Hosea 2:19, 20 says,
19 “And I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, 20 and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord.”
There are some who insist that God never divorced Israel; but if that were true, then how could God betroth Israel in the future? If the divorce never took place, then God would have called Israel to return to His house. He could have taken Israel back without a betrothal and certainly without a remarriage.
Furthermore, as we have already seen from Hosea 2:2, “she is not My wife, and I am not her husband,” which was probably a direct quote from the bill of divorce. Hosea 2:7 also says that Israel was to go back to her “first husband,” which implies that she had been remarried to at least one more husband. Hence, there is no justification for denying that Israel had been divorced.
The real question is how God could remarry her after divorcing her, for this appeared to be a violation of the law in Deut. 24:4. That is the question that we must answer. But first, let us see if Judah was also divorced.
Was Judah Divorced?
Jeremiah 3:8 says that God did indeed divorce Israel:
8 And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.
Jeremiah lived a century after Israel’s divorce, and he recognized that Israel had been divorced. His concern was for Judah, the nation that had also committed spiritual adultery with other gods. Yet there is no such writ of divorce given to Judah. Only Israel was divorced.
Judah could not be divorced—in spite of her harlotry—because she still had to bring forth the Messiah. The Messiah could not be brought forth apart from a marital relationship with God. In fact, when Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18), the people assumed that she had played the harlot. To the people, Mary was a harlot; to God, the nation was a harlot.
There were, however, two kinds of people in Judah, expressed in Jeremiah 24 as “good figs” and “bad figs.” (Jer. 24:1, 3, 5). The good figs were those who agreed with the judgments of God and submitted to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. The bad figs were those who disagreed with God’s judgments and decided to fight, trying to retain their freedom in spite of God’s righteous sentence.
These two kinds of Judahites were present in the land during the time of Jeremiah and also in the time of Jesus. The only difference was that in Jesus’ day, many of the people were being taught to resist their Roman captivity. Others were taught to submit, and these were “good figs.” Jesus never tried to lead a war against Rome, and He taught His disciples to submit to Rome.
In the end, the separation between the good and bad figs caused a split among the people of Judah. A tiny minority followed Jesus and received heart circumcision as the sign of their New Covenant marriage relationship. They did not have to go through a divorce and remarriage. Their relationship was simply upgraded from an Old Covenant relationship to a New Covenant relationship. These formed the nucleus of that body of people that was later called “the church.”
The majority of the Judahites, however, rejected Jesus (John 1:11). That body of Judahites (or “Jews”) were led to their destruction in 70 A.D. Yet even before the Great Revolt against Rome, the apostle Paul spoke of the distinction between these two groups of Judeans in Rom. 2:28, 29, saying,
28 For HE IS NOT A JEW who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But HE IS A JEW who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Here Paul tells us who IS a Jew and who IS NOT a Jew. By this we learn who is and is not a member or citizen of the tribe/nation of Judah. Paul says that outward circumcision, the sign of the Old Covenant, does not make a person a Judahite. Conversely, he says heart circumcision is the sign of being a Judahite, because one can only be (or remain) a “Jew” through the New Covenant.
These genuine Jews, as Paul defines them, began as a nucleus of Jews, beginning with Jesus and His disciples. On the day of Pentecost, their numbers began to increase greatly, and when the church was scattered by persecution, these Jews bore witness of Jesus in other parts of the world. The church (Judah) soon included large numbers of non-biological Jews whose hearts had been circumcised.
As the church increased and spread, it became recognized as distinct from the nation of Judea (Greek form of Judah). That body of people, marked by outward circumcision, continued to lay claim to the right to call themselves Judah, but their claim was no longer recognized by God Himself. They had revolted against King Jesus, and so they forfeited their status and, as the law says, they were cut off from among their people.
Paul says that the real Jews get their “praise” from God, and not from men. The name Judah means “praise.” The implication is that the one whom God praises is the one given the name Judah. Conversely, the ones praised by men (i.e., recognized as “Jews” by men) are not Jews by God’s definition.
The controversy over the definition of a Jew is ongoing to this day.
