When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.
The mind, pained by ingratitude, naturally reverts to the kindnesses formerly showered on the unworthy recipient. God here reminds Israel of his early love to the nation - how he had adopted it as his son, called it out of Egypt, taught it to go alone, drawn it with love, and bountifully provided for it. No sin is so odious as filial ingratitude (Isaiah 1:3). None is so grievous to the heart of a parent. It is this sin which God here charges on Israel.
I. THE CHILDHOOD OF ISRAEL. "When Israel was a child, then I loved him" (ver. 1).
1. Israel had a childhood. Every nation has. There is a time when, in the natural development of society, the patriarchal stage passes over into the political. This time came to Israel in Egypt. The patriarchal family had grown into a horde. It had lost its domestic character, yet it had no polity. It might never have had one had the people remained in bondage. God gave them freedom, and with it nationality. Thus the nation was created.
2. The individual has a childhood. He is cast on God's care from the womb (Psalm 22:9, 10). One can sometimes almost trace a special providence in the care of children. Those who can look back on special mercies in childhood and early life are in the position of Israel here.
3. The spiritual life has a childhood. It has its feeble beginnings. There are those who are but "babes in Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:1). They are as "new-born babes," needing "the sincere milk of the Word," that they may "grow thereby" (1 Peter 2:2). God is tenderly careful of such, considerate of their weakness and. watchful in their nurture.
II. GOD'S LOVE TO ISRAEL IN HIS CHILDHOOD. "I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt," etc. (vers. 1, 3, 4:). God's love to Israel was shown:
1. In his adoption. He chose the nation, and called it "My son, my firstborn" (Exodus 4:22). "Israel was a type of Christ, and for the sake of him who was to be born of the seed of Israel did God call Israel 'My Son.'" In Christ the honor is extended to each individual believer (1 John 3:1). The relation expressed is one of peculiar endearment and of pre-eminent privilege. It is connected, in the case of believers, with the impartation of a new principle of life in regeneration (1 John 3:9). The children of believers are "holy" (1 Corinthians 7:14). God claims them in baptism as his children. The name "sons of God" shall be restored to Israel on their conversion (Hosea 1:10).
2. In calling him out of Egypt. Freedom is an attribute of God's children (Romans 8:21). When God made Israel his son he bound himself to deliver him. He gives freedom to all his spiritual children. The call to leave Egypt was, moreover, a proof of God's faithfulness and love, in view of the promises made to the fathers. It bore also a prophetic character (Matthew 1:15). Egypt having, by express Divine selection, been chosen a second time as a place of refuge for God's Son - for him of whom Israel, God's firstborn, was but a type - the former call became prophetically a pledge that in this case also the Father's summons would in due time arrive. Arrive, accordingly, it did. The word, "Out of Egypt have I called my son," found a new and higher fulfillment. On the Divine side, the fulfillment was neither unforeseen nor undesigned.
3. In training him to go alone. "I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by the arms." God gave the nation freedom. He further taught it to use its freedom. Freedom, without power to use it, is a sorry gift. In the training of Israel we observe:
(1) Wisdom. The people, as they came from Egypt, were unfit for independent national existence. They could not go alone. The bondage they had experienced had broken their manliness. They were servile, cowardly, fickle, petulant, disunited. They had to be guided at every step - treated like children who cannot walk alone. But the point is, that God sought to train them to walk. It is not his wish that his children should go in leading-strings. He would train them to self-reliance. He therefore put the people in situations fitted to develop their own powers. His training was wise.
(2) Care. God was kind and tender with Israel while yet they were weak. He did not try them above what they were able. In difficult situations he brought help to them in time. He was like a nurse who stands near while the child is walking, ready to catch it if it totters, and to support it when it can walk no further. Thus God deals with all his children (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:7). Wisdom, goodness, and care are manifest in his leading of them, especially in the beginning of their way.
4. In drawing the people with love. "I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love." The people needed to be drawn. They were often recalcitrant and ill to manage. God emphasizes here:
(1) The humanness of his drawing of them. "Cords of a man." There was a humanness in the manner of his approach to them - speaking to them in human words, through human servants, and with the persuasions of human affection. The heart of God was found to be like the heart of man. The Almighty tempered his glory, and spake to Israel as Father to Son. His cords were those of a man in another sense. He drew them by rational considerations, He treated them as rational beings, and appealed to them throughout on rational grounds. God draws men in this way still. The Bible is the most human book in the world. Christ is God become man. The Spirit acts through rational motives on the will.
(2) The gentleness of his drawing of them. "Bands of love." God employed, not stern, but gentle methods to overcome the people's refractoriness. He sought to draw them to himself by kindness. Especially in the earlier stages of the wilderness discipline do we find him making large and merciful allowances for them. The people are constantly rebelling, but seldom do we read of God so much as chiding them; he bore with them, like a father bearing with his children. He knew how ignorant they were; how much infirmity there was about them; how novel and trying were the situations in which he was placing them; and he mercifully gave them time to improve. This was the drawing of love, of which every one who knows God has also had ample experience.
5. In bountifully providing for them. "I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them." God provided for Israel all that was necessary for their sustenance, and not only thus supplied their creature wants, but was kind in his manner of doing, it. He was also the Healer of their diseases (Exodus 15:26)
III. ISRAEL'S REQUITAL OF THIS LOVE. (Vers. 2, 3.) Israel had made God a shameful return for all his goodness to them. They:
1. Refused obedience. "As they [the prophets] called them, so they went from them." They flatly turned their back on duty. They went further in sin the more they were warned.
2. Dishonored God in the very article of his Godhead. "They sacrificed to Baalim, and burned incense to graven images," thus breaking the first and second commandments.
3. Renounced God as a Healer. "They knew not that I healed them" (cf. Hosea 5:13). - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.