Peter says that they were once not a people, but now are a people. This phrase has caused many to think that Peter is talking to Gentiles. Gentiles were not the chosen people of God, but now they are chosen and part of God’s family. However, I am one of the few who think that Peter wrote his first letter to Jewish Christians, the elect exiles of the Dispersion. I think this text is an excellent proof text revealing that Peter wrote to Jewish Christians.
“Once not a people, but now are a people” is actually a quotation from Hosea 2:23. But to understand this quotation we need to look at the context of Hosea. The first 13 verses of Hosea 2 tells the nation of Israel that they are not God’s people anymore. They are full of idolatry and immorality and God was done with the people. The picture is vivid as God describes Israel’s acts as adultery and God was divorcing the people because of their unfaithfulness (2:2). Consider the chilling words of Hosea 1:9 –
And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” (ESV) They are not God’s people any longer. God says he would put an end to their joy and gladness (2:11) and punish them for their infidelity (2:13). Now read Hosea 2:14-23. It pictures God reconciling with his people. The imagery is that of courtship as God will woo his people and the people will answer like they did when they came out of Egypt. The blessings would return to the people. And then we come to the words that Peter quotes: “And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”
Peter is saying that we, as living stones that are built into a spiritual house (2:4-8), are the fulfillment of this prophecy. We are God’s people. Before there was no mercy to be found. But now you have received mercy. But we learn something very important: when we are no longer acting like living stones and like a royal priesthood and a holy nation, then God has no use for us. Then we are not his people. God does not put up with us going our own way. We must be built upon the cornerstone of Jesus otherwise we are of not use. But Peter has confidence in this audience and in us that we are not that. We are the living stones and therefore we are God’s people. God was promising the restoration of his people. God was promising the restoration of his kingdom. God was promising the restoration of the relationship. God was promising the restoration of the covenant relationship with him. This promise was not simply to Jews, but to the nations, to all peoples. We are the people of God now.