What language comes to mind when you think of wedding vows?
To have and to hold
In sickness and health
For richer or poorer
Until death do we part
Wedding ceremonies are built upon promises. We affirm and celebrate the foundation of God’s promised love and we cheer for the promises the couple makes to one another. Over the years, I have heard many different provisions within the ceremonial promise. I have heard wedding vows that soar in scope and sentiment. I have heard wedding vows of detail specific chores. The book of Hosea includes a word I’ve never heard in a wedding vow, justice.
Hosea was a prophet who lived in Israel a little over 700 years before Christ. His name means, “salvation” and his life is a testimony to the fact that God will save. God will save again, and again, and again.
The story of Hosea is meant as a symbol, or is known as a “prophetic drama”. Hosea marries a woman named Gomer and fathers three children. Gomer then leaves Hosea, commits adultery, and is left destitute. Hosea then seeks her out, pays off a debt she had incurred, and brings her home. The scriptures say this marriage, broken and restored by grace is meant to illustrate God’s relationship with Israel (Hosea = God, Gomer = the people of Israel).
Within Hosea’s story, God shares God’s own heart. God shares of heartbreak when the people take the economic prosperity God provided and use it in ways that break their covenant with God. God shares of frustration when celebrations of their relationship lose their meaning and become empty parties. And yet, when it’s all said and done, God’s steadfast-loving-kindness wins the day. God seeks out God’s people and invites them again into relationship promising, “I will accept you as my wife forever, and…I will give you justice, fairness, love, kindness, [and I will give you] faithfulness. Then you will truly know who I am.” – Hosea 2:19-20.
When the people of Israel begin to stumble and fall, God calls up them to remember the vows they shared saying, “But as for you, return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” – Hosea 12:6
The story of Hosea places justice, mishpat, within the context of love. Justice is not merely a measuring rod of a healthy society, justice is a natural manifestation of love. Or as Dr. Cornel West put it, “Just like tenderness if what love feels like in private”…“Justice is what love looks like in public.” To say you will give someone, or some community, justice is to say that you will do right by them. Isn’t that a foundational expression of love? Isn’t that the least love requires, to do right by another?
May the certainty of God’s love never leave you or forsake. May the promise of God’s daily salvation comfort you. And may God do right by you and by all according to God’s unfailing love. Amen.
If you want to learn more about Hosea check out this video.