Remembering Compassion

I. The Sovereign Initiative of God toward Israel – 11:1-4

A.  verse 1 – Out of all the nations on earth, God chose the descendants of one family, Abraham’s descendants, through Isaac, and then through Jacob. They had no land of their own but were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. This refrain they had learned from the first generation that came out of Egypt and was to be taught to each succeeding generation. It is the preface to the Ten Commandments, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” When explaining the worship and the sacrifice and the commandments to children, the parents were to begin, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty had.” Deuteronomy 6:21.

B. verse 2 – Their apostasy began immediately, however, never purifying their minds and hearts from the idols and consequent life values of Egypt. From the incident of the golden calf to the production of the calves at Bethel and Dan they had preferred idolatry to the purer worship of the God of Abrahman, Isaac, and Jacob. Having adopted Egyptian worship while there, they adopted Canaanite worship from the remnant of idolatrous inhabitants, and from Jezebel. They valued the pleasure-supporting falsehoods of their environment than they did the true revelation of holiness and righteousness from Yahweh. The call to worship Yahweh, (“The more they were called,”) fell on hard hearts; for having ears to hear, they did not hear. As Stephen told those that heard his sermon in Acts 7 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you” ( Acts 7:51). It is this kind of persistence in resistance to the blessings and call of God that sets the stage for the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:33.

C.  Verse 3 – All the benefits that had come to “Ephraim,” their periodic prosperity as a nation, even though in rebellion, were gifts from God that they attributed to other causes. He taught them how to prosper and blessed them though they did not pursue him. When trouble stirred, he often had healed and protected them, had eased their burden though they were stupidly unsolicitous of his intervention, blamed the prophet for their trouble, and unaware of his protection (See 2 Kings 6:24 – 7:20). God’s mercies fill the earth, but its inhabitants do not see in any of these the supporting benefits of common grace. We find much reason to complain about God and what he allows, and how if we were God we would run things much better; our moral compasses are so inaccurate that we have no conscientious awareness of the wrath that is due to us, and that our proper abode is hell itself.

II. God’s judgment on an unresponsive and unfaithful people – 11:5-7

A.  They shall not return to the Land of Egypt – This phrase refers not only to the impending captivity but to the memory and remnants of Egyptian culture, idolatry, and pleasure worship that remained in Israel. While in their hearts they may still have the propensity for the Egyptian view (as they indicated when they first left Egypt [Exodus 14:11,12; 16:2, 3), their future will be quite different as the cruel Assyrian will be the instrument of their punishment.

B. verse 6 – Here the Lord flatly lays out the blame for this Assyrian attack on the determined policy of Israel (“according to their own counsels.”) The attack will be aggressive and brutal (“the sword shall rage”) and not even the most secured part of their cities will be able to withstand (“consume the bars of their gates”). God wants them to know that He protects them and he can overwhelm them with judgment.

C. Verse 7 – The reason for their persistent idolatry is that the have a “bent” toward disregard for divine revelation and the abundance of mercies. Even so we have here and throughout the Bible, illustrated so poignantly in the history of Israel, the reality of original sin. Our hearts are desperately wicked, the thoughts and intents of our hearts are only evil continually. Adam died when he disobeyed; spiritual death, to be followed some centuries later by physical death, immediately came on him as the threatened punishment for disobedience. Through one man’s disobedience, death reigned through that one man as an indication that condemnation hangs over us also (Romans 5:12-21). If one observes the constant effect of rebellion against God in spite of revelation and providential sustenance then one must trace the cause to something universal and intrinsic to fallen human nature. When they call out, therefore, to the Most High, he will not answer. This is not a violation of God’s promise to be found of those that seek him with all their hearts, but points to his knowledge that prayers often emerge from self-worship and desperation to avoid the experience of judgment. (See James 4:3, 4) He will answer when he himself roars and they return in fear 9verse 10, 11)

III. A merciful and covenant-keeping God – 11:8, 9

A. verse 8 – Now the covenantal intentions of Yahweh began to be manifest in these words of hope. Even as God has preserved them when they did not deserve it in temporal matters, so his intention of eternal blessings rise to the fore as he surveys the immediate surge of justice. In the conflagration of Sodom and Gomorrah, the nearby towns of Admah and Zeboiim were also destroyed. This coming display of judgment is not, therefore, a termination of God’s covenant, but a means for the manifestation of his faithfulness. For the sake of his eternal lovingkindness, his compassion, God looks upon the unworthiness of Israel and their desert of destruction with an eye to the worthiness of his Son who will save “his people from their sin.” The descendants of these very people are to be among those for whom the Savior will come. He calls to mind, therefore, his compassion and the salvation to which he already is committed by the eternal covenant (2 Timothy 1:9, 10) They will indeed be returned to their earthly land, but in a severely compromised condition, only to be restored to an eternal inheritance that fades not away when the covenantal promise is effected by the Christ (Acts 8:4-25; 1 Peter 1:3-5).

B. Verse 9 – Though in themselves, they are worthy of a terminating display of wrath, God will not execute it, for he has purposes related to his own glory that will not allow it. A mere man, in the full power and advantage of his strength, seeing a recalcitrant and hostile enemy inveterately intent on his destruction and humiliation, now poised on the edge of a sword of justice, would find no reason to relent. “Let the sword execute its full capability of destruction!” He would say. But God will not so execute Ephraim, though there is nothing in them that calls forth any relenting. He is God, and not man, and does, therefore, have a purpose wrought in eternity by which his holiness will have an increased demonstration of glory.

IV. Their return will be caused by a manifestation of power and holiness – 11:10, 11

A. Verse 10 – The image described by Hosea is of lion whose cubs have wandered away. That inimitable roar brings them scurrying back with a sense of trepidation. They have learned a new fear of the Lord; they see his greatness and realize that they are not consumed, not because he is weak or unaware and unable to execute his justice, but because he is determined that he shall have a holy people zealous of good works.

B.  Verse 11 – Their restoration to the land proves his power both to punish and restore, and gives a foretaste of his execution, not only of the temporal promises given to Abraham, but much more of the unalterable and unconditional promise to his Son, to give him a people, and of the determination of the Son to lose none of all that the Father has given him. (John 10:27-30)  Review comments on Chapter 3:4, 5.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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