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Is God’s covenant relationship with Israel correctly described as a marriage?

An argument against using the relationship between Israel and God as a guide for human marriages goes like this:

It is impossible to compare God’s relationship with Israel to the marriage between a husband and wife.
1. Marriage is one husband and one wife
2. Israel is a nation of millions of people with one God.

This argument is has the following problems.

1. God Himself describes the relationship as a marriage.

Isaiah 54:5
For your Maker is your husband,  the Lord of hosts is his name;  and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,  the God of the whole earth he is called.

Jeremiah 3:14
Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:

Jeremiah 2:2
Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord,  I remember the devotion of your youth,  your love as a bride,  how you followed me in the wilderness,  in a land not sown.

Jeremiah 31:32
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.

2. The covenant is between ONE nation, not between individuals.

The covenant that God made with Israel was made with the nation of Israel, not individual members of Israel. So in this sense it is a relationship between just two parties.

Deu 7:6 ESV “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

When Israel as a nation followed the Lord He blessed them. When Israel as a nation forsook the Lord He cursed them. This does not mean that when the nation of Israel followed the Lord there were no unrighteous people among them (eg Absalom). Nor does it mean that there were no righteous people among Israel when the nation forsook the Lord (eg Elijah).  God, in His own wisdom, assessed the spiritual state of the nation as a whole and responded accordingly. A good indicator of the spiritual state of the nation was the spiritual state of the king who ruled the nation at the time.

3. You cannot divorce someone you are not married to

It is not possible divorce someone you were not married to (or betrothed to under Jewish law). So when God declares that He divorced Israel it is a clear indication that He was once married to her.

Jer 3:8 ESV  She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore.

4. Hosea was called to demonstrate God’s relationship to Israel

Hos 1:2 ESV  When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”Hos 3:1 ESV  And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”

The life of Hosea was intended to picture the relationship between Israel and God. Hosea chooses a woman to be his wife in the same way that God chose Israel to be his people. The woman is grossly unfaithful in the same way Israel is grossly unfaithful. The woman leaves Hosea the same way Israel departs from God. Hosea pursues his unfaithful wife and buys her back to be his wife again the same way God will bring Israel back again to be His faithful wife.This view is affirmed by many (most?) scholars:

Smith’s Bible Commentary:
1. The first division should probably be subdivided into three separate poems, each originating in a distinct aim, and each after its own fashion attempting to express the idolatry of Israel by imagery borrowed from the matrimonial relation.Easton’s Bible Dictionary:
The book may be divided into two parts, the first containing Hos. 1 – 3, and symbolically representing the idolatry of Israel under imagery borrowed from the matrimonial relation. The figures of marriage and adultery are common in the Old Testament writings to represent the spiritual relations between Jehovah and the people of Israel.

Fausset’s Bible Dictionary:
On his marriage to Gomer, Henderson thinks that there is no hint of its being in vision, and that she fell into lewdness after her union with Hosea, thus fitly symbolizing Israel who lapsed into spiritual whoredom after the marriage contract with God on Sinai.

It would seem to me that to deny that the relationship between God and Israel is a marital relationship is to empty the book of Hosea of any clear meaning. That truth is central to the entire book.


1. The Hebrew word ‘baal’ means ‘master’ not ‘married’

It is correct that the word can be translated as ‘master’ or ‘owner’.  The reason why multiple translations translate it as ‘married’ is because that is ALSO a valid choice.  In fact it is the only choice in many verses such as Ex 21.3, De 22.22, De 24.1, Pro 30.23, Is 54.1, Is 62.4 and Mal 2.11.

Also, the decision by the ESV translators to use ‘master’ in Jer 3.14 does not mean that Israel was not ‘married’ to the Lord since a ‘husband’ and a ‘master’ were both appropriate words to use to describe a husband in the OT. The way to determine the best word to use is to look at the context.


God clearly describes His covenant relationship with Israel as a marriage. That ‘marriage’ was between two parties – God and the nation of Israel. God blessed or cursed the nation of Israel based upon the spiritual state of the nation as a whole.


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