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Tuesday, May 06, 2014
Wendy Wippel

Francesca Stavrakopoulou, British Theology professor, recently found archaeological ''proof'' that God's wife was Asherah. (Also pointing to Kings 26 text describing Asherah worship in the Temple.) Christians reacted, appropriately, by asserting that God alone is eternal. (So no wife.)  But that's the beauty of it. He chose an all-too human one. Israel.

God made a covenant with Abraham, which promised to make him into a mighty nation, but, like anything worthwhile, that took a little time.  The tiny little group of Abraham's descendants were kicked around Canaan finally ending up enslaved in Egypt. 

God finally took notice of them, as described in Exodus 6:5:

 I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.

The one with Abraham, regarding his descendants. He remembered His promises to Abraham, and He came to their rescue.  Abraham reminds the people at the end of his life:

The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today.  The Lord spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. And he said:  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery “You shall have no other gods before me. (Deuteronomy 5:2-7 NASB)

The original covenant was with Abraham; this one was with the infant nation itself.   This covenant is a different one. A special one. And Ezekiel tells us why:

‘Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: “Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. … on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field. (Ezekiel 16:3-5 NKJV)

Like many unwanted infants in the ancient world, no one saw value in Israel and they were cast out of Canaan into Egypt and no one cared whether they lived or died.  No one but God:

“And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. (Ezekiel 16:6-7)

God "passed over” Israel (that's an equally accurate translation of the Hebrew and said, for those covered by the blood of the lamb, “Live."

When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord God.  (Ezekiel 16:8)

When a man spread his garment over a woman it symbolized the desire of the man to take the woman in marriage.

(Kind of like whipping out a ring.)

We see this symbolism again in Ruth, when Ruth asks Boaz to cover her with his garment as a sign of his willingness to act as her kinsman redeemer. In fact, the practice is still a part of traditional Arab and Jewish weddings. 

From the context, this is a betrothal.  And Israel entered into it wholeheartedly.

"After Moses told the Israelites all the words of the Lord and all the judgments,…all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the Lord has said we will do”’ (24:3)

You probably know that in ancient Israel, that was a pretty big deal. The first step was a formal contract between the groom and the father of the bride, which formalized the betrothal in a document called the Ketubah. The groom traditionally promised to love, protect, and provide for the bride. In addition, the Ketubah set apart the bride as the covenant property of the intended groom, even though the marriage was still future.  She was expected to be faithful, and adultery at this stage automatically rendered the betrothal contract null and void.

God recalls that betrothal in Deuteronomy 7:6;

"The Lord your God; has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth."

And then he issues a warning:

“So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, …— then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and … You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you (for the Lord your God is a jealous God among you.  (Deuteronomy 6:10-15)

Israel, as God's intended, is admonished to be faithful.

I think you know what happens.  

Especially if you've ever read Ezekiel:

But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore…because of and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his. … You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore. And you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. … And in all your abominations and your whorings you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, wallowing in your blood.

…How sick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute. (Ezekiel 16:15-30 ESV)

Or Deuteronomy:

This people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. (Dt. 31:16)

Israel broke the covenant, and the marriage contract was annulled. But Jehovah, merciful and gracious. "Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy" (Psalm 103) He was not ready to give up on them entirely. 

He doesn’t (as dictated in Deuteronomy 24), give her a bill of divorcement:

Thus says Jehovah… where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, wherewith I have put her away?..Behold, for your iniquities were you sold, and for your transgressions was your mother put away. (Isaiah 50:1 KJV)

Bring charges against your mother, bring charges; For she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband! Let her put away her harlotries from her sight.. (Hosea 2:2 NKJV)

He is the God of second chances. 

But the warnings of Isaiah and Hosea (both of whom prophesied about 650 BC), were not heeded. Israel continued their adultery. And by the time of Isaiah God set them aside:

"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 gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. … 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 3:6-10 NIV)

The marriage, God said, was officially off. But He is a God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. And He still has promises to keep:

"But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you … I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you,.……And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies' lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away.." 

“But—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled … I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham. (Leviticus 26:27-40 ESV)

And it is by grace we have been saved through faith, (you know), and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God.  (Ephesians 2:8 KJV)

So God is going to help them.

Therefore behold, I will hedge up the way with thorns, … that she shall not find her paths, and she shall follow after lovers but she shall not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better with me then than now. Therefore, behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness and speak comfortably unto her…and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy, and I will say to them that were not my people, you are my people, and they shall say, you are my God. (Hosea 2:6-23 ESV)

And finally--finally-- the couple will be reconciled.

But only because God keeps His promises:

I will not keep quiet because of Zion, until her righteousness shines like a bright light and her salvation like a flaming torch. you will be called by a new name that the Lord's mouth will announce, you will be a glorious crown in the Lord's and.. you will not longer be called deserted and your land will not be called desolate, instead, you will be called My Delight is In her.  …for the Lord delights in you and  your land will be married. (Isaiah 62:1-4 NIV)

Weeping came for a long, long night, but joy is promised for some morning yet to come:

Sing, O barren, You who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud…“Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; …For you will forget the shame of your youth, And will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore. For your Maker is your husband, The Lord of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; … “For a mere moment I have forsaken you, But with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,” Says the Lord, your Redeemer. Isaiah 54:4-8 NKJV

Now that's a love story!

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: The End of Until

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