He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. (Sol 2:4 KJV)
Here’s an astounding thought. God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. We are all his workmanship, and he can do with us as he pleases. He has every right to command, to exact obedience and even to kill and destroy. He is a just God. He is a holy God. He cannot dwell with sin. He hates the wicked with eternal, unquenchable fire. And we are all sinners.
But it is God’s will to be merciful. He longs to restore fellowship with his people. But in order for God to restore relationship with His people, his people must put away their evil deeds and obey. They must be cleansed from their sins. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked and he calls all of us to obey, to submit, to “circumcise the foreskins of our hearts and no longer be stiff-necked.”
But here is the problem. God’s law requires us to love him with all of our hearts, with all of our souls and with all of our minds. And the relationship between God as a holy lawgiver and his people as sinners is not a relationship that is conducive to love. The more we try to appease a holy God by external law-keeping, the more we invoke his wrath. For he is beautiful and good. He alone is worthy of love and he desires that his creatures love him. Anything less is an affront to him, and he is just and holy.
In the Old Covenant, God loved his people and exercised his holy right to command and expect obedience. His people broke his covenant, even though his banner was over them. They bore his mark; they were his people. they were circumcised, and to them were committed the oracles of God. But they broke his covenant and rebelled against them, even though he was their master and husband.
He cast them away, and he was just and good to do just that. But God promised them a new covenant. In the new covenant, God said,
And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali. (Hos 2:16 KJV)
The King James wisely just left these two words untranslated, because the English doesn’t quite have words to capture them. Both words can mean “my husband”. But Baali is “husband” in a legal sense. The head of the home, the boss. This was God’s relationship to the Old Covenant people. He indeed loved them, but was their commander and master. God said that the new covenant would not be like the old:
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: (Jer 31:32 KJV)
Here the word for “husband” is also Baal. A legal husband – one with the rights of the husband under the old covenant.
But Hosea said the new covenant would not be like that. Instead, God would be “ishi.” Ishi means “my husband”, but the first time we see the word “ish” is used is in the institution of marriage in the garden of Eden:
And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. (Gen 2:23 KJV)
`Ish here has the meaning of “man”; and it is contrasted with `ishshah (woman). It emphasized NOT the legal and headship/submission aspect of marriage, but the aspect of lovers becoming one flesh.
God would become “one flesh”, a lover, to His people, and this would mark the difference between the old covenant and the new.
Eternal, almighty God, who dwells between the cherubim, who commands the earth and the sun and the stars in their orbits, who tears down rulers and sets up rulers, who so governs the earth that all the nations are as grasshoppers in his sight – this God – became flesh in the womb of Mary so that we would no longer know him as Baali, but as Ishi.
His banner over me is love. The law could only make slaves. But the gospel makes lovers. He unites us to himself by his Holy Spirit so that we are truly flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, as Paul writes,
30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph 5:30-32 KJV)
A banner is a standard, a flag marking the nation or tribe to whom one belongs. We bear the mark of our Lord Jesus and that mark is the mark of his love. His banner over us is love. He loved us, and gave himself for us. He loved us and washed our feet.
He had every right to command us and to expect obedience. He could justly have committed each one of us to hell forever and ever and would not have diminished his love or his goodness one bit to have done so.
And yet he chose, in his infinite love, to put his mark of love on us. What the law could never do, God did, by sending his only begotten Son to bear the sins of many.
The law could never change a heart. You can lock a murderer up and keep him from committing another murder if you have a strong enough cell, but locking the murderer up can never change a heart.
And God desires hearts that love him, not serve him out of slavish fear.
And, you husbands, this is what Christ requires of you. Your example is Christ. Your banner over your home is to be a banner of love. This is how the gospel of Christ is shown in your home. Not by your “right to command and expect obedience”, but by your responsibility to love, as Christ loved the church. And, no, these aren’t the same things.
I always puzzled over why a man would want a wife’s slavish obedience rather than her freely given love. Perhaps because of the blindness of sin. Whenever I write on marriage, someone will always say,
“But doesn’t a husband have the right to command his wife?”
Is that how Christ treats us? Commands never create hearts of love, and God desires hearts that serve him out of love. For this reason, he became our man, our lover, our friend. His banner over us is love. Christ does indeed have the right as our creator to command us. He is the king of kings. But it is not kingship that we are commanded to exercise in the home, but love. Love has power that nothing else has – it was the love of God that changed the world, and this is what we are to show in our homes.
This should mark our homes. We should have homes where those outside say of us, “That guy really loves his wife!”
If you do not know this kind of love, I would urge you to come to Christ and be reconciled to God. Come to the one who so loved the world that he laid down his life for his sheep. Come to him in repentance and faith. Learn at the foot of the cross what love truly is. You cannot truly love anyone else until you learn to submit yourself to the love of Christ. So come and learn. His yoke is easy; his burden is light.