Response to Peter Goodgame – Part 7: Is Israel Divorced?

DivorceIn part 3 of his series, Peter does some excellent summarizing of the marriage relationship between the Messiah and his bride, the Ekklesia, and rightly notes that long before the Ekklesia, Israel was offered the same ketubah, the same marriage contract:

Messianic Bible scholar Arnold Fruchtenbaum explains that the Church as the Bride of Christ goes through four stages that are typical of the traditional Jewish wedding system: In the first stage the father of the groom pays the bride-price. This corresponds to how we have been purchased by the precious blood of Christ and right now the Church exists in this preliminary phase before the actual wedding. The second stage is the fetching of the Bride, which corresponds to the “catching up” of the Church into heaven before the Day of the Lord. The third stage is the private marriage ceremony, whereas the fourth is the public marriage feast mentioned in Revelation 19:9 and Isaiah 25:6 that occurs on earth at the beginning of the Millennium.  The final state of the Church living eternally with her husband as the fully married “wife of the Lamb” is shown within the descriptions of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:9.

As strange as it may sound, the fact is that the Church is not God’s first commitment to a marriage! Yes, the Old Covenant was described using the marriage metaphor as well, and Israel was actually referred to as the wife of Jehovah.  But then things went wrong, as we read in Jeremiah 31:31-34.  From this passage we see that the reason a New Covenant was needed is because the Old Covenant was broken as a result of Israel’s adultery: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD.”

Again, we completely agree with Peter’s foundational work, but we disagree on the implications that he draws out of it:

Is Israel’s Redemption Even Possible?

This question is posed by Jeremiah when he points out that according to the Law of Moses (Deut. 24:1-4) if a woman leaves a man and then gives herself to another she cannot then return to her first husband because she has become defiled:

“If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 3:1, ESV)

Jeremiah’s point is that Israel has given herself to not just one, but a multitude of other men and has violated her marriage with the Lord so badly that she is past the point of being able to return to the Lord.  As the Law states, once divorced, if a woman then attaches herself to another man, she cannot then later return to her first husband. . .

Yes, the Old Covenant, as a marriage covenant, was broken by Israel (see Jeremiah 31:31-34), and then she covenanted herself to the gods of the other nations, making it legally impossible for Israel to return to the Lord, at least by the means of the Old Covenant.  The only way that she could ever re-marry after repenting for her sins would be for her first husband to die, which would then release her from her first marriage covenant!

Peter is mostly right here. That is indeed exactly why taking part in Messiah’s death and being born again as a new creation is so pivotal–not only for Jews, but for Gentiles whose ancestors made covenants with demons in the form of pagan gods (1Co. 10:20, Deu. 32:17). However, Peter is wrong on one critical point, and that is to assume that Israel is irrevocably divorced.

fa357_get-documentAs we saw in the previous two posts, the Torah is very specific that the get, the writ of divorcement, must come from the husband, and Paul upholds that this remains true under the New Covenant. The woman can attempt to drive her husband away, but he has the final authority on whether to send her away, releasing her to find a new husband. So the obvious question is, did Hashem ever send Israel away? And if he did, did she remarry?

Peter quotes Jeremiah 3:1 as evidence that God divorced Israel. Yes, in part. However, when we read a few verses down, a different picture emerges:

“And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel (the northern kingdom), I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her sister Judah (the southern kingdom) did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. . . Go and proclaim these words towards the north and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious,’ declares the LORD.” (vv. 8, 12)

Notice that while Hashem divorced the northern kingdom, he is still willing to take them back. The reason he can make this offer is that the charge against Israel and Judah both is not that they have married another husband, but that they have played the harlot with the nations and the gods of the nations. Since they had not “remarried,” there was still a possibility of reconciliation.

Moreover, while Hashem divorced the northern kingdom (which ultimately resulted in them being assimilated by the Assyrians and interbred with others to become the Samaritans), he never mentions a divorce of Judah. This does not mean that all of the tribes except for Judah were rejected, for members of all of the tribes lived in the territory of Judah (2Ch. 11:16, cf. Luke 2:36, Romans 11:1). Indeed, he could not divorce Judah without breaking his promises to the House of David (2Sa. 7:12-16). This is why all of the tribes bear the name of Y’hudah / Jew to this day.

