Compassion for the Fatherless—The Axis Point of Hosea

I was struck deeply this past week by a passage I’d never before noticed in the book of Hosea.  My own thoughts of Hosea have always revolved around the living metaphor that God directed Hosea to act out in real time.  Hosea was to welcome back into his home his adulterous wife Gomer, foretelling how God would someday welcome home His rebellious people.  It’s an unforgettable story; but, interestingly, it takes up only two of fourteen chapters.  The rest of the book sets up, and then delivers, a powerful window into God’s character, one that hinges on God’s heart for the fatherless.

Virtually all of chapter 3 and 4-14 are heavy-laden with judgment.  God’s people have wandered far from him in idolatry, injustice and other sins, and the consequences Hosea lays out can make even the modern reader pale.  Amidst it all are glimpses of hope and mercy as well, but warning and punishment are the resounding bass drum of these 12 chapters.

But then, with less than ten verses to go in the book, the road takes a sharp turn.  And from that point on, Hosea offers only hope and promise of restoration.   The axis point of this dramatic change in emphasis is 14:1-3.  The preceding words had described death and destruction in horrible detail; those that come after describe healing and flourishing, dew and blossom.

What brings the change?  It is a transformation of Israel’s heart: confessing of sin and asking forgiveness of God; rejection of false gods and trust in earthly powers; and then, in what appears to be the capstone of the transformation, a declaration coming from the penitent heart:  “for in You the fatherless find compassion.”

It’d be natural to ask why that phrase would be here at all.  What does God’s heart for the fatherless have to do with the situation?  Why is this idea the axis point separating 10+ chapters of judgment from a grand finale of hope and mercy?

The shocking truth, as best I can tell, is that this fundamental truth about God’s character colors everything else we know about Him.  Unlike the Greek gods (who were first appearing in story and song about this time in history), the God of the Bible is not concerned exclusively with the sleek and powerful, great athletes and mighty heroes.  Rather, He is to be defined especially by His love for the destitute and protectorless, embodied particularly in the orphan.

Of course, God’s people are called to reflect God’s heart by carrying for orphans as well (i.e. Isaiah 1:17).  But we must not jump to that mandate ahead of the primary truth.  God’s heart, His character, the color that dyes our deepest understanding of Him, is revealed with particular clarity in His love for the fatherless.  We can be confident of His love and faithfulness, pursuit and protection of us precisely because we know that He takes this same stance toward little ones that most everyone else has forgotten.  This is the God we serve.  And because He loves in this way, we can as well…