In the second chapter of Hosea we read of Israel’s shocking unfaithfulness in allegory form. Meanwhile in Luke 15, Jesus tells a parable about a son who shockingly leaves his family in disgrace. These initial similarities beckon us to camp out in these passages and discover more.
Enjoying Unearned Blessings: Both the wife and the son of these two stories start out in a place of unearned privilege. In Hosea, the husband (God) has given his wife everything good and blessed her with grain, new wine, oil, wool, linen, gold and silver. These necessities of life allow the wife to experience joy and abundance and to celebrate feasts and festivals.
In Luke, the son enjoys life in his father’s house. His father is wealthy enough to employ many servants and to throw a festival at a moment’s notice. To be a son of this father must of meant a life of protection, comfort, and love. The son knew his future was secure because he would benefit from his father’s inheritance.
Turning Away in Unfaithfulness: Both the wife and the son reject the good, abundant life they have been graciously given. The wife cannot resist the allure of undiscovered lovers (idols) and chases after them with ungodly passion. Going from one lover to the next appears to be a life of wild freedom and pleasure. She attributes the blessings gained by her husband to her lovers and pours out her love and devotion to them instead. In fact, she uses the rings and jewelry given to her by her husband to attract her forbidden lovers. She forgets the husband of her youth and fills her mind with thoughts of the sinful pleasure she enjoys with her lovers. With these shocking acts she becomes the very definition of unfaithfulness.
The son is equally shocking in his actions. He approaches his loving father and asks for his share of the inheritance. With this he abuses the grace which he has benefited from and communicates a complete lack of love towards his father. Effectively, he is telling his father that he loves the things his father can give him, but not his father himself. Furthermore, he uses his father’s blessings to pursue wild-living, free from constraints. The enticement of sin once again proves too appealing to resist. All memory of his father is forgotten and he spends his time and treasure for himself.
Dishonouring God: Both the wife and the son dishonour the One they have turned away from. The wife had once committed herself, her whole being, to her husband. Now, what once belonged to her husband she disgracefully parades before other men. To lay with a man she will expose any amount of skin and offer any price. She knows no bounds. Imagine being her husband!
The son has brought shame upon his father and upon the family name. Not only did he disrespect his father by asking for an early inheritance, but he used the family wealth in selfish and sinful living. Instead of building up the family name, he has brought it down and dragged it through the stinking mud of a pigsty. Imagine being his father!
Hitting Rock-Bottom: Both the wife and the son come to a point where their pursuit of sin leaves them empty and exiled. The wife has exhausted herself chasing after temporary loves. Not only has she experienced the inevitable disappointment and self-destruction of pursuing sin, but God himself has disciplined her harshly. He has withdrawn his presence from her, leaving her naked and exposed. She has lost both her way and her privileged position. The grain, new wine, and feasts have disappeared.
The son found himself in a similar position. The allure of sinful freedom has only produced disappointment and destruction. A severe famine wipes away the last of his wealth and forces him to take desperate measures. He offers himself as a slave to a foreigner, and while he slogs in the shame of feeding filthy swine, his stomach grumbles for a pathetic meal.
Finding the Wisdom of Repentance: Both the wife and the son “come to their senses” and seek a way back to One they left. The wife realizes the hopelessness of finding satisfaction in fickle lovers and decides to return to her ever-faithful husband. She says “I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.” Her husband is better than any other thing the world can offer.
The son also comes to his senses when he compares his present situation with his past position of blessing. The hired men of his father have their daily bread, yet he is starving. The son turns back towards home knowing he is unworthy to be called a son, but with the thought that perhaps his father will welcome him back as one of the hired men.
Overwhelming Grace: Both the wife and son experience unexpected grace when they turn back to the One they disgraced. The husband had every reason to reject his wife’s plea for reconciliation. She has nothing to offer him. She was naked, dirty, and homeless. She looked like the prostitute she had become and her sinful mess was evident everywhere. Would you take back such a wretch? But God does. And he doesn’t wait until she is begging at his doorstep. No, he takes the initiative. He will draw her in and speak tender words to her. He will heap blessings on her and make her sing with joy. He will remove the stain of sin and put an end to evil. He will lay her down in safety. He will restore her honour by calling her a wife, not a servant. He demonstrate his righteousness, justice, love, compassion, and faithfulness to her. She will be loved and she will love in return.
The son had little expectation of his return home. He planned to express his remorse at the feet of his father and hope for the best. Instead, when the son is still a ways off, the father dashes out to meet him propelled by compassion. Loving arms welcome the son home. When the son expresses his unworthiness to be a son, the father responds by clothing him with worth and celebrating with a feast. The son must have been overwhelmed at the love of his father.
Conclusion: Do these two stories mirror each other because Jesus was copying Hosea? Maybe he was thinking of Hosea, but it is equally plausible that he was thinking of Adam and Eve. Think about it. They were given the unearned blessings of a perfect creation full of everything they needed for abundant life. They forgot God and turned toward the allure of sin, proving themselves unfaithful. In doing so they dishonoured God. Instead of being his image-bearers for all to see, they were a picture of disobedience and the shame of sin. Their fall into sin leaves them at rock-bottom, far from God. Here they recognize their nakedness and how sin has left them exposed. God comes down to seek them out and instead of delivering to them the death they deserved, he shows mercy and gives a gracious promise which guarantees a restored relationship full of unimaginable blessings.
This storyline will play itself out in countless lives throughout the ages. Each story declares the wonders of God’s grace. Together, they all point to the greatest story of God’s reconciliation with his people and his restoration of all things. This is a story which we all become a part of when we turn from the emptiness of sin and return home to our Almighty God.