Peter, Paul, Hosea, and Us
Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:10)
This past Sunday we explored 1 Peter 2:9-17 in our series Homeless. For the sake of the sermon, I covered verse 10 quickly. I offered this brief summary statement:
This comes from Hosea 2:23 and speaks of the regathering of the scattered tribes into the nations—people that had been so scattered, they had been forgotten and had become indistinguishable from the Gentiles. Paul quotes that same verse in reference to the Gentiles coming into the people of God (Rom. 9:24-25).
There’s a lot packed into those two sentences. (E.g. It’s easy to miss that the names of two children are mentioned in 1 Peter 2:10.) For those who desire to go deeper or understand how Peter and Paul may have understood these verses, this post is for you. Prepare yourself: it is necessary to understand just a little bit of history.
Hosea prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel during the 8th century B.C. for about 30 years. Although we often think of “Israel” as one people or nation, during this period Israel was divided into two kingdoms. Ten tribes made up the northern kingdom of Israel, and two tribes made up the southern kingdom of Judah. Hosea’s ministry was to the northern kingdom. When he speaks about “Israel” he is not including Judah, but only the ten northern tribes.
When he speaks about “Israel” he is not including Judah, but only the ten northern tribes.
When the Lord tells Hosea, “I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel” (Hos. 1:4), it is a reference to the future Assyrian captivity of the ten northern tribes. It did not apply to the southern tribes. (This becomes very important in a moment.)
Have you heard the strange story of the Lord telling Hosea to marry a woman who was sleeping around as a picture of his relationship with Israel (the northern tribes). Though married to the Lord, Israel was whoring itself out to other gods continually. Through this woman, Gomer, Hosea would have three children. It is the second and third that are most relevant to our text.
The second child was a daughter whose name was to be “No Mercy,”
“for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. 7 But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.” (Hos. 1:6-7 ESV)
Then there was a third child, a son. As with the other two, the name wasn’t very cute! “The LORD said, ‘Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.’” (Hos. 1:9 ESV) If all this seems very depressing, don’t stop reading because the very next verses have a promise that is about us! However, to understand how that promise is to be fulfilled by us, another brief history lesson is necessary (don’t worry it’s brief!).
Israel Becoming “Not My People”
The northern kingdom of Israel was in fact carried away into Assyrian captivity in approximately 722 B.C. It was over a century later when Judah (the two tribes: Judah and Benjamin) was taken into Babylonian captivity. Here’s the important point: the northern kingdom never returned to the land of Israel, only Judah (hence they were called Jews) was returned by Cyrus and his successors to the land. Ten of the tribes of Israel were seemingly lost forever. History lesson complete! Now the promise.
The northern kingdom never returned to the land of Israel, only Judah (hence they were called Jews) was returned by Cyrus and his successors to the land. Ten of the tribes of Israel were seemingly lost forever.
Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel. (Hos. 1:10-11 ESV)
The northern tribes of Israel were so scattered that they became indistinguishable from Gentiles. No one today can count their descent from those ten tribes. Suddenly, the “You are not my people,” takes on a very literal sense. There is something more.
Gentiles Brought In, Sent Out, and Brought Back In
Just as the two southern tribes were called by the name of the one (Judah) because that was the tribe of their king, so the northern tribes were often called Ephraim. The name Ephraim is used 35 times by Hosea as a reference to the northern tribes. Why is this significant?
Ephraim was the second son of Joseph, born to him in Egypt. Israel (Jacob’s new name) adopted these two sons because he considered them Egyptian (gentiles). At the same time, he made Ephraim the firstborn (Gen. 48). The kingdom of Israel identified itself by the name Ephraim, the tribe descended from Joseph’s son Ephraim, who was originally a Gentile brought in by adoption. Because of their continual turning away from God, Ephraim (the kingdom of Israel) was eventually sent back to the nations (Gentiles) to become one with them. However, the Lord promised to once again call those who are “Not My People,” His very people!
Paul nor Peter were playing loosely with Scripture, they just understood it well. We also discover this understanding of the Hosea prophecy in the church fathers. From Genesis 48 to Hosea 1-2, we see God’s plan to bring Gentiles into his chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, and people for his own possession (1 Pet. 2:9-10).
This brings us to the verse which Paul quoted, and Peter alluded to, from Hosea.
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. 2:23)
“No Mercy” and “Not My People” were the people who had been so removed from God’s land and community that they were never recovered again but became one with the Gentile nations around them. Now God is calling the “Gentiles” back in order to make Israel and Judah together (Gentiles and Jews) as numerous as the sand of the sea (Hos. 1:10; Rom. 11:25-26).
Now God is calling the Gentiles His people in order to make Israel and Judah together (Gentiles and Jews) as numerous as the sand of the sea (Hos. 1:10; Rom. 11:25-26).
Peter captures this whole story by brief allusion to it. In doing so, he reminds his audience of Jews and Gentiles that it has always been his plan for them to be the people of God, the chosen race and holy nation, intended to be a priesthood for the King that they might mediate God’s mercy to the rest of the world; a community who makes known the excellencies of God through their liturgy (forms of worship) and life.
 This is either because the geographical center of the kingdom was the territory of Ephraim, because their first king was from that tribe, or that it had a greater population than the other nine tribes.