From Faithless Harlot To Spotless Bride,
Hope for the Struggler from the Marriage Metaphor in Scripture
By David White

A Life of Shame - My heart grieved for "Matthew" as he sat across from me and poured out his life story. An older brother sexually abused him for years. He spent the majority of his life addicted to alcohol, drugs and gambling. Living alone at 65, he persists in empty sexual encounters with strangers, while inwardly longing for meaningful relationships. Although the overall picture he communicated was heartbreaking, what really impacted me was the burden he bears. The weight of shame combined with the belief that he can never be free from guilt feeds his rebellion and drives him repeatedly into his sin pattern.

If you have a history of sexual sin, you can probably relate to the spiritual anguish that led Matthew into deep despair and hopelessness. Is the reality of your guilt and shame continually before you? The wonder of the Gospel is that in Christ we have a living Redeemer who comes to people in the slimy pit they have dug, draws them out, washes them whiter than snow and even claims them as His precious bride!

The Old Testament Marriage Metaphor - Scripture uses many rich images to depict God's relationship with His people. One of my favorites is the marriage metaphor - He is our Husband, we are His bride. The Bible utilizes marriage because it depicts an exclusive relationship - a covenant in which absolute devotion is sworn to another. This is the type of relationship God expects from His people. When He called Israel to be His chosen people and brought them up out of Egypt, He established an exclusive, covenantal relationship with them. The language He used in the giving of the Law is illustrative of the commitment between a husband and wife. The first commandment demands absolute faithfulness to the Lord and the second affirms that He is a jealous God. In light of His care and deliverance, love and loyalty are expected as the natural response of the people to their gracious God.

Unfortunately, the marital overtones are expressed negatively as well. Idolatry is described as lusting after other gods. When Israel rebels, she is prostituting herself to other gods. Sadly, the most extensive use of the marriage metaphor in the Old Testament is this indictment against the unfaithfulness of the people.

Hosea is the first to directly use marriage as an illustration of Israel's relationship with her God. He was called to marry an adulterous woman and embrace her illegitimate children as a living picture of God's relationship with Israel.In His justice, God declares that He will reject Israel as His wife and bring terrible judgment against her because of her wayward wandering (Hos. 2:1-13). Jeremiah builds on this theme and uses graphic language to illustrate his point. The people are like a wild donkey in heat, unable to control their cravings.

Similarly, Ezekiel employs shocking imagery to depict the idolatry of the people. He describes the Lord finding Israel rejected at birth, saving her life and raising her to be His very own. He lavishes extravagant blessings on her and cares for her every need, yet she turns away from Him in her desire for other lovers. Indeed, the very gifts bestowed on her are turned to immoral uses. Even the surrounding nations are appalled by her activity. She has sunk lower than a prostitute, for she requires no payment, but actually offers her charms to every passer-by and gives gifts to them.

The allegory of the unfaithful sisters, Jerusalem and Samaria (representing Israel and Judah), builds on this theme. While still virgins, they flirted with immorality. Despite this, God called them to be His brides, but in their unfaithfulness they chased after the surrounding nations.Initially enamored by the noble Egyptians and Assyrians, they eventually gave themselves even to the drunken rabble from the desert. Israel's adultery was particularly appalling because the nations surrounding her demonstrated a greater fidelity to their false gods than she did to the true, living God! Rather than resting in Him, Israel chose to rebel - worshipping other gods and forming political alliances with the surrounding nations.

How bad did their rebellion get? Israel actually worshipped their idols in God's presence - in His very house! They set up an Asherah pole, altars to Baal and to the stars in the Lord's temple. They even built quarters to house male shrine prostitutes. The people engaged in homosexual ritual acts in the very place they were called to worship the God who established a covenantal relationship with them.Imagine committing adultery in your home in the very presence of your spouse - repeatedly! It is truly horrifying and heartbreaking to see the depths to which Israel plunged right in God's face.

In the same way, we need to understand that our sin is a terrible affront to God. We long to be satisfied outside of God's perfect plan for our lives. As with the Israelites, He desires an intimate, exclusive relationship with us, but we worship all manner of other gods. Our hearts are inclined to fend for ourselves, digging leaky, broken cisterns rather than trusting in the spring of Living Water. Many of us experience extreme hardship in life, but we are not victims! Our hearts are always actively engaged with our environment and with others in a way that exists to meet our own agenda. We choose either to live for God's glory or rebel against Him. If you are living under a sense of guilt today because of sins you have committed, you need to know that the guilt is real. When we repeatedly engage in sexual sin, we are spitting in the face of a holy God. We must not ignore our guilt or blame it on low self-esteem. The only balm for wounded, hurting and rebellious souls is the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

The Old Testament Hope - Despite the sin of the people and the resultant judgments brought against them, the prophets continually speak of the amazing work of reconciliation that will occur between the Husband and His bride. Although He was a faithful Husband betrayed by His bride, He promises to establish a new covenant; one in which the law will be in our hearts and minds. He promises to forgive our sins completely, because He delights to show mercy. He will transform the hearts of His people and He will pour out His Spirit on them.He renews His promises of love and faithfulness saying, "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." (Zeph 3:17 NIV)

The marriage metaphor is now revived and expressed in fullness. Their Maker will be their Husband.He will bring back the wife He rejected and His unfailing love will not be shaken, nor His covenant of peace removed. The Lord will rejoice over His people as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride! Indeed, the wonder of God's mercy is evidenced within some of the very judgment passages already examined. Although Israel is condemned for her unfaithfulness in Hos 2:1-13, the second half of the chapter contains promises of God's repeated blessings. She will call Him 'my Husband', not 'my Master'. She will be betrothed to Him forever, in righteousness, justice, love, compassion, and faithfulness. He will proclaim His love to her and declare that she is His (v. 23). Just as Hosea redeemed his adulterous wife, buying her back from another man, so God paid the price for our faithlessness. Similarly, at the end of Ezekiel's scathing accusation of the Israelites, the Lord declares that He will remember the covenant of her youth and establish an everlasting covenant with her. He will make atonement for her sin. The great hope of the New Testament is revealed.

