Yesterday, we began a series in the Old Testament book of Hosea. You’ll need to read yesterday’s post for this one to make sense.
Quick recap of the story so far: in the 8th century BC, Israel (that is, the northern kingdom) has been persistently unfaithful to God, worshipping fertility gods/goddesses and making alliances with foreign nations, rather than trusting in God for their security. God has had enough. So he gets Hosea to act out a real-life object lesson. He tells him:
Find a promiscuous woman and marry her. Call the first kid “Jezreel” (referring to the place of slaughter where the previous ruling dynasty came to an end, and also meaning “scattered”) as a sign the kingdom of Israel is coming to an end, and about to be slaughtered and scattered. Call the second one “Lo-Ruhamah” (meaning not loved, or not shown mercy) as a sign I’m not going to be merciful to Israel any longer. And call the third one “Lo-Ammi” (meaning not my people), since I’m reversing the covenant I made back when I brought Israel out of Egypt – I’m not going to be their God any longer, and they won’t be my people.
Some good news
The next verses, then, are a bit unexpected. But get used to it, because it happens right throughout Hosea. Every time there’s a prophecy about Israel’s coming total destruction, there’s also a little ray of hope. It doesn’t mean the destruction won’t happen; that’s a certainty. But it does show that God won’t let the story end there.Hos 1:10 “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.'”
This echoes the narrator of 1 Kings, who described life under King Solomon:1 Kings 4:20 The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy.
One day, God will reverse this judgement, restoring his people. And notice how Judah and Israel are mentioned in 1 Kings, united under Solomon as one people. This is significant. Because when you look at God’s subsequent merciful acts in history, they are centred on Judah: the return of Judah from exile, and the coming of the Messiah to Jerusalem/Judea. But here, we’re given a hint that the coming restoration includes the northern tribes, too:Hos 1:11 “The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.” 2:1 “Say of your brothers, ‘My people,’ and of your sisters, ‘My loved one.'”
The covenant reversal will itself be reversed. God will again be their God, and they will again be his people. And he will again show love/mercy to them. (Not in time for poor Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi to start school, but at some point in the future.)
And this restoration is described as “the day of Jezreel.” In the previous prophecy, “Jezreel” had ominous overtones – “scattered”, and the scene of a bloodbath. But now there’s a more positive spin – “sown,” implying prosperity, and reconciliation between warring dynasties.
When does this good news happen?
If you’ve read the Why Jesus? series throughout February, you’re probably way ahead of me at the moment. When does God finally come good on his promises to bring his people back into the land? When does he make them prosper? And when does he join his restored people together under one leader?
Let’s allow Paul to give us the answer, since he’s been waiting so patiently at the back of the class with his hand up:Rom 9:23-26 What if [God] did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.'”
The reunification of Judah and Israel is seen by Paul as pointing to the union of Jews and Gentiles in Christ. Both disobedient Israel and the Gentiles are outside God’s covenant people, yet are brought back in. (The prodigal son and the elder brother finally together at the one party!)
Peter wants to give an answer, too. He also writes to the Gentiles who have now been included in God’s people, and refers to Hosea:1 Pet 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
The Messiah who makes one new humanity out of two
But back to Paul. (You can never shut him up. Ask poor old Eutychus.) Throughout Ephesians, Paul talks of Jews and Gentiles being made into one people because they are “in Christ” – or you could translate it using the Hebrew equivalent, “in Messiah”to bring out its Jewish “flavour” as a fulfilment of this expectation in Hosea:Eph 1:4-5, 11-12 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Messiah, in accordance with his pleasure and will… In Messiah we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we [Jewish believers], who were the first to put our hope in Messiah, might be for the praise of his glory. And you [Gentile believers] also were included in Messiah when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Eph 2:11-13, 15-16, 19-20 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Messiah, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the Messiah’s blood… His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility… Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Messiah Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
In Hosea chapter 1, we see a series of prophetic signs warning that God is about to judge his people for their persistent rebellion, breaking his covenant with them. Historically speaking, it leads to the scattering of the northern tribes throughout the ancient world, never to return.
Yet we also see a glimpse of how one day he will reverse that judgement, reunifying his people – indeed, reunifying all of humanity – under one leader. His anointed one, Messiah Jesus.
Essentially, this story in Hosea 1 is a reminder of the gospel story:
an undeserving people (a promiscuous woman)
whom God chose to be his (in marriage).
a people who rebelled (chasing after other lovers, see chapter 3)
which resulted in God saying he’s about to revoke his covenant (some cruel baby names).
Yet God didn’t leave the story that way, promising that one day he would restore and unify his people under one leader, again being their God. Does this mean that the Homer/Gosea celebrity romance isn’t over? We’ll see over the coming days.