It is clear, then, once we understand the story, that Israel was divorced and sent out of God’s house, while Judah was split into two parts. The larger part was cut off from Judah for revolting against Jesus, the King of Judah. The smaller group of Judahites remained within the tribe, following the King who carried the right to carry the name Judah. This smaller group was never divorced, but because of the controversy over the name Judah, they came to be known as the church. In God’s eyes, the church was the tribe or nation of Judah.
The Church and the Overcomers
The church is Judah, but the overcomers are Israelites. To be of Judah (the church), one must accept Jesus as the Christ by faith and support His claim to the throne of David. To be of Israel, one must go beyond faith, through obedience, and into agreement as an overcomer.
To be recognized by God as a “Jew,” one must be in alignment with Christ’s purpose in His first coming. One cannot reject His claim to the throne and still expect God to recognize him as praiseworthy (that is, as a Jew). But to be an Israelite requires a person to support Christ’s claim to the Birthright of Joseph. This Birthright is the Fruitfulness Mandate, for “Joseph is a fruitful bough” (Gen. 49:22). The Hebrew word translated “bough” is ben, a son. Christ’s second coming is to manifest the sons of God, thus becoming fruitful.
Jacob did not become an Israelite until he had wrestled with the angel. He was not born Israel. Neither is any man an Israelite by birth in the sight of God. An Israelite is an overcomer. Jacob was a believer all of his life, but he was not an overcomer until he was 98 years old. Israel is a title indicating a particular status or position in the sight of God. How men use the term is no more relevant to God than the way in which they apply the term Judah/Jew.
So genuine believers are of Judah, following the King of Judah, and genuine overcomers are of Israel who follow Joseph, the King of Egypt (that is, the world). The King of a single nation (Judah) gives way to the King of the whole earth (Isaiah 54:5). This is why Judah was given the scepter only temporarily “until Shiloh comes” (Gen. 49:10). The King of Judah is a temporary and limited position, and He must expand His rule later to include the entire earth.
Above all, it should be understood that being of Judah or of Israel is not based upon one’s genealogy, but upon their legal citizenship that is open to all. All believers with heart circumcision are Jews as God defines the term, and those who are qualified as Sons of God are Israelites.
The Legal Dilemma
Deut. 24:1-4 gives us the law regarding divorce and remarriage. It does not attempt to engage in marriage counseling, but only sets forth legal rights and restrictions. I will use Rotherham’s The Emphasized Bible, because it is better than the NASB.
1 When a man taketh a woman and marrieth her, then shall it be, if she find not favour in his eyes, because he hath found in her some manner of shame, that he shall write her a scroll of divorcement, and put it into her hand, and shall send her forth out of his house. 2 And when she cometh forth out of his house, then may she go her way and become another man’s. 3 But if the latter husband hate her, and write her a scroll of divorcement, and put it into her hand, and send her away out of his house—or if the latter husband die, who had taken her to him to wife—4 then may her first husband who sent her away not again take her to become his wife, after that she hath been defiled, for that were an abomination before Yahweh—lest thou bring sin upon the land which Yahweh thy God is giving unto thee for an inheritance.
Israel was properly divorced, because God had legal cause to divorce her, and He gave her a “scroll of divorcement,” according to proper procedure. Israel followed after her lovers and married at least one of them. We know this, because in Hosea 2:7 Israel says, “I will go back to my first husband.” One cannot go back to a first husband unless she has had a second.
Further, this idea of a “first husband” is a direct quotation from Deut. 24:4, which expressly forbids a divorced woman from returning to her first husband. Herein is the legal dilemma. How can divorced Israel return to her first husband without violating the law?
Indeed, Israel might try to do so, but the greater question is how could God take her back in righteousness? Hosea 2:19 says that God will betroth her “in righteousness and in justice,” as well as “in lovingkindness and in compassion.” The love of God is understandable, but how could He remarry Israel without putting away the law that defines His standard of righteousness and justice?
For that answer, we must turn to Isaiah and the apostle Paul, who team up to explain this legal dilemma.