15–21 September 2019.
Many Christians think that Old Testament faith was characterized by life lived under the incredibly strict laws of Moses, whereas only in the New Testament do we finally see God’s wonderful grace at work. But that’s not quite true. While the topics of grace and our freedom from the law certainly are major topics of the New Testament’s good news, we do still find these important ideas in the Old Testament, too. The story of Hosea is one of the greatest examples.
Under the Old Testament laws of Moses, the punishment for adultery was strict and clear: that punishment was death. Even in cases where the people involved didn’t seek a death penalty, strict exclusion and divorce were still the result. Most ancient Israelites understood the seriousness of adultery, the hurt it brought into family relationships, and they approved of Moses’s harsh punishments. That’s what makes the story of Hosea so strange, and yet also so beautiful.
Hosea married a woman that was not faithful to him at all. Not only did she cheat on Hosea over and over again, she also got pregnant (multiple times!) from those affairs. In a marriage relationship it’s hard to imagine a break of trust more completely devastating than that. The law of Moses allowed Hosea to demand death for his unfaithful wife – and we can be sure that Hosea’s neighbours and friends would have supported that decision. But amazingly, Hosea refuses to demand death. Instead, he expresses his continuing love for his adulterous wife, calling her to come back home to him.
That’s an incredibly forgiving attitude we couldn’t imagine having in our own broken relationships. But the lesson behind the story of Hosea is that this is a metaphor for how God treats the Israelites. God and the Israelites are also in a broken marriage, and like Hosea’s wife the Israelites have repeatedly been unfaithful to God. God could be an angry husband, and under the laws of Moses God could demand death for Israel. If God were to do that, everyone would understand and agree. But God refuses. God pushes aside the demands of Moses’s law and instead treats Israel with grace and love. In love, God calls out to the Israelites to come home to him again.
Importantly, God does the same for us too. Even though we also wander away from God and deserve punishment under the law, in God’s grace and love God pushes aside the law. Instead God loves us, forgives us, and calls us to come back home to him, despite all our past faithlessness. With such wonderful love and forgiveness on offer, why should we wait any longer? Let’s stop our unfaithful wandering, and come back home to God today.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis