Compassion from Christ
for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (2:10)
Peter drew an analogy from the prophet Hosea when he introduced the next spiritual privilege for believers, compassion from Christ:
Then she conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I would ever forgive them. But I will have compassion on the house of Judah and deliver them by the Lord their God, and will not deliver them by bow, sword, battle, horses or horsemen.” When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.” Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and in the place where it is said to them, “You are not My people,” it will be said to them, “You are the sons of the living God.” (Hos. 1:6–10)
According to that passage, there was coming a time when the Jews would no longer receive God’s compassion. This was directly fulfilled in the judgment that came on the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians (722 b.c.). But there will also be a future time (v. 10), during the Millennium, when He will have compassion on “the sons of Israel” and Judah in saving uncounted numbers of them (cf. Isa. 61:4–6; Jer. 16:14–15; Ezek. 37:20–22; Rom. 11:26–27).
In principle, Peter applied to the church—particularly to its Gentile members—the prophet’s words concerning the Jews (cf. Hos. 2:23; Rom. 9:22–26). As unbelievers, the Gentiles knew no compassion from Christ—they once were not a people. But now they had become the people of God, because they had received His mercy. Mercy is synonymous with compassion and essentially involves God’s sympathy with sinners’ misery and His withholding from them the just punishment for their sins.
Scripture discusses two kinds of divine mercy. First there is God’s general mercy (cf. Ps. 145:9; Lam. 3:22), which is evident in His providential to all creation (Pss. 36:7; 65:9–13; Matt. 5:44–45; Acts 14:14–17; 17:23–28; cf. Rom. 1:20). Common mercy displays God’s patient pity and forbearing compassion toward sinners (3:20; Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 2 Peter 3:9; cf. Luke 13:6–9) because He had every right, in view of their sin, to destroy them all. Instead, at the present time He mercifully chooses not to unleash all the disastrous consequences that humanity’s sinfulness deserves (cf. Gen. 9:8–11). But eventually God’s general mercy will expire and people will feel the full consequences of sin (Matt. 24:4–22; Rev. 6:7–8; 8:7–9:19; 14:14–19; 16:1–21; 18:1–24; 19:17–21; 20:7–15; cf. Gen. 6:3; Isa. 27:11; Jer. 44:22).
Second, there is the divine, saving mercy displayed toward the elect, which is the mercy Peter referred to. They receive not only God’s common mercy in this life, but also His saving mercy for the life to come (Dan. 7:18; John 14:2; 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 2:7; 7:16–17; 21:1–7). The elect, although no more inherently deserving than anyone else, receive God’s forgiveness for their sins and His deliverance from eternal condemnation—all according to His sovereign and loving purposes (Rom. 8:28–30; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2; cf. Ps. 65:4; Rom. 9:15–16; James 2:5).
Christ’s compassion, or mercy, for believers is a spiritual privilege that beggars language (cf. Pss. 57:10; 59:16–17; 103:11; 136:1–9). It rescues believers from judgment in hell and grants them an eternal inheritance in heaven (1:4; Ps. 37:18; Acts 20:32; 26:18; Eph. 1:11, 14, 18; Col. 1:12; 3:24; Heb. 9:15), which is why Paul called God “the Father of mercies” (2 Cor. 1:3; cf. Rom. 9:23; Titus 3:5). The words of one writer appropriately express how all Christians should feel toward such divine compassion:
When all Thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view I’m lost,
In wonder, love, and praise.
Proclamation of Christ
so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him (2:9e)
Finally, God has provided His kaleidoscope of spiritual privileges for believers for one overarching purpose: that they may proclaim the excellencies of Christ. There is no higher privilege than to be a herald for the gospel.
Proclaim (exangeilēte) is from a Greek word that appears only here in the New Testament. It means “to publish”, or “advertise” and to do so in the sense of telling something otherwise unknown. That which is generally unknown and which Peter encourages believers to publicize is the excellencies of Christ, the Savior. Excellencies (aretas) can imply the ability to perform powerful, heroic deeds. Contrary to what it might indicate in English, the term refers more to those kinds of actions than to some intrinsic royal attributes or qualities. Christians have the distinct privilege of telling the world that Christ has the power to accomplish the extraordinary work of redemption (Acts 1:8; 2:22; 4:20; 5:31–32; Rev. 15:3; cf. Pss. 66:3, 5, 16; 71:17; 73:28; 77:12, 14; 104:24; 107:22; 111:6–7; 118:17; 119:46; 145:4; John 5:36; 10:25 regarding God’s amazing acts).
For God to choose undeserving sinners as His representatives and use them to gather other sinners to Himself is a privilege beyond all expectation. It caused Paul to write:
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim. 1:12–17)
10 The remarkable nature of this transformation—before and after—is illustrated by yet another interpretive use of the OT (Hos 1:6, 9–2:1, 23), wherein the prophet had drawn parallels between his unfaithful wife and Israel. By the creative, restorative mercy of God, those who were formerly “not a people” were now made “the people of God.” Just as divine compassion and mercy were available to restore Israel, despite her unfaithfulness, pagans as well, who had no former claim on God’s mercy, were candidates (and recipients) thereof. The saints are simultaneously called out of something—spiritual darkness—and to something far greater—spiritual illumination leading to moral transformation.
2:10 / The status of Peter’s Christian readers is again defined, but in different terms. Formerly, before their conversion, they were not a people, a not-people, so to speak: those who did not count in God’s program. But there has been a fundamental change: now, after undergoing a new spiritual birth (1:3), they have been brought into the divine family as full members.
