“‘My people are bent on turning away from me’” (Hosea 11:7a).
Hosea’s ministry came near the ending of the kingdom of Israel. That nation had been rebelling against God almost since its inception, ever since their first king, Jeroboam, had turned from worshiping God and set up idols in His stead. For generations, God had chased after this idolatrous people, urging them through His prophets to return to Him. But they would not, and so their doom drew ever nearer.
By the time Hosea came onto the scene, there was no hope left. Hosea’s life became an allegory for God’s relationship with Israel, as he married a prostitute who left him for other men. Though he provided everything she could need, she was still unsatisfied. Her eyes were always on the things she couldn’t have, on the things she would willingly harm herself to gain. She was determined to desert her husband, the only man who truly loved her, to chase after things that would make her happy for only a short time and leave her broken beyond repair.
This was how God viewed Israel. They were His wayward bride, His beloved one for whom He provided everything. Yet still they rejected Him, forsaking Him for other gods who could do nothing for them. They turned to other countries when they were in trouble, seeking deliverance in the might of men. They deliberately refused to come to God, turning everywhere but to Him.
Yet God still desired to be merciful to them. “How can I give you up, O Ephraim?” He cried through Hosea. “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” (11:8-9). No matter how much they ran away, no matter how far they fled, still God longed to be merciful to them. He could not so easily forsake His promise to Abraham to take his descendants as His own people. They were His bride, and He would not give them up.