Summary: The story of Israel marriage to Yaweh which was marred by unfaithfulness and betrayal - resulting in separation and divorce. Also the account of God's love and faithfulness - shown in His determination to reconcile with His erring wife.
The Bible: A love story
Pt 2 : Adultery and Divorce
In the last message, we saw how Yahweh entered into a spiritual 'marriage' with His chosen bride, the nation of Israel. Like Boaz with Ruth, He had first redeemed her (from Egypt) and then entered into a sacred covenant (berith / diatheke) with her at Sinai (see previous message: 'A Marriage made in heaven?').
Unfortunately, the course of the marriage did not (nor could not) run as smoothly as the wedding itself!
Remember that the covenant of marriage entered into by Yahweh and His bride was a contract (like any other contract) and, as such, was conditional upon both sides upholding their end of the bargain - so to speak! For Israel's part, her responsibility was to adhere to the requirements of the ketubah (marriage contract - otherwise known as the 'Book of the Law' : Ex.24:7). This is what the Scriptures simply refer to as 'the Law' (John 1:17) - and Israel, as the bride, were contractually bound to keep it!
Yahweh's proposal (Ex. 19:5):
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then ........
And the 'bride's' response (Exodus 24:3):
When Moses went and told the people all the Lord's words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.”
They had declared fidelity to one another!
Now the 'husband' was certainly going to be faithful:
Know therefore that the Lord (Yahweh) your God is God (Elohim); he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.
Israel, in its turn, was to remain faithful and devoted to her husband as per (in particular) the first two stipulations of the marriage contract (the Ten Commandments):
“You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image........... You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God...." (Exodus 20:3-5 )
Idol worship would be a betrayal of these vows of fidelity - a 'cheating' on the husband, if you will - and such marital infidelity would evoke justifiable anger and jealousy on the His part! Ardently desiring Israel's love and devotion (analogous to marital fidelity), Yahweh says to His loved one:
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 10:12).
Idolatry - the following after other 'gods' (even though these were false gods) would, in this context, constitute marital betrayal - even a form of spiritual prostitution! Bowing down to foreign gods would be equivalent to falling in love with other men . Even entering into alliances with other nations controlled by these foreign gods (see message 'Israel under attack') would be tantamount to turning to men other than one's husband for love and protection!
And such became the case! The fatal flaw in this first marriage (the Old Covenant) didn't take very long to emerge.
Even before Moses had brought down from Mt Sinai the two stone tablets which constituted the 'Book of the Covenant', that they had sworn to uphold, the people were violating their oath of loyalty to Yahweh by breaking the first two stipulations. They were dancing in frenzy around the statue of a golden calf - which may well have represented Apis, the bull-god of Egypt(Ex.32:1-6).
This appalling act highlighted the extent of Israel's infidelity! The wedding was barely over (a mere 47 days old) and they were already cheating on their husband!
We today find these actions almost inexplicable! The nation had been delivered from Egypt (Exodus 12), led by a cloud and pillar of fire (Exodus 13), miraculously brought through the parted waters of the Red Sea (Exodus 14), fed with manna and quails from heaven (Exodus 16), supernaturally given water to drink (Exodus 17) and accorded a resounding victory over the Amalekites (Exodus 17). In the face of such evident Divine deliverance and preservation, how could they have so easily reverted to worshipping the gods of Egypt?
To understand this, we need to understand the culture and mentality of that time. If we go to Ezekiel 23, we find the nation of Israel is represented by two sisters:
The older was named Oholah, and her sister was Oholibah......Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem (Ezekiel 23:4).
So Oholah (Samaria - Northern kingdom of Israel) and Oholibah (Jerusalem - Southern kingdom of Judah) represented the nation of Israel in its entirety. And what we then discover is that both sisters had been engaged in idol worship in Egypt for perhaps the whole four hundred years of the engagement period (Erusin) leading up to the wedding! And notice here that their infidelity is couched in sexual terminology which must be understood in terms of the impending marriage and (lack of) spiritual faithfulness to her 'fiancé'.