Hosea redeems his wife: a model of the Atonement

The preacher at the evening service I just went to, a young layman, made in passing an interesting point relevant to the Atonement. His main theme was about the wooden idols in Hosea 4:12. But he also mentioned how in Hosea 3:2 the prophet bought his estranged wife Gomer out of prostitution by paying money to her pimp – at least that was the preacher’s interpretation, which makes a lot of sense. The NIV Study Bible suggests that what Hosea paid for her was equivalent to the regular price of a slave, 30 shekels. Of course still today prostitutes are often in effect the slaves of their pimps. So Hosea had to pay the price to redeem Gomer from slavery before he could take her back again as his wife.

The interesting point here is that, as is made explicit in Hosea 1:2, the prophet’s wife is a picture of unfaithful Israel, and the prophet himself is taking God’s part in accepting her back despite her unfaithfulness. As Christians, and this was tonight’s preacher’s point in passing, we can understand Hosea as a type of Jesus Christ and his wife as prefiguring the church, the unfaithful bride of Christ.

So we have here a model of the Atonement, and one which is somewhat different from the more standard models like penal substitutionary atonement and Christus Victor. Hosea, the type of Christ, pays a great price to redeem his bride. But this price is not any kind of punishment or fine; nor is it the price paid to be victorious in a battle. Rather it is a purchase price, which is actually paid to someone, not to God. The recipient is the one who has held the bride captive, the pimp.

Now we don’t know how Gomer became a prostitute, apparently reverting to her former life before first marrying Hosea (1:2), but we can suppose that she started with adultery (3:1) and gradually became enslaved through her sin. And it is a general rule that people who sin gradually become enslaved through their sin, not necessarily to a human slave owner but to a greater or lesser extent to the powers of evil, to the devil.

So, typologically, the pimp who received the redemption price corresponds to Satan. This sounds like the classical ransom view of the Atonement. This was apparently the dominant view in the early church, but was rejected by, among others, Anselm and Gustaf Aulén, on the basis that “Satan, being himself a rebel and outlaw, could never have a just claim against humans”. But, one might respond, although the almighty God could have simply overridden Satan’s claims, whether just or unjust, the way he chose was to submit to these claims, without conceding their justice, and pay the price demanded – which was the death of his Son.

So maybe there is more to the ransom view of the Atonement than is generally recognised. It can certainly be understood as one of a number of different models which have good biblical support. But like all the other models it must be understood as a human description which is not fully adequate, rather than a complete explanation of something whose details must remain a mystery beyond human understanding.

It is worth noting also Hosea 3:3: after Gomer was redeemed from her prostitution she was expected to become a faithful wife again, not to return to prostitution or adultery. In the same way our redemption in Christ is not to be taken as an excuse for continued sin or unfaithfulness to God. This theme of the redeemed remaining sexually and otherwise pure is taken up again in Revelation 14:3-5.

0 thoughts on “Hosea redeems his wife: a model of the Atonement

  1. Hello Peter,

    I posted over at a blog where Craig Blomberg is presenting his “Calmian” view. Out of curiosity I did a google search to see if anyone on other blogs had responded to his post. I came across yours and read what you said about yourself seeking to present wisdom in a gentle manner (I think that is awesome and wish you luck in your endeavoring to live out that calling, it is also a reminder to me that all of us believers have that same call). Anyway I came across this post on Hosea redeeming his wife as a model of the atonement and I believe that you are making a great point here.

    I get wearied of unnecessary and contentious debates about the nature of the atonement (i.e. where one side argues one model as the only way to explain the atonement while the other picks another model as its only way to explain the atonement, and in reality, in my opinion, both models express truth about the atonement) between professing Christians. My own “view” of the atonement is that we ought, as best we can, to base our conclusions on various models and metaphors describing the atonement revealed in scripture. So I take a more **eclectic** view of the atonement, wanting the strenghts of the various atonement models and metaphors, without the weaknesses or overreachings! :-). I will add your model to my understanding as well.

    I do a lot of bible preaching and teaching and I could probably easily do an entire message on your Hosea model of the atonement. Thank you for your post and thank you for adding to my understanding of the atonement.

    Robert

  2. Thanks, Robert. I agree with you in being eclectic. I am not trying to present this Hosea model as the only or primary one, but as one to be given similar weight to all the others.

