LOOKING AT THE PROPHECIES
Actual marriage relationships between Yahweh and His people are not mentioned in specific terms until the prophets are reached, but several allusions to the image are made from the time of Egypt on. In the spiritual union of God with Israel Moses fulfilled the office of “friend of the bridegroom” who led out the bride (Ex.19:7), while Yahweh as the Bridegroom met His betrothed at Sinai (Psa.68:7) and was there joined to her (Ezek.16:8) when He assumed the throne, first on the fiery and smoky mount (Neh.9:13-15) and later between the cherubim in the most holy of the tabernacle (1 Sam.4: 4; 12:12 R.V.margin; Psa.5:2; 10:16; 47:6,7; 74:12; 89:18; Isa. 6:5; 33:22; 43:15; Jer.10:10; 46:18; etc.).
The covenant which was solemnized at that awful tribunal is in later days associated with Yahweh’s husbanding of his people:
“The covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith Yahweh” (Jer.31:32, R.V.).
The sanctifying of the whole people at Sinai was the formal betrothal or espousal, which, as was seen before, was the only ceremony connected with marriage in the East. Moses, as the middleman, was told what to say to the people:
“Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob and tell the children of Israel: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be mine own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which Yahweh commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that Yahweh hath spoken we will do” (Ex.19:3-8).
But Israel’s bridal beauty was marred by slander against her God and King; for while Moses tarried in the mount for instructions from the Lord the faithless people set up an image of the Egyptian god Apis and attributed their deliverance from the land of bondage to him instead of Yahweh (Ex.42:4).
In fact, not only was Israel faithless during the betrothal ceremonies, but the tokens of her virginity were wanting. She was already a “woman of whoredoms” when Yahweh married her, as was subsequently illustrated by Hosea’s marriage to a woman of similar fame (Hosea 1:2). The chosen one “provoked Him at the sea, even at the Red Sea” (Psa.106:7; Ex.14:10-12). Then—and God is always thus good—, as though to overcome evil with good, Yahweh rises in might and mystifies the pursuing hordes with a cloud. But the sea in the way? That is nothing. He cleaves it, leads the chosen people through, closes up the wound, and the Red Sea looks like blood from the yonder shore but like a sea of glory from the hither side. The very stones cry out in acclamation of the deed. The stony hearts of Israel melt into vibrant hearts of gratitude, and praise bursts forth from their lips in song:
“Then believed they His words;
They sang His praise.”
But sad, sad history of a hard people crammed into eleven words,
“They soon forgat his works;
They waited not for his counsel.”
That little burst of responsiveness, brief though it was, was ever a tender spot, backward toward which the eyes of the Lord were ever looking in centuries to come.
“I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth,
the love of thine espousals,
When thou wentest after me in the wilderness,
in a land that was not sown” (Jer.2:2).
That little love becomes the basis of a prophecy of Israel’s greater and more lasting praise when greater wonders than those in Egypt are done, and
“She shall respond there as in the days of her youth;
As in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt”
The Prophet Ezekiel also was used by the Lord to review the course of Israel as it was pictured by marital relations. And it must be borne in mind that these relations are not physical but spiritual. The marriage of Israel to Yahweh meant their spiritual union with Him, not of scattered individuals but of the nation. The betrothal was an engagement or bonded promise by Israel to have no god or gods but Yahweh. Eyes and ears were to be single toward Him, and, above all, there was to be no union of mind and heart with other gods or objects of worship. Such would be a marriage infraction. On the other hand, Yahweh was to provide for their needs, and do it bounteously, as befits an Incomparable King. He was to love, cherish, and protect them with all the forces of Omnipotence. Her property claims—which she had originally derived from Him in another capacity—went along with her, so that we have the proscription:
“Ye shall not sell the land for the age;
For the land is mine, saith the Lord”
Only a moment’s reflection will establish the fact that there never was any consummation of this marriage. There was never any national spiritual union between the people and their Husband-King. The tokens of their national virginity were always lacking (Jer.23:2-4). But Yahweh did His part. He took them into their promised and provided home—the Married Land, Canaan.
