God's regard for Israel; their ingratitude. (1-7) The Divine mercy yet in store. (8-12)
Verses 1-7 When Israel were weak and helpless as children, foolish and froward as children, then God loved them; he bore them as the nurse does the sucking child, nourished them, and suffered their manners. All who are grown up, ought often to reflect upon the goodness of God to them in their childhood. He took care of them, took pains with them, not only as a father, or a tutor, but as a mother, or nurse. When they were in the wilderness, God showed them the way in which they should go, and bore them up, taking them by the arms. He taught them the way of his commandments by the ceremonial law given by Moses. He took them by the arms, to guide them, that they might not stray, and to hold them up, that they might not stumble and fall. God's spiritual Israel are all thus supported. It is God's work to draw poor souls to himself; and none can come to him except he draw them. With bands of love; this word signifies stronger cords than the former. He eased them of the burdens they had long groaned under. Israel is very ungrateful to God. God's counsels would have saved them, but their own counsels ruined them. They backslide; there is no hold of them, no stedfastness in them. They backslide from me, from God, the chief good. They are bent to backslide; they are ready to sin; they are forward to close with every temptation. Their hearts are fully set in them to do evil. Those only are truly happy, whom the Lord teaches by his Spirit, upholds by his power, and causes to walk in his ways. By his grace he takes away the love and dominion of sin, and creates a desire for the blessed feast of the gospel, that they may feed thereon, and live for ever.
Verses 8-12 God is slow to anger, and is loth to abandon a people to utter ruin, who have been called by his name. When God was to give a sacrifice for sin, and a Saviour for sinners, he spared not his own Son, that he might spare us. This is the language of the day of his patience; but when men sin that away, then the great day of his wrath comes. Man's compassions are nothing in comparison with the tender mercies of our God, whose thoughts and ways, in receiving returning sinners, are as much above ours as heaven is above the earth. God knows how to pardon poor sinners. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and therein declares his righteousness, now Christ has purchased the pardon, and he has promised it. Holy trembling at the word of Christ will draw us to him, not drive us from him, the children tremble, and flee to him. And all that come at the gospel call, shall have a place and a name in the gospel church. The religious service of Israel were mere hypocrisy, but in Judah regard was had to God's laws, and the people followed their pious forefathers. Let us be faithful: those who thus honour God, he will honour, but such us despise Him shall be lightly esteemed.
This chapter gives an account of the free and ancient love of God to Israel, and of the benefits and blessings of goodness he bestowed upon them; and of their ingratitude in not owning them, nor hearkening to his prophets, but sacrificing and burning incense to idols, Ho 11:1-4; wherefore they are threatened with disappointment of relief from Egypt, with captivity into Assyria, and with the ravages of the sword in all places, being a people bent to backsliding, and incorrigible, Ho 11:5-7; and yet, notwithstanding all this, the bowels of the Lord yearn after them, and promises of mercy are made to them; that they shall not utterly be destroyed, but a remnant shall be spared; which in the latter day shall be called and follow after the Lord, the King Messiah, and be returned from their captivity, and be resettled in their own land, and replaced in their own houses, Ho 11:8-11; the chapter is concluded with an honourable character of Judah, Ho 11:12.