Pangs of Childbirth

Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth. . . — James 1:18a

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 1 Peter 2:2

I am the mother of five children born of my body. Three of my children were born at home with the aid of midwives, who cared for me and gently guided my babies into the world. Each of my labors and deliveries proceeded slowly but surely, without any complications. Except for one. My last home delivery almost moved to the hospital when my baby presented “sunny side up,” rendering it extremely difficult for her to actually complete her passage. The labor pains were doing their job, and she was on her way, but just at the cusp of birth, she stalled. Oh, it was agonizing. . . . Not simply the pain, but our concerns for her health. If she wouldn’t come on her own, we would need to take drastic measures in order for her to be born alive. Fortunately, my wise and able midwife was able to help both of us, and at long last, our Erin was born.

As we near the end of the book of Hosea, we see that their time is coming to an end. God’s faithfulness to his covenant necessarily means that he will punish the unfaithful nation by sending all the covenant curses raining down upon them in his wrath. After their history of all that God had done for them and centuries of his true prophets pleading with them to repent, they can’t say they weren’t warned.

And yet. . . . Even in this grim picture we see a glimmer of hope.

The pangs of childbirth come for him,
but he is an unwise son,
for at the right time he does not present himself
at the opening of the womb. — Hosea 13:13

In the ancient world, a woman in labor whose baby did not “present himself at the opening of the womb” was in great peril, and so was her baby. There was only one path to life for the child, and that path was through the birth canal. In verse 13 Hosea presents to Israel in terms of childbirth the life and death choice which the Lord had set before them from the beginning: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deut. 30:19).

God has given them his word, has demonstrated his love and power in acts of deliverance and mercy and even judgement, and has sent the prophets to urge them to turn from their wicked ways. But they refuse to return to God through the only means which he has set before them: repentance. In their foolishness they are preventing their own birth. Even though the labor pains—the judgements of God—have begun, they stall their own conversion—refusing to be born. Jesus himself said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

But just as a child in the womb has no choice in the matter of being born, so also unbelieving Israel is unable to choose to be born again because they are dead in their sins (Eph. 2:1-3). Israel refuses to present himself at the opening of the womb because he is a stillborn child. Even still, God’s steadfast love endures forever. So in the very next verse we find this precious gospel promise:

I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol;
I shall redeem them from Death.
O Death, where are your plagues?
O Sheol, where is your sting? — Hosea 13:14

God himself will ransom and redeem his people from the power of the grave and the curse of death. God mockingly asks death and Sheol where are their plagues and sting, and we find in his taunting a breathtaking deliverance. God pledges to deprive hell of its prey, not only by not allowing the living to die, but by bringing to life those who are under the power of death!

We see this most powerfully fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was verifiably dead and buried in the tomb for three days before he was resurrected. Christ’s bodily resurrection signified not only the future physical resurrection of all who believe in him, but also the spiritual resurrection that occurs the moment a believer is newly born again. Through Jesus Christ, God deprives death of its prey, in newness of life on this side of heaven, and in the final resurrection on the last day.

Be Encouraged

God ransomed and redeemed his people by the drastic measure of the cross. In today’s first passage we see how we are brought forth and born into newness of life:

Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth. . . — James 1:18a

God causes us to be born anew, spiritually, by the word of truth—the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is because of his love, grace, and mercy that he makes us alive in Christ, but it is through the means of his Spirit-breathed word that life is given to us. The gospel is, as it were, the midwife who gently guides us into life in the kingdom of God. Once we are born into newness of life, the word feeds and nourishes our newborn faith, and so in our second passage Peter instructs us:

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 1 Peter 2:2

We learn in God’s word that Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life, is the only way any of us may come to the Father. God is faithful in his steadfast love and he holds out to us one way to life. Therefore, choose life, hope in Jesus, that you may live, and long for the pure spiritual milk of the word, that you may grow up into salvation.

Pray With Me

Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word. —
Psalm 119:12-16

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