The Transforming Power of Covenant Mercy

This morning, I was thinking of Paul’s statement, “but I obtained mercy to be faithful …”. I was noticing the order, that mercy precedes and goes before faithfulness, as though the ability for true faithfulness is in the prior revelation of mercy. Searching for the verse that contained this particular phrase, I typed in the two words, “obtained mercy”. I was amazed to find how many places that exact phrase is used [Ro 11:30; 1Cor 7:25; 1Tim 1:13,16; 1Pe 2:10], and all trace back to Hos 2:23. I noticed that the Israel that obtains mercy in the wilderness is the same Israel that had before “not obtained mercy” through spiritual adultery. I saw an important principle in Israel’s new covenant transformation in the wilderness. The turning point is a broken heart of contrition, but how does this come about?

It is revealing to see that the change comes only after an appointed time of divine pleading in the wilderness. This underscores the place and role of crisis and tribulation in God’s gracious initiatives for our salvation and sanctification. This is how Israel will be made to reflect on her historic unfaithfulness to the covenant bond, but notice; the new heart does not come until the veil has been removed that hides the goodness of God’s redeeming love. Judgment weakens that veil, but only the revelation of grace removes it forever.

It is the revelation of the goodness of God that makes Israel hate her former unfaithfulness in a wholesome way that does not fall into the pit of morbid regret and despair. It is the apprehension of divine love, and the holy cost of that love, that actually creates the faithfulness that can only come from a heart set free. It is what the NT calls the ‘gift’ of repentance (Acts 5:31; 2Tim 2:25), and what a gift it is! The veil may have been weakened through suffering (in this case the stripping of the wilderness), but it is the revelation of mercy that tears it in half, and so transforms the heart of trembling contrition into the chosen dwelling place of God (Isa 57:15; 66:1-2).

Therefore, we may conclude that whereas suffering may serve to weaken and drive down the pride of the faithless heart, real and lasting transformation comes only when we see God’s tender mercies in His unspeakable gift. Amazing love! How can it be? Paul said it is “the goodness of God that leads to repentance” (Ro 2:4). Mercy transforms. That is why justice must be so ‘severely’ upheld (Ro 11:22). It is so that mercy may appear mercy indeed.

So Israel is brought to an end of their power through the attrition of Jacob’s trouble (Deut 32:36; Dan 12:7), but the transforming moment does not come until “they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced” (Zech 12:10; Mt 23:39). That is when the penitent remnant goes everyone apart to weep, not because of guilt and regret, but because of the transforming vision of the goodness of God that leads to a repentance and a new nature that lasts forever. It is mercy that makes us faithful.

See below a brief commentary on Hosea 2 from the Wycliffe Bible Commentary:

D. The Restoration of Faithless Israel. 2:14-23.

Hosea 2:14

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.

In love God says of Israel, I will allure her. God says that he will persuade his people with endearing words to turn from their idols and find joy in him. In Canaan Israel rejected her God. Surrounded by other “lovers” (i.e., Baal and other idols), she felt no need of him. God, however, declares his purpose to remove his people from the land of milk and honey and bring her into the wilderness, so that he may speak comfortably unto her. Literally, speak unto her heart. The grieved lover desired to win back the object of his love. He was going to take Israel to the solitary wilderness, where she could hear his voice without distraction.

Hosea 2:15-17

And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.

Vineyards, which speak of prosperity and fruit-bearing, would be given by God to his restored people. The valley of Achor is described as a door of hope. There, centuries before, Achan had died as the troubler of Israel (Josh 7:25-26). Only through Achor, trouble, could Israel come back to fellowship with the Lord and its resultant blessing. God would thus restore the days of her youth. When youthful Israel crossed the Red Sea, she had a song (Ex 15:1-19). As she lost her first love, the song was quieted; but Hosea pictures repentant, restored Israel as again singing. 16. Restored Israel would address God as Ishi, literally, my husband, a word of tenderness. Baali is a synonym of ishi, but it contains the word Baal (master), the name of a Canaanite deity. For this reason it was associated with idolatry and rejected by Hosea. The Baalim (v. 18) will not be mentioned by restored Israel, who then will be true to her Lord.

Hosea 2:18-20

And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely.

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