The Book of Hosea is about adultery; no one who reads it can avoid that. Hosea’s wife, the adulteress named Gomer, reinforces the verbal message by graphically reenacting the story of Israel’s infidelity to God.

Yet, mysteriously, three-fourths of the way through the Book of Hosea there appears a remarkable passage on parenthood. For 10 chapters God has likened Israel to a woman who first wed him and then sold herself to other lovers. He expressed the jealousy and rage and hurt of a wounded lover. But in chapter 11 the tone dramatically shifts.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,

and out of Egypt I called my son.…

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,

taking them by the arms;

but they did not realize

it was I who healed them.

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.”

An image leaps into my mind from a videocassette of a young girl learning to walk. The mother is on her knees, coaxing forward her young daughter, who has both hands extended and is rocking perilously from side to side. The camera lurches wildly in the father’s excitement. Both parents are grinning from ear to ear. Their daughter can walk! They play the tape over and over.

Like that, like a doting parent, God taught his people to walk. He expresses a feeling of nostalgia in this passage from Hosea, recalling the joy of parenthood. “How can I give you up, Ephraim?” he suddenly cries out in a stab of pain. “How can I hand you over, Israel?” His heart is changed within him; his compassion is aroused.

What can account for this tender passage in the midst of an adult story of seamy prostitution? God is borrowing from the two deepest human ...

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Philip Yancey
Philip Yancey is editor at large of Christianity Today and cochair of the editorial board for Books and Culture. Yancey's most recent book is What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters. His other books include Prayer (2006), Rumors of Another World (2003), Reaching for the Invisible God (2000), The Bible Jesus Read (1999), What's So Amazing About Grace? (1998), The Jesus I Never Knew (1995), Where is God When It Hurts (1990), and many others. His Christianity Today column ran from 1985 to 2009.
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