The Sting of Death
“Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.”- Hosea 13:14
We will finish our brief study of the prophecy of Hosea today with a look at a verse that the Apostle Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 15. But to understand what the Apostle means when he cites Hosea 13:14, we must first consider some broad theological themes in Scripture as well as the original context of Hosea’s verse.
First, let us review briefly God’s view of life and death. During the present era, there is some good in death, for it is the believer’s passage into the Lord’s immediate presence (Phil. 1:18b–23). Moreover, the Lord’s will of decree determines all things, so God ordained death to enter creation for a time in order to serve His own good purposes (Eph. 1:11). Nevertheless, death itself is not a positive good. Our Creator does not love death in itself, and it is contrary to what He finally wants for His own. The Lord ordained death so as to work through it for His ultimate glory, but God allows it to intrude only for a time, intending to display His majesty in the defeat of death—His enemy and ours (1 Cor. 15:20–28). On the other hand, our Creator treasures life in and of itself. Life is a positive good, something He wants His people to enjoy eternally (Deut. 30:19; John 10:10).
Thus, while God sometimes calls upon death to strike His people, His true and final intent is always life for the elect. We see this throughout the book of Hosea, as the Lord’s call for the judgment of death through exile never destroys His purpose to bring His chosen remnant to life (Hos. 1:10–11; 5:13–6:3; 8; 11). Paradoxically, however, this life could come to His people only through death, the death of exile that would purge the covenant community of faithless men and women, and preserve a faithful remnant who would live under God’s blessing forever (Isa. 25; Ezek. 37). The chief aim of the Lord when He calls death upon His people is life—for death is the path to life in His economy. God calls for death on Israel in the immediate context of Hosea 13:14. He asks for death to exert its sting and power on the nation. Yet given what we have said, His true goal in this was the life that was to come on the other side of this death. Therefore, only new life could ultimately fulfill Hosea 13:14, not Israel’s death and destruction.
This is why Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 15:54–55 that Hosea 13:14 is fulfilled ultimately by the resurrection of Christ and His people. By this resurrection, God brings about the restoration and life that is His ultimate goal in death.
God’s judgment is not an end in itself. Instead, when He brings death and destruction, the goal is life for His people. In the condemnation of the wicked, the Lord is glorified for His justice and righteousness, and that leads to greater life for His people because true life comes from knowing God in all His fullness. God kills and He makes alive (Deut. 32:39), and we see this particularly clearly in the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Passages for Further Study