At the close of the book of Hosea, God issues a call and a promise. The call is for the people of Israel to return to Him, to put away their idols and remember the salvation of the Lord, and the promise is that God will turn toward them and look on them with grace, love and great favor. And in the midst of this promise, God says this:
I will heal their apostasy;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
There are several things I love about this verse from Hosea 14 (verse 4 if you’re counting). First, God says two things He will do: He will heal their apostasy and He will love them freely. Healing their apostasy means that God will turn their hearts back to Him. He will graciously do for them the one thing they need, yet cannot do themselves. He will cause His people to return.
Second, He also says that He will love them freely. What does this mean? Well, it could mean that He will offer His love to them without any regard for what they have done. This is a popular way of looking at the love of God, and though it isn’t exactly wrong, it is incomplete. Love without regard for wrong doing is, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls it, cheap grace, grace with no justice. If there is one thing we have learned from Hosea it’s that wickedness does not go unpunished, in fact, this promise comes on the heels of some of the most terrifying visions of God’s wrath against sin that the Bible has.
So, what does “love them freely” mean?
Isaiah 55:1 is helpful here:
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
How can you buy something if you have nothing to pay? If someone else has paid for it. Romans 3 tells us that God was able to “pass over” sins committed before Jesus died because of Jesus’ death. His death, at a singular moment in history, paid the penalty for the sins of God’s people across all of time, before and after His death. So, God can say “I will love them freely” now, because of what Jesus will do hundreds of years from this moment. And He forgives us know, offering that same free, but costly love, because of what Jesus did on the cross 2000 years ago.
Lastly, I love that God says, “I will… I will…” and then He explains how He can do that: “For my anger HAS (already) turned from them”. God’s wrath against sin has been turned away from His people because it was poured out on Jesus. So, God will turn the hearts of His people toward Him, and He will love them freely because He has turned His anger away from us and onto Christ on the cross. There is no greater gift than that. God turns His anger away from us and lavishes free love on us. That is something worth celebrating, and sharing.