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Once Not But Now Are
The use of Hosea 1 in 1 Peter 2
While there are many quotations of the Old Testament in the New, there are far more allusions to the Old Testament in the New. The New Testament authors wrote with a worldview drenched in the ancient Scriptures of Israel. An example of this is the language in 1 Peter 2:10.
In 1 Peter 2:10, the apostle tells his readers, “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.” A rhythm is created with these words. Look at them like this:
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
The “once…but now” language captures the readers’ former and present situation. Before conversion, the readers were not God’s people. Before conversion, the readers stood under God’s condemnation and had not received mercy.
With the language in 1 Peter 2:10, the apostle is connecting us to Hosea 1. In Hosea 1, the prophet was to marry a woman of unfaithfulness, and the names of their children would signal the theological situation of Israel. When Hosea’s daughter was born, God said, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all” (Hos. 1:6). After the daughter was weaned, a son was born: “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God” (Hos. 1:9).
Let’s review these two names and the reasoning:
No Mercy for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel
Not My People for you are not my people, and I am not your God
The names in Hosea 1:6 and 1:9 become the source for Peter’s allusion in 1 Peter 2:10. When Peter is describing what’s happened spiritually in the lives of his readers, he informs them that something was “once” the case, but “now” something else is true. The presence of an allusion is confirmed by the use of not just one phrase from Hosea 1; there are two. And they’re not separated by several verses—they occur in the same verse. In 1 Peter 2:10, the presence of both phrases, and in such close proximity to each other, establishes the allusion to Hosea 1:6 and 1:9.
In Hosea 1 the situation was bleak because the nation of Israel had fractured into a Northern Kingdom and Southern Kingdom, and the Lord was bringing judgment upon both in due time. The prophet Hosea ministered in the Northern Kingdom, and his words for his audience were words of judgment. The Lord’s judgment—rather than mercy—was on the near horizon.
But the future of Israel wasn’t all bleak. A time of restoration, of transformation and renewal, would come. In Hosea 2:23, the Lord said, “And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people.’” This promise is ultimately fulfilled in the reality of the multi-national church of Jesus Christ, comprised of believing Jews and Gentiles.
When Jews and Gentiles confess Jesus as Lord, they do so as people who had now received mercy, whereas previously they were the No Mercy group. When Jews and Gentiles confess Jesus as Lord, they do so as God’s people, though formerly they were the Not My People people.
Using the language of Hosea 1:6 and 1:9, Peter aptly applies to the Jew-Gentile Church the identity of God’s people. And becoming God’s people happens by the same means in the New Testament as in the Old: God makes a people by mercy.