Grace for God’s Adulterous Bride

Yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant” (v. 60).

- Ezekiel 16:15–63

Marriage is the most loving union that a man and a woman can experience, so it is an apt metaphor for the relationship God desires with His people (Ezek. 16:8–14). Out of all the creatures the Lord has made, He chose to love the patriarchs and their offspring, asking the Israelites only to love Him in return with all of their hearts (Deut. 10:12–15). Yet God received an adulterous wife who betrayed Him at every turn.

We are speaking from a human perspective here. The Lord knew what He was getting into when He married Israel, for He works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). God did not ultimately intend to marry each and every Israelite; if He did, none would have fallen away. Ezekiel addressed the visible corporate body, and he had to do so because he could not see into the hearts of his original audience. But preaching to all meant his message could finally hit home for individual Israelites. By preaching to all, the prophet knew that the Spirit would give repentance to the elect through this word (Heb. 4:12–13).

The nation—God’s wife, Israel—did not merely cheat on Him once, which would have been bad enough. Israel wantonly sought other lovers, so much so that Ezekiel speaks of the nation lavishing its “whorings on any passerby” (Ezek. 16:15). The people were not selective about who they ran around with “behind God’s back” but were willing to take anyone but Yahweh. Israel perverted God’s good gifts into idolatry, making graven images out of gold and sacrificing their children to them (vv. 16–22).

Wanton spiritual adultery also manifested itself in political alliances with foreign powers. Not satisfied with the Creator as their protector, God’s people sought other guardian husbands—Egypt, Assyria, and Chaldea (vv. 23–29). King Ahaz of Judah turned to Assyria; other wicked rulers covenanted with Egypt, and even good King Hezekiah thought Babylon was all right (2 Kings 16; Isa. 31:1; 39). Remarkably, instead of imprisoning His wife to prevent further unfaithfulness, the Lord decided to give His beloved what she wanted. The very lovers she sought via military alliances would come to her, but they would love her and leave her, they would violate and shame her (Ezek. 16:30–52).

Amidst all this, Ezekiel promised that after Jerusalem’s fall, the Lord would take Israel back as His wife (vv. 53–63). This happened when Jesus inaugurated the new covenant, which will be consummated at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6–9a).

Coram Deo

Many people think that God’s answer to sin is to keep people from committing it. On the contrary, His answer is often to give people over to it. When Israel wanted to commit spiritual adultery with other gods, God gave them over to those gods, as today’s passage indicates. His purpose, however, was restorative. He handed them over to their sin that they might learn the error of their ways. The Lord may do the same for us, but would it not be better to avoid such pain by obeying Him?

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 61:10–11
Matthew 25:1–13
Luke 15:11–32
1 Timothy 1:18–20

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