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Not My People

Everyone who accepted the invitation to write about Romans 9 and one of the prophets chose to not actually do it, so I’m going to finish off my little series on Romans 9. I still find the chapter and its interplay with the Old Testament texts interesting and refreshing. If you missed it, you can catch up here. These are some of my favorite posts.

Thus far in Romans 9, Paul has only talked about how some of Israel is excluded by not accepting the terms of the new covenant. He has shown in no uncertain terms that not all descendants of Abraham are Israel. True Israel is through faith. Paul’s use of the patriarchs, Exodus narrative, and Malachi primarily focused on providing Biblical justification of the rejection of some of Israel. His use of Hosea explicitly states what Paul has been implying throughout Romans and specifically in Romans 9. God has always been about Gentiles becoming full covenant members.

Paul says in verses 22-24 that Gentiles are part of the called and of the Gentiles some are objects of mercy. He then quotes Hosea twice to justify what he is saying and expand on it. His first quote is from Hosea 2, within which God says,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”

And in the second verse from Hosea 1 God says,

“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.’”

At first glance, these verses appear to be simple outright affirmations that God would include the Gentiles, those who were not his people, into his people. But, as we’ve been doing, let’s explore the surrounding context of Hosea.

Hosea is a prophet who was called by God to both prophesy to God’s people and be a metaphor for understanding YHWH’s relationship with his people (Expanded thoughts on Hosea). Hosea was called by God to marry a whore and have children of whoredom, because Israel was committing whoredom. So Hosea does what God asks, and Gomer (the prostitute and wife of Hosea) has children and they are named “No Mercy” and “Not My People.” These names are chosen because God has declared judgment on Israel, declaring that He will have no mercy on them and that they are not his people. That’s the basic story of Hosea that forms the foundation for understanding God’s prophetic words that Hosea speaks to Israel.

The first verse Paul quotes in Hosea is found in the context of a beautiful poem (or poetic prose) within which YHWH is speaking to Israel as if Israel is a whoring wife. In this story, God takes away the blessings He gave his whoring wife that she would know that He is the one who blessed her, not her other lovers. Then, when she realizes her mistake and has nothing left, YHWH woos her back. He buys her back. He removes evil from her and she again calls Him her husband. He makes a covenant with her and all nature, betrothing Himself to her forever. And then, after God does that, He “will have mercy on No Mercy” and say to “Not My People, ‘you are my people.’”

The second verse Paul quotes from Hosea actually comes before the first, but is basically speaking about the same thing. YHWH, immediately after telling Hosea to name his newborn son “Not My People,” talks of a time where God will call those who are not His people, “Children of the living God.” And during this time, his people will not only be reunited with him, but to each other because there will be one head over both Israel and Judah. Both the first and second verses are talking about the same thing. The verses discuss the day when, after He has disowned His children, YHWH shows them mercy and makes them His children again.

This day of redemption and reuniting of man and his wife is what Paul is referring to when he quotes Hosea. Paul speaks of these verses in Hosea as if they are being fulfilled. The Messiah has come, and YHWH is betrothing Himself again to His people. He is removing their idolatry and replacing the Baals with Himself. YHWH is bringing His kids back in through Jesus. Israel has denied their father, worshipped other gods, and whored herself to other nations, but God in His faithfulness is making the relationship with Israel right again. He is reuniting with His children Israel.

There are many parallels between what Hosea prophesies and what Paul says has happened and is happening. The story in Hosea includes a rejection of God’s people because of their sin and a reacceptance when they turn from their idols and put their faith in him. The book of Romans involves Israel being excluded from God’s people and reintegrated through faith in Jesus. They were declared not his people, but that is not the end of the story. Jesus’ advent involves judgment, but a betrothal and new beginning for those who would put their faith in him. What Hosea prophesied is happening anew.

There’s an issue with this I must mention, if you don’t see it yet, Paul says that God has called his people from the Gentiles to partake in His glory. Paul then evidences this by quoting these verses in Hosea. The problem is that in the surrounding context of Hosea, the book doesn’t seem to be talking about the Gentiles being those described by “not my people” who God calls his people. The book is talking about the Jews who were not God’s people who became God’s people again. I haven’t seen textual evidence that here Hosea is actually talking about the Gentiles and not the people of Israel (let me know if you see something different in the book). So, well, what do we do with this?

I have two thoughts on this. By God’s declaration that Israel is not his people, then they are not His people. By being not His people, they are basically Gentiles. We talked about this concept a little bit in Malachi. There is no point in having the law, the sacrificial system, the writings, and the beliefs of Israel if God is not their God. Because they are no longer God’s people, they are outsiders, just like the Gentiles. Therefore, YHWH’s betrothal with His people mentioned in Hosea is a betrothal to those who are not His people. Whether these people are ethnically Jewish or not, the reality is that they are spiritually Gentiles and outside of the covenant just like Gentiles. Because of these things, it doesn’t seem like a violation of the text to talk about Gentiles becoming a part of God’s covenant people.

My second thought is that Paul is bringing a new covenant understanding to old covenant words. While Hosea’s message was intended for the Jewish people and was about God calling Jewish people sons of God, in light of the coming of the Messiah Paul understands that what Hosea was talking about was more expansive than Hosea realized. Because Paul lived in the time where God was wooing His people and betrothing them as Hosea described, Paul realized more about it. By using these verses to explain that God is including Gentiles into the Kingdom, Paul isn’t changing the meaning the text, he is expanding it. This more expansive and inclusive understanding of the text is necessary because this Messianic Kingdom is open to everyone. Here in this place those who were once far from God are now His beloved children.

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