But to return to the romantic rehearsal and scathing invective of Ezekiel (Ezek.16:1-63): Verse 13 gives us the key to the highly metaphorical language of the rebuke. The subject is there shown to be the course of the kingdom over which Jerusalem was the visible head. By the wretched infant is pointed out the low estate of the Jewish nation in its origin; by the growing up of the child into woman’s estate, the increase and multiplication of the people, as it took place in Egypt; by her betrothing, the covenant which God made with the Jews; by her being decked out and ornamented, her Tabernacle service, religious ordinance, and laws, compared to which no other nation had anything so righteous (Deut.4:7,8); by her fornication and adulteries, the failure to trust in and apostasy from God, and the establishment of idolatrous worship with all its abominable rites; by her fornication and whoredoms with the Egyptians (Ezek.8:10,14; 20:7,8) and Assyrians, the sinful and faithless alliances which the Jews made with those nations, and the incorporation of their idolatrous worship with that of Yahweh; by her lovers being brought against her and stripping her naked, the delivery of the Jews into the hands of the Egyptians (2 Chron.12: 2-9), Assyrians (2 Kings 18:9-16), and Chaldeans (2 Chron.36: 17-21), who stripped them of the riches and excellencies, and at last carried them into captivity.
This 16th chapter of Ezekiel contains God’s manifesto against His abominable people. Where there was so much idolatry, there must have been adulteries, fornications, prostitutions, lewdness, and lasciviousness of every description, but those things were by-products. The point to be caught is the idolatry, the woeful lack of spiritual union between the people and Yahweh. Their hearts were far from Him.
Many of the expressions in this and similar passages we now consider indelicate. But if we were only half as squeamish about avoiding collusion with the world and its spirit as we are about avoiding some of the modes of speech which are used by the prophet to depict spiritual infidelity we should be wonderfully devout, indeed. At all events, to say nothing about the fact that the metaphors are divinely chosen, not to entertain us, but to “cause Jerusalem to know her abominations,” the figures have the advantage of being universally understood. About that, there can be no quibble.
Yahweh’S PLEADINGS WITH ISRAEL
More than a hundred years before Ezekiel, as the mouthpiece of the Lord, had delivered his invective against the infidelity of Judah and of such from the other tribes as clustered around that family, Judah had been warned by the things which Hosea denounced against the northern ten-tribe kingdom, called Israel from the time of its severance from Jerusalem upon the death of Solomon. Under the figure of a wife proved false to her marriage vows, and bearing children that would follow her example, the prophet represents the shameful idolatry of the ten tribes which provoked God to cast them off.
Information is conveyed by action as well as by words. The names of the children are all highly significant: (1) Jezreel (God will disperse or sow) is intended to put Israel in mind of their own unrepented guilt and of the acts of cruelty committed in their palace of Jezreel (1 Kings 21:1), and also to intimate that a speedy dispersion or sowing of Israel was soon to take place (2 Kings 17:5,6); (2) Lo-ruhamah (not having obtained mercy, unpitied) signified that Yahweh’s store of mercy for the ten tribes was exhausted (Hosea 1:6), though Judah would still have mercy shown for Jerusalem’s sake (2 Kings 19:34,35); and (3) Lo-Ammi (not my people) showed that from then on Israel was not God’s people, nor would He be their God (Hosea 1:9). But the tender promise is thrown in that someday happier conditions will prevail and God will fulfill what He has long before said about the number of the children of Israel (Hosea 1:10).
Next, the prophet exhorts his people to speak and to act as became those who obtained the mercy of God; and to remonstrate strongly against the conduct of their mother Samaria, whose captivity is threatened on account of her forsaking God and ascribing her prosperity to idols (Hosea 2:1-5). As an amplification of this threatening, the prophet enumerates a series of afflictions which were to befall her to bring her to a sense of her duty to Yahweh (Hosea 2:6-13). God engages to deal with them as a tender husband, and not as a severe master.
. . . “I will allure her,
And bring her into the wilderness,
And speak comfortably unto her.
And I will give her her vineyards from thence,
And the valley of Achor for a door of hope:
And she shall sing there as in the days of her youth,
And as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.
And it shall be at that day, saith the Lord,
That thou shalt call me Ishi;
And shalt call me no more Baali.
