Lessons From the Old Testament: God and Terrible Marriages

LOL Just divorced. And no, that's not my car.
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Yahweh has had one of the worst marriages possible!  Jeremiah 3 chronicles some of it:

“If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again?  Would not the land be completely defiled? But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers—would you now return to me?” declares the LORD.  During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 3:1,6-10)

Things got so bad between Yahweh and Israel, the northern part of Israel that split from Judah and formed its own kingdom, that He divorced her.  The practical import of this is that He allowed a foreign nation, Assyria, to take Israel captive and exile many of her inhabitants in Assyria’s other conquered territories.  The real penalty for adultery was death, but Yahweh instead divorced Israel and then was ready to go against His own prescription for healthy marriages in Israel (found in Deuteronomy 24:1-3) and remarry her.  The same offer was available for Judah, the southern part of the once unified kingdom of Israel, but it had no affect.  Jeremiah is told to prophesy her “divorce” as well.  This did indeed happen in Jeremiah’s lifetime when Babylon conquered Judah and exiled many of her residents.

So God has had a terrible marriage to Israel/Judah.   And we may suppose that His current wife, the Church, hasn’t been a complete blessing to Him either.

How has God responded?  Well, in one case, Israel/Judah, things got so bad He felt the necessity of divorcing.  God is a divorcing husband!  He didn’t want to do it.  He gave numerous opportunities for his bride to repent.  And I would suggest that this is what any husband or wife ought to do upon discovering unfaithfulness in one’s spouse.  This process would be greatly helped by loving counselors being involved and the prayers of loved ones and friends.  But there may come a time when the unfaithfulness cannot be stopped or it is so egregious or flagrant that divorce is best worst option.  God believed so.  This still did not preclude the possibility of restoration, but only God can make an erring spouse repentant, and His grace is desperately needed should restoration be a consideration.  Jesus does not require restoration (Matthew 19:1-12), but He certainly desired it, if possible (Matthew 18:15-17).

As for the church, Paul warns that individual churches can be spit out of his mouth (Revelation 3:14-22).  It seems, however, since the Church, as a whole, is now living under the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8), that we are no longer susceptible to divorce.  Though it seems the Church has been allowed to languish in idolatry for long periods of time, God has always called her back and brought her to repentance and restoration.  Individual congregations may, however, lose their “lampstand” (Revelation 2:5).  There is the promise, however, in such a church, that one who is willing to open the door to a knocking Jesus may usher in the restoration of this church under Jesus’ loving direction (Revelation 3:20).

What does this mean for our terrible marriages?  We must look to God for the same power to love that He has displayed toward his erring spouse.  We must love the way He loves even when, especially when, what we are getting in return is so painful.  After all, what does it mean to love someone if you don’t love them when they are giving you nothing but pain in return (Matthew 5:43-48)?

Related Articles: 

Four Views on Divorce and Remarriage (The Counseling Moment) ; The Truth About Divorce (The Counseling Moment); A Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage (The Counseling Moment); I Stayed (The Counseling Moment); Does God Want Me in a Bad Marriage? (The Counseling Moment); Lessons From the Old Testament: Passionate Marriages (Thimble Full of Theology for Daily Living)

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