  3. Hello Peter,

    “Thanks, Robert. I agree with you in being eclectic. I am not trying to present this Hosea model as the only or primary one, but as one to be given similar weight to all the others.”

    I am not sure that they all have “equal” weight, rather, I will just talk about the one that I come upon when preaching or teaching through the Word. Glad to see another “eclectic” theologian like myself. 🙂 It is interesting that the **truth** tends to be something that has the strengths of various competing positions but not the weaknesses. So with the atonement, if you limit yourself to only one model or metaphor given in scripture your position is weak and excludes other truths connected with other models and metaphors. So being an eclectic with the atonement leads you to a place where you sincerely appreciate the strengths of various views while at the same time rejecting the weaknesses or the mistakes made by proponents of those models.

    I tend to end up with conclusions as they are based on proper interpretation of the bible, that **sometimes** support major systems of theology, but other times **contradict** them as well. I believe the Arminian system is much closer to the truth than the calvinistic system (A’s are correct about free will, God’s desire for all to be saved and providing Christ as an atonement for all/the world, that God wants people who freely choose to love and trust Him for both salvation and in their daily living, I am not convinced that we can “lose our salvation”; C’s are wrong about unconditional election a man invented doctrine found nowhere in scripture except by proof texting, wrong about “limited atonement” a doctrine that ignores and reinterprets clear scripture on the subject, wrong about irresistible grace the scripture is explicit that people can and do resist the work and leading of the Spirit, wrong in their claim that God has exhaustively predetermined every event, wrong in their denial that we sometimes have and make choices, wrong about their claim that regeneration precedes faith and so causes and produces faith/some A’s are wrong in suggesting that faith causes or produces regeneration [in reality we have faith, God regenerates those who trust Him}; in addition the A’s and C’s are correct that no one can come to Christ in faith without God first working in them and enabling them to do so (cf. Jn. 6:44), but C’s then make the mistake of restricting the salvific work of the Spirit only to the preselected elect when in reality the Spirit works on many people (the world according to John 16:8-11) with some becoming believers and some continually resisting till the day they die).

    Where do you personally stand on these issues Peter? From looking over your bog you appear to me to be an eclectic as well.

    I was curious about Craig Blomberg’s post on being a “Calminian” becomes it sounded like he was trying to be an “eclectic” or “Biblicist” like myself (i.e., he sees problems with systems of Arminianism and Calvinism and so seeks to develop a view that fits the bible first and theological systems second). I am quite open to this kind of thing as an “eclectic” myself. My disagreement is that with some things there are no middle ground positions (you will either hold to unlimited atonement or to limited atonement, there is nothing in between). Of course the hard part of being a “Biblicist” or an eclectic, is that you will then get shot at from all sides, especially from those with strong emotional commitments to some system such as calvinism! 🙂

    Robert

  4. Robert, I quite deliberately said “similar weight” rather than “equal weight”. In other words, I would consider them in the same way but not necessarily come to equal conclusions about them.

    I’m also quite an eclectic about doctrine, but perhaps not quite as negative about Calvinism as you.

  5. Hello Peter,

    “Robert, I quite deliberately said “similar weight” rather than “equal weight”. In other words, I would consider them in the same way but not necessarily come to equal conclusions about them.”

    Agreed.

    “I’m also quite an eclectic about doctrine, but perhaps not quite as negative about Calvinism as you.”

    A fellow eclectic, good to hear, I sensed that about you.

    What is there **positive** to like about the calvinistic system?

    Or put another way, where does it correspond with what the bible presents about God’s character, His desires concerning the salvation of people, His provision of atonement through Christ, His having designed us with free will as ordinarily understood, His having created a world where we sometimes have choices [so the world is not completely predetermined as both hard and soft determinists/compatibilists want to believe], the covenant of works completely absent from the early chapters of Genesis, the supposed reprobation of most of the human race, etc. etc. etc.

    (note I did not say **Calvinists** as there are committed Christians who are Calvinists who evangelize, love the Lord and serve His people; I am speaking strictly in terms of the calvinist system, I distinguish between the system and the advocates of the system).

    Robert

  6. Robert, I think you would learn a lot from debating Calvinism with Jeremy Pierce. He would deny that his compatibilist Calvinism goes at all against the Bible concerning “God’s character, His desires concerning the salvation of people, His provision of atonement through Christ, His having designed us with free will as ordinarily understood, His having created a world where we sometimes have choices …, the covenant of works completely absent from the early chapters of Genesis, the supposed reprobation of most of the human race, etc. etc. etc.”. And I think he is largely correct in this, although I am not entirely convinced by his system.

