“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” (Hosea 11:4).
A woman watches her once-believing husband return to an old lifestyle. Her heart breaks, but most importantly, God’s heart breaks. God, through his son, Jesus Christ, has chosen to love this man even though he has rejected His love. This husband may have lost his first love, but God has never lost His love for him. God once brought Israel out of bondage in Egypt; blessed them with abundance; again and again stood with them against their enemies. In the book of Hosea, God finds Israel playing around with other gods, and his heart breaks for her harlotry. In love, He reaches for his child, longing for her to come home.
“It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms,” the Lord cries in Hosea 11:3, “but they did not know it was I who healed them. The verb “to know”, a term to describe the intimacy of the marital bed, literally means to have direct knowledge of something or someone. Israel had a direct and intimate knowledge of other gods. Like an adulteress who scorns the intimacy of her own marital bed, Israel scorned intimate knowledge of God. “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,” Hosea continues in the next verse. The expression "the cords of a human kindness" refers to God’s tender care. It is also an indirect reference to the umbilical cord that supplies life to a baby inside the mother’s womb. (Isaiah 26:17; 66:7; Jeremiah 12:12). In Jewish culture, a parent guides his toddler with a “cord”. The child learns to follow in the steps of the parent. Not only did God create the nation of Israel, and give birth to it in great pain (Isaiah 21:3), He also supplied His hand for guidance. He lifted the yoke of slavery to sin. But without an intimacy with God Israel did not have a spiritual awareness of God’s guidance or sin that separated her from His presence.
Do you have an intimate relationship with God? Are you able to identify with His pain? God labored for you, and watched His own child die so that you might live. Hosea wept because Israel did not “know” the abiding love of God. Do you “know” the redeeming love of His son? If you are a parent, close your eyes and remember your child as he crawled, and then finally stood. Remember your hand holding his as he took his first shaky step, and your strength steadying him? For days he refused to let go. He needed you. One day he pulled his hand from yours, and took his first step toward independence. With independence and his freedom to choose, you offered him a guiding hand. He either accepted or rejected it. It was Israel’s decision whether or not to seek an intimate relationship with God. It is also ours.
When Israel was a child, God loved her in her innocence. He too offered guidance. When she failed, He still loved her in her guilt. A child often doesn’t recognize until grown the love and nurture of his parent. Consider God, the father’s, unconditional love and sacrifice for you, His child. He has led you in kindness, and lifted your burden. Have you grown up enough to realize His sacrificial love for you? Or have you, in not placing Him first, forgotten your first love? As His heart broke for Israel, His heart and His body have also been broken for you.