THE FORSAKEN BRIDE: A STORY OF HOPE
by KEN ALEXANDER
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The theme of God’s people being the Bride of Christ is prevalent throughout the Bible (Revelation 21:2 for example, see also Song of Solomon). God constantly likens His relationship to His people as that of a husband and wife. It is in this portrayal that God most reveals His vulnerable side, His love and the explanation for His sometimes violent, angry and jealous side.
The marriage relationship between man and woman is probably the most intense that exists in the human experience. Crimes of passion dominate almost all other crimes in the affairs of men, who are created in the image of God. The emotions engendered by close, intimate relationships rival those of God who loves more intensely than human. As a result, it has been, and is now, not uncommon for God to react in ways that seem to us as extreme. Yet in all His dealings with His people, ancient Israel and today’s spiritual Israel, these extremes are hope for God’s people, His Bride. They reveal God’s unfailing and eternal love for us.
Isaiah Chapter 54 speaks of this relationship and God’s hope for a final consummation of this love relationship which is more intense than any emotion generated by man. “For the LORD has called you, Like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, Even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” Says your God. “For a brief moment I forsook you, But with great compassion I will gather you. “In an outburst [overflowing] of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” Says the LORD your Redeemer” (Isaiah 54:6-8).
Forsake, in Hebrew, is azab, and also is used as abandonment in the context of God’s relationship with Israel in the Old Testament. As the verb enkataleiop, in Greek, it means to “separate with” someone/something by leaving, abandoning or deserting. It evokes the most extreme of actions by God upon humanity with seemingly disastrous ensuing consequences. Christ’s most extreme reaction on the cross was His agonized cry of “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). The answer to this question dates to the beginning of creation when God forsook His creation in the Garden of Eden.
God’s heart is revealed in the story of His original creation and His subsequent abandonment of it. In it, His overwhelming love for His Bride is shown because he did not completely abandon His object of passion without hope for redemption. Paul says in Romans 8:20-21: “For the creation was subjected to futility [a form of abandonment by God], not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God”.
God’s original depiction of creation was that of a paradise filled with His presence and love. God was “pleased” with His created world and saw that it was “good” (Genesis Chapter 1). In it God had a close relationship with the crown of His works, man. In all of it He required only one thing of man, only one commitment, such as the commitment(s) expressed by a husband and wife in their vows of marriage to each other. In this case God required the commitment of obedience which was quickly violated by man. The results of man’s violation of this commitment invoked in God an emotion so severe that, in His anger, He abandoned creation to a place without His abiding presence, a condition which continues to pervade humanity to this day to its detriment.
Physical Israel, as depicted in the Old Testament, was to be to us an example of God’s plan of redemption of mankind and the ensuing struggles inherent in the completion of that plan. In it all God promised and demonstrated His great compassion in the face of continual rejection by His chosen people. This is no better depicted in the Book of Hosea wherein God expressed how He felt about Israel’s continual unfaithfulness to Him in the face of His promise of love and blessing.
In Hosea, God commanded His prophet Hosea to fall in love with, and marry, an unfaithful prostitute. “…the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land [Israel] commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking [abandoning, not following after] the LORD.” (Hosea 1:2). As an example to Israel of His feelings for His people God caused Hosea to experience His (God’s) pain, as His chosen nation and people pursued unfaithfulness evoking His anger and jealousy. Hosea went on to love and marry the prostitute, and to have children by her, while she continued to be unfaithful to Him.
God’s displeasure with His people, who had abandoned and forsaken Him, is expressed throughout the book of Hosea, wherein Israel is likened to a whore in the most uncomplimentary terms. He, who had given so much in the relationship, is grieved and responds in anger, jealousy and judgment:
“For she does not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the new wine and the oil, And lavished on her silver and gold, Which they used for Baal [a pagan god]. “Therefore, I will take back My grain at harvest time And My new wine in its season. I will also take away My wool and My flax Given to cover her nakedness. “And then I will uncover her lewdness In the sight of her lovers, And no one will rescue her out of My hand. “I will also put an end to all her gaiety, Her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths And all her festal assemblies. “I will destroy her vines and fig trees, Of which she said, ‘These are my wages Which my lovers have given me.’ And I will make them a forest, And the beasts of the field will devour them. “I will punish her for the days of the Baals [pagan gods] When she used to offer sacrifices to them And adorn herself with her earrings and jewelry, And follow her lovers, so that she forgot [abandoned, forsook] Me,” declares the LORD” (Hosea 2:2-13).
Yet is all His rejection and forsaking of His people God still refused to abandon completely, leaving open a door of hope and redemption. Although the forsaking and rejecting may be something easily, though painfully, accomplished by man, God’s ultimate forgiveness and redemption is not common to man. In the midst of a complete betrayal of His love God says:
“Come, let us return to the LORD.
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.
“He will revive us after two days;
He will raise us up on the third day,
That we may live before Him.
“So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3).
Words alone cannot describe the depth of God’s love for us. We take for granted what can only be adequately expressed with tears. We can only imagine the depths of God’s love for us who have, as humanity, rejected him with the result that he has rejected us as He did Israel. As humans, a broken heart is the most extreme feeling we can compare to how God feels about us. To what can we as humans compare to a broken heart? Yet God extends to us a healing for our broken heart, and His, if we but return to Him. He says return with “fasting and weeping”. How else can we return in view of our sins? What do we have left to offer except what He desires most a “broken and contrite heart?”
David, in the midst of his repentance over the sin of adultery and murder, says only:
“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17).
Christ asked the question on the cross as to why God had forsaken Him at the time of his greatest need. The answer to that question is as follows.
The sin of mankind can be boiled down to his rejection of God wherein God’s reaction was the same. In His anger He rejected man to his own devices which resulted only in suffering and grief. God, in His great compassion, had to lay that rejection, abandonment, forsaking, onto Christ on the cross so that His love could prevail and His redemption and reconciliation could be fully accomplished.
Although beyond the expression of words this is mankind’s lesson. He has removed our rejection and abandonment. We were forsaken, as was Christ on the cross, but only for a brief moment (a thousand years to God is as a watch in the night). How can we also but forgive each other as God, although broken and grieved beyond measure, forgave us and allowed Himself the vulnerability to accept us to Himself.
His promise to us is without measure.
“O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, Behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
And your foundations I will lay in sapphires.
“Moreover, I will make your battlements of rubies,
And your gates of crystal,
And your entire wall of precious stones.
“All your sons will be taught of [disciples of] the LORD;
And the well-being of your sons will be great.
“In righteousness you will be established;
You will be far from oppression, for you will not fear;
And from terror, for it will not come near you.
If anyone fiercely assails you it will not be from Me.
Whoever assails you will fall because of you.
“Behold, I Myself have created the smith who blows the fire of coals
And brings out a weapon for its work;
And I have created the destroyer to ruin.
“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper;
And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD,
And their vindication is from Me,” declares the LORD (ISAIAH 54:11-17).
©Kenneth B. Alexander
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