The promise

Photo by Boykung. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Photo by Boykung. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in devoted love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you will know the Lord.
— 
Hosea 2:19-20 (CEB)

Except for that last line, you might think this was someone’s wedding vow. But the closing words give it away: God is the groom, God’s people the bride.

The ancient book of Hosea is the first to use the metaphor of marriage for the relationship between God and the Israelites. The book is troubling, because it assumes deeply imbalanced, patriarchal assumptions about the husband-wife relationship that by today’s standards are abusive and unjust. Alternatively, we must also be careful not to read our current romanticized notions of marriage into the prophet’s words, as if God were a lovestruck suitor.

Hosea’s point seems to be this: amazingly, God as the divine husband pledges his covenant commitment to Israel despite her repeated infidelities. Most of the book is devoted to cataloging and railing against the people’s sins. But embedded in those words of angry condemnation is the promise of love and redemption.

In Hosea’s day, a cuckolded husband had no obligation to forgive his adulterous wife; indeed, she would likely be put to death if found out. But the God who loves and suffers long is different.

In the New Testament, Paul teaches that the covenant promise has been fulfilled through Jesus, and the church is his betrothed. In parables, Jesus compared the kingdom to a wedding banquet (e.g., Matt 22:1-14); he also identified himself as the bridegroom (e.g., Matt 9:15). The apostle John would later be given a vision of the glorious wedding of the Lamb, with the church beautifully adorned as his bride (Rev 19:6-8).

I’ve been to some nice weddings. But this one’s going to blow your socks off.

All this is what came to mind as I read Paul’s words about the hope of resurrection. Having likened our earthly bodies to tents, having expressed his longing for a God-fashioned heavenly home, he says this:

Now the one who prepared us for this very thing is God, and God gave us the Spirit as a down payment for our home. (2 Cor 5:5, CEB)

As noted in a previous post, Paul used this language earlier in the letter to describe the gift of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 1:22). There, I riffed on the promise inherent in making a down payment and signing your mortgage papers: I will make my payments (or else!) until the amount is paid in full.

But I recently read a fascinating fact. The word translated above as “down payment” is arrabon; in modern Greek, arrabona means “engagement ring.”

That meaning may not be what Paul had in mind, but given the whole tradition begun in Hosea, it’s a rich metaphor for the promise of God.

We are God’s betrothed, and one day, the bridegroom will return to escort his bride to the wedding banquet (Matt 25:1-14). Until then, we have the Holy Spirit to remind us of that promise, to help us hold that blessed tomorrow in mind as we deal with the burdens of today.