This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary year 2 (Most recently Nov 15, 2015)
Summary: Hosea is a relatively unknown book that contains problematic imagery. Furthermore, there are a number of spots in the passage where the Hebrew meaning is unclear. Given all of that, I would like to focus on just a few avenues into a sermon for this passage.
אהב ("love"; 11:1). It is very rare that God declares his love for the people (or any individual for that matter). Malachi 1:2 is the only other example I could find of this.
- The love is for the whole people, not just an individual.
- Great love is often revealed in great suffering.
- Matthew will pick up this verse and ascribe it to Jesus. Jesus is the new Israel, not just the Messiah!
אוכיל (from אכל meaning "to eat"; 11:4) This word, along with many others, suggest a very caring and intimate relationship between God and the people. I think one could argue here for a rather feminine understanding here of God. Perhaps this is a can of worms, but suffice to say, the imagery in Hosea is really tough. This is a beautiful moment of loving kindness.
שוב (shuv "return"; 11:5) The people will not return because they have not returned (this play on words is missed in the NIV, which translates the word שוב as repent. It is a reminder that repenting means changing the road we are on. Or more realistically: people, places and things.
נחמים (from נחם "comfort" or "compassion"; 11:8) This word is a fascinating one in Hebrew because it means something along the lines of "take a deep breath in a way that changes one's emotional mind." Like a worked up parent, God is taking a deep breath before executing punishment on the child. The word is often seen as problematic because the idea of God changing one's mind is theologically difficult for many. Used as a noun in this verse, it simply means compassion and mercy. Definitely not problematic. However, verse 8 does point toward the malleability of God's will, always seeming to move toward mercy over justice.
הושע The name Hosea (or more accurately, Hoshea) is pretty fascinating, likely meaning "the salvation" or "He saves." But like all things ancient Hebrew, there is a bit of uncertainty! I had some fun looking at this website this morning for some background: Here.