Humanity’s relationship with God, much like the relationship sung of in “Me and Tennessee” by Tim McGraw and Gwyneth Paltrow, is one that has “gone wrong, wrong, wrong”. Just as the song sings a lament about a guy that had cheated on a woman, so God laments that we cheat and engage in adultery in our relationship with Him. In several passages throughout the Old Testament the people of Israel and Judah, the very people that God chose to be a light to the nations, are described as God’s own bride who has engaged in prostitution. 1
But you were confident in your beauty and acted like a prostitute because of your fame. You lavished your sexual favors on everyone who passed by. Your beauty becames his. (Ezekiel 16:5)
In the days of King Josiah the Lord asked me, “Have you seen what unfaithful Israel has done? She has ascended every high hill and gone under every green tree to prostitute herself there. I thought: After she has done all these things, she will return to Me. But she didn’t return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. I observed that it was because unfaithful Israel had committed adultery that I had sent her away and had given her a certificate of divorce. Nevertheless, her treacherous sister Judah was not afraid but also went and prostituted herself. Indifferent to her prostitution, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and tree. Yet in spite of all this, her treacherous sister Judah didn’t return to Me with all her heart – only in pretense.” [This is] the Lord’s declaration. (Jeremiah 3: 6-10)
The faithful city – what an adulteress she has become! She was once full of justic. Righteousness once dwelt in her – but now, murderers! (Isaiah 1:21)
Israel and Judah, through their use of idols and their cavorting with the surrounding pagan nations, had broken and betrayed the covenant that God had made with them. And while God might seem rather harsh and punitive in the above passages, keep in mind that later on in Ezekiel the people are described as sacrificing children to the idols and “images as food” (Ezekiel 16:20). God set apart these people to be His representatives on the earth and they’re engaging in child sacrifices. It’s actually more amazing the degree of patience and the number of second chances that God gives to them throughout the history of the Old Testament!
But so far I’ve only established that Israel and Judah were like prostitutes. And to the extent that the Christian church today, also described as the bride of Christ, is viewed as the continuation of God’s people, it is not a stretch to say that at many times and in many ways it, too, has prostituted itself. Early church and patristic era accomodation to Rome and its practices, the Crusades, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation brutalities, the Inquisition, the African slave trade, modern-day accomodation to consumerism and its evils – these are all dark periods in the history of the church when it has lost its ability to be light and salt in the world. But what about people who don’t believe in the Triune God of the Bible? Since they don’t follow God to begin with, how can we compare them to prostitutes? I would suggest that even such people who don’t believe, as descendents of Adam and Eve and inheritors of the condition that resulted from this first turning away, reflect an adulterous relationship by failing to return to their Creator and the only One who can truly satisfy the longings of their heart. 2
However, to return to that country song, the lyrics continue. The refrain, always an important component in interpreting the meaning of songs, sings the following lines: “Then that old song comes on /Together we’re singing / Forever we’re singing / When that old song comes on /…That old country song”. Clearly, the affair is not the last word of the song. When a song that brings back memories comes on they are reminded that even though they “went wrong” they realize they still belong and agree to always sing that song.
And the good news is, its not the last word of our song either. Yes, God’s children have rejected Him, fallen into sin, and prostituted themselves. But God has continued the song for all who will join in His refrain. It’s a song of redemption provided through His Son, Jesus Christ and accomplished on the cross. We catch a glimpse of what this redemptive song is about in the Gospel of John. At one point, the Pharisees bring before Jesus a woman caught in adultery and demand to know what He has to say about it. After drawing in the sand, He replies “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). After the Pharisees leave, no doubt disappointed at their inability (once again) to trap Jesus in one of their theological challenges, Jesus asks the woman if no one is left to condemn her. When she replies that they have all left, he wonderfully states, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” (John 8:11)
To all who are willing to reach out and accept what God, through Jesus Christ, has to offer, we are allowed to return to that song that Adam and Eve once sang with God in the coolness of the Garden. This is what the song of redemption is all about: restoring us in our relationship with God. Pastor Matt Heard of Woodmen Valley Chapel likens that desire for fellowship with God to “A music that resembled some earlier music that men are born remembering.” Although all of humanity is currently born in a state of prostitution, we are also born with longings that can only be satisfied in a relationship with God. Just like the people of Israel and Judah, though, we seek to satisfy those longings almost anywhere other than in God. But we were made to be more than adulterers. We were made for God Himself, and only in Him can we find true satisfaction.
Ultimately, the invitation Jesus gave the woman, to follow Him and to receive His righteousness and to be free from sin, is the same one He offers you and me. So the question remains, will you accept His invitation and join Him in His song, that forever song of redemption?
1Israel became a divided monarchy in 931 B.CC and split into the nations of Judah and Israel. The kingdom of Israel, the northern kingdom, quickly degenerated into apostasy and fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The reason for Israel’s quick fall into idolatry is largely due to the fact that Jerusalem and the temple were located in Judah, leading the kings of Israel to set up their own altars and engage in idol worship. The kingdom of Judah remained faithful for a longer period, but it too broke its covenant with God and eventually fell to the Babylonians in 587 B.C. When the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians the exilic community from Judah was allowed to go back to their home where they rebuilt the temple.
2 Regardless of whether or not we believe in Adam and Eve as actual, distinct persons or merely representative of the first humans to inhabit earth, the account in Genesis is quite clear that the first humans did enjoy fellowship with God that was untroubled by the presence of sin and death.