Mercy for the Unloved: A Story In Hosea, Peter, and Paul

I love reading the book of Hosea. It’s the sort of love story we might be very tempted to say must be fictional if we weren’t convinced of the Bible’s authenticity. It starts out like this:

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, he said to him, “Go marry a prostitute who will bear illegitimate children conceived through prostitution, because the nation continually commits spiritual prostitution by turning away from the Lord.”

Hosea 1:2, NET

If this was the very first thing God said to you directly, you might privately wonder if it’s really Him. This just doesn’t sound like a good idea, though it’s an excellent illustration of how the nation of ancient Israel treated the Lord. Even the children’s names tell a story that continues all the way into the New Testament.

So Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. Then she conceived and gave birth to a son for him. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Name him ‘Jezreel,’ because in a little while I will punish the dynasty of Jehu on account of the bloodshed in the valley of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. At that time, I will destroy the military power of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”

She conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, “Name her ‘No Pity’ (Lo-Ruhamah) because I will no longer have pity on the nation of Israel. For I will certainly not forgive their guilt. But I will have pity on the nation of Judah. I will deliver them by the Lord their God; I will not deliver them by the warrior’s bow, by sword, by military victory, by chariot horses, or by chariots.”

When she had weaned “No Pity” (Lo-Ruhamah), she conceived again and gave birth to another son. Then the Lord said: “Name him ‘Not My People’ (Lo-Ammi), because you are not my people and I am not your God.”

Hosea 1:3-9, NET

Continuing to read Hosea reveals a fascinating story. On one level, you have Hosea and Gomer’s love story (if you have trouble wrapping your mind around that or are just curious about imagining the feelings involved, I highly recommend the book Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers). On another level, you have God’s expression of great love for His own unfaithful bride, and what that reveals about His long-term plan. That second story carries into the New Testament as well; Peter and Paul both quote Hosea and reference the lesson from Gomer’s illegitimate children’s names to teach a lesson about how God is working today.

Image of a circle of people holding hands overlaid with text from Hosea 2:1, 23, WEB version: “Say to your brothers, ‘My people!’ and to your sisters, ‘My loved one!’ ... I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; and I will tell those who were not my people, ‘You are my people;’ and they will say, ‘My God!’”
Image by Claudine Chaussé from Lightstock

My People! My Loved One!

Before jumping into the New Testament, lets look at what else God has to say about Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi in His message to Hosea. The first names He gives them aren’t the end of the story.

However, in the future the number of the people of Israel will be like the sand of the sea that can be neither measured nor numbered. Although it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it will be said to them, “You are children of the living God!” Then the people of Judah and the people of Israel will be gathered together. They will appoint for themselves one leader, and will flourish in the land. Certainly, the day of Jezreel will be great!

Then you will call your brother, “My People” (Ammi)! You will call your sister, “Pity” (Ruhamah)!

Hosea 1:10-2:1, NET

Even while asking Hosea to illustrate in heartbreaking detail how much unfaithful Israel hurt their Lord and Husband, God points to a time when He will reconcile with His people. The changes in the children’s names signify a change in the relationship between God and humanity.

“However, in the future I will allure her;
I will lead her back into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
From there I will give back her vineyards to her,
and turn the ‘Valley of Trouble’ into an ‘Opportunity for Hope.’
There she will sing as she did when she was young,
when she came up from the land of Egypt.
At that time,” declares the Lord,
“you will call, ‘My husband’;
you will never again call me, ‘My master.’
For I will remove the names of the Baal idols from your lips,
so that you will never again utter their names! ….

“I will commit myself to you forever;
I will commit myself to you in righteousness and justice,
in steadfast love and tender compassion.
I will commit myself to you in faithfulness;
then you will acknowledge the Lord.

