Thinking Through Covenant and Salvation: Formulating a Testimony from the Book of Hosea

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I was recently having a conversation with a classmate about exhorting through Hosea. I want to reflect on the covenant and salvation not so much from the perspective of the pulpit, but from my vantage point as I stand before the Word of God.

The first three chapters of this book are well known. Hosea is called as a prophet of the Lord, literally to marry a wife of whoredom, a whore. These are powerful chapters about grace but also about the anger of God. But most of the book (ch. 4-14) is directed at the covenant community, the people of God.

This is a story that takes place in a covenant community. What do I mean by this? Well, most of the exhortations are directed to the nation of Israel, particularly, to the tribe of Ephraim. These were considered to be the people of God, they had been delivered by God through the Red Sea (in which they were all baptized with Moses, see I Cor. 10:42), and the men were marked by the sign of the covenant in the Old Testament, circumcision (Gen. 17).

I would argue that Gomer could be called a child of the Lord in the same way that she could be called the wife of Hosea. There is no indication that she was not part of the covenant community. If she was born in the New Testament times, she would be a baptized member of the Church. But in the same way that she had broken her covenant with Hosea, she had broken her covenant with the Lord. With all of Hosea’s focus on unbelief is seems that a broken covenant with the Lord comes first. I would argue that unbelief is the root sin in the book of Hosea.

One thing that I found as I studied the text is that I desperately wanted her to be saved. After all, the prostitute Rahab was saved, why wouldn’t God be telling a similar story about Gomer? Let’s be clear. There is a sense in which she is saved from slavery in Hosea 3. But that is the last comment about her and her relationship with her husband. There is no indication of repentance. She may have repented, she may not have, but there is no indication to what happened. I will get to the point of this in the next paragraph.

First of all, God didn’t write the Bible so that we could go through all the men and women of old and check off who was saved and who wasn’t. Yes, there is a hall of faith in Hebrews 11, but the point is a call to faith. What I see to be the point of the call to Hosea is not primarily on the nature of the covenant community, but on the nature of the call to repentance and faith within the covenant community. We will get to the comfort yet.

Contrary to many of the Puritans who liked to dwell heavily on sin and misery, we see a more paradoxical situation in Hosea’s call to repentance and faith. As Hosea calls his wife to return to him, doggedly committed to the command of the Lord in that situation, we see two elements in the call to repentance.

1. The first is what many of the Puritans picked up on (I read Jeremiah Burroughs quite thoroughly). Hosea pulls no punches in laying out Gomer’s sin before her. In Hosea 1, her children are named pretty nasty names. In Hosea 2:1-13 God uses imagery of Gomer to also speak about Israel. He says that He will strip her naked, have no mercy on her children, make her a wilderness, etc.

2. The second is what I have begun to realize more and more is an integral part of a call to repentance. In Hosea 2:14, Hosea promises to allure his wife, to show her goodness. According to the command of God, this is exactly what he does in Hosea 3:1-3. Immediately God applies this to His covenant people: “For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.”

But let us make this point from Romans. The readership is warned not to be presumptive in their view of the mercies of God that are revealed to them through growing up in Christian families, being members of churches, etc. The Apostle Paul definitely drops the hammer on several occasions: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom. 3:10-11). But he also appeals to the mercies of God to lead His people to repentance: “ Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4). He also warns about presumption: “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” (Rom. 2:3).

I don’t know if Hosea’s wife returned to him. What I do know is that a call to repentance, a call looking to both the judgement and mercy of God was there. This call also goes out to me in the New Testament: “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:29). But the goodness of God should also lead me to repentance: the Christian upraising, etc. If I did not grow up in a Christian family, God shows His goodness in other ways since God brings His rain and sunshine on both the just and the unjust. I must come before the Lord and His goodness with trembling and with fear. I don’t deserve any good thing in and of myself.

I believe that the point of leaving the results unnamed is to give the reader a chance to repent of their sins and come trembling before the Lord and before His goodness. My baptism, my Christian upraising, all point to Jesus Christ who came in both justice and mercy. I have seen the judgement of God but I have seen his kindness and forbearance and patience in even fuller abundance. I have passed through the waters of baptism, I have tasted of the bread and the wine. But they don’t point to themselves, but to Jesus. If I don’t turn from my sin and return to Jesus in faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit, I do in fact trample underfoot the Son of God and outrage the Spirit of grace. I have seen the light and tasted of the good things. The call to me is to fall to my knees and come boldly into His presence in the Name of Jesus alone.

Jesus is the exclusive source of comfort throughout the Book of Hosea. As He Himself said: this book of the Bible speaks of Him (Luke 24:27). And so there was a way of escape for Gomer who entrenched herself so deeply in her sins.

This is what I believe the last verse of Hosea is talking about: “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.” (Hosea 14:9

 

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