Why then does it seem like the Jewish people have been rejected? Because of the Curse of the Law. The Eternal One knew that Israel would break their covenant with him, so in the third “Covenant of Law” which comprises the entirety of the book of Deuteronomy (the slightly misnamed “Second Law”), he included provisions for Israel’s punishment–but in being carried out those punishments would actually serve to prove that the Jewish people were still in covenant with their God. After all, if Israel was released from the covenant (divorced), the covenant could no long effect them for good or ill.

These punishments specified two distinct exiles from the Land, the first to one nation (Babylon) and the second scattering the Jewish people among all nations.

Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there were be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of life. (Deu. 28:65-66)

The above passage perfectly describes the condition of the Jewish people for the last two thousand years. If indeed Judah was divorced, then the Jews would have been either left alone to find a place for themselves or else wholly assimilated long ago.

The Covenant of Law did not end with the curse, but with a clause that requires Hashem to bring about Israel’s restoration.

It shall happen, when all these things have come on you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you shall call them to mind among all the nations, where the LORD your God has driven you, and shall return to the LORD your God, and shall obey his voice according to all that I command you this day, you and your children, with all your heart, and with all your soul; that then the LORD your God will turn your captivity, and have compassion on you, and will return and gather you from all the peoples, where the LORD your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of the heavens, from there will the LORD your God gather you, and from there he will bring you back: and the LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and he will do you good, and multiply you above your fathers. (Deu. 30:1-5)

We are seeing the regathering of Israel in our own day–again proving that for all of her sins, Hashem did not divorce his bride. Rather, like Hosea with wayward Gomer (Hos. 1-3), he allowed his wife to go astray and to suffer all of the consequences of her adultery, even being sold into slavery, before buying her back. But just like Hosea, he never divorced his wife, nor did she remarry.

Nevertheless, Israel and Judah did indeed break the covenant, though Hashem for his part was a good husband to them (Jer. 31:31-34). But this was not a surprise, and the Holy One promised long ago to not only punish Israel, but to restore her. This promise came not only through Jeremiah, but through the mouth of Moses as well:

The LORD your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, that you may live. The LORD your God will put all these curses on your enemies, and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. You shall return and obey the voice of the LORD, and do all his commandments which I command you this day. (Deu. 30:6-8)

This circumcision of the heart is precisely what Jeremiah predicted would come with the New Covenant: Not merely a covenant cut in the flesh, but one cut in the Spirit. Jeremiah and Moses are in perfect agreement that all Israel and all Judah would one day be brought into the New Covenant.

So to sum up:

  1. The Old Covenant is still in effect for Israel, which is why Israel has labored under the curse for over two thousand years and why Israel has been brought back into the Land: Both of these are promised under the Old Covenant.
  2. The Old Covenant specifically promises that after the period of punishment known as the Curse of the Law, the Eternal One would bring Israel back into the Land and then circumcise their hearts by writing the Torah on them.
  3. Therefore, even if there was a divorce (and the Curse would seem to prove otherwise, showing that the covenant has remained in effect), it has always been Hashem’s intention to take back his wayward wife, as he illustrated through the life of the prophet Hosea.

So yes, Israel’s redemption is indeed possible–more than that, it is required by the Scriptures. It is true that Israel needs to enter into the New Covenant that was opened up through the blood of Yeshua. However, as we have shown throughout this series, none of Yeshua’s early followers considered the New Covenant to negate the keeping of the Torah: “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” (Rom. 3:31).

The issue for Messianics is not that we are trying to stay in the Old Covenant, but that we recognize that the Torah’s commandments are active in the New Covenant. Even the sacrificial commandments were not annulled by the New Covenant, but were relocated to the true, heavenly Tabernacle after the earthly copy was destroyed. How much less were the non-sacrificial commandments annulled? And how much less were blessings like the Sabbath taken away?

Peter’s arguments have a lot of merit, and he clearly shows the necessity of the New Covenant, but when we get down to the specifics, he has been unable to show where either Yeshua or Paul or any other apostle taught that the Torah was abolished or ceased to practice it themselves.

I’ll finish this series with a reminder: Peter Goodgame and I have spoken and written to each other before, and while we disagree on this and other issues, we are brothers in the Lord. While I have joked a bit at his expense, it has been the way I would joke with both a friend and a brother, and I hope he takes it that way. Peter has done some top-notch work in comparative mythology in The Second Coming of the Antichrist, and has raised some good arguments for both pre-tribers and pre-wrathers in Red Moon Rising. While we don’t see eye-to-eye, I have the greatest love and respect for him, and commend his work to my readers for their edification.

Shalom

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