Woah. This was a sobering read. I just finished reading Raymond C. Ortlund Jr.’s book, “God’s Unfaithful Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery” and I’m still shaking, trying to figure out how to describe the effect. Exploring the theme of Israel’s harlotry toward God in Scripture, Ortlund shows that “What begins as Pentateuchal whispers rises later to prophetic cries and is eventually echoed in apostolic teaching.” (8)
Clearly, from the very beginning, the “marriage” between God and humanity is strained. I knew that because I know Genesis 1-3, but I never caught the full demoralizing effect because I never gave the sustained theme the attention it deserves, until now. Sadly, reading this book proves to this reader that spiritual harlotry is more-often-than-not not a mistake we make every once in a while. No, unfortunately, harlotry is the mode of life God’s people prefer. I think I knew that, but reading this book made me feel like I was looking at that sad fact straight in the eyes. I really don’t know what I’d do if not for Christ and the book of Revelation. Without THAT, the story of Scripture would be a devastating tragedy through-and-through.
Ortlund Jr. traces the development of Israel’s wayward promiscuity all the way throughout Scripture – both Old and New Testaments. What we see is that Israel constantly forgets where the fullness of life is found [in their “husband” YAHWEH] so they occupy themselves otherwise. They become brazen, shameless flirts with enemy nations. They run after false gods with boundless determination. They “strut their stuff” openly before all to see without recognizing that the decor they flaunt was given to them from their marriage partner: The one partner they like to reject. As Scripture states:
“She did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished upon her silver and gold which they used for Baal.” (Hosea 2:8)
And why do they do it, you might ask? Well, get ready for some anti-climax: They whore themselves so they can gain trivial and earthly pleasures. Israel prefers carnivals over holy celebrations, because carnivals seem to be more immediately fun. (Wait…What? for THAT? Yea…) They leave their royal husband in his palace so-to-speak, so they can go drink in the bars with the riffraff. “The people of God are faddish and insecure, nervously searching the latest offerings from neomania, for they do not grasp the true meaning and abiding claim of the covenant.” (87) God’s people quickly become addicted to their adultery. “They live at the mercy of their desires; and, with a sigh, they admit it.” (89) “‘But me she forgot’ says the LORD” so poignantly, in Hosea 2:13.
God’s people love to whore themselves. It is as if they “are itching to try out the new gods in the lands which they are going.” (41) For Israel, there is no isolated incident of whoredom. Instead, there is a “clearly evident pattern in Israel’s behavior, revealing a persistent unfaithfulness within.” (42) That tension breaks out into open conflict in the prophetic literature, especially in the 8th century BC. At this time, The Kingdom of God becomes like a brothel. And even when their whoring leads to social meltdown, they still don’t stop. Ortlund shows how “In chasing after the baals, Israel will be shocked to encounter not her gallant lovers but her heartbroken, angry husband.” (66) Israel’s unfaithfulness is extensive. As Jeremiah 2:21 states, “On every hill and under every green tree you bowed down as a harlot.” God asks them,
“How can you say, ‘I am not defiled, I have not gone after the baals’? Look at your way in the valley; know what you have done – a restive young camel interlacing her tracks, a wild ass sniffing the wind! Who can restrain her lust? None who seek her need weary themselves; in her month they will find her.” (Jer. 2:23-24)
Ortlund points out that this disgusting image of the covenant people driven with an animal craving to be sexually satisfied by someone, anyone!, shocks and offends. It was meant to. The people of God are constantly open, even eager, to find new aspects of Baalism to explore and enjoy. They cannot get enough. But they do not realize that in doing so, they are reducing themselves to the bestial (88).
And if this weren’t embarrassing enough – Israel becomes proud of their prostitution. Ezekiel 16:23-24 states,
“After all your wickedness…you built yourself a platform, and made yourself a lofty place in every public place. At the head of every street you built your lofty space and prostituted your beauty, spreading your legs to any passer-by and multiplying your harlotry.“
The horror of it all is that, “The woman [Israel] reducing herself to this low level is in fact married and provided for. Israel’s national disgrace is entirely unnecessary. She commits adultery not because Yahweh has failed, but for the thrill of it.” (113)
Shockingly, none of this puts God’s people past the grip of redemption. God proves Himself an “irresistible lover.” (68) God does it first and primarily when God fulfills His vow… God sends a perfect Messiah to earth. What love is this when Christ is incarnated “into our neighborhood” (John 1:14 – MSG)? And God will do it again – ultimately when Jesus will arrive the 2nd and final time for His bride. In that day, the emptiness of our harlotry will become vividly clear and Yahweh alone will be left, subduing Israel “to a loving and tender responsiveness.” (69) Somehow, through all the agony required for the cleansing to be thorough, “nothing will be able to separate Israel from the love of Yahweh.” (75)
Praise God, even harlots cannot succeed in spoiling God’s celebration. Christ will one day present His bride as pure and spotless, which is all the more amazing when we figure out what He has to do to get us there. The story of our harlotry throughout Scripture is repetitive and intense. But so is God’s love for us. God will one day win us over, but man, we like to make a mess of it in the meantime. Lord, have mercy.