“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ ” 1Corinthians 15:54-55 (NAS)
This Old Testament quote to the Corinthian church by the apostle Paul was originally penned through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the prophet Hosea.
It’s found in our Bibles in chapter thirteen of Hosea in verse 14 in which the LORD says: “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion will be hidden from My sight.” (NAS) A couple of things we should note here concerning the New American translation of Hosea. It poses the first two statements in verse 13 as questions where most other translations do not. Here’s an example of the American Standard Version (the precursor to the NAS translation) “I will ransom them from the power of Sheol; I will redeem them from death: O death, where are thy plagues? O Sheol, where is thy destruction? Repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.” God’s prophetic intention in His overall plan for mankind in light of the promised Messiah seems to this writer to be a little clearer in this translation. The LORD is saying He’s going to be the one to pay the ransom price. Jesus stated it this way: “..just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28; NAS) Through Hosea, the LORD said He was going to be the one who will be the go’el, the close relative who’ll be the Redeemer. We can draw from this prophetic statement the need in God’s plan to come in the flesh, incarnate as Jesus Christ, that close relative who was “made like His brethren in in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Heb. 2:17) Secondly, other translations offer the latter part of the verse this way: “O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction!” (NKJV) The Hebrew word ‘ehiy can be translated either “Where are” or “I will be”. Do you find it interesting that both translations of that word once again work well when considered in the context of God’s statement through Hosea? When translated as “where are” it is posed in a rhetorical sense with the answer understood. There is no victory, there is no plague or sting, because the LORD will destroy the power of the grave and be a plague to death itself by rendering it powerless in His grand plan through the resurrection of Christ! Moreover, He’s not going to change His mind! As usual, when we know the context of the Old Testament book from which the Spirit moves a New Testament prophet to quote, we are better able to grasp not only the obvious point that is being driven home, but more subtle ones as well. In the latter parts of Hosea chapter thirteen, the LORD through the prophet moves from the central theme of the letter to that point, judgment and the corresponding death of the nation, to the promise of resurrection and restoration. If you’ve read any of the books of the prophets of the Old Testament, whether considered a major or minor prophet, you’ll find this theme of judgment and then restoration for those who repent and return to God runs concurrent through them all. You’ll notice this theme is evident in the New Testament as well, with a slight variance. The New Testament typically reminds the believer that he or she was found in rebellion to God, judged and was destined for an eternal death. However, the faithful one was willing to repent, died in the waters of immersion (being immersed into Jesus’ death, Rom. 6:3) received the gift of the Holy Spirit, was restored and guaranteed by reason of the indwelling Holy Spirit a resurrection from the dead. The thrust of the New Testament for the Lord’s people is not judgment but victory in Christ Jesus, the One who fulfilled the promises of our text as recorded by Hosea in the Spirit. If death has no victory or sting, then the people of God today can live a victorious and purposeful life without fear of death knowing the promises of God are irrevocable for the faithful. Let’s remember that Jesus partook of flesh and blood that He would render powerless Satan and “deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Heb. 2:15) Praise God for His great plan!