For I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth,
And they shall no more be remembered by their name”
After inflicting many judgments upon Israel, Yahweh would restore her again. He would deal with her as a very affectionate husband would do to an unfaithful wife. Instead of making her a public example, He would take her in private, talk and reason with her, put her on her good behavior, promise to pass by all, and forgive all if she will now amend her ways. In the meantime, He would provide for her necessities and comforts. Thus He would open the door of hope for her to be fully reconciled to Him. She would rejoice as at the beginning, would sing the responsive song, as when He first took her by the hand and she became His own. Israel, the wife, under such a show of kindness and love, shall cry, “Ishi,” my Husband, a title of love and affection, and not any longer “Baali,” my Lord, my Master, a title more suggestive of fear and apprehension, and also rendered particularly unfit because of its having been prostituted to false gods, baals, lords.
Then follow more unstinted promises of the bounties which would be poured out upon her, if she would but repent. He would make an agreement between her and the birds, beasts, and reptiles so that she should not be injured by them. Her flocks should not be destroyed nor her crops spoiled. Every species of war should be prevented and she would be safe from robbers and nightly alarms; for he would make her to lie down in safety (Hosea 2:18).
“And I will betroth thee unto me for the age;
Yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness,
And in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies,
I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness;
And thou shalt know the Lord” (Hosea 2:19,20).
The time will come when the names Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi, will cease as applied unfavorably to Israel. “I will say to Lo-Ammi, Ammi; and they shall say, My God” (Hosea 2:23). ‘I will say to Not-my-people, My-people.’ The reference is not to the Gentiles, but only to that people who had the divorce stigma, the disclaimer, which was not necessary to fasten on anyone save those who had been God’s. These promises manifestly await their fulfillment.
Again, the prophet is instructed to take back his wife, for whom he as her friend and husband retained his affection, though she had proved unfaithful. He was to enter into a new contract with her and give her hopes of reconciliation, after she should prove for some time, as in a state of widowhood, the sincerity of her repentance. During these “many days,” he was to give her money and barley to subsist upon, that she might not be under the temptation of becoming again unfaithful.
Thus did God represent the graciousness of the manner in which He would restore the Jews from the Babylonish captivity. Would they take His money and barley and wait for Him as a nation to come to them as He promised? Did they (Hosea 3:1-5)?
Over and over again the saddening story is reiterated throughout the whole of Hosea. Ephraim (the head of the ten tribes as Judah was of the two) on her then course was doomed to be cast off, but with vehement yearning, she is pleaded with to turn back.
“How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?
How shall I deliver thee, Israel?
How shall I make thee as Adamah?
How shall I set thee as Zeboim?
My heart is turned within me,
My repentings are kindled together”
Throughout the prophecy side-flashes of warning are given to Judah. Israel was totally dissolute; Judah was not so. Hence she is exhorted to maintain her integrity. If Israel will go to what was once Beth-el, the house of God, but now Beth-aven, the house of iniquity, let not Judah imitate them (Hosea 4:15). But Judah was not without uncleanness. Speaking after the manner of men, the justice and mercy of God seem puzzled as to how to act toward these unfaithful people, who, nevertheless, sometimes had a little goodness, even though it was “as a morning cloud and as the early dew”—quick to pass. When justice was about to destroy them for their iniquity, it was, so to speak, prevented by their repentance and contrition: when mercy was about to pour upon them as penitents its choicest blessings, it was prevented by their fickleness and relapse. These things induce the just and merciful God to exclaim,
“O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee?
O Judah, what shall I do unto thee” (Hosea 6:4)?
The only thing that could be done under those circumstances was what was done. Yahweh hewed them by the prophets. They were testified against and smitten with the most solemn and awful threatenings. He used every means and employed every method to instruct and save them. He not only sent the prophets who spoke plainly, exhorting, warning, and beseeching them to return to Him but they were also given divine visions, which had been declared and interpreted. Similitudes were used, and symbols, metaphors, and allegories, in order to fix their attention and bring them back to their duty and interest (Hosea 12:10). Truly, they like Adam,* had transgressed the covenant, sinning against light and knowledge as he did. Adam, in Paradise, transgressed the commandment and God cast him out: Israel, in possession of the Promised Land, transgressed God’s covenant, and He cast them out and sent them into captivity.
