(A crowd observes “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt, at Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.)

In the Hebrew Bible as well as in the New Testament, God describes Himself as the husband of Israel using metaphorical language (Is. 54:5; Jer. 3:14; 31:32). It is important to remember that today when we refer to Israel, we mean all ancient people of Israel during the time of prophetic ministry. However, in ancient Israel this was not the case. Many prophets lived in the reality of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Israel often acted as an unfaithful covenant partner (spouse), committing metaphorical adultery by worshiping other gods and forsaking their covenant Husband – YHWH. In response to Israel’s non-physical idolatry God stated:

“I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. . . 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” (Jer. 3:8-10)

God warns the southern kingdom (Judah) against making the same mistakes that Israel, (the northern kingdom) made. “Sending away”, which is clearly the language of divorce, no doubt refers to the Assyrian invasion and exile of many (if not most) people of Israel to another land. God gave his betraying, unfaithful wife (Israel) a bill of divorcement, and then issued a warning to her sister Judah.

Having just cause, God, the faithful Husband, “divorced” Israel, His unfaithful wife. To make matters worse, God asked, “If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again?” (Jer. 3:1). In accordance with the Torah, the answer was ‘no’; a man who had divorced his wife could not later re-marry her (Deut. 24:1-4).

The people of the northern kingdom of Israel seemed to be in a hopeless condition: she had been divorced by God. If the Torah’s laws for men applied to God, He would not be able to marry Israel again. But as we continue to read, Jeremiah announces an invitation from YHWH that comes with a surprising twist.

God says to Israel:
“‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord,
‘I will frown on you no longer,
for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord,
‘I will not be angry forever’”
(Jer. 3:12)
“‘Return, faithless people,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I am your husband. I will choose you . . . and bring you to Zion” (Jer.3:14).

While the Bible witnesses and legislates not only human but also divine divorces, it seems (in these passages) to be following different rules. Human divorce and remarriage is final; God’s, however, apparently is not – a divine and human couple can still be reunited!.

This distinction of course provokes all kinds of questions about the fairness and nature of God’s Law, but thankfully they are outside the scope of this study. What do you think? How can we understand God’s divorce and remarriage of Israel? How can we reconcile it with other texts in the Hebrew Bible about divorce?

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

100 COMMENTS

  1. I love this Dr. Eli. I think it underscores God's forgiveness. In the NT I believe Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 19:3-9 that God through Moses only allowed divorce because of their hard heartedness/stubbornness. Divorce was never his original intent for his people. Two were to become one in marriage just as YHWH married himself to his people as one God, one Father. It doesn't call to mind for me any unfairness on his part, just that he would always forgive if there was repentance. He's not changing anything, he's making a point, in my mind, that we shouldn't ever refuse to reconsider our decisions or admit that we were wrong. God in his awesomeness has often put real fear into our hearts in comparison to the things we thought we had to fear. What could be worse than losing God's love, help, faithfulness? Nothing in my mind. He'd never go back on his promise to be faithful forever but he would make them believe that he could when they were so blind. He speaks to us in a way we could understand. Sometimes just to wake us up!
  2. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, which called itself "the one true church". However I eventually left the Catholic church because I saw too much that I could not agree with. Women were definitely second-class citizens. Boys could serve on the altar .... girls could vacuum and dust.
    • Maureen, I was also raised Catholic, Catholic school, the whole bit. I left for over 20 years but have come back. I'm older, I look at it differently. There are so many things wrong with it, some of them horrible. But look at the history of all religion. So many horrible things have been done throughout the Bible/Tanakh also. Nowadays I'm back to the Catholic Church but often when I pray I prefer the Tanakh and a Hebrew translation of the New Testament. The prayers are so much more real and alive. There is one God, one Jesus whatever the religion. I hope you have found the best way for you to believe and to pray.

      + More answers (4)
    • Praise Yah for opening your eyes, Maureen! We admire your courage to obey His call and continuing in it. As with many, we also became disillusioned with our mainstream bible teachers, as we began to study the Scriptures for ourselves under the leading of the Holy Spirit. Once we learned the truth and started walking in it, more and more truths came to light and now we can never go back to our folly (Proverbs 26:11, 2 Peter 2:22). It's an amazing journey of truth, discovery and blessings! May Yah continue to bless you!
    • The Catholic Church has ALWAYS upheld the belief that divorce in the form of separation with the Bond remaining is permitted on account of "porneia", while remarriage is forbidden among the Baptized. This was the interpretation of the written Gospel by the Church fathers without division for hundreds of years!
  3. He is merciful! He is perfect! Nevertheless, God knows that a person in the flesh might not be as merciful and full of grace toward a faithless woman who has been reunited with the faithful husband. God, on the other hand, will continue to be merciful, loving, gracious.
  4. We can understand God's divorce and remarriage of Israel because He is a forgiving God. He loves His people - not just Israelis but all who believe He is Who He has said He is!
  5. A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. (1 Co 7:39 ESV). Israel's and Judah's husband died on the cross of Calvary. Raised so to re-marry!
    • Yes James, you seem to fully understand the role of both houses. This confirms that God cannot marry any other nation, but are invited guests - Rev 19:9. Please email me on [email protected] I think we have something in common but we can share off this forum. Trevor Barnes
    • Exactly! Amen! Yah would never break Torah and re-marry the divorced! BUT... Yeshua died on the cross, so now Is free to remarry Israel at His return. The two houses once again reunited, the two sticks in Ezekiel’s hand!
  6. Great work, Dr. Eli. I have recently published a book (Has God Abandoned The House of Israel?), in which I touched on this very issue. My conclusion: If Israel came back to God, He would welcome her back as his wife, once again! And Israel will & God will!
  7. For a number of years now I have belonged to a Messianic congregation. It is definitely "HOME"! Our Jewish leaders are wonderful.
  8. This discussion raises issues. First is the example of Hosea and the faithless Gomer where the prophet does not divorce his wife but takes her back again and again. The second is the viability of the everlasting covenant between God and the nation of Israel.
  9. Jer 31:31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Jer 31:32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand
    • He did make a new covenant and they committed adultery again. They still commit adultery by not believing in His Son.
  10. My understanding is that a covenant was only dissolvable through death. Rather than "Israel" die, God chose to die through Jesus. With the old covenant dissolved, God could now make a new covenant and take a new bride which is the Church.
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