Last night, we talked about how marriage, at its best, gives us a taste of the union/bond/intimacy that Jesus desires with his people.
We were not able to discuss at length the marriage imagery God has used to describe his relationship with his people for thousands of years. Among others, the prophets spoke of the coventantal (read: deeply personal and profoundly committed) relationship between God and his people in perhaps the most profound analogy they could use: marriage. Isaiah 54:5 says, “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.”
It is not difficult to construe the depth of worth this affords God’s people: being married to the God of the whole earth. Joshua Berman provides additional insight, though, on quite how dramatic this covenant is: “Of the dozens and dozens of ancient covenant documents, they’re all between a king and another king. Only one is between a king and a whole people group.” (That’s the covenant of Israel’s God and his people!) Ancient covenants were royal things, entered into by kings on behalf, but independent, of their people.
He continues, “The biblical story, however, depicts all of the laws as covenant terms between God and a whole people group. And it’s represented as a marriage.” This is revolutionary stuff. The 613 laws of the Old Covenant represent the marital terms between God and Israel.
Berman continues, “In the Ancient Near East, various Gods had consorts and goddess wives, while the common man was a subject, a slave and servant of the king and of the tribute-imposing class.” The majority of the lower classes existed simply to serve and pay taxes to the higher-ups. Things were different with Israel’s God, however.
As Berman says, “For these cultures to conceive of the marriage between a god and a group of humans - which is what the Israelite covenant is - would have been as unthinkable as for us to imagine the marital union of a human and a cat. … The Bible’s most revolutionary idea is the idea of God as a personality who seeks a relationship of mutuality with human agents. In the neighboring cultures of the ancient Near East, humans are slaves of the king. In the Bible, they are transformed into servant kings who are married to a generous sovereign, a wife in relation to her benefactor husband. When God seeks love from Israel, it involves the political sense of loyalty between parties as well as a kind of faithful, intimate relationship between a man and a woman.” May the love, generosity, and grace of our God never become commonplace for us. In contrast with other ancient cultural mythologies, our God does not violently create humans (with the convenient exception of the king) to be slaves (as per the ancient Babylonian creation story called the Atra-Hasis). Instead, he creates us to be his spouse–to have a “relationship of mutuality” with us. Even with you, and even with me. I’ll say “I do” to that!