So it came that Israel was divorced, ‘cast away because they did not hearken unto God, and made to be wanderers among the nations’ (Hosea 9:17).
“When a man taketh a wife and marrieth her
then it shall be,
If she find no favor in his eyes because he
hath found some unseemly thing in her,
That he shall write her a bill of divorcement,
and give it into her hand, and send her out
of his house” (Deut.24:1).
JUDAH ALSO DIVORCED
And how fared it now with Judah after the terrible example that was visited on her sister Samaria, Ephraim, Israel? The answer is copiously and vividly given by both Ezekiel and Jeremiah.
Ezekiel shows it through the sisters Oholah (her tent, i.e., her own tent) and Oholibah (my tent is in her) (Ezek.23:4). Both had been long accustomed to the amorous embraces of strangers (Ezek. 23:3,8). And the key to the meaning is given to us in the words, “She bestowed her whoredoms upon them, the choicest men of Assyria all of them; and on whomsoever she doted; with all their idols she defiled herself” (Ezek.23:7).
The northern kingdom was sometimes called Samaria because that was its capital city; sometimes Ephraim, because that was its largest and most influential tribe; and sometimes Israel, because these ten tribes constituted the major portion (in numbers) of the original twelve tribes of Israel or Jacob.
Adultery, then, is a breaking of Israel’s vow to love, serve, worship, and obey only Yahweh, her Husband, by loving, serving, worshiping, and obeying some other god. Whoredom; is a giving of love, service, worship, and obedience to the rulers of surrounding nations for hire, for gain in power, in pelf, in earthly standing, and emoluments. The connection with idols is more clearly understood when it is remembered that the pagan monarchs of those days always claimed lineal descent from Baal; all bore the title Sons of the Sun (i.e., Baal) and demanded and received worship as gods.
After the leading away of the northern ten tribes by Shalmanezer, some of the people found their way down to Egypt (Hosea 8:13; 9:3; Jer.2:36), as they had long before found their way to the worship of Apis, the calf-god of Egypt; and others of the exiles, humbled by the captivity into Assyria, sifted back and clustered around and gradually mixed in Judah, so that after the Babylonian captivity all distinction between Israel and Judah, as kingdoms, is lost. All is Israel. The twelve tribes were all represented in Judea, and also in Galilee (Matt.10:6; 15:24). This merger or fusion was even apparent at the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jer.2:4; 3:12).
But before the sojourn in Babylon the prophet Ezekiel takes up the case against Judah and Jerusalem, calling Jerusalem Oholibah because Yahweh’s tent was still there. Referring first to the judgment executed upon Samaria, he says:
“And her sister Oholibah [Jerusalem] saw this,
Yet was she more corrupt in her doting than she,
And in her whoredoms, which were more than the
whoredoms of her sister.
* * *
Therefore, O Oholibah, thus saith the Lord Yahweh:
Behold I will raise up thy lovers against thee,
From whom thy soul is alienated,
And I will bring them against thee on every side.
* * *
These things shall be done unto thee, for that thou hast
played the harlot after the nations,
And because thou art polluted with their idols.
Thou hast walked in the way of thy sister;
Therefore will I give her cup into thy hand.
Thus saith the Lord Yahweh:
Thou shalt drink of thy sister’s cup which is deep and large;
Thou shalt be laughed to scorn and had in derision;
It containeth much” (Ezek.23:11,22,30-32).
So also in a similar strain Jeremiah, who was prophesying in Jerusalem at the same time that Ezekiel was prophesying about Jerusalem from Chaldea.
“Moreover, Yahweh said unto me in the days of
Josiah the king,
Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done?
She is gone up upon every high mountain and under
every green tree,
And there hath played the harlot.
And I said after she had done all these things,
She will return unto me;
But she returned not:
And her treacherous sister Judah saw it.
And I saw, when, for this very cause that backsliding
Israel had committed adultery,
I had put her away and given her a bill of divorcement,
Yet treacherous Judah her sister feared not;
But she also went and played the harlot.
And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom,
that the land was polluted,
And she committed adultery with stones and with stocks.