Though once a not-people, they are now part of the people of God. The transformation is described yet again, this time in terms of forgiveness and reconciliation: once you had not received mercy, being outside the covenant of grace, but now you have received mercy, on account of the redeeming work of Christ (1:3).
Readers of Peter’s words with a knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures would at once recognize them as a skillful selection of phrases from Hosea 1–2. For the prophet Hosea, the restoration of relationships with his estranged wife spoke of repentant Israel being brought back to God. For Christian teachers, the episode was seen as foreshadowing the admission of Gentiles into the one true church. It is perhaps surprising that such a strongly negative phrase in the Hosea passage as not a people was interpreted by the rabbis as referring to Israel and not to Gentiles, despite hints that God had something special in mind for the latter (as in Isa. 9:1–2; 11:10; 42:6; 49:6; 60:5–6; Mal. 1:11).
Verse 10 rounds off a passage (from v. 4) in which Peter has been spelling out the blessings, originally promised to Israel, that are now the privilege of the church of believers in Christ. The Jerusalem temple of stone is now replaced by the living stones of the new spiritual temple of believers. The priesthood, formerly limited to the tribe of Aaron and engaged in offering animal sacrifices as the means of approaching God, is now a royal priesthood shared by all believers, who enjoy direct personal access to God. They are individually able to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God because they are made through the perfect sacrifice of Christ. God’s chosen people are no longer confined to the physical descendants of Abraham, the nation of Israel, but by divine decision they are now the body of Christian believers. It is not that ethnic Israel has been irrevocably rejected by God and replaced by Gentiles (Paul makes that clear in Rom. 9–11); rather, for both Jew and Gentile the divine blessings to God’s people are available through Jesus the Messiah.
10. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Once again Peter relies on Old Testament imagery. He alludes to the prophecy of Hosea where the Lord addresses the prophet when Gomer gave birth to her second son: “Call him Lo-Ammi [not my people], for you are not my people, and I am not your God” (1:9; and see 2:23). The second part of verse 10 also is an allusion to Hosea’s prophecy. Gomer gave birth to a daughter and the Lord tells Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah [no mercy; or, not loved], for I will no longer show love [mercy] to the house of Israel” (1:6).
“Once you were not a people [useful to God], but now you are the people of God.” Here is an obvious reference to the past of these recipients. They were Gentiles and Jews who through the preaching of the Word of God had been converted (1:12). God saved them through the redemptive work of his Son and now these same persons are part of the body of believers known as “the people of God.” They are God’s special people, whom Peter designates “a people belonging to God” (v. 9).
“Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” The Greek wording indicates that the recipients had lived without God for a long time, during which they had tried but failed to obtain mercy for themselves. Peter contrasts the past of these people with their present: “now you have received mercy.” That is, they have received remission of sin and rejoice in the love and the grace of God.
The prophet Hosea contrasts the unfaithfulness of his contemporaries in ancient Israel with the electing love of their covenant God (Hos. 1:1–2:23). In the New Testament, Paul applies the prophecy of Hosea to the Gentiles (Rom. 9:25–26). Moreover, he regarded as Gentiles the Jewish people who had broken God’s covenant. Yet God takes Gentiles and converted Jews into a covenant relationship with himself. Peter affirms this same truth when he addresses both Jewish and Gentile Christians in his epistle: “You are … a people belonging to God.”
2:10 Peter closes this section by referring to the book of Hosea. Using the prophet’s own tragic family life as an object lesson, God had pronounced judgment on the nation of Israel. Because of their unfaithfulness to Him, He said He would no longer have pity on them and that they would no more be His people (Hos. 1:6, 9). But the casting aside of Israel was not final, for the Lord also promised that in a future day, Israel would be restored:
“… I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’ ” (Hos. 2:23).
Some of the people to whom Peter was writing had once been part of the nation of Israel. Now they were members of the church. Through faith in Christ, they had become the people of God, while unbelieving Jews were still cast aside.
So Peter sees in the condition of the converted Jews of his day a partial fulfillment of Hosea 2:23. In Christ, they had become God’s new people; in Christ, they had obtained mercy. This handful of saved Jews enjoyed the blessings promised to Israel through Hosea long before Israel nationally would enjoy them.
No one should conclude from this passage in Peter that because the church is now God’s people, He is through with Israel as a nation. Neither should one assume that the church is now the Israel of God, or that the promises made to Israel now apply to the church. Israel and the church are separate and distinct entities, and an understanding of this distinction is one of the most important keys to interpreting the prophetic word.
Israel was God’s chosen earthly people from the time of the call of Abraham to the coming of the Messiah. The nation’s rebellion and faithlessness reached its awesome climax when Christ was nailed to the cross. Because of this crowning sin, God temporarily set aside Israel as His chosen people. They are His ancient earthly people today but not His chosen people.
During the present age, God has a new people—the church. This Church Age forms a parenthesis in God’s dealings with Israel. When the parenthesis is closed, that is, when the church is caught away to heaven, God will resume His dealings with Israel. Then a believing portion of the nation will become God’s people again.
The final fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy is still future. It will take place at the Second Advent. The nation that rejected its Messiah will “look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10). Then repentant, believing Israel will receive mercy and will become God’s people once more.
The point Peter is making in verse 10 is that believing Jews today enjoy an advance fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy, while unbelieving Jews are still alienated from God. The complete and final fulfillment will take place when “the Deliverer will come out of Zion” and “turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26).
2:10 obtained mercy: Although we once deserved condemnation because of unbelief (John 3:18, 36; Eph. 2:1–3), we no longer are under the sentence of judgment (Eph. 2:4–7).
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 93–94). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2261–2262). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.