“She [nation of Judah] saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore.” -God speaking in Jeremiah 3:8, ESV
While very graphic and difficult (using words like “played the whore”), I find this verse and surrounding passage comforting. It reveals that my God “gets it” about adultery. He understands the pain and wickedness that comes with such contemptuous acts. And He stands with the divorcee who has declared “enough is enough” and divorced the adulterous party.
Some pastors reject this interpretation of Jeremiah 3:8 as an improper view on the passage. They point to how God handles Judah allowing her to return after multiple “adulterous” affairs with idols. That response is what they teach as the primary example for faithful, Christian spouses to follow.
I reject such an interpretation–or emphasis–as it minimizes what happened to Israel. And it misses the warning God gives us:
God takes holiness seriously and is intolerant of adultery!
Furthermore, such an emphasis on God’s response to Judah makes light of the devastation adultery causes faithful spouses and families as well as God’s high commitment to holiness. Ignoring or dismissing God divorcing Israel as a mere feigned action on His part robs faithful spouses and divorcees of identifying with our holy God who is a metaphorical divorcee. I think this is improper.
Just to point out that I am not alone in my teaching regarding the permanency of God divorcing Isreal, I will briefly quote two well-respected Bible commentators below. They give further credence to the belief that God takes adultery seriously and can identify with divorcees who are spurned faithful spouses. These two godly men give us some excellent commentaries:
He scattered all their [Israel’s] synagogues and the schools of their prophets, and excluded them from laying any further claim to the covenant made with their fathers -Matthew Henry, pp 941.1
God had “divorced” Israel and put her away; Israel became part of Assyria, and the northern kingdom was never restored. -Warren Wiersbe (emphasis mine), pp. 12112
The Bible is powerful and pastoral if we allow ourselves to accept its teachings. God does not shy away from strong language concerning the evil of adultery. And God is prepared to give stiff consequences for wicked choices as evident in His divorce of Israel.
Restoration may be an ideal but God is realistic enough to acknowledge the truth that some will stubbornly resist repentance to the bitter end. So, God provides an example of what to do in such cases through giving us Jeremiah 3:8–i.e. divorce is in order as a mercy to the faithful spouse. Adultery must not be tolerated.
1Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary: In One Volume: Genesis to Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1961.
2Wiersbe, Warren. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: The Complete Old Testament In One Volume. 2nd Edition. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2007.