“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”[1 Peter 2:9]
As we have already seen through this series, Israel can be traced through a variety of theological threads and seen through a mosaic of different lenses, but none is more powerful as the covenant bond and spiritual union of marriage. The marriage metaphor communicates such vivid imagery and spiritual symmetry that is directly reflected in God’s relationship with His covenant people — Israel — His Elect — God’s chosen bride.
The LORD calls Israel elect — from the Hebrew bachar [בָּחר] — His chosen people — His cherished bride — His own treasured possession.
Of all the nations, tribes, and tongues on the earth, God chose the children of Israel to be His covenant people — and Israel too would have the responsibility to choose the LORD to be their God. After redeeming Israel from Egypt and leading her through the sea … the LORD brought Israel to the foot of God’s holy mountain. For the very first time, Israel was a free nation able to choose which God they would serve.
It was there at Sinai that the Bridegroom God entered spacetime and came down on the mountain as an all-consuming fire — yet coming near in order to offer Israel the chance to start over and have a new life. The LORD formally proposed to the people speaking through Moses with language of betrothal and covenant relationship. The marriage contract was written in stone by the finger of God and cut with blood. Moses was the priest mediator between God and Israel. The people said, “I do,” and the betrothal became forever binding.
God’s betrothal at Sinai was at the complete exclusion of all other gods yet ironically would lead to the full inclusion of the nations under the authority of those gods. In other words, the elect of God are always chosen to be a blessing and a benefit to all people. Israel was always intended to be a light to the nations and to proclaim the good news to the ends of earth [Isaiah 49:6]. Her election was not for the exclusion of the nations but for their blessing.
Yet like all of us … Israel did not always live up to her potential or keep her covenant promises.
The sordid past of ancient Israel is no secret. Tragically she has spent many more years estranged from God than in covenant faithfulness to Him — an adulterous wife chasing after other gods. Hers is a story of tragedy but also of triumph, life and loss, heart-ache and healing, exile and redemption. No matter how far God’s covenant people have strayed, two things have remained true.
- God always preserves for Himself a faithful remnant [see Romans 11:1-5]
- God will forever remain faithful to keep His covenant promises to His chosen people Israel. [Jeremiah 31:31-37]
The Apostle Paul understood God’s relationship to His covenant people as well as anyone. He knew Israel was God’s elect bride from the very beginning and that God is resolved to keep His promises and remain faithful to the end, even when we are faithless.
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;[2 Timothy 2:10-13]
12if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.
As we are about to discover, the story of God’s relationship to Israel — His elect bride — is the story of the gospel — how the Bridegroom God was willing to give His very life in order to ransom His wayward wife from her bondage and bring her back to Himself and present her as a pure virgin bride in the end — clothed in the radiant righteousness of Christ! The story of Israel is God’s great love story of redemption and restoration.
Before we can appreciate how the story ends — at a royal wedding by a glassy sea — we first must go back to it’s very beginning — where Israel first found grace in the wilderness.
THE WILDERNESS — WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”.[Exodus 19:5-6]
It is fascinating to discover how many times God leads us into the wilderness — into the dry and barren lands, the dark and dangerous deserts — only to meet us where we are and remind us that He is all we truly have. He is all we will ever have. That is what we learn in the wilderness.
The Scriptures emphasize the significance of the wilderness in man’s journey from exile to the promised land. How the heroes of the faith often met God in the desert. Whether the patriarchs or prophets like Abraham or Jacob or Moses or David or Elijah, the LORD often uses the wilderness journey to radically reveal Himself in a personal and powerful way.
Of course this was true of that Exodus generation that was first redeemed out of Egypt and brought to the wilderness of Sinai and there entered into a covenant with the Most High — the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. The covenant at Sinai is the prophetic template and sets the pattern for the rest of Scripture.
Consider how John the Baptizer came as a voice of one crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord. Remember how our Lord Jesus was willing to face — and pass — His own 40-day testing in the wilderness. How John the beloved disciple spent years in exile on the desolate island of Patmos, only to see the Risen Lord revealed in all His glory!
And the prophets understood that this present age would end as it has already been — in the wilderness, in exile, in a desolate land, in a time of great trouble. And like before, it is in the wilderness that we will meet God face to face and we will know that He is God and that there is no other. What’s been done will be done again.
The Covenant of Betrothal at Sinai
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.[Jeremiah 31:31-33]
Almost everything about the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai was conveyed in terms of a betrothal — or in Hebrew thought a “Ketubah”. The Ketubah is a legally binding agreement and conditional covenant between a husband and his betrothed wife — who promise to faithfully commit to one another in an exclusively binding relationship. The betrothal is considered a legal marriage only awaiting the official consummation through physical union on the wedding night. To learn more about this amazing connection, feel free to check out Joel Richardson’s book Sinai to Zion.
Just consider the language at Sina that God conveyed through His commandments. They read just like marriage vows.
- You shall have no other gods besides Me — the LORD demands an exclusive covenant relationship. No adulterating. Forsaking all others until death do us part. The LORD is Jealous for His people!
- You shall not serve or worship anything before Me — the LORD is the supreme priority before all other things. No idolatry. To love and to cherish above all else.
- You shall not take the Name of the LORD in vain — the LORD has attached His name to His people and His people now represent His Name and Character. No disgracing His Name. Like a wife takes her husband’s last name and now is directly and intimately connected to him — a reflection and representation of her husband.
- Keep the Sabbath holy — the LORD desires regular, intentional, quality time with His people — continue investing in the marriage and keeping it alive in the spirit of a weekly time to reconnect with and reorient toward one another.
It is clear in God’s own testimony that He took on the metaphorical role of a “Husband” to Israel, bound by His promise to care for and nurture and provide for His betrothed. Israel was betrothed to the LORD as His chosen bride, which also bound God to forever remain faithful to Israel — even though she would perpetually break the covenant and likewise break God’s heart.
As we will see in the next installment, God spent generations calling His chosen bride — Israel — back from her idolatry, but she persisted in her adulteries until finally the LORD reached a breaking point and sent her away into exile with a certificate of divorce.
All hope seemed lost as God gave Israel up to the gods of other nations, and yet in the midst of His judgment — the LORD always reaffirmed His promise never to utterly forsake His people. No! He had another plan in mind. A new and better covenant. It’s just that it would take an extreme sacrifice by the Bridegroom God to make the way to bring Israel back and restore her as a pure and faithful bride in the end.
For your Maker is your Husband,[Isaiah 54:5-8]
the LORD of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
6For the LORD has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
7For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
8In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the LORD, your Redeemer.