A Sincere and Oft-Repeated Repentance
For the past several months, I've been reading through the Prophets and have found myself drawn to their pathos. I think I've gone through several iterations of reading such passages. In my adolescence, I read with an unbridled optimism and conviction. The words vindicated me, or so I felt. As an upper classman in college, I read with the young Calvinist's sense of superiority. These words proclaimed an unpopular truth, one that I had embraced whole-heartedly. But now, when I read the Prophets, I see a shadow beneath the waters. More and more, I feel a shiver because I understand that the promised Day of the Lord does not come to vindicate me so much as it comes to vindicate God.
A great example of this can be found in Hosea, where incidentally, I find myself today. Hosea begins with a rather dramatic object lesson. God tells Hosea to get married to a woman who is going to cheat on him. They have a baby together, but her next two children don't quite have Hosea's nose. Eventually his missus - Gomer - takes off and winds up in trouble. She's going to be sold as a slave on the cheap, so Hosea empties his bank account just to bring home the woman who ran away. He takes her back and loves her yet again.
I've been "in church" since utero and once dressed for Halloween (rather, a "Harvest Festival") as a preacher so by nature, when I read stories like this, I see myself as Hosea. I am the preacher of righteousness, calling people out and proclaiming judgment. But this trip through the Prophets has underlined a simple fact, and that's that I'm completely wrong. Only one person has ever been able to read Hosea and sincerely and honestly see himself as Hosea, and that person's name was Jesus of Nazareth. Hosea's made-for-Montel love story was an enacted object lesson for how the people of Israel treated God, their covenant husband. If we want to be part of God's people (like Israel) then we have to acknowledge how we've treated our God.
I would argue that not even Hosea could read his own book and see himself as the hero. I draw this, and the title of this piece, from chapter 6. He speaks in the third person and identifies with the rebel rabble:
“Come, let us return to the LORD;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3 ESV)
It is with hope and confidence that Hosea presses forward. He is not hopeful or confident in his own righteousness but in God's faithfulness. He speaks poetically and says that on the third day "he will raise us up." Commentators point out that this is not so much a direct prophecy of Christ's resurrection, but more so, a truth that Jesus fulfills on an even deeper level, as a type of it. God showed his faithfulness to forgive Israel again and again and again. In a sense, he constantly "raised them up." But throughout the Old Testament, we see that God never expected Israel to be righteous based on their own works or their own covenant faithfulness. Explicitly, we see this in this very same passage. God practically sighs and shakes his head at his faithless, feckless people. He responds:
"What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:4-6 ESV)
Israel is not capable by affection ("Your love is like a morning cloud") or ceremonial worship ("not sacrifice... [or] burnt offerings") to keep covenant with their God. Their (and our) love for God is not, and will never be, "steadfast." It is only in his raising up of his people that they have any hope. In Hosea's time, this was true of God's faithfulness to not wipe his people off the map, but ultimately, it was true of Jesus' faithfulness to rise from the dead and grant an irrevocable pardon to his adulterous bride.
Reading Hosea stings. It's been often said that God's word reads us more than we read it. It removes my hope in myself and replaces it with a much better hope. My repentance is sincere and frequent and necessary. God vindicates himself through his holiness, through his righteous punishment of sin. For a sinner such as myself, I find my only chance not in good works that I have done, but in the good work of Jesus's cross and empty tomb. Reading Hosea stings, but the needle delivers the anti-venom that a self-righteous, prideful kid like myself so desperately needs.