In my opinion, one of the most beautiful verses in the entire Bible is Hosea 2:16
And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and thou shalt call me no more Baali.
This verse is amazing. But before we can understand it in all of its depth and beauty, we must understand the context of this scripture.
This verse was written by the prophet Hosea, whose name means “Salvation”. God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute, as a symbol for the spiritual prostitution that Israel was committing by leaving the Lord (Hosea 1:2). Hosea’s relationship to his unfaithful wife is a picture of Jehovah’s relationship with the unfaithful Jewish nation (3:1). The nation has been a harlot, forgetting God and chasing other lovers (1:5, 2:13); because of this God promises judgement (1:6-13). But after all his promises of judgement, he also foretells of a day when he would woo the country back to himself (2:14-15). He promises a day when he would give her peace (2:18), and betroth her to himself “for ever…in lovingkindness, and in mercies” (2:19).
It is “at that day”, God tells her, “thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali”. Really, the entire book of Hosea is about marriage and love as a symbol for our relationship with God. If we are going to understand Hosea 2:16, it has to be in the context of marriage.
The words Ish and Baal both mean “husband” in the Hebrew language; but they carry this meaning in different ways. (The letter “-i” on the end of the words means “my”; ishi and baali both mean “my husband”.) Baal is a general word for being a husband or being married to someone; and it has this meaning about 25 times in the Bible. But baal also carries the connotation of being a master, a ruler, or even an owner over someone; and it carries this meaning over 45 times in scripture.
In biblical times marriages were not always for love. For example, if an army conquered another nation, a woman taken captive would be given time to grieve for their husband. After that, her captor could “go in unto her, and be her husband (baal)” (Deuteronomy 21:13). A woman in such an arrangement would surely not look at her new husband as a lover; he would seem much more like a master or an owner. She is married to him against her will. Baal does not always have the connotation of negativity or ill will; at times it is used to describe a positive or loving relationship (Joel 1:8, Isaiah 54:4-5). The fact remains, though, that baal still carries some idea of mastery, lordship, or ownership.
Ish on the other hand can also mean a husband (and is translated this way nearly 70 times in scripture). But Ish does not have the connotation of being a ruler or an owner. The word ish is actually a general word that means “man” (the Bible translates ish as “man” over 1200 times). So it seems that this word is a more affectionate title than baal. If you were to ask a love-struck young lady about her boyfriend or husband, you might say something like “How is your man doing?” I highly doubt that you would say “How is your master doing?”!!
With these facts in mind, now we can begin to appreciate the message of Hosea 2:16. God is telling his unfaithful wife, “There will come a day when you will no longer call me your master (baali). You won’t look at me as if I am your owner. I won’t be a husband that you are obligated to love. Instead, you will look at me as a lover (ishi). You will see me as a husband that you affectionately love.” At that day the daughter of Judah would not be Jehovah’s slave-wife, married by obligation to her “lord”; instead she will be restored to the days of her youthful love (2:15) as Jehovah’s betrothed.
Beautiful, isn’t it? That the God of heaven would pursue the affections of an adulterous nation that had prostituted herself with false gods; and that this God would promise to restore her and love her so much that she no longer sees him as an owner/master-husband, but as an amorous lover-husband!
But this motif in Hosea 2:16 goes deeper. As I said earlier, baal is a general word in the Hebrew language for being married. This means that, on some level, marriage automatically had the semantics of a husband ruling over his wife. I believe that this connotation comes from the curse that God put on humanity when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden: “And the LORD God said unto the woman…thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:13, 16). In other words, the default concept of post-Eden marriage is that the wife is under the rulership of her husband. But when God says what he says in Hosea 2:16, he is in a sense undoing the curse that he put on humanity. Our sin caused us to look at God as baali: our master and a person we were obligated to serve but didn’t really love or want to love. But God’s forgiveness allows us to look at God as ishi: a husband we are espoused to and love!
What is even more interesting is the fact that the word ishi is connected with a New Covenant in Hosea’s prophecy:
- Israel broke God’s Old Covenant (Hosea 2:5)
- They called him Baali (2:16)
- Jehovah promises a New Covenant (2:18)
- And they would call him Ishi and be his people (2:16, 23)
These same themes occur when God speaks in Jeremiah 31:31-33
- “which my covenant they brake” (v.32)
- “although I was an husband to them” (v.32) [The Hebrew word here is baal!!]
- “I will make a new covenant” (v. 31)
- “and they shall be my people” (v.33)
Jeremiah says that Jehovah’s covenant would be one in which he writes his law in our hearts (31:34). When we see God as Ishi, when we see him as our lover, we obey from the heart. We obey him and serve him because it is in our heart and we love him.
The New Covenant that Jeremiah and Hosea are referring to is the New Testament of Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross, God took away all of the Old Covenant (Colossians 2:13-15). The Old Testament was a baali covenant: there were a lot of rules and works that were demanded of God’s people and he related them more as a “ruler/owner” husband. The New Testament is an ishi covenant: there are still rules, but now we obey these rules out of a sense of love and God relates to us as a “wooer/lover” husband.
The depth and beauty of Hosea 2:16 is astounding! The idea that my Lord could become my lover, the curse of my sin could be reversed, and the old way of works could be replaced by undeserving love! In spite of my sin, in spite of every time I have left God for so much less, in spite of who I am and what I’ve done, God promises to forgive me if I repent!
“And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali.”