Today’s Epistle reading contains a statement that marks out Saint Paul as the true radical that he was: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:28-29). This passage prompted me to look in other texts with similar messages. I settled on Romans 9:25: “As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘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.’” The portion highlighted in red is not in the Hebrew text of Hosea, but is in the ancient Greek version of Hosea (the version we call the Septuagint), and that’s the version Paul quotes since he writes in Greek.
Hosea was an extraordinary prophet. In the first chapter of the book of Hosea, God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute, Gomer, and have children with her! Not exactly the sort of thing you’d expect God to ask one of his prophets to do. Then God assigns names to the three children that are conceived:
- First son is named Jezreel: named for the place by that name, a place where much violence had taken place in past;
- a daughter, named Lo-Ruhama (“No Mercy”);
- and a second son, named Lo-Ammi (“Not My People”): “for you are not my people, and I am not your God” (Hosea 1:9).
The three children are given symbolic names by God to represent God’s judgment on Israel, because Israel has acted like an unfaithful wife to her husband, Yahweh. Judgments are pronounced on Israel, but then in middle of chapter 2 something radical happens. God decides to woo his wife again, as God had done in the desert after the Exodus. The language is poetic, romantic even.
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ (Ishi)
and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ (Baali)
Baali means “my lord/my master” God rejects this language which implies duty of respect and honor and replaces it with language of a loving relationship. Baal was also the chief pagan god in that part of the world, and there was a whole range of gods with similar names. That is why, God refers to the Baals here in Hosea.
For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. … And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord…. And I will have mercy on No Mercy (Lo-Ruhama), and I will say to Not My People (Lo-Ammi), ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”
It is here, in this concluding section of Hosea chapter 2 that Romans 9:25 includes the Septuagint addition of “Not Beloved” —> “Beloved”! This is all very powerful stuff that takes us to the passionate heart of God, Yahweh.
Galatians takes these amazing statements in Hosea and makes them universal. Not only Israel/Jews, but also Greeks and all nations were once No-People but have become God’s People; were once No-Mercy and have received Mercy; were once Not-Beloved and have become God’s Beloved! Perhaps we should note more carefully what God said to Israel in the Book of Hosea: Call me Husband, not Lord, not Master. Jesus himself used the language of husband when he refers to himself as Bridegroom. God is our husband, and even when we are unfaithful and forget our vows he comes after us and woos us and entices us. Hosea gives us an image of God as lover, as husband who does not give up on us. As I’ve said so often, there is nothing “old” about the “Old Testament”!! Because God is never old. God is always young and always in love! In love with you and with me! When will we stop looking elsewhere for satisfaction?