Prophets: spiritual faithlessness = adultery

Posted Oct 9, 2019

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This week we are memorizing:

Do not commit adultery.

Daily Scripture

Jeremiah 3:6-9, 20

6 During the rule of King Josiah, the Lord said to me: Have you noticed what unfaithful Israel has done? She’s gone about looking for lovers on top of every high hill and under every lush tree. 7 I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me, but she didn’t. Her disloyal sister Judah saw this. 8 She also saw that I sent unfaithful Israel away with divorce papers because of all her acts of unfaithfulness; yet disloyal sister Judah was not afraid but kept on playing the prostitute. 9 She didn’t think twice about corrupting the land and committing adultery with stone and tree.

...

20 But as a woman betrays her lover,
    so you, people of Israel, have betrayed me,
        declares the Lord.

Ezekiel 23:36-37

36 Then the Lord said to me, Human one, judge Oholah and Oholibah, and make known their detestable practices to them. 37 They committed adultery, so now blood is on their hands. They committed adultery with their idols, and they even took their children whom they had borne to me and offered them up to be consumed for them.

Reflection Questions

Today’s readings were two of many in which Israel’s prophets used marriage to show the kind of bond God wanted with his people. (See also Hosea, chapters 1-3. Scholars differ. Some believe God actually told the prophet to choose a heart-breaking life for himself and his children. Others see it as an elaborate “parable” to show Israel God’s heartbreak.) The prophets contrasted the people’s lack of faithfulness with God’s eternal love, patience and eagerness to make the relationship work. This imagery showed (and shows) that God sees marriage commitments as deeper than just physical.

  • The prophets often voiced God’s calls to wayward Israel in the pained tones of a deserted spouse. Jeremiah’s phrase about Israel “committing adultery with stone and tree” (elements of pagan shrines) was particularly striking. How did the prophets’ repeated use of “adultery” as a way to describe Israel’s spiritual abandonment of God point to the reality that the seventh commandment was about more than just getting caught having sex in the wrong bed?
  • One provision in Israelite law (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) somewhat puzzlingly said if a man divorced a woman, he could not take her back and remarry her after she’d had another spouse. Jeremiah 3:1 actually referred to that provision. Yet the prophet said the divine love of God, Israel’s “husband,” rose above that, and called his people to “return” (Jeremiah 3:12, 14). At what points in your spiritual journey has it been important to you that God is always willing to welcome you back?

Prayer

God of rescue and welcome, no matter how far we wander from you, how doggedly we resist your call, you remain eager to take us back. Grow my heart toward the kind of faithfulness you show to me and all of us. Amen.

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Lauren Baker Thomas

Lauren Baker Thomas

Lauren Baker Thomas is a Pastoral Resident at Resurrection Leawood serving in the traditional worship services. Before that, she was a Chaplain Resident at the University of Virginia Medical Center, working in obstetrics, pediatrics, and the neonatal ICU. Lauren is passionate about the relationships and connections that come with providing pastoral care, and she also loves leading worship.

In the book of Genesis, God made a promise to Sarah and Abraham to be their God, and in return Sarah and Abraham made a promise that the Lord would be the only god that they would serve and follow. These promises created a covenant, much like what we see in marriage vows. In the Service of Christian Marriage in our Book of Worship, couples who covenant in marriage are asked to make this vow: “with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you.” What beautiful words, and what a high standard of fidelity! And that sounds like the same kind of vow that God made with Sarah and Abraham, and the one that God still makes with each one of us when we enter relationship with God.

While God is perfectly honoring and faithful, we often fall short. In our passages for today, Israel had been falling short of honoring God with all that they were and all that they had; they had started to put other things before God. In response, God cries out, “My heart is broken!” Adultery is the human image that the prophets use to express God’s heartbreak, because in the same way that adultery breaks a marriage covenant of fidelity, Israel’s actions, and often our actions, break the covenant of that loyal love and total honor that we promise God.

How often do we betray this covenant with God without even thinking about it? We put other things before God, like the comfort of material things or the worship of earthly figures, or we fall into sin and break commandments when we do things like belittle others or stay silent in the face of bullying. I cannot imagine the great abiding love that it takes for God to call me back into right relationship every time I fall short and do dishonoring things, but God does patiently and faithfully beckon us back each time.

Last week in worship, we sang: “Your boundaries fall in pleasant places, to guard us all from broken spaces.” Whenever we fall short, God reminds us that the Lord is our true God, and that life is so much richer when we honor our covenant. What if we began our days with a reminder of the covenant we have made with God by reciting the vows we make in marriage? If every day we began by saying, “With all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you, God”? I know my days would look different if this covenant was at the forefront of my mind. I might consider my words more carefully before I speak or choose where my money goes more wisely. I might keep earthly things in better perspective and remember that God is the true center.

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