“How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart is turned over within Me, all My compassions are kindled. I will not execute My fierce anger; I will not destroy Ephraim again. For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hos. 11:8-9, NASB).
This passage serves as a window into God’s heart: will God hand His rebellious son over to be stoned to death as required by law (Deut. 21:18-21, see also Gen. 19:17-23)? What an amazing insight into both God’s own suffering due to human sin and His desire to save us.
Even though sinful Israel deserved total destruction, the Lord in His enduring mercy continues to love His people while striving for their repentance.
In Abraham’s time there were five cities situated in the Jordan Valley southeast of the Dead Sea (Gen. 14:8). Known as “the cities of the plain,” they were Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar. Of these, only Zoar was not destroyed. The names of the other four became proverbial for the total destruction that came upon them due to their wicked ways and unwillingness to repent (Deut. 29:23). It was to some of these cities that Hosea was referring in the above verses.
Hosea 11 teaches that God’s ways transcend those of sinful humanity. He will not let bitterness govern His decisions. God’s love seeks to bring healing, health, and restoration to His people. The purpose of divine discipline is to correct, amend and reconcile, not to destroy and avenge. Many people, even professed Christians, do not understand that aspect of God, but, instead, see Him as vengeful, angry, and just looking to find fault in order to punish them for their sins. Even worse, some believe that He burns the lost in hell for eternity. That, however, is not the picture of God presented here.