When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.
Hosea 11:4, NRSV
One of the lesser talked about and emphasized Christian virtues and fruits of the Spirit is kindness. (Galatians 5:22) It has cropped up in a few Daily Words over the last few months, but the Christian world-at-large says little about kindness. If they do, the focus is often the moral imperative that a little more kindness in the world would go a long way.
It’s so easy to get caught up with looking in the mirror at our own reflection: are we kind? Are we unkind? Are we growing as Christians?
There are moments for this kind of question, but Hosea 11:1-4, quoted above, turns our heads and hearts to consider the kindness of God himself. Here, God uses some quite maternal images to describe His heart, in an almost grief-full way, as the northern kingdom of Israel still has not repented and so will be defeated by the Assyrians. It recollects how God has nurtured and cared for Israel, even though they have not shown Him any gratitude or loyalty. It recalls God’s goodness to them: how He ‘delivered’ them from Egypt, He taught them to walk, He held them close in his arms… He was like “those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” Here is a tender and kind God who knows the needs of His people and provides again and again, despite their rebellion; like a mother caring for a young child who knows no better and needs gentle, loving protection and care.
I don’t know about you, but this picture of God is so important for me. I need God’s kindness to break through the dry and hardened parts of my heart and life. I need the reminder that if the God we worship showed patient kindness to Israel, who was hardened in rebellion, how maybe this same tenderness is available for me, and for you, as well.