer left her husband in pursuit of other lovers, so this wayward nation had turned from God again and again, chasing after other gods instead of wholeheartedly pursuing the LORD.
No one would have been surprised if Hosea had just decided to forget his unfaithful wife. She had chosen to leave him, and he was under no obligation to bring her back. He was well within his rights to procure a divorce from her. But under God’s direction, he went after her and bought her back. He loved his wife, and he would not allow her to run away from him.
In the same way, God continued to pursue His unfaithful people. They ran away from Him again and again, taking every opportunity to follow another god and worship another idol. Anyone would have expected God to forget His people, to hand them over to their enemies and never look back. But while God did allow them to be captured and exiled from their land, He could never forget them. He would chase them down and buy them back. His love for them was fierce and jealous, a love that would not stand for any competitors. They were His people, His children, His bride. No one else had a right to touch them.
As a result their own actions, Israel should have been destroyed. They deserved the full measure of God’s wrath poured out upon them. But because the LORD is God and not a man, He would have compassion on them. He would not give them the wrath they deserved. Instead, He would come to them in gentleness and buy them back. They would once again be His people, and He would be their God.