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Now You Have Received Mercy: The Fulfillment of Hosea 2:23 in 1 Peter 2:10

In Peter’s first letter to those of the Dispersion (1:1) he intentionally utilizes language that once characterized the nation of Israel in the Old Testament to now describe the New Testament church, compromised of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. This comes out nowhere more explicit than in 2:9–10, the climactic close to Peter’s glorious explication of the Christian’s identity:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Pet. 2:9–10).

Peter’s Use of Hosea 2:23

This is a clear allusion to the promise of Hosea 2:23, which looks forward to the restoration of Israel following her exile:

“And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord, I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel, and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God’ ” (Hos. 2:21–23).

From the perspective of an 8th-century B.C. Israelite, Hosea’s promise was probably thought to have referred to all Israelites, who were, in effect, excommunicated. They had been scattered in judgment, were no longer in possession of God’s mercy, and the Lord had removed his name from them, so that they were of the same status as unbelieving Gentiles: “not my people.” For this reason, Israel had become indistinguishable from the Gentiles. According to the restoration promise of Hosea, however, those who were not God’s people and had not received mercy will again be brought back, as God in his sovereign mercy will reach out to gather them.[1]

Interestingly, Peter applies this restoration promise not merely to those with Abraham’s blood running through their veins, but to the church as a whole, which includes Gentile believers. He recognizes the fulfillment of Hosea’s restoration promise as encompassing the Gentiles, who once were not the people of God and had not received mercy. The declaration of Gentiles to be the people of God and recipients of God’s mercy is evidence of the inaugural fulfillment of God’s promise in Hosea 2:23 (cf. 1:10–2:1).

Karen Jobes writes, “God’s chosen race was no longer limited to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Isaiah and Hosea had spoken of a reconstitution of God’s exiled people, traditionally interpreted to mean the regathering of Judah and Israel from their far-flung places of exile.”[2] Peter, however, addresses his Christian readers as people of the Dispersion (1:1) and sends greetings from those in “Babylon” (5:13), which is the symbolic capital of exile. The great mystery that was hidden but now revealed is that God’s promised restoration of Israel is found in the gathering of a people, Jew and Gentile, from the four corners of the earth.

A Legitimate Use of the Old Testament?

But is this a legitimate interpretation on Peter’s part of Hosea 1:10–2:1 and 2:23? Is it correct to see the ingathering of Gentiles as the fulfillment of a restoration promise that seems to speak only of Judah and Israel?

D. A. Carson argues that “once Israel has been judicially declared by God to be ‘not my people,’ they are indistinguishable from the pagans. They really are not His people. It is a judicial sentence.”[3] In other words, as we stated above, God declares his people to be of equal standing with the Gentiles, partaking of their status and identity as not his people, nor recipients of his mercy. An ethnic Israelite, in the sight of God, was indistinguishable from a Gentile when it came to the fulfillment of his restoration promise.

So if Israel is now placed in the same common mass as every other Gentile person, reverting back to her pre-Genesis 12 status, then if God reaches out in his sovereign mercy and grace to those who are not his people, nor recipients of his mercy, it does not matter if he gathers those who are ethnically Israelites or those who are ethnically anything else.[4]

For Peter, this prophecy of Hosea is fulfilled when out of the “Gentile” mass (of which Israel had become a part) the Lord sovereignly gathers a people to partake of and enjoy covenant union and communion with him. Peter exclaims that this has happened and the church is the product of it. To put it in other words, Israel’s judgment led to her having the same judicial (even, familial) status as every other nation in the world—they were not the people of God. Out of that mass of people (who are not God’s people) the Lord promises through Hosea to restore and reconstitute a people who will be his people—whether Jew or Gentile. Peter does not distinguish Jews from Gentiles when he says, “Once you were not a people.” Rather, he is referring to all, both Jew and Gentile, the whole mixed lot by this. So when he follows with, “but now you are God’s people,” he can have both Jew and Gentile as his reference—all who belong to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ are the people of God and evidence of the inauguration of the fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy.

Jesus as True Israel

Something further needs to be observed though that is central to Peter’s reasoning here, namely, the role Jesus Christ plays in the reconstitution of Israel, the people of God. Peter is very explicit that the Christian has received his or her identity (as belonging to the people of God and as recipient of God’s mercy) solely on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ. He begins his exposition of this identity by writing, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). For Peter, then, the fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy is inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which he reconstituted Israel (cf. Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15). He summed up the nation in himself, so that he is true Israel to whom belong all the promises of God and in whom all the promises of God find their Yes and Amen. Therefore, whoever is united to Jesus Christ by faith, is grafted into Israel and become recipients of the promises of God, regardless if they are Jew or Gentile.

G. K. Beale notes, “Christ was true Israel, who represents the church as true Israel, so that the church too can be identified as true Israel.”[5] As Christ gathers his people to himself by his Word and Spirit, the promise of Hosea is being fulfilled. Those who would now constitute Israel are not defined by their descent from Abraham as his children, but they are born again as the children of God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1:3ff.; cf. 2 Cor. 1:20–21). Israel had been repudiated as God’s people because of their sin, but God pledges to have mercy upon them and form them again as his people. Such has been and continues to be the experience of the church of Jesus Christ.[6] The Gentiles who were anything but identified as God’s people are now “children of the living God,” born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. They did not deserve inclusion into God’s people, but they have now received his mercy and rejoice at their inclusion.

While there is much evidence for this reasoning throughout 1 Peter, one more passage is worth considering. Peter refers to the church as “living stones” (2:5) of the temple because it is identified with Christ as the “living stone” (2:4) of the temple. “That identification probably carries over also to the notion of Christ first fulfilling the prophecies of Israel being restored (by being raised from the dead), which applies also to the church in corporate relationship to him.”[7]

To summarize Peter’s use of Hosea we can say that the fulfillment of the restoration promise of Hosea is inaugurated in Jesus Christ, and continues its fulfillment throughout this age as believers from every nation are identified with and united to him in his resurrection. As this takes place, those who were not his people (whether Jew or Gentile) are born again as “children of the living God” (Hos. 1:10).

Edmund Clowney draws out a useful application from all this to conclude:

Peter’s declaration of our ‘peoplehood’ in Christ has vast consequences for the life of the church of Christ. The church is not just a religious association formed by saved individuals to give united expression to their faith. Rather, the church is more a people than Israel was under the old covenant. Scatted in the world, indeed, as Israel was in dispersion, but a people nonetheless, bound together in the community of those who are united to one another as surely as they are united to their Lord. Church fellowship is not an optional advantage, to be chosen or ignored, like membership in a social club. It is the calling of every Christian. There is a spiritual ‘ethnicity’ to the church of Christ; Christians are blood relatives, joined by the blood of Jesus Christ.[8]

[1] Cf. D.A. Carson, “‘A Holy Nation’: The Church’s High Calling,” in Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2010), 87.

[2] Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 164.

[3] Carson, “A Holy Nation,” 88.

[4] Cf. Carson, “A Holy Nation,” 88.

[5] Beale, New Testament Biblical Theology, 742.

[6] Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2, Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers), 116.

[7] Beale, New Testament Biblical Theology, 742.

[8] Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter, 94.

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