Hosea anticipated a time when the Lord would renew his covenant with Israel. He did so through the use of the analogy of marriage. By using the analogy of marriage, Hosea graphically described the unfaithfulness of Yahweh’s people and anticipated the time of a new covenant. This would be the time when Yahweh betroths his people to himself and purges them of their unfaithfulness. Let’s flesh out this marriage analogy to understand Yahweh’s faithfulness to his people when he establishes a new covenant.

These notes come from the Hosea volume in the Reformed Expository Commentary.

The Promise of a Future Betrothal

The Lord foresees a day to come when his people will come to him in repentance, reordering their lives according to his will. In that day, he says, “I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy” (Hos. 2:19).

Betrothal takes the relationship further than the courtship described in Hosea 2:14. Israel and the Lord would now become engaged for marriage. In the ancient world, betrothal was far more significant and binding than engagement is today. A betrothed couple was as legally, morally, and socially committed as they were in marriage. Instead of God’s reinvigorating the old relationship, broken by Israel’s idolatry as Hosea’s marriage was broken by Gomer’s adultery, God would create a new one. Ortlund writes: “A fresh betrothal, as if Israel were starting out again as a pure virgin, is set before the corrupted nation as their future hope.”

The emphasis on this new arrangement is seen in the threefold repetition of “betroth” in Hosea 2:19-20. Because Israel “had severed her relationship to God by her disobedience to the old covenant . . . , she deserved to be cast off forever.” But because of the unfailing love on his part, God would effect a new covenant relationship that would endure forever.

Betrothal and the New Covenant

The betrothal of Hosea 2:19-20 looks forward to the same event anticipated in the new covenant promise of Jeremiah 31:31-34. Writing during the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah prophesied: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31). This new covenant would replace the Mosaic covenant, which failed because Israel broke the law through idolatry. It would involve justification through faith and the forgiveness of sins: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (v. 34). It would include the grace of sanctification: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (v. 33). The result would be a restored relationship forever between God and his people: “And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (v. 33).

We see in Jeremiah’s promise the same parameters as in Hosea’s betrothal. Israel’s sin would be cleansed, a new spirit would be provided for her to persevere in faithfulness, and God would have eternal communion with his people.

Jeremiah’s new covenant came into history with the saving work of Jesus. Through Christ’s blood, God put away the guilt of our sin; through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, he grants faithful hearts to believers. Here was God’s purpose in the new betrothal of Gomer/Israel. Charles Feinberg writes: “The word used for ‘betroth’ (aras, to woo a virgin) speaks volumes of the grace of God that blots out sin. Israel is no longer seen as a harlot or an adulteress, but, mind you, as an unsullied virgin. Yahweh sees her as though she had never sinned.”

God Provides Righteousness and Justice

Hosea 2:19 enacts the ritual by which a husband arranges a bride-price for his future wife. What will God provide to make this marriage work? He says, “I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy”. Here are the very terms by which the gospel of Jesus Christ succeeds in the salvation of sinners. David Hubbard comments that these words depict “everything that Yahweh brings to the relationship, all the attributes which make for a covenant stamped by loyalty and integrity and love.”

In the first couplet, God promises “righteousness” and “justice” (Hos. 2:19). Since Gomer/Israel can supply no righteousness, the Lord provides it. Here, God anticipates justification through faith in Christ as the gospel promises. Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). Thus, the Lord provides the wedding dress for the bride of Christ, a garment washed clean of sin through the blood of Jesus and a righteousness from God received by faith. Having provided this righteousness, the Lord pledges to act justly in the acceptance of this sin-cleansed bride and faithfulness in fulfilling his every promise.

God Provides Steadfast Love and Mercy

The Lord further pledges “steadfast love” and “mercy” (Hos. 2:19). He will have compassion on the weakness of his people and will be tender in meeting their needs in salvation. With the problem of sin dealt with, God’s mercy will supply a loving ministry in caring for his church. God’s covenant faithfulness will mean that while his people face persecution in the world, he will defend them. While temptation may continue to oppress them, the Lord will deliver them into heaven. Best of all are the words of mercy Jeremiah spoke: “I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34).

Mutual Faithfulness

The result will be a new covenant bond of mutual fidelity: “I will betroth you to me in faithfulness” (Hos. 2:20). Not only will God be faithful to fulfill all he has promised in this new marriage contract, but his bride will respond in faithful devotion. In short, God’s grace will work for her and in her, cleansing her sin and renewing her heart so that the new Israel will give her love wholeheartedly to him. McComiskey writes: “The blessing of the covenant will be secured because its conditions will have been met. Obedience on the part of God’s people will be facilitated by Yahweh’s sovereign act of love”. In this new faithfulness we anticipate the words of assurance in God’s sovereign grace in the words of the apostles.

An Intimate Union and Knowledge

The result of this new covenant is the marital love that God has always desired: “And you shall know the LORD” (Hos. 2:20). Jeremiah likewise said: “no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD” (Jer. 31:34).

Hosea’s language speaks of sexual intimacy in marriage as an analogy for the spiritual communion that God will enjoy with his saved people. Some of the best descriptions of marital sex is a shared delight in giving delight. This is what God desires in the spiritual communion of his people. This will be a faithful marriage, the former idols of the world renounced and forgotten by God’s people. The new Israel will know the Lord in the beauty of his grace. And God’s people will give him their hearts in the gospel bond of faith in Christ.

In faithfulness and affection, God will build a marriage to last forever. With God’s Son forever enthroned as Savior for believers and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit sanctifying them inwardly by grace, there will be no “till death do we part”. Not even the grave will sever the intimate bond of love between the Lord and his bride.

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