When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols (11:1-2, ESV).
Jewish theologians interpret Hosea 11:1 has a historical event with a current application during Hosea’s day wherein God has singled out the nation (Israel, Ephraim) for harsh treatment. He did this because, from their very beginning, God called them out of Egypt as His son, with emphasis on relationship (ArtScroll, p. 107). However, the more they were called (by God through the various prophets), the further away they went.
This gets us to a point worth considering: I have heard it said a thousand times if I have heard it said once. If you are too hard, then the one hearing your words will only dig in their heels; and you will get nowhere. I wonder if the Lord thought of such things when He sent out His prophets, prophets like Amos who was a plain speaking as any man who walked on the earth! The message was also plain when Hosea spoke. The problem was not the substance of the message, but those who heard. For those who heard and did not repent, it was all a matter of doing what one desired to do. God never made them to travel further and further away from Him, they only went where they wanted to go!
Lest we misconstrue my point, let me say a word about the message proclaimed. God sent His prophets to proclaim a message of “repent or else.” The very nature of that message was hard (or harsh as some like to interpret). We, too, have to preach a message like that, but it is not the only message we preach. Does Psalm 23 have a hard quality to it (or harshness)? It does not, but it is a message from the same Author that gave Hosea his word. The message we preach is balanced in that we preach what Hosea said, what David said, and what Jesus said. That is a balanced message.