God and His marriage problem
I mentioned earlier that I’ve gone all the stages from unmarried, married, divorced and remarried, and the same has God. No, I’m not going to compare myself to God, but we can still compare us with parables and stories of and from God. There are many stories and parables in the Bible, where some stories may be more personal for us, all according to the situation we are in, but all the stories in the Bible are personal for God. One of it I think are the most personal stories of God is when he is forced to divorce Israel … and separate from Judah. This story is also given to us so we can in similar situations resemble us with it, see and feel the emotions in play, both in ourselves and in God.
Some people have asked me surprising if God really is divorced, separated and remarried ? and I just have to respond as the Bible portrays it, yes. We will now look into His relationship with Israel and Judah.
We have previously (ESG 9) observed that OT recognizes four (4) legal reasons for divorce. The first three are neglect of food, clothing and conjugal love, the fourth one is infidelity. In God’s marriage with Israel, which ended with a divorce when Israel sinned, are all these four reasons brought forth as a basis for the divorce. And it is the Old Testament prophets who describing God as a divorced man.
It is true that we today have an unbreakable contact/covenant, a covenant which is not rely in terms – the New Covenant. But it has not always been so with God. His first contract with Israel had very clear terms of blessings and curses. This contract was made at Mount Sinai, and we can read its terms in Deu. 27-28.
In short, God married Israel at Mount Sinai, then He brought his bride through the desert, across the threshold by Jordan river, into Palestine where he gave her food (milk and honey) and wool for clothing … and of course, loved her and took care of her. God in fact gave far more than what was required by the law. He lavished her (Israel) with embroidered fabrics of silk and linen, jewelry and a crown on her head, and she did eat the finest food made of flour, honey and oil. She was simply exceedingly beautiful and got the royal dignity. For this she was known among the nations because it was perfected in His glory. (Ezek. 16: 9-13).
But there is a problem! Palestine was already inhabited and they had already their own gods. These gods were introduced to Israel (Israel and Judah) and she began to worship these gods and offered gifts to them, such as food and ornaments that God had bestowed upon her (Israel). The prophets describe these worships as spiritual adultery.
Israel was not united as a union all the time, but was split into two in 930 BC. The northern part become Israel, formed by 10 of the 12 tribes, and to the south part become Judah, formed by the last two tribes, Judah and Benjamin. It’s not all the prophets who speak specifically about the northern half of Israel (the 10 northern tribes), but talking more indirectly about them by comparing Judah with Israel, as Jeremiah does, thou he mainly talk about Juda.
But a prophet who looks at Israel specifically is Hosea. Through his life we see the whole process of infidelity and divorce, and Hosea will get to know what pain God have in this matter. God first ask Hosea to marry a former prostitute, named Gomer, who continue her fornication during the marriage with Hosea. The children of Hosea are also represented, and they reflects the drama where the first child is called “Jezreel”, who was to resemble a violent episode from the past, and as a warning sign of “Jezreel last day”.
The other two children, Lo-Ruhama, which means “not loved” and Lo-Ammi, which means “not my people”, was possible illegitimate children of Hosea. We don’t know for sure, but whatever, those children reflects God emotion and action. Lo-Ruhama – “not loved” – was a notice to Israel that God does not love his people Israel anymore, although he still loved Judah (Hos. 1: 6-7). With Lo-Ammi – “not my people” – came the terrible message that not only was the marriage over, but also that God stopped to be their God. (Hos. 1: 8-9).
God is now divorcing Israel when He says: “For she is not My wife, and I am not her Husband” (Hos. 2:2). This is the same text we also find in documents from the Ancient Near East (ANE), a formulation that was recorded in a divorce document. When Israel choose to return back to her first husband, after her lovers had failed her (Hos. 2:7), she actually itself admits that the marriage was over. Israel Is now here confronting a very difficult and large problem. God can not take her back! If He did, He would break his own law and the country would become contaminated – Deu. 24: 1-2.
Another prophet, Jeremiah, is confirming for us that this law is highly represented in God’s case against Israel:
“God says, “ If a husband divorces his wife and she goes from him and belongs to another man, will he still return to her? Will not that land be completely polluted? But you are a harlot with many lovers; Yet you turn to Me,” declares the Lord.””(Jer. 3:1)
This says that it is impossible for Israel to be reunited with God according to the law, yet Hosea foresees that Israel will be reunited with God, but how? We are going to hide this solution to another post (God’s provision to divorce with Israel).
Jeremiah deals more of Judah but he also talks about Israel. He starts by reminding Judah on her honeymoon (Jer. 2: 2) and then described her pitiful condition she has fallen into. As wild animals, she jump merrily after many men (2: 23-24) and she have forgotten her husband (2: 32ff). By whoring after other gods (2: 27-28, 5: 7) and give allegiance to other nations (2: 36-37), she became unfaithful to him.
To show Judah what she had become, Jeremiah compare her with Israel.
