The New Testament picture of Christ’s pursuit of the church seems tame perhaps (except for the heart wrenching climax where Christ lays down His life for the bride and then rises again to betroth Himself to her–okay, so maybe it isn’t so tame after all!)
But the Old Testament gives us another example of God as husband, as lover, as pursuer–this time, of Israel, who happens to be an errant bride. While the New Testament story focuses on Christ’s courtship of the church, the Old Testament story tells us more about the bride, the bride who continually turns her back on her husband to pursue other lovers.
Let’s hear the story as told by God through Ezekiel’s mouth. Israel was an abandoned daughter, born and left to die in an open field, with the umbilical cord uncut, struggling in her blood. God took pity on the foundling daughter and spoke life into her, and cared for her through her growing up years. “When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine.” (Ezekiel 16:8) God married Israel, washed her, anointed her with oil, clothed her with the best, fed her with the best–and she became renowned as the beautiful bride of the great King.
Yet this bride let her beauty go to her head, and began to accept the advances of the men who wooed her. She slept with all and sundry, giving to her lovers the beauty and the clothing and the food that her husband had given her. She even took her children, God’s children, and sacrificed them to her lovers.
No longer satisfied with the men who came to gaze upon her, she now went out actively, pursuing new lovers. A brazen harlot already, she sunk to new depths, paying men to have sex with her.
And God was angry with a holy anger. His rage burned against His wife who had played the harlot with many men. In His anger and His jealousy, He brought judgment upon her.
But yet, even then, His love for His errant bride is unabated. He calls their marriage covenant to mind and reestablishes the covenant again. He provides atonement for her sins.
Hosea tells the same story, but with added detail. Israel, the harlot, has gone after her many lovers–and each time she strays, God pursues her to bring her back.
She claims that her lovers are the source of her food and clothing and goods–even though it is her husband, God Himself, who has provided all these things. So God strips her of them all. He takes away His provision, He frustrates her goals, He dogs her every step. And when she is at the end of herself, come to nothing because of her wickedness, then God says, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness and speak comfort to her….And it shall be, in that day…that you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master.'” (Hosea 2:14,16)
She returns to her husband for a time–but soon she is back to turning tricks. And again her husband pursues her, tracks her down, even buying her back from the slavery she has sold herself into in her quest to satiate her lust.
Ever the errant bride, she returns again and again to her lovers–but her Husband, ever faithful, pursues her again.