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."
Image by Jantanee from Lightstock

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.


Featured image by Inbetween from Lightstock

Song Recommendation: “Out of Egypt” by Carolyn Hyde