In the middle of the story of Hosea lies a wedding covenant between him and Gomer. One which Hosea is faithful to uphold his end of the covenant while Gomer continuously breaks hers. As Josh exclaimed Sunday, Hosea persistently pursues Gomer despite her whoredom. This, Josh told us, is a picture of God’s relentless pursuit of his people.
We find this picture of God big and bright in Chapter 2 of Hosea where God uses six vows for his marriage covenant with his people: forever, righteousness, justice, steadfast love, compassion, and faithfulness. Let’s explore these vows…
“I will betroth you to me forever”: This marriage will be eternal. Nothing will break it.
“I will betroth you to me in righteousness”: Timothy Keller defines tzadeqah, the Hebrew word for righteousness, not as moral uprightness but as day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships with fairness, generosity, and equity. God is saying he will relate to them perfectly, just like he did in the Garden.
“I will betroth you to me in justice”: Keller also provides a definition for mishpat, the Hebrew word for justice, as giving people what they are due whether punishment, protection, or care. God is giving a promise to protect and care for them.
“I will betroth you to me in steadfast love”: Walter Brueggemann describes this as a tenacity for the relationship no matter what happens and what the cost. God is tenaciously in love with us.
“I will betroth you to me in compassion”: Brueggemann also gives us insight here describing this as a womb-like mother love. I think we can all agree that there isn’t much like the love, care, and attachment of a mother to her baby.
“I will betroth you to me in faithfulness”: God will stay true to his vows and this covenant. What he says he will do. His character is unshakeable.
Inherent in this covenant is that Israel is to respond to God in kind, in the same beautiful way that God acts and feels towards them. Yet, just as we see Gomer playing the whore, we see that Israel is quite unfaithful to God, running after other gods. They are unable to uphold their side of the covenant. But, the story of Hosea gives hope for Gomer and chapter 2 gives an affirmative for God’s people: yes, they will be eternally in covenant with him, but how? How can they possibly hold up their end of the covenant?
if you read the gospels, you can’t help but see Jesus embody God’s side of the covenant. He looks over Jerusalem and weeps for them. He begs them to repent. To come to him and follow him and join in on his kingdom work. Faithful to them to the point of death. Yet, we also see him embody Israel’s side of the covenant. He is what N.T. Wright calls, Israel in person. He is completely faithful to God to the point of death. Ironically, while Israel is breaking the covenant so much that they kill him, Jesus is doing what they couldn’t, remaining faithful. Keeping the covenant intact.
Well, that’s cool, you might say but what does this faithful Jew living more than 2000 years ago have to do with me now? How does this history lesson make its way into the present? Well my friend, the ripple effects are enormous in two ways…
First, if you are what the New Testament calls “in Christ”, then despite our utter unfaithfulness (we act the whore quite often), what is true of Jesus is true of us. We are still the bride. Still in covenant with God. How so? Do you remember our earlier word mishpat? We deserve judgement for our sin. But on the cross, mishpat met Jesus instead of us. He got what we deserve and instead we get what he deserves, namely tzadeqah, a right relationship with God. And now, because of the cross we are free. We are free FROM the burden of perfectly upholding our end of the covenant (because Jesus already did) and free TO return to God in the ways that he comes to is: with righteousness, justice, steadfast love, compassion, and faithfulness. Of course we will mess up our side of the covenant from time to time, most likely more than we would like to admit, but we can continue returning to God, yearning for the day when Jesus returns and we will finally be able to perfect our vows.