God is caught between justice and mercy, anger and love. Israel’s sin is nothing new – throughout her history she has wavered, bouncing between faithfulness and forgetfulness. But God’s mercy has always been there, even in the midst of judgement, and it is still.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. (11:3)
Even when Israel has distanced herself from him, the LORD has been there caring in the background, providing for her needs and nurturing her like a parent trying not to be caught smoothing and making safe the way for a rebellious teenager.
And now, still, there will be mercy, for Good is not finally bound by wrath.
I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. (11:9)
The same theme comes up repeatedly in these chapters. There will be disaster, but God’s wrath will not be his last word, and he will return in mercy.
Here, in one of the prophecies strongest on judgement in the Old Testament, we see the God who comes to the rescue of his people, letting his love overwrite his anger. Mercy is not a New Testament invention.