16. UNBOUNDED PATIENCE
"How precious also are Your thoughts unto me, O God!"
Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah and Zeboiim? My heart is torn within Me, and My compassion overflows. No, I will not punish you as much as My burning anger tells me to. I will not completely destroy Israel, for I am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy. Hosea 11:8-9
What a tender unfolding of the heart of God is here! It is the yearning thought of the fondest of Fathers over a nation of wayward prodigals. How grievous had been their ingratitude. He speaks in the beginning of the chapter of His loving thoughts to Israel "when a child,"—His specially gentle upbringing of Ephraim, even "as a nurse cherishes her children;"—"I taught Ephraim also to walk, taking them by their arms. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love." Yet what is the requital for all this lavish, endearing tenderness? "My people are bent to backsliding from Me."
Surely the next entry in the Divine record will be the sentence of righteous retribution—"Ephraim is joined to his idols, let him alone." No! it is a burst of fond parental love; such as, at times, is dimly pictured on earth, when we see a mother with breaking heart and eyes dim with weeping, locking in her embrace the prodigal boy who has wounded her, embittered her existence, and scorned her tears.
Listen to the tender apostrophe, "How shall I give you up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver you, Israel?" (give you over, that is, to the vengeance of the enemy.) He remembers "the cry" of Sodom and Gomorrah of a former age, and "their sin, which was very grievous." The iniquity of Israel and Ephraim can be compared in turpitude only to that of these inhabitants of the plain, on whom "the Lord rained brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven." Admah and Zeboiim were two adjoining cities in the Valley of Sodom which were involved in this terrible overthrow. "How," says He, "shall I make you as Admah? how shall I set you as Zeboim?"—and then, when He sums up with the declaration, "I will not return to destroy Ephraim," He gives as the reason—"for I am God, and not man!"
Yes, truly, Your thoughts, O God, are not as man's thoughts; Your ways are not as man's ways; had they been so, long before now how many of us would have been "given up," and had executed against us the guilty cumberer's doom—the God we have so often grieved and provoked by our obstinacy and rebellion, swearing in His wrath that "we should never enter into His rest." But, for all this, His anger is turned away from us; His hand of mercy is outstretched still! Well may we say, with the stricken monarch of Israel, "Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great, and let me not fall into the hand of man."
Backslider, return! Though you may have tried the patience of your God by years of provocation, yet He still "keeps silence;" He waits to be gracious; He is not willing that any should perish. Let His goodness and patience, his tenderness and long-suffering, lead you to repentance.
Trembling penitent, bowed down under a sense of your base ingratitude, your prolonged alienation, fearful lest a guilty past may have cut you off from the hope of pardoning mercy—return! You are saying, perchance, in the bitter reproach of self-abandonment and despair, "I am given up"—I am delivered over to the tyranny of my spiritual enemies—the Lord has cast off forever, He can be favorable no more!
No! hear His wondrous, precious thoughts—the musings of that Infinite Heart you have wounded, "How shall I give you up? Man would crush his enemy, but I am God, and not man. I will not destroy, I will save." "Behold," He says in another place, "you have spoken and done evil things as you could," (that is, they could not have been worse,) "yet, return unto Me!"
"My wayward children," says the Lord, "come back to Me, and I will heal your wayward hearts." Jeremiah 3:22