(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

65 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!

      • Adonai is asking for a repentance from a sinful nature. Thus performing T’Shuva (Returning with the true intent to serve and acknowledge Him as their Ehad).

        Hakadosh Baruch Hu

        Happy Hanukkah

      • Shalom, The answer, the penalty for adultery is death. HaShem put Israel and Judah to death (the mosaic Covenant A.D.70) then resurrected Israel (Again A.D.70) and married her under a New Covenant! My understanding! Thanks

  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.

      • Dee, do “many things wrong” with Catholicism include the doctrines of Mary’s sinlessness, role as co-redemptrix, the need to go through a priest for forgiveness, baptismal salvation, etc. There is one God and one Mediator and it isn’t Mary (1 Tim 2:4). Is Roman Catholicism truly Christianity? Please study it.

        • “Co-redemptrix”, “Queen of Heaven,” “perpetual virgin”– these are all good reasons not to pay attention to the Roman church’s doctrines on Mary. They are all part of an erroneous oral tradition, and have nothing to do with the Gospels which indicate plainly that there were children born after Jesus.

    • 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!

  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.

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including Jewish Insights Into Scriptures I and The Revelation in a Jewish Context II : Discovery. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

      • The marriage covenant God ordained. This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, therefore what God has joined– no man has power nor authority to divide one. God’s covenant with Israel based on Israel’s obedience, was that a stipulated condition at the first marriage?

        • Well, it wasn’t an explicitly stipulated condition of any marriage until Yeshua said it in the first century. But it is reasonable that this stipulation ought to be part of the terms of marriage.

      • But what did the Lord tell the prophet Hosea, but to “Go and marry a promiscuous wife”? Of course, the reason was to show that YHWH still kept his part of the covenant.

  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!

  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

  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.

  11. I eventually left the Catholic Church and became involved in a Messianic Jewish congregation. From the very first time I attended a service, I felt “AH! I am HOME.” I still belong to a wonderful Messianic congregation..

  12. 2Ch 33:7  And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen before all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever:

  13. I think the solution to the puzzle you asked may be that both Israel and Judah are plural unities composed of many individuals. When God divorced Israel, those individuals comprising Israel at that time were cast out of the 2 Mosaic covenants and 3rd Abrahamic covenant becoming gentiles.

  14. As a formerly back slid-den believer, I can vouch for the mercy of a forgiving Heavenly Husband/Father, who has promised his people Ephraim/Israel (& companions) to put our unfaithfulness in the sea of His forgetfulness.

  15. God sets the pattern. Eg:, the oldest son suppose to receive the biggest part of the inheritance or be king in the case of Jesse’s sons, yet David, the 7th son was king. Ephraim, the adopted grandson of Jacob received the firstborn blessing not Reuben the first son of Jacob.

  16. Well I believe that is the reason why Yeshua had to die, so Israel can finally return and be married back to Him. Israel had to become gentiles and that opened the door for everyone to be grafted in.

  17. I was going to say that individuals born to people in (North) Israel after God’s divorce became gentiles, but you limit the word count now. In order to bring them back in, I think gentiles in general are allowed in.

  18. A man and a woman are each singular entities, and so when they divorce for cause it is foolish to remarry. Nations are many individuals. While most may have defiled themselves, there is always a remnant who do not. In His mercy and justice God could not punish those with divorce. There is a national reckoning, and the just were “sent away” (שָׁלַח shâlach) into exile with the unjust. However I believe the metaphor of divorce to be pretty limited here. God could not completely divorce the faithful among them, nor could He revoke His promise to accept a repentant heart. Think of it more as a “trial separation” than as an actual divorce.

    • I agree with you. He divorced them from the LAND. He sent then away from the land for their idolatries. But from the very beginning of sending them away He was already telling them they could come back to Him! Like Hosea. Not like a divorce.

  19. I wonder if the difference is due to Israel being a nation rather than an individual. Jeremiah is speaking about a century after Northern Israel’s fall to the Assyrians. Perhaps God divorced that generation of Northern Israel but there is hope for a new generation of Northern Israelites to return.

  20. Since God divorced Israel, not Israel divorcing God. That shows us that divorce isn’t a sin, but what leads to the divorce is where the sin is. God hates divorce because he has been through it. So do not judge or view the divorced as unforgiven or second class believers.

  21. Perhaps this is why Yeshua said that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven one must be born again…not of flesh, but of water and Spirit. Just as Yeshua died and rose again, so must we die to the flesh and rise to live as the spotless bride of The Messiah…

    • Romans 7:1-4 is not addressing the Law of Moses. It is quoting Halakhah (Jewish Law). A tradition of man. It is just an illustration used by Paul for the following verse where it talks about the believer having died to the curse of the law.

      • Jocelyn, how do you arrive at that conclusion?