Hosea 2:14-17, 19-20, NET

Isn’t this a beautiful picture? Not only does God change His people’s names so they are “My people,” “My loved one!” (Hos. 2:1, WEB). He also changes the land’s name so the “Valley of Trouble” turns “into an ‘Opportunity for Hope’” (Hos. 2:15, NET). Then He even changes the name they’ll know Him by, so “that you will call me ‘my husband,’ and no longer call me ‘my master’” (Hos. 2:16, WEB).

In Hebrew thought and language, “The concept of personal names … often included existence, character, and reputation” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 2406). When someone names a child or when God renames someone, it’s “often descriptive of the parent’s wishes or expectations for the personality that was to mature” (TWOT 2406). The name changes here are about changing who we are and how we relate to God. They reveal God’s heart. He wants us to be His beloved people and he wants a husband-wife relationship with us more than a master-servant one. These name changes are also Messianic–they point to something that Jesus did when He died for us.

Image of hands clasped over a Bible overlaid with text from 1 Peter 2:9-10, WEB version: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. In the past, you were not a people, but now are God’s people, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”
Image by Jantanee from Lighstock

Peter and Paul on the People of God

Paul and Peter both quote Hosea’s book in their writings, specifically referencing the name changes for Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi. Let’s start with Peter, since reading the general epistles provides good background information for understanding Paul. For more on this epistle, see my post Crash-Course In Peter: Pre-Reqs for Paul, Part Two. Peter writes to Jewish and Gentile believers and connects both of them to a long history of faith. One of several scriptures he references to back up that point comes from Hosea.

So as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but chosen and precious in God’s sight, you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it says in scripture, “Look, I lay in Zion a stone, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and whoever believes in him will never be put to shame.” So you who believe see his value, but for those who do not believe, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and a stumbling-stone and a rock to trip over. They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen racea royal priesthooda holy nationa people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:4-10, NET (italics and bold in original)

The NET translation puts references to the Old Testament in italics and direct quotes in bold to make it easy to see which parts of the NT directly link back to OT scriptures. Here, Peter quotes or alludes to Is. 28:16, Ps. 118:22, Is. 8:14, Ex. 19:5-6; Is. 43:20-21; Mal. 3:17, and Hos. 1:6, 9; 2:23. Paul does a very similar thing in the book of Romans (I also wrote a Crash Course in Romans post, so you can check that out or read the whole letter if you want context to these statements).

 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who has ever resisted his will?” But who indeed are you—a mere human being—to talk back to God? Does what is molded say to the molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special use and another for ordinary use? But what if God, willing to demonstrate his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath prepared for destruction? And what if he is willing to make known the wealth of his glory on the objects of mercy that he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us, whom he has called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he also says in Hosea:

I will call those who were not my people, ‘My people,’ and I will call her who was unloved, ‘My beloved.’”
And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

And Isaiah cries out on behalf of Israel, “Though the number of the children of Israel are as the sand of the seaonly the remnant will be saved for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth completely and quickly.” Just as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had not left us descendants,
we would have become like Sodom,
and we would have resembled Gomorrah.”

What shall we say then?—that the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness obtained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith, but Israel even though pursuing a law of righteousness did not attain it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but (as if it were possible) by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written,

Look, I am laying in Zion a stone that will cause people to stumble
and a rock that will make them fall,
yet the one who believes in him will not be put to shame.

Romans 9:19-33, NET (italics and bold in original)

Here, Paul quotes many of the same scripturas Peter did: Is. 29:16; 45:9; Hos 2:23; 1:10; Isa 10:22-23; 1:9; 28:16; 8:14. He’s also making a similar point. Not only did Jesus’s sacrifice redeem those who are physical descendants of Israel who believe in Him as the Messiah, but He is also making those who were once part of other nations His beloved people.

