“Plead with your mother, plead – for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband – that she put away her whoring from her face…” So begins Yahweh’s charge against his people through the prophet Hosea (2:2). The word for “plead” in these prophetic contexts, sometimes translated as “contend,” is really legal terminology. It means to bring formal charges against, or to file a lawsuit. Israel was legally bound to Yahweh by the terms of the covenant, and when those terms were transgressed repeatedly and on a grand scale, the Covenant Lord would send his lawyers, his legal representatives, the prophets, to announce that covenant curses were imminent. And so it is that Hosea warns adulterous Israel that she is about to be stripped, made barren like a wilderness, and killed with thirst (2:3). Yahweh is going to take back the blessings he had poured on her – the grain, wine, oil, silver, and gold (2:9), and she will be exposed to the world for what she is, to everyone she had run after in place of her Redeemer (2:10). Images of destruction pile on: “I will put an end to all her mirth, her feast, her new moon, her Sabbath, and all her assemblies. And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees…” (2:11-12). She will be turned into a wilderness, “like the day she was born” (2:3). She’s being disowned and put right back where she started, and left all alone. It’s a picture of abandonment.
Strangely, disorientingly, the inference drawn from this indictment and death sentence is not hopeless despair but new life, as if we should have seen new life coming all along:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her [lit: over her heart]. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope . . . And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the LORD” (2:14-20)
Therefore? I’m going to kill her, and therefore I will make her flourish again? But there it is: When God sends his covenant-transgressing people back to the wilderness to die, it’s precisely so that he can resurrect them into closer union with himself.
This is the message of the prophets, in a nutshell: Israel has transgressed the covenant and is facing the covenant sanctions of death and desolation, and she will indeed die, but she will be resurrected. She will be given new life on the other side of the grave. Hosea goes on to say this rather more explicitly in 6:1-2, “…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.”
At the center of Amos is the statement, or really the lament, that “Fallen, no more to rise, is the virgin Israel; forsaken on her land with none to raise her up” (Amos 5:2). But Israel’s God gives life to the dead, and so Amos ends with the promise that “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that has fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old” (Amos 9:11). Isaiah likewise promises: “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the land will give birth to the dead.” Ezekiel’s vision of the bones is well-known. The valley was full of them, scattered and dry. Could they ever live again? Ezekiel may have suspected that they could, but when asked he wisely said, “O Lord GOD, you know.” And the Spirit came and gave life to the bones, the thigh bone connected to the hip bone, the hip bone connected to the back bone, the back bone connected to the…. you get the idea. Muscles and flesh came upon them, and they stood up as a great army. And the lesson was this: “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves.” Read all about it in Ezekiel 37:1-14. The impression is unmistakable throughout the prophets that two things are certain: Death and New Life. God’s people must die for their sins, but he will make them live again.
Is it any surprise that when Yahweh visits his people in the flesh to be the “Amen” to all of God’s covenant promises, and to be the firstfruits of the resurrection, he dies under the curse and is raised to new life? Is that not all that the prophets had spoken?