Today I’ve been reading Psalm 107 and Hosea 11. Both have reduced me to tears as they communicate the gentleness and care of God for us, his people.
I was raised in a tradition that emphasised continually the wrath of God and his fierce anger due to our misdeeds. But no-one ever drew my attention to this passage:
“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 realise 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.” Hosea 11: 1, 3-4. It continues on is v9: “For I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God and not man – the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.”
The gentleness and kindness in this passage, God’s fatherly love for his wayward child, his stooping down to feed them, just filled me up with joy. And the rejection of wrath as a way forward in the relationship between God and his continually wayward people, filled me with hope for my own as yet rather haphazard journey with God.
In the Psalm, there is a repeating poetic refrain. First, the disasters that befall the people are described, they reach the end of themselves and “then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble and he delivered them from their distress.” This repeats through the passage four times, emphasising its’ importance.
The Psalmist describes a series of nightmarish scenarios – people who in a wasteland; who are hungry and thirsty; in darkness and imprisoned; afflicted and at the gates of death; in tempests on the seas; oppressed and sorrowful. Every kind of dire circumstance that could befall anyone is encompassed in this psalm. And every time, just when things could get no worse, the people cried out to the Lord, and every time he heard them and saved them.
The blessings they receive are all the basic building blocks of human life, security and wellbeing. In vs 7, the people are led to a city where they can settle. In v 14, they are lifted out of darkness and deepest gloom and their chains are broken. In v 18 when they are near the gates of death, they are healed by his word and rescued from the grave. In v 24 onwards, those who are in peril at sea and whose courage melts away cry out at their wits’ end -the storm is stilled to a whisper and they come into a safe haven.
Reading it, I was struck by how bad things get before the people call out to God – they really are at their wits’ end before they ask for help. How true to my life this is! I usually try lots of my own solutions first, only hollering to God for help once I am tearing out my hair!
I also noted how practical the needs were and the help that God gave – lifting the needy out of their affliction v41, bringing food and shelter, freeing the captives. This passage echoes some of the passages in Isaiah 61 concerning the coming of the Messiah. Verse 9 has a direct correlation to the Magnificat in Luke: “for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. God knows we are human, at times weak and afraid, and knows our basic needs. He doesn’t disdain our humanity – rather, he comes to inhabit it in Jesus, to confer upon it a blessedness but one that doesn’t take away its’ frailty and need.
I don’t know how life is for you right now, whether your basic needs for security, kindness, food and safety are being met. Whether you are in need of freedom from darkness and gloom, or oppression and chains. If you are suffering, I hope you will find a glimmer of hope in these words and know that you are loved and noticed by God, and that you can cry out at your wits’ end and be heard.