“Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband,[Jeremiah 3:20]
so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel,”
declares the LORD.
In my last post in this series, I laid the Biblical foundation for Israel’s identity as the elect bride of God. God chose for Himself a covenant people from all the nations of the earth. After redeeming Israel from Egypt, she became His treasured possession and cherished bride by entering into a marriage covenant with the LORD at Sinai.
Sadly, Israel proved to be an unfaithful wife and persisted in unbelief and idolatry for generations, despite God’s extraordinary long-suffering and mercy. Even God’s mercy and patience has limits, and He finally resolved to give Israel a certificate of divorce.
A WAYWARD WIFE AND A MERCIFUL GOD
The LORD said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? 7And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. 8She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore.“[Jeremiah 3:6-8]
The LORD offered Israel an exclusive covenant relationship at Sinai, and the people unanimously accepted, saying “everything you have said we will do and obey.” God offered them a life and a home. He offered protection, provision, and even His very presence. He offered them His instructions for blessings and warnings for cursing. Most of all, the LORD was offering unconditional love and covenantal faithfulness overflowing upon them with unimaginable blessing and joy for generations to come.
It did not take long, however, for Israel to break faith. Before Moses could even get back down the mountain to confirm the marriage contract, God’s chosen bride was already going after another god, provoking the LORD to anger [see Exodus 32]. Except for a few good years, Israel persistently played the whore, even though God patiently waited for her, continually calling his people to repent and return to Him.
For hundreds of years, God showed extraordinary mercy to His elect bride. Like Hosea bearing the heartbreak of being married to the likes of Gomer, the LORD knew the pain of a wayward wife.
God’s judgment and anger finally exceeded His mercy, however. He could no longer turn a blind eye to Israel’s brazen idolatry and deliberate disregard for Him as her “Husband.” So God put away Israel — writing her a certificate of divorce, expelling her from her homeland, exposing her lewdness and perversion and giving her over to her vile lovers — the gods of the nations — where she would be lost and absorbed by the nations.
“Plead with your mother, plead—[Hosea 2:2]
for she is not my wife,
and I am not her husband—
that she put away her whoring from her face,
and her adultery from between her breasts.“
I know Ephraim,[Hosea 5:3-4]
and Israel is not hidden from me;
for now, O Ephraim, you have played the whore;
Israel is defiled.
4Their deeds do not permit them
to return to their God.
For the spirit of whoredom is within them,
and they know not the LORD.
DIVORCE and DISPERSION
Israel has been swallowed up; They are now among the nations Like a vessel in which no one delights.[Hosea 8:8]
After the death of King Solomon (circa 932 B.C.) the Kingdom of Israel fractured into two separate nations. Ten tribes formed the northern kingdom, which retained the name Israel — otherwise known as Ephraim — and the remaining two tribes became known as Judah. One nation now divided into two houses. Both houses would prove to be unfaithful and break the covenant God made with them at Sinai.
While the LORD finally sent Ephraim away into exile, He did not fully reject Judah on account of His promise to King David. Judah would become a remnant representing God’s covenant people — the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.
Gomer conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy [Lo-ruhama], for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.[Hosea 1:6-7]
Israel, on the other hand would become exiles, wanderers among the nations.
Because of the wickedness of their deeds[Hosea 9:15,17]
I will drive them out of my house.
I will love them no more;
all their princes are rebels ...
17My God will reject them
because they have not listened to him;
they shall be wanderers among the nations.
It’s not that the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai was deficient. God’s laws and statutes and precepts are perfect. The deficiency is not with God’s covenant, it is with the people who try — and overwhelmingly fail — to keep it. Failing to remain faithful. Failing to love the LORD our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and body.
For he finds fault with them when he says:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,[Hebrews 8:8-9]
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah, 9not 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. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them,” declares the Lord.
Because the northern Kingdom of Israel refused to return to God, He punished them and put them away with a certificate of divorce to be swallowed up by the nations. Interestingly, the patriarch Jacob prophetically predicted the fate of Ephraim long before this tragic divorce and exile.
But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.”[Genesis 48:19]
This begs the question. How could Ephraim (house of Israel) become a multitude of nations when they were driven out of the land and lost to the nations? There is really only one logical solution. Although the house of Israel was scattered to the nations, God will redeem Israel by redeeming … the NATIONS! Israel may have been absorbed into the nations, losing her identity, but she will be brought back to God through a new and better covenant as the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed to all nations and Israel is reclaimed by the God of Israel in the end!
Even at the lowest point of Israel’s existence, God promised to not utterly forsake His people forever but rather to one day bring them back to Himself and to their homeland. The miracle, however, is HOW God determined to do this, which is what I will discuss in my next post. Until then, consider the words of Ezekiel.
The word of the Lord came to me: 15“Son of man, the people of Jerusalem have said of your fellow exiles and all the other Israelites, ‘They are far away from the Lord; this land was given to us as our possession.’ 16Therefore say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.’ 17Therefore say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.’ 18They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. 19I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.“[Ezekiel 11:14-20]