The New Testament Fulfillment - In the New Testament, the intimacy of a marriage relationship between God and His people is fully realized. The wondrous expectation of the new covenant anticipated from the Old Testament has been fulfilled in the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and imminent return of Jesus Christ. He emerges as our long-awaited Bridegroom!Jesus identified Himself as the Bridegroom when questioned on the issue of His disciples' fasting. He is the Bridegroom in view in the parable of the ten virgins. The coming of His kingdom is described through the parable of the wedding banquet. Furthermore, much like a human bridegroom, Jesus has gone to prepare a place for His betrothed bride (John 14:2,3). Jesus began His earthly ministry by transforming water into wine, making the celebration even more spirited. Conversely, at the Last Supper, He declares that He will not drink wine, a beverage of celebration, until He does so in the Kingdom of God.

The ultimate picture of Jesus as the Bridegroom is found in Revelation 19:7-9 ; the great marriage supper of the Lamb.It is significant that Jesus is referred to as the Lamb, for through His atonement the promise of Ezekiel 16:63 is fulfilled. Jesus Christ is the supreme Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.His sacrifice demonstrates both the depths of God's justice and the abundance of His love for His people. Through the shed blood of Jesus, we are justified and saved from the wrath of God.When we fall into sin, He is our Advocate who defends us before the Father. Even further, He is able to save completely because He lives eternally, forever interceding for His people (Heb 7:25).

Jesus' identity as the Bridegroom who is the Lamb that was slain is a source of tremendous hope for us. It means that although the consummation has not taken place, His people are really and truly His betrothed because of His shed blood.Betrothal in biblical times represented the definite reality of the union, prior to the consummation of the one flesh relationship through sexual intimacy. (This is why Joseph desired to divorce Mary, although they had never actually been through a formal wedding ceremony). Christians are really and truly in union with Christ right now through His life, death, and resurrection! So, Paul makes reference to the Church as the Bride of Christ. She has been promised to Him as a pure virgin to one Husband. The relationship between a husband and wife is a direct corollary to the relationship of Christ to His Church. Because believers are really and truly united to Christ, Paul expresses grave concern about sexual immorality. It is uniting Jesus with a prostitute. (1 Cor. 6:15)

In Christ, the faithless whore of the Old Testament has been transformed into the spotless bride!His bride stands in radiant attire, cleansed and purified for her Husband. She descends from heaven like a beautiful, glittering jewel, a bride adorned for her Husband. (Rev 21:2,11)

Living As The Bride - As the bride of Christ, existing in union with Him, believers receive a wholeness that was formerly impossible. Though mystical and beyond human comprehension, this union is real.We are joined with Christ in His death, resurrection, and glorification. We are united to Christ because His atoning work has been perfectly ascribed to us. He is, in fact, living through us (Gal 2:20). Everyone who is "in Christ" has been transformed into an entirely new creation. Thus, Paul lists the sins that had previously identified the Corinthians (including homosexuality) and now declares that they have been washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Cor 6:9-11). They are now in Christ. Therefore, in the present reality of this age, despite the ongoing effects of sin in the world and even in our lives, the work of Christ is definitive and successful. We have been forgiven and cleansed completely! The believer's union with Him is a present reality simply awaiting the joyous consummation. As a bride-to-be, we eagerly anticipate the full expression of a permanent relationship with our betrothed spouse.

There is great hope in the truth that Jesus Christ is our Bridegroom as the Lamb that was slain. The cross of Christ offers freedom from condemnation and forgiveness for all who come to Him in repentance. When you know that you are guilty and in need of mercy, the picture of the Lamb holds out tremendous hope. This is His invitation, "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." (Isa 5:1) He knows everything about you. He knows your mess and He invites you to come freely! When you trust in Jesus, His perfect, sinless record is credited to you. You are justified before the throne of God, despite your past! This is a wonderful hope for those who live their lives under a crushing burden of guilt and shame.He gives beautiful, shining garments to His bride, taking away her filthy rags.

As His bride, our identity is rooted in the fact that we are united to Him. In Christ, we are forgiven and dearly loved children of God. We are already in a "one flesh" relationship with our Savior! When we understand (and believe!) our identity, we no longer have to label ourselves by any besetting temptation or sin. The truth of our position as forgiven children needs to replace our sense of inadequacy. We are inadequate, but in Him we are complete. His completeness covers us. He has created us as unique persons - our bodies, personality, and gender were planned by Him and are redeemed by Him. We are under the blood of Christ; there is no condemnation and no separation from His love. No one can snatch us from His hand. (John 10:28)

Beyond Shame - Much like the bride of the Old Testament, we will fail. All Christians do! He will be faithful even when we are faithless. Our hope is built entirely in what He has done, not our performance. In light of our actual union with Him, we strive to become what we already are! As the bride of Christ, our identity and destiny are secure. The call is to come and revel in the truth of the Gospel! We must allow the promises of God to shape our worldview. We must stop believing the lies and accusations of the enemy.

Those wrestling with sexual sins are called to put off their old nature and walk in the reality of their new identity and union with Christ. In a world which encourages us to live for ourselves, the marriage metaphor challenges us to live for the glory of God. We are to participate in the work of His Kingdom and celebrate the great victory that has been won in Christ Jesus!

David White is an intern at HARVEST USA. He is also a pastoral assistant at New Life Presbyterian Church, Dresher, PA.

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