Originally posted Jan 13, 2014. Video from June 27, 2018.
Identifying broken families, broken communities and broken hearts is much easier than healing them. Humanity has, of course, tried—through manmade religions, philosophies and even technology! But while these remedies often help us address some of the symptoms and consequences of our brokenness, they don’t (and can’t) address the actual problem: sin. Sin can’t merely be worshipped away, willed away or medicated out of the human heart. We need radical redemption, a dramatic deliverance, an open heart surgery. I’m not a fan of the word radical; it reeks of upheaval, pride and cynicism. But when used to describe God’s saving work the Lord is perhaps the most thoroughgoing radical of all! Hosea reminds us of this through his own example of redemption and reconciliation, and points to its significance for the Lord’s bride.
Redemption starts with radical love. Several aspects of biblical teaching are truly mysterious, like eternity, the Trinity and God’s providence. But nothing is so hard to comprehend as God’s love for sinners—for you and for me. Imagine for a moment forgiving your spouse for the ultimate betrayal. Imagine the pain and despair of your world falling apart. Perhaps you don’t have to imagine because you’ve already been there. Know, though, that God was the first to experience this ultimate loss. Even more amazing is what he did about it: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness, and speak to her heart” (Hos 2:14, emphasis added). God courts and woos his wayward bride; this, in fact, is the role of biblical revelation. As Julian of Eclanum remarked, “Speaking directly to the heart indicates the promulgation of the law, which shaped the hearts of the listener” (Commentary on Hosea 1.2; see too Jer 31:31-34 and our first post for Works Cited).
God’s love, though, doesn’t just forgive; it starts over. God doesn’t remarry, he betroths. “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the LORD” (2:19-20 NKJV). Jerome’s comment on this passage is worth quoting at length:
How great is God’s mercy! A prostitute fornicates with many lovers, and because of her offense is handed over to the beasts. After she returns to her husband, she is said not at all to be reconciled to him but rather to be betrothed. Now notice the difference between God’s union and that of men. When a man marries, he turns a virgin into a . . . nonvirgin. But when God joins with prostitutes, he changes them into virgins. (Commentary on Hosea 1.2)
The terms of the betrothal also remind us that it is God’s character that determines the covenant: righteousness, justice, lovingkindness (or steadfast love), mercy, faithfulness. The Lord calls his bride to renew their vows using almost the exact same words as before (see Exo 34:6-7). And as we well know, it is the faithful partner who must step out in sacrificial love to initiate the healing. Hosea is therefore commanded, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of the LORD for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans” (Hos 3:1-2).
Redemption brings radical renewal. Sin denies the good life, leaving only a distortion of its original beauty. For this reason, divine deliverance not only frees from sin, but begins to shift the believer’s entire life back into alignment. In Israel’s case, God promises to restore the very things he would soon take away: “I will give her her vineyards from there, And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; She shall sing there, As in the days of her youth, As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt” (2:15). Yahweh therefore draws on Israel’s past to point toward the full glory of her restoration. He redeems a time of trouble (the meaning of Achor; see Jos 7:26) by holding out the hope of renewal. The bride, then, will once more be able to sing and rejoice just as she did with the Songs of Moses and Miriam (see Exo 15:1-21).
The blessings of reconciliation go well beyond the quality of Israel’s spiritual life. God restores his blessings to the land: grain, new wine and oil (Hos 2:21; see vv. 5-6, 9, 12). He restores peace and stability to their nation: “Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth, To make them lie down safely” (2:18; see 1:5, 12-13). And even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the creeping things of the ground would enjoy this new creation (2:18). Paul looks to a similar restoration in Romans 8:20-21: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (see too Mat 19:28; 2Pe 3:10-13). All is well in the world only when the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve properly reverence their Creator.
Redemption calls for radical commitment. Though these blessings are indeed profound, the heart of the covenant remains one of belonging: “They shall answer Jezreel. Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hos 2:21-23). Here, again, Hosea employs the names of Gomer’s children, but this time as a blessing rather than a curse (see 1:11-2:1). All of this would flow from God’s acceptance of Israel once more:
“And it shall be, in that day,”
Just like the names of the children, this is no mere shift in terminology. In restored Israel, the name of Baal would be merely a bad, unspoken memory, silenced by their devotion to Yahweh. So, while My Master (Baali) rings of submission to authority, My Husband or My Man (Ishi) is a term of endearment. As the NET states, “The relationship will no longer be conditioned on the outward legal commitment but on a new inward bond of mutual affection and love.”
Such affection, though, is exclusive in the purest and best of senses. Restoration of a relationship with God—and receiving once more the blessings that flow from him—is only possible when we leave behind our false loves and false idols and give ourselves wholly to the One True God. Hosea therefore reminds Gomer of her marital commitment: “You shall stay with me many days; you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man—so, too, will I be toward you” (3:3). God isn’t going anywhere, and he calls us to do the same. So while he will indeed remove the causes of our temptation (3:4), he does so to prepare his children to “return and seek the LORD their God and David their king,” that they might “fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days” (3:5)—a reign reestablished through the leadership of Zerubbabel, the influence of the church, and Christ’s second coming (see our previous comment on 1:10-2:1, as well as Isa 2:2; Dan 2:28; 10:14).
Redemption is no mere theological proposition. Unfortunately, the word itself has fallen into general disuse. The only things we redeem these days are tickets and coupons. For Gomer, though, redemption meant the final payment, full restitution, freedom from slavery. As Hosea says, “So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley” (Hos 3:3). Gomer’s sin had led to abject slavery and destitution, but Hosea’s love compelled him to radically redeem his bride. Under the Old Law he could have simply divorced her (Deu 24:1-4), but God himself reminds the prophet that it is his love that is the ideal, not the temporary exception given through Moses (see too Mat 19:1-9). Today God offers us an even greater redemption: through his grace he forgives us of our sins, adopts us into his family, and pays the price we could never pay, achieving it in the most radical way possible—sacrificing his own Son and gifting us with his own Spirit (Rom 3:21-26; Gal 4:4-7; Luke 24:21). And as baptized believers, it is this same love that calls us back to God through repentance and confession (Mat 28:18-20; Acts 8:22; 1Jo 1:6-9). May we ever love and honor our great Redeemer, living for him just as he has died for us (Heb 5:8-9)!