PMW 2020-012 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This is the fourth installment of an eight-part series on the crucial imagery involved in Revelation’s seven-sealed divorce decree.
In Jeremiah’s new covenant promise, God complains of Israel’s unfaithfulness noting that they broke his covenant, though “I had mastered [ba’l] them as a husband” (Jer 31:32). This verb derives from a root meaning “to become master.” Therefore, as Old Testament scholars note, it means to marry “with an emphasis on the rights and authority the husband exercised,” cp. Genesis 20:3; Numbers 5:19–20, 29; Deuteronomy 21:13; 22:22. Whereas the word for “husband” (‘hś) “is apparently an endearing expression”, ba’l “emphasizes the legal position of the husband as lord and ‘owner’ of his wife.” The legal relation and subsequent obligation is clearly in view.
Scripture often expresses Israel’s turning to other gods as marital infidelity in breach of God’s legal covenant with her. In Deuteronomy God tells Moses that after he dies Israel will “play the harlot with the strange gods of the land” which will “break My covenant” (Dt 31:16). In fact, the most common use of znh (“act as a harlot”) in the Old Testament refers to “covenantal unfaithfulness on Israel’s part.”
Moses even warns against individual Israelites “playing the harlot” by worshiping false gods (Lev 20:5–6). Aune mentions “the analogy of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel and marriage contracts (Lev 17:7; 20:5–6; Num 14:33; 15:39; Deut 31:16; Judg 2:17; 8:27; 1 Chr 5:25; 2 Chr 21:11; Ps 73:27), a metaphor found with particular frequency in the prophets Hosea (1:2; 2:4 [MT: 6]; 4:15; 9:1), Jeremiah (2:20; 3:2, 9, 13; 5:7, 11; 13:27), and Ezekiel (6:9; 16; 23; 43:7, 9).”
The Book of Revelation Made Easy
(by Ken Gentry)
Helpful introduction to Revelation presenting keys for interpreting. Also provides studies of basic issues in Revelation’s story-line.|
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
The prophets speak of Israel’s unfaithfulness through idolatry as hurtful to her husband: “Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes, which played the harlot after their idols” (Eze 6:9a).
Hosea develops the theme of harlotry throughout his entire book, even marrying a harlot to illustrate Israel’s sin (Hos 1:2; 3:1–3). For instance, Hosea 2:2 reads: “Contend with your mother, contend, / For she is not my wife, and I am not her husband; / And let her put away her harlotry from her face, / And her adultery from between her breasts.”
Jeremiah 3:6 speaks similarly: “Then the Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, ‘Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there.’”
Ortlund well notes of this harlotry theme that “what begins as Pentateuchal whispers rises later to prophetic cries and is eventually echoed in apostolic teaching.” Eventually this harlotry image is used by the prophets Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel who “exploit it to the fullest.” Jeremiah and Ezekiel particularly develop it “into elaborate images.” The harlot metaphor is applied to Israel time and again in the Old Testament.
We must realize that although the charge of harlotry tends to focus on its most egregious manifestation in actual idolatry, it is not limited to idol worship. In the biblical view of marriage, the wife’s faithfulness involves a wholesale relationship of loving obedience (Num 5:29; Jer 31:32; Eph 5:22–23; 1Pe 3:1, 6), not just her avoiding adultery. Consequently, there are places where charges of harlotry against Israel speak of situations not involving actual, formal idolatry.
When lawlessness (not idolatry) prevails in Jerusalem, the “faithful city” becomes a “harlot” (Isa 1:21–23). The same is true when a person consults a medium, seeking counsel (revelation) apart from God (Lev 20:6). This seems to be Gideon’s sin in making the ephod (for seeking revelatory counsel) which Scripture deems harlotry (Jdg 8:27). Israel sins as a harlot (Hos 6:10) in not trusting in God but in seeking alliances with Egypt and Assyria in Hosea 7:10–11.
In Hosea 7:11 the prophet “calls the dove ‘easily seduced’ (pitāh); it is ‘inexperienced’ and ‘unintelligent’ (‘en leb). The dove represents Israel, who is easily mislead politically by the powerful nations.” Rossing agrees: “Israel’s ‘prostitution’ may include economic indictment of Israel’s foreign liaisons in additions to changes [sic] of idolatry. . . . Alice A. Keefe suggests that Israel’s foreign lovers in Hosea ‘are not fertility gods but Israel’s foreign allies and trading partners.’”
This book presents a strong, contemporary case in support of the early dating of Revelation. He builds on Before Jerusalem Fell and brings additional arguments to bear.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
As God’s wife, Israel must be faithful to her covenant with God. She must follow after “all My commandments” rather than following her own desires, in order to avoid harlotry (Num 15:38–40). Wolff well captures the significance of this for us: “The net force of the declaration is that all the sinful preferences of the autonomous self, running contrary to the law of God, are a kind of whoredom, as if Yahweh’s wisdom and ways were not trustworthy.”
Israel is legally bound to God just as a wife is bound to her husband through mutual covenant.
To be continued!
I am currently doing research for a commentary tentatively titled: Olivet in Discourse: A Commentary on Matthew 21-25. If you would like to help by donating to my non-profit ministry, I would be grateful for your doing so. For more information, see: GoodBirth Ministries.