“Then the Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, “Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. 7 I thought, ‘After she has done all these things she will return to Me’; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. 8 And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. 9 Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. 10 Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,” declares the Lord. 11 And the Lord said to me, “ Faithless Israel has proved herself more righteous than treacherous Judah.””(Jer 3:6-11)
Here we han see in verse 8 that God gave Israel a bill of divorce (writ of divorce). Jeremiah speaks later that Israel shall return unto God, and Jeremiah is trying to find out how this can happen. Remember what he wrote in Jer. 3:1). He comes to the conclusion that it is not the adulterous Israel, but the children of Israelites who get this opportunity, and it is not Israel alone that is reconciled, but Israel-Judah as a union. But as I said, it is some problem here since the law (Deu. 24:1-2, Jer. 3:1) is still active.
Let’s go to another prophet, Ezekiel, who also describes that Israel as divorced and was “killed” by the Assyrians (Ezek. 11:10), while Judah was only punished (not killed) by the Babylonians. The killing of Israel is seen as a divorce. As we also mention in a previous post, adultery lead to stoning and thereby death. The marriage ended there.
Ezekiel begins by describing the relationship before marriage by describing Israel as completely abandoned and unwanted in chapter 16. She was abandoned by her parents to die but was saved by God (v.3-6). She grew up but no one looked after her, so next time God sees her, He covered (dressed) her nakedness with his own costume as an engagement, and then swear His marriage covenant with her.
In verse 9 Ezekiel describe that the new-married woman has the best food, clothes and oil that we mention above.
“Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. 10 I also clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. 11 I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. 12 I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty.” (Ezk. 16:9-13)
The long list of food, wealth and love tells us that she was not only taken care of, but had everything in abundance. Food, clothing and oil follows the same terms as we find in Exo. 21:10. But the fatal is that she gives all this abundance to her lovers as a gift when she starts with her adultery, instead of making food and clothes to give back to her husband. Ezekiel lists all the violations of these terms as follows:
“You took some of your clothes, made for yourself high places of various colors and played the harlot on them, which should never come about nor happen. 17 You also took your beautiful jewels made of My gold and of My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images that you might play the harlot with them. 18 Then you took your embroidered cloth and covered them, and offered My oil and My incense before them” (Ezk 16:16-18)
We see that all three grounds for divorce are listed, and Judah have broken them all while God has more than fulfilled them. The fourth ground for divorce is fornication, or adultery, which is found in verse 15:
“But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame, and you poured out your harlotries on every passer- by who might be willing” (Ezk 16:15)
We can also clearly see here in Ezekiel that God had every right on his side to end the marriage with Judah, but he did not. Ezekiel will not say whether God is righteous in this matter or whether God is unjust by ending the marriage. On the other hand, it is not given any extended grace to Israel, even though she did not sin as much as Judah (Ezek. 4:51 p.m.). It is here given an undeserved love for a girl who was totally abandoned and actually was saved again after letting herself fall down as far as anyone can get.
Prophet Isaiah speaks to Judah while they where in exile in Babylon. In this dark situation as Judah now is being, they believed they too are divorced from God as Israel was. But Isaiah challenge them to come up with a evidence for their divorce, a divorce letter.
“Thus says the Lord, “Where is the certificate of divorce By which I have sent your mother away? Or to whom of My creditors did I sell you? Behold, you were sold for your iniquities, And for your transgressions your mother was sent away.” (Isa 50:1)
Isaiah do not think that Judah are divorced, but only banished (thrown out of the house) because of her sin. The word ([שלה] shalach) ‘sent away’ is normally a technical word for divorced, but what’s happening here with Juda is not a legal divorce, because it has not been released a divorce document. Judas condition are considered a ‘widowhood’ in Isa. 50: 4 because she is totally left without a husband to support them. And like thee other prophets, Isaiah also comes with a hope that Judah will return to her husband and country.
“It will no longer be said to you, “Forsaken,” Nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate”; But you will be called, “My delight is in her,” And your land, “Married”; For the Lord delights in you, And to Him your land will be married. 5 For as a young man marries a virgin, So your sons will marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So your God will rejoice over you” (Isa 62:4-5).
As it is in our society and in our laws today, it was also in the ancient laws; the victim of a broken contract could decide to end the whole marriage contract, or they could decide to continue in the hope that things get better. God chooses to divorce from Israel, but He chooses to “just” separate from Judah, despite the fact that Judah sinned more than Israel.
I just love this message, i really love it, because I know the solution of a problem that seemingly has an impossible solution according to the law.
What I try tell you here is not that God is a divorcee, though He is. I try to point out that that Israel and Judah had violated their marriage vows, and God have all the right on His side to end the marriage – divorce from Israel. God’s anger and pain at these violation vows were placed on Malachi to all marriages, and not just God’s own marriage.
We will in the next post take more from Malachi and the well-known, and much-used phrase “God hates divorce”.
– MDR stands for Marriage – Divorce – Remarriage. A shortcut I choose to use on this series where I deal with some christian problems in the questions of marriage, divorce and remarriage.
– Bible Verses are from NASB, unless otherwise noted.