In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This, in turn, set the Reformation in motion. In the first of these theses, Luther boldly asserted, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” We find this to be the consistent teaching of the Scriptures—both in the Old and New Testaments. In the prophetic ministry of Hosea, God calls His people to turn from their sin and back to Him again and again.
The Covenant Lord—having brought unfaithful Israel before His tribunal in order to pronounce His indictment against them (Hosea 12:1-2)—now does something unexpected. Instead of simply pouring out that judgment, He reminds them of their inception by His grace and of the way in which He brought their father, Jacob, to repentance by grace.
In bringing the story of Jacob to bear on the current condition of Israel, the Lord encourages them to respond as their father Jacob had done at Bethel. Though a deceiver from birth, Jacob “strove with the Angel and prevailed; he wept and sought His favor. He met God at Bethel” (v. 4).
Returning to the Lord involves striving for the covenant blessing—weeping over our sin and longing for the spiritual blessings of God in Christ. Of course, all of this also means that we recognize that it is God who takes the initiative.
Moving from the story of Jacob to the story of the Exodus, the Lord next reminds Israel that He is the Covenant Lord who sovereignly took them “from the land of Egypt.” He promised that He would “again make them dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast” (v. 9). Returning and restoration are ultimately the work of God’s free grace. God is the great grace initiator. He is the one who provides the redemption that enables His people to repent and turn back to Him.
Next, the Lord reminded Israel of the central role that His Word plays in bringing His people to repentance. He says, “I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables” (v. 10). The Word of God is the central means by which Jacob returned to the Lord. Hosea reminds Israel that it was at Bethel (the place where Jacob wrestled with God) that “God spoke with us” (v. 4). The same thing was true at the Exodus: “By a prophet the Lord brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded” (v. 10). So, too, for us.
God still calls rebellious sinners back to Himself by virtue of His initiating grace and by means of His Word. Just as Luther reminded us that the entirety of the believer’s life is one of repentance, so we are reminded as we read through Hosea of who that repentance comes from and by what means it comes to us.
Written By Nick Batzig