And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath
not returned unto me with her whole heart, but
feignedly, saith Yahweh.
And Yahweh said unto me,
Backsliding Israel hath showed herself more righteous
than treacherous Judah” (Jer.3:6-11).
Then follow addresses to the people of Judah and Jerusalem, exhorting them to repentance and reformation that the dreadful visitation with which they were threatened might be averted. The prophet sounds the alarm of war. And, because the destruction is certain unless repentance is shown, Nebuchadnezzar, like a fierce lion, is seen to be on his march. The lying prophets who had flattered the people with hopes of peace and safety now essay to excuse themselves, and, with matchless effrontery, lay the blame of the deception upon God.
Jeremiah, as God’s mouthpiece, laments the approaching desolation of Jerusalem in language which is amazingly energetic and exquisitely tender. The bugle of the approaching hosts is heard. The terrors of war seize on the city. A sickening wave of dread sweeps through the bowels; painful stricture of the pericardium is next felt: the heart itself is strongly affected by irregular beatings; a gush of tears, tuned by bitter wailing ensues.
But since Jerusalem was the place of God’s throne on earth, the very landscape and skies grow black with the dread thought of judgment on the favored city. A beautiful assemblage of the most striking and afflictive circumstances is formed into a picture of the land swept with the besom of destruction. The earth seems ready to return to its one-time chaos; every ray of light is extinguished and succeeded by a frightful gloom; the mountains tremble; the hills quake; all is one awful solitude, where not a vestige of the human race is to be seen. The fowls of heaven, finding no more subsistence, flee. Fruitful places have become a dark and dreary waste, and every city is a heap of ruins. Through the frightful gloom break the dolorous shrieks of Jerusalem as of a woman in the height of agony. Zion spreadeth her hands for aid, and there is neither help nor comfort (Jer.4).
Thus is Judah given a bill of divorcement and sent out of the house of the Lord. Will the most compassionate of husbands ever take her back? According to the law, He cannot (Deut.24:1). But that statute was doubtless made in that very way that God’s own mercy might the more clearly shine in His relationship to Israel.
Yahweh both can and will take back the wife whom He has divorced.
“They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him,
And become another man’s, will he return unto her again?
Will not that land be greatly polluted?
But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers;
Yet return again to me, saith Yahweh” (Jer.3:1).
But even after the humiliating captivity in Babylon, only a few believed God enough to return (Ezra 2:64). Nevertheless, the lesson of idolatry was learned. Never again has Israel inclined to worship more than the one true God. But what new danger threatened them now? The answer is Religion. They will not again turn to the amorous embrace of the strange lover, but that is negative virtue. God, as the Husband, desires to see in Israel not merely a system of refrainings, but He will above all things see tender and ardent responsiveness. “For such doth the Father seek to be His worshipers” (John 4:23).
Religion, as a set system of worship, is and has ever been the most implacable foe of spiritual life. Philosophy, as a set system of thought, has ever been the foe of truth. The Jews came to be the most punctiliously religious people on the face of the earth; while the Greeks, during the same period, grew into the most philosophical. So God’s message of grace and kindness through His Son was “unto Jews a stumbling block and unto Gentiles foolishness” (1 Cor.1:22,23).
Between the return from the Babylonian captivity and our Lord’s first advent there grew up various sects and groups of men among the Jews who vied with each other in their devotion to religion, to formalistic and ritualistic religion. But, while there was some individual spiritual life (Mal.3:16), most of them were hard of heart and unresponsive to divine love. In fact, they did not even recognize the fact of His love.
“I have loved you, saith Yahweh.
Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us” (Mal.1:2)?
The Hebrew Scriptures close with a reiteration of Yahweh’s invitation to Israel to return to Him and thus to reenter the relationships once enjoyed (Mal.3:7). After the captivity there was not the Kingly Presence, the glory light, in the Most Holy; there was no ark of the covenant; there was no miraculous fire on the altar in the court. But there was provision made for their sustenance pending their reinstatement in kingly horrors before the world. The estranged wife was told to look for the “friend” who would call attention to the presence of the Bridegroom.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet” (Mal.4:5).
Fredrik Homer Robison
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