For I Am God and Not a Man
In the book of Hosea, the prophet details Israel’s idolatry and incessant desire to continually push the Lord their God to the side for whatever they want. And yet, as often as Israel is unfaithful, God shows his steadfast love for his people and reminds them that his unrelenting love for his people is not based on their performance, but simply his love.
In response to Israel’s unfaithfulness and idolatry, God calls his prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute to show that his covenantal love for Israel is like being married to a prostitute—God knows the pain of consistent infidelity because Israel is unfaithful every single day.
Like the Israelites in the Bible, Hosea speaks to our darkest inner thoughts: my plan is better, and I know what’s best for me. And yet, despite their unfaithfulness and self-reliance, Hosea 11 paints a beautiful picture of the unique and unparalleled nature of our God’s love for Israel:
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more they were called,
the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
and burning offerings to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
I took them up by their arms,
but they did not know that I healed them.
My people are bent on turning away from me,
and though they call out to the Most High,
he shall not raise them up at all.
Looking at my own life, I can’t help but see parallels. The more I’ve been called, the more I’ve strayed away. How often I forget who taught me “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:11). How often I forget the Lord’s blessing and his work in my life. Like Israel, we live so much of the first seven verses; we are “bent on turning away” from our God, and at the end of the day we deserve judgement.
Like me, they knew the stories, they knew the law, and their ancestors had told them about YAHWEH, the God above all gods, the great I Am. And yet, time and time again, the nation turns away from the one true God to other gods and idols. In verse five it says, “they have refused to return home to me,” and rather than truly repenting, they praise God with their lips but do not exalt him in their lives (v.7).
So here is where another flood comes, right? Sodom and Gomorrah part two? Time to get out the popcorn and watch God lay down the hammer like an episode of Wipeout where Israel is the contestant. But it doesn’t quite go that way. The whole narrative shifts, and you begin to realize the weight behind verses 8 and 9:
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
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.
They shall go after the LORD;
he will roar like a lion;
when he roars,
his children shall come trembling from the west…
The Enduring Word Commentary notes, “We are in sin, and guilty before God. Yet He says, ‘How can I give you up?’ Justice demands that He [punish sin], yet in His heart He must find a way of salvation. In this, God sends Jesus Christ, and on the cross Jesus was ‘given up’ in our place.”
Without a classic Bible transition word, God sneakily transforms this entire chapter to show us he is so much more than we can understand. We can’t fathom the faithfulness he embodies or the forgiveness He gives. Amidst our idolatry, when we have turned away from him, he says “How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender” (v.8). Despite our unfaithfulness, he remarkably proclaims, “I will not execute my burning anger… For I am God and not a man, The Holy One in your midst” (v.9). How can this be? How can he possibly relent at such a time as this?
“For I am God and not a man.”
As the weight of that phrase sinks in, we realize God is different. His love and forgiveness are incomparable and unthinkable to man. Here, Charles Spurgeon offers a helpful illustration: “What passes for forgiveness among men is nothing like the amazing forgiveness of God. ‘Suppose that someone had grievously offended any one of you, and that he asked your forgiveness, do you not think that you would probably say to him, ‘Well, yes, I forgive you; but I – I – I – cannot forget it’? Ah! dear friends, that is a sort of forgiveness with one leg chopped off, it is a lame forgiveness, and is not worth much.’” God’s forgiveness is more than we can comprehend, and far more than we are capable of.
Like Israel, in our hearts, we know what is good, right, and true, and yet we constantly replace God with lesser idols. When we turn away, it is easy to grow fearful and lose sight that of the beautiful truth that even “if we are faithless, he remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13).
These verses serve as a joyous reminder of God’s grace, and as Tim Keller says, “If you want God’s grace, all you need is need, all you need is nothing. But that kind of spiritual humility is hard to muster. We come to God saying, “Look at all I’ve done,” or maybe “Look at all I’ve suffered.” God, however, wants us to look to him.” God wants us to be reminded like Charles Spurgeon reminds us, “Away, then, all fears, the kingdom is safe in the King’s hands.”
We serve a God who is just and merciful, a God is slow to anger and abounding in love. Even in the inevitability of our idolatry and running away, we serve a God who looks to us and proclaims, “How can I give you up?” And we can know that he never will. Because in the greatest love story ever told, he gave his one and only son to die for his people; his son, the one who knew no sin, became our sin, so that through him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21) and be justified to a just and Holy God who is not a man.