Hope for All God’s People

Image of two people's hands clasped together with the blog's title text and the words "In Hosea, God promised to take a people that were not His and on whom He no longer had pity and transform them into something new. Then, as Peter and Paul discuss, He followed-through on that promise when Jesus's sacrifice opened the way of life to all people."
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Much like in 1 Corinthians, where Paul expects his readers to connect quotes and allusions in that letter to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Peter and Paul both assume their readers have an understanding of the Old Testament scriptures. Their Jewish readers would have heard the scriptures read at the synagogues their entire lives, and Gentile converts were expected to make a regular practice of listening to those as well (Acts 15:19-21). They would recognize these quotes. The most Biblically literate among them would also put the quotes in context, drawing on the original writer’s whole message when they interpreted Peter’s and Paul’s writings.

Christianity really isn’t a new religion that started after Jesus died–it was the next step in God’s plan that He’d been working on since before the beginning of our world. Peter and Paul reinforce this by quoting prophecies God gave in Hosea with fulfillment in the New Testament church. In Hosea, God promised to take a people that were not His and on whom He no longer had pity and transform them into something new. Then, as Peter and Paul discuss, He followed-through on that promise when Jesus’s sacrifice opened the way of life to all people. Those of a nation that had been chosen by God then rejected Him now had a chance to enter a covenant with Him again. Those who hadn’t been part of the family before are now welcomed in with open arms.

It’s an incredible message of hope. God follows through on His promises. He doesn’t leave those who are unloved and haven’t received mercy in that state. He calls them Beloved and pours out His mercy on them when they come to Him through Jesus Christ. Those promises are still in effect today. We can trust that God loves us this passionately; that He chooses us and claims us for His own special people. Just like He promised so long ago.


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Song Recommendation: “Out of Egypt” by Carolyn Hyde

Partakers of the Divine Nature

The Bible tells us truly amazing things about the future God plans for people who follow Him. These include descriptions of us actually being like God Himself as part of His family. Here are just a few of the scriptures that make this wonderful, bold claim about who we are are in the present and who God means for us to be in the future:

you are gods (Psalm 82:6; John 10:34-36)

we are children of God (Rom. 8:16, WEB)

you may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4, NET)

we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. (1 John 3:2, WEB)

To many Christians, the idea of being part of God’s family and sharing in His nature is such a familiar teaching that it might seem more obvious than awe-inspiring. The Orthodox church calls it “Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature.” The non-denominational Protestant evangelical site GotQuestions.org says, “As partakers of the divine nature, believers are made part of the family of God.” The 7th-day sabbath-keeping group that I attend with, United Church of God, writes in one of their booklets that we’ll be “spirit-born divine beings who are part of Elohim, the universe-ruling family of God!”

For a wide variety of Christians, the idea that we’ll be part of God’s family is a well-established doctrine. To others, though, it might seem a bit blasphemous to claim such a thing is even possible (much like the Jewish people reacted with horror to Jesus saying in John 10:34-36 that He is the Son of God). Though sonship for believers is a scriptural claim, it’s one that ought to boggle our minds a little.

We’re intimately familiar with our flaws and all the reasons that we’re not particularly well-qualified to become gods. And yet God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, still wants you, me, and as many human beings as possible to literally become part of His family. He actually plans to entrust us with His divine nature, making us “like him” and able to “see him just as he is.”

Image of an open Bible with light shining on the pages, with text from Philippians 3:20-21 WEB version: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working by which he is able even to subject all things to himself.”

In the Image of the Heavenly

I used to get nervous about the idea of living forever with God. Eternity is a really long time. What if I get bored? What if it’s an endless stream of awkwardly feeling as if I don’t belong here and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing? Do I want to be stuck with myself for literally the rest of eternity? I wasn’t sure I liked myself enough for that.

It turns out we don’t need to worry about any of those sorts of worries. We’re not going to be living forever in the exact same way that we’re living now. Part of the reason for this change is that human beings can’t live forever as we are–God “alone possesses immortality and lives in unapproachable light, whom no human has ever seen or is able to see” (1 Tim. 6:16, NET). Something needs to change dramatically before we’ll be able to live forever with God. That “something” includes our nature (from flesh to spirit) and our character (from human nature to divine nature) (1 Cor 2:10-16; 15:12-58).