        Admittedly, Deut. 24 does not specifically address spousal death, but we do have examples that spring immediately to mind.

        Neither of David’s marriages to widows (Abigail and Bathsheba) was condemned/challenged as “illegal” (even despite his conspiracy to kill Bathsheba’s husband).

  22. God has been a faithful groom in His marriage relation with His wife – represented in the past by Israel.
    God does not approve of divorce but His faithfulness has moved Him to divorce-and-remarry His wife against the Torah. After all, He is the Almighty Sovereign.

  23. Thanks you Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg. This is a beatiful reminder of Gods love and mercy. Our lives as humans should also reflect love and mercy . The law about a man who had divorced his wife could not later re-marry her I think is about protection. Once again it´s good to have more than one thought in the head at the same time when interpreting Bible texts.

  24. God is full of Grace and Mercy. we as humans are not. so this makes perfect sense. This is another scripture that proves we do not loose our salvation. If it were up to us we would not be as merciful. Praise God He is forgiving. He will never leave us or forsake us.

  25. God is the one who made people, but he’s the only one who can change the law because he was talking about his children not about unions of personal marriage he was talking about his nation that he chose to be his children of love and obedience to his commandments

  26. God’s divorce and remarriage of Israel can only be understood based on His everlasting love for His elect .Let’s therefore just forget the symbolic divorce of Israel and show our trust in Yahweh as our “one” and “only” God and Saviour and give no praise to any other gods.

  27. Isaiah 43:9 – God Yahweh promises to Save Israel
    Jeremiah 31 – Israel Will Return to God Yahweh
    Yahweh promises to save “all” of Israel (all 12 tribes) but then Israel must call on Him “alone”, by His Holy name YAHWEH.

  28. Joël 2:32 – Yahweh promises Israel – “ Then whoever (of Israel) calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved. Those who escape will be on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem. Among the survivors will be those whom Yahweh calls, as Yahweh has promised”.

  29. Paul solved this dilemma. The Law operates as long as one is alive (Romans 7.1-3). After Jesus died and rose from the dead, He could remarry Israel since death had abrogated the Law. So God kept the Law and yet provided a way to restore Israel.

  30. I myself, have been married and divorced twice.Only to marry a third time.I have children with my first wife.She and her family were all confessing and professing LDS/ Latter Day Saints or Mormans.I only confessed Christ crucified for the remission of my sins.I could not divorce HIM. I remain HIS

  31. Ezequiel 34:12 says they house of Israel (10 tribes only) were sent away in a cloudy and dark day…..up to this day the have not returned and they assimilated in to all the corners of the earth living as gentiles not knowing who they are. Hosea says very clear too

  32. According to Torah a divorce woman cannot return if she becomes another mans mate. Deu 24:1-4. In 1 kings 11:31 God tells Salomon I’m going to split the kingdom. Your servant will get 10 pieces and your son 1 ( the son belongs to 1 plus the one getting)

  33. Chapter 11 of 1 kings tells how Salomon tries to kill the servant. He fled to Egypt until Salomon dies. He (Jeroboam) returned and was crowned the 1 king of Israel. The son Roboam was crowned the 1 king of Judah. Right after Salomon dies. This is the divorce

  34. The 12 tribes literally became 2 houses. Both knew about the divorce and they knew there was no way to return. The only way for man to retake the ex was for him to died, be dead 3 days, and raise up from the dead as a new man

  35. Hosea 1:6 says, He will give us life back after the second day!..on the 3rd day! This is the mister y’all prophets wanted to unsolved and Paul in Romans 9:25 connects Hosea 1 to the same people. The israel of the 1st century was the house of Judah only.

  36. The house of Israel in the 1 century were living as gentiles Amos 9:9. They forgot who they are and the name of their God and the instructions. In this days Hod is putting in our hearts to know this, to know who we are House of Israel as gentiles

  37. So much profundity! 🙂

    I often hear people say “… but God has to follow his own torah.” I don’t see that in scripture, and your example, Eli, shows it to be a false assumption.

    In Jer.3:1, God(through Jeremiah’s lips/pen) seems to equate a divorced woman’s harlotry/fornications/prostitution with remarriage.

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Story of Our Hebrew Fathers: Abraham and Isaac and Leviticus and The New Testament. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

      • Absolutely (in my opinion). Being made in His image/likeness doesn’t make us in all ways the same as God. We’ve no disagreement there, I’m sure.

        As lawgiver for and “creator” of my children, I have certainly given them instructions that do not likewise apply to me. Thus also with God.

  38. Malachi 2:11 may also be equating the two things: “For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of [YHVH], which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.” (ESV)

    Malachi could, however, be making a literal point (see NIV/NLT/CEV) about Judah’s men marrying idolatrous women (Solomon, et al)

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