  7. Hello Peter,

    I once directly asked Pierce directly to explain his own version of compatibilism (modeled after David Lewis at the time), and he chose not to do so. I have studied various versions of **compatibilism** and all of them that calvinists hold to assume the exhaustive determination of all events. Logically any view that involves the exhaustive determination of all events will preclude us ever having a single choice. You can only have choices if everything is not exhaustively determined. These are two mutually exclusive categories. You either have choices in which case everything is not exhaustively predetermined, OR everything is exhaustively determined in which case you never ever have choices. I discussed this with Plantinga at one time, and he agreed so I doubt that Pierce will be able to argue otherwise, but he can **choose** to try. 🙂

    Robert

  8. Robert, yes, compatibilism does imply from one point of view exhaustive determinism. But from another point of view there is complete freedom of choice. It is not a matter of half and half but of fully one and fully the other from different viewpoints. A bit like the person of Christ, perhaps: not half man, half God but fully human and fully God.

    I see your point about “two mutually exclusive categories”, but if freedom of choice is properly understood, as Jeremy has explained on his blog, it does not really contradict determinism.

  9. You have some deep issues running at the moment, Peter. And with our younger daughter’s wedding now behind us, I am ready to think about these things again!

    Here I will stick to the atonement – I may wade on on Calminism on the other post. But then I may not.

    One of the books I retrieved from my mother in law’s house 10 years ago was a little volume by the late +Wand. It explored a number of models of the attonement. It made a lot of sense when I got round to reading it. I am certainly unhappy with those who seem to “deny” penal substitution. However for me the wonder of the Gospel is that it is like a diamond – showing many facets depending on how you look at it. In other words penal substitution is one facet, and I consider rather an important one, but we will never appreciate the attonement in all its wonder until we see the others as well, and give them their proper place.

    So I appreciate the facet and explanation you have set out above. It shows how the Father, while clearly capable of “zapping” (excuse the crude analogy) Satan, and owing him nothing, has chosen to act with grace. An example perhaps of what Jesus said at his Baptism, as in Matt 3 v 15, “Let it be so for now….”.

  10. Thanks, Colin. Yes, I have decided to wade in at the deep end again. My wedding is still ahead of me and keeping me quite busy, but temporarily I have a little more time for blogging. Your final point is a good summary of what I was hinting at.

  11. Hello Colin,

    You wrote:

    “One of the books I retrieved from my mother in law’s house 10 years ago was a little volume by the late +Wand. It explored a number of models of the attonement. It made a lot of sense when I got round to reading it. I am certainly unhappy with those who seem to “deny” penal substitution. However for me the wonder of the Gospel is that it is like a diamond – showing many facets depending on how you look at it. In other words penal substitution is one facet, and I consider rather an important one, but we will never appreciate the attonement in all its wonder until we see the others as well, and give them their proper place.”

    The varied facets of a diamond is a ***great illustration*** of my own eclectic view of the atonement (and also truth). The bible presents different metaphors for the atonement and they ought not be played off against each other. Instead, it is like one **beautiful diamond with multiple facets**. All of the facets are different and yet they all belong to or are part of the one diamond. So it is with different models of the atonement. Some mistakenly take one facet and then argue as if their over-emphasized facet is the only one that is important or true (and then someone else does it with a different facet and they argue senselessly and go around and around in argumentative circles).

    I say instead of squabbling about one facet being superior to another facet, why not admire the whole diamond and speak about and appreciate all of its varied facets???

    Robert

  12. Well said, Robert.

    But then couldn’t you say the same about Calvinist determinism and Arminian free will being different facets of the truth about how some people come to be saved? That’s basically what compatibilism is about. (Sorry for mixing comment threads.)

  13. Gents

    You are summing this up well in my view. Let us look at the whole diamond and feast on its beauty and wonder from all sides, much as Robert says. I also note Peter’s earlier aside about looking at them “in the same way but not necessarily come to equal conclusions”. I hope I am not taking your comment away from the intended context or meaning. And as Peter says the analogy can be applied to the Cavinist and Arminian debate. I have offered thoughts on Calminianism on that post.

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