And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven. Now this is what I am saying, brothers and sisters: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. …

So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:49-53, 58 NET

God created humankind in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). We didn’t do so well at imitating Him, though, and both Adam and Eve sinned, starting a long history of people failing to live up to God’s righteous standard. God had a plan for dealing with that, though, and it culminates in what Paul describes here. Jesus, “the man of heaven,” makes it possible for us to fully take on God’s nature. We’ll go through a change much like He did after dying as a human being, when the Father raised Him with a spiritual body. Our new future bodies will follow the same spiritual pattern. We don’t know what all that will mean yet (our human minds can’t fully wrap around what it means to be spirit beings) but it’s going to be a lot different and better than how things are now.

Living as His Children Today

Image of an open Bible with light shining on the pages, with the blog's title text and the words "How does the Bible describe the incredible future God plans for us? and what does that mean for His children today?"

So far in this post, I’ve mostly focused on what taking on God’s divine nature will mean in the future. That’s when this change will fully go into effect. It starts now, though.

Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure.

1 John 3:2-3, NET

This is one of the verses we started with put into fuller context. In this letter, John is writing to a broad Christian audience. Before getting to this point in the letter, he’s talked about us having fellowship with God, walking in His light, repenting of our sins, and keeping God’s commandments. Everyone walking in covenant with God (even though we don’t do so perfectly and need to keep repenting and asking forgiveness) is God’s children right now. We aren’t spirit yet, but we do have God’s spirit in us changing the way we live our lives today as God actively remakes us into His image.

For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him. …

So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh (for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God … and if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ).

Romans 8:5-9, 12-14, 17 NET

This is just part of Paul’s discussion in Romans that covers how our lives ought to change since God invites us into His family, and I highly recommend reading all of Romans 8 now, if you have time. The incredible transformation that God promises us is already in progress. The more all-in we are with God by following Him and asking Him to make us more and more like Him, the more dramatic this change will be. Our lights will shine in the world. People will look at us and see Jesus’s character as we grow more and more like Him.

May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord! I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire.

1 Peter 1:2-4, NET

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Titles of Jesus Christ: Firstborn and Heir

Who is Jesus Christ? Some consider Him a prophet, some a teacher who had some good things to say about peace and love, others say He was a madman. As Christians, we know Him as the Son of God who died to save us from our sins, rose again, and continues to be actively involved in our lives. But what does it really mean that He’s God’s Son, and why does that particular title matter to us?

God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds. (Heb. 1:1-2, all scriptures from WEB translation unless otherwise noted)

Firstborn’s Birthright

In Old Testament times, being a firstborn son was a big deal. You were the bekor (H1060), eldest son  and therefore the bekorah (H1062, birthright) was yours. You received a double portion when the father divided his inheritance (Deut. 21:15-17). There was a special blessing involved (Gen. 27). It was so important that any disruption to this birthright was cause for Biblical writers to take special note (Gen. 25:31-34; 48:9-19; 1 Chr. 5:1-2).

According to a message I recently watched on YouTube titled “Hebrews: Yeshua’s Amazing Qualifications,” the rights of the firstborn traditionally included a few other things as well. The eldest son acted as the family’s spiritual leader, acquired spiritual favor and honor, and inherited the blessings of Abraham. Heirship involved authority over the father’s possessions. Before there was a Levitical priesthood (which Yahweh accepted in place of the firstborns, as noted in Num. 3:12-13, 41; 8:16-18), the firstborn would even act as priest for the family.

Many parallels between Jesus and the Hebrew firstborns are easy to spot. He is the family’s spiritual leader, acting as “head of all things to the church” under the Father’s authority (Eph. 1:15-23). He is also High Priest of an order that supersedes the Levitical order as the Levites superseded what came before (Heb. 7:11-28). And that’s not where the parallels end. Read more

What Does It Mean For Each of Us That God Is A Family?

