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Bridegroom of the Church

Few expressions of intimacy and love are more powerful than a wedding day. In that ceremony, the bride and groom profess their love for one another and publicly, before God, exchange their vows of lifelong faithfulness, commitment, and support.

In the book of Hosea, the institution of marriage was a powerful metaphor for God’s relationship with His people. Much of Hosea’s message focuses on Israel’s infidelity to God, but today’s passage highlights the beauty of God’s faithfulness in the marital relationship. Despite their failure, the Lord promised a day when “you will call me ‘my husband’” (v. 16). The old gods will be removed, the covenant restored, and the marriage relationship will be renewed.

Three separate times, God declares, “I will betroth you.” Notice that in this marital metaphor, it is God who takes the initiative, not Israel. He is the one who restores the relationship and declares His eternal righteousness, love, compassion, and faithfulness for His bride (vv. 19–20). Unfaithful Israel simply receives God’s unconditional love; they certainly did not earn it!

That beautiful picture of God’s faithful love toward His bride finds its fullest expression in Christ’s love for the church. In fact, that metaphor becomes the entire background for Paul’s exhortations about marriage in Ephesians: “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). Christ is the husband to His bride, the church. His sacrificial love is expressed in His willingness to die for her, cleanse her, making her “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27). Like Israel, we are not always faithful. But Christ our Bridegroom is, and His cleansing love and faithfulness will never fail.

Apply the Word

Sometimes we can become discouraged at our own sin and unfaithfulness toward God. Scripture never sugarcoats our failings, but it also reminds us that God’s cleansing love and faithfulness to us is more powerful than our sin. As the Christmas season continues, give thanks that He alone forgives and makes us “holy and blameless.”

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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