“See how great a love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God!” You can feel the excitement and awe about this fact in John’s words. It’s an incredible thing to realize that “now we are the children of God” and in the future “we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is” (1 John 3:1-2, WEB).

One of the greatest truths we can realize about the nature of God and the Christian faith is that God is a family and He is inviting us to become part of that family. God’s most-used analogies for how He relates to us are family-based, focusing on marriage and children. Both the Father and Son deeply desire a relationship with us and to make us part of Their family. In fact, as far as we can tell, that’s the main reason They created people in the first place.

Unity and Oneness

People ask me on this blog and also in-person why I don’t use the word “Trinity” to describe the nature of God. It’s not a description God uses for Himself and I think “God-family” is a more scripture-based phrase, so that’s why. I think we should stick as close as possible to using the analogies and descriptions that God uses to reveal Himself when we’re talking about who He is and how He relates to us. Read more

In The Secret Place: The Promises of Psalm 91

Last week we talked about claiming promises from God. But we didn’t talk about the verses that got me started on that study. Psalm 91 is packed full of promises that are clearly meant to include the reader. There isn’t even a writer credited, so there’s no clear historical context, and the psalm is addressed to all who make the Lord their God. There’s nothing to distract from the fact that this psalm was written for everyone who’s in a relationship with God, including you as a Christian today.In The Secret Place: The Promises of Psalm 91 | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Claiming Relationship With God

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Ps. 91:1-2, WEB)

The psalm begins with a promise to those who remain, inhabit, and abide (H3427, yashab) in the hiding place or shelter (H5643 sether) of the Most High God. They will “stay permanently” (Strong’s H3885 lun) in the shadowing protection (H6738 tsel) of El Shaddai.

Because of that promise, we get the only “I” statement from this psalm’s writer. They claim the Lord as “my God” and say they will have confidence in Him (H982 baach). And they demonstrate that trust by making Him their refuge, shelter (H4268 machaseh) and defensive stronghold (H4684 matsud). That’s something we can do as well.

Stripping Fear of Power

This psalm contains truly incredible promises of protection in the midst of trials. We’d probably prefer it if God’s protection meant we didn’t have to go through trials. But to be delivered “from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence,” there must be someone trying to trap you or a pestilence threatening your life (Ps. 91:3, WEB). And if “A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand,” then you must be in a location where people are perishing right and left (Ps. 91:7, KJV). Read more

Claiming God’s Promises

Not every single word in the Bible applies directly to each person reading it. It’s all inspired by God and we can learn from it, of course, but not everything applies to everyone directly. For example, some cleanliness laws in the Old Testament were gender specific and some prophecies were delivered to a specific person or group (like the dream warning Nebuchadnezzar he would become like an animal for 7 years).

But we can take this observation too far. We might make the mistake of thinking that because warnings to follow God alone were delivered to ancient Israel they don’t apply to us today. Yet the New Testament confirms we still need to make a choice between darkness and light (Deut. 30:15-20; 1 John 1:5-2:6). This type of thinking can also block us from accepting encouraging promises as well.

Have you ever read one of God’s promises and thought, “That sounds wonderful, but it can’t really apply to me?” I’m sure many of us have. For me personally, I struggle with believing God will answer my prayers the way He promises too (mostly I feel like my prayers for other people aren’t effective). But does that mean God’s promise to hear when we call doesn’t apply to me? Of course not. And I’ve even seen some examples of His direct responses to my prayers. My doubts and anxieties don’t cancel His promises. But they can block me from recognizing or accepting His work with, in, and for me.Claiming God's Promises | marissabaker.wordpress.com

God’s Presence In You

The Holy Spirit is one thing God promises to new believers. Jesus told His disciples the Father would give them the Holy Spirit after He left and we see that promise fulfilled quite spectacularly in Acts 2. As the narrative continues, a pattern emerges where believers receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when they covenant with God at baptism. And it’s made clear that this promise isn’t just for the people of that time. Read more