The adulteress

A character that appears throughout the Bible and is key in understanding the struggle between good and evil is the adulteress. The seventh of the Ten Commandments states, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). Although adultery was typically associated with women that broke wedlock (H5003), the Mosaic Law indicated that both the man and the woman were to be punished for the sin of adultery. Leviticus 20:10 states, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” King Solomon warned the people of Israel about the dangers of committing adultery. Solomon said, “Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; He who does so destroys his own soul” (Proverbs 6:32, NKJV). The Hebrew word that is translated understanding, leb (labe) means “the heart.” In the Hebrew language, “The heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820). From that standpoint, a man that lacks understanding might be described as someone that doesn’t know God or a person that is not open to the influence of the Holy Spirit. Solomon said whoever commits adultery “destroys his own soul” (Proverbs 6:32, NKJV). The soul like the heart is associated with the inner person. “The soul of man, that immaterial part, which moves into the after life [the body is buried and decomposes] needs atonement to enter into God’s presence upon death” (H5315). The destruction of the soul doesn’t mean that committing adultery will cause your soul to be dissolved by death or that your soul will be extinguished by some other means. The soul is immortal and was designed for everlasting life (G5590), but it can be ruined or you might say completely corrupted to the point that it is no longer useful to God and Solomon said committing adultery is one of the ways that can happen.

Solomon’s warning against the adulteress began with some advice about how to avoid being taken in by her flattery. Solomon said:

My son, keep my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you;
keep my commandments and live;
    keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;
bind them on your fingers;
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
    and call insight your intimate friend,
to keep you from the forbidden woman,
    from the adulteress with her smooth words. (Proverbs 7:1-5)

Solomon suggested binding the commandments on your fingers as well as writing them on the tablet of your heart. What Solomon was talking about was using memory devices to keep the Ten Commandments at the forefront of your mind. It’s probably not a coincidence that God gave the Israelites Ten Commandments and ten fingers that they could use to remember them.

Solomon also referred to the adulteress as “the forbidden woman” (Proverbs 7:5). The Hebrew word Solomon used, zuwr (zoor) means “to turn aside (especially for lodging)” (H2114). Solomon later described the forbidden woman as being, “dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart” (Proverbs 7:10). In this instance, Solomon used a word for committing adultery that is associated with idolatry (H2181). The Hebrew word zanah (zaw-nawˊ) “means ‘to go a whoring, commit fornication, be a harlot, serve other gods.’ This is the regular term denoting prostitution throughout the history of Hebrew, with special nuances coming out of the religious experience of ancient Israel. It is used for the first time in the text at the conclusion of the story of the rape of Dinah by Shechem, as her brothers excuse their revenge by asking: ‘Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?’ While the term means ‘to commit fornication,’ whether by male or by female, it is to be noted that it is almost never used to describe sexual misconduct on the part of a male in the Old Testament. Part of the reason lies in the differing attitude in ancient Israel concerning sexual activity by men and women. The main reason, however, is the fact that this term is used most frequently to describe ‘spiritual prostitution’ in which Israel turned from God to strange gods” (H2181).

When God renewed his covenant with Israel, after they had made a golden calf and worshipped it (Exodus 32:1-6), he warned the people about spiritual prostitution. God said:

“Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.” (Exodus 34:10-16)

God identifies himself in this passage with the name Jealous and tells Moses that he “is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). The word jealous has a somewhat negative connotation, but “God is not tainted with the negative connotation of the verb. His holiness does not tolerate competitors or those who sin against him” (H7065). God’s jealousy is associated with a consuming fire that destroys whatever is opposed to his holiness (Deuteronomy 4:23-24), but the driving force behind God’s jealousy is the perfect love that caused him to sacrifice his only begotten Son in order to pay the penalty for our sins (John 3:16). The Song of Solomon 8:6-7 depicts the zealousness of God’s love and his desire for it to be reciprocated by others. It states:

Place me like a seal over your heart,
    like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as death,
    its jealousy as enduring as the grave.
Love flashes like fire,
    the brightest kind of flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
    nor can rivers drown it.
If a man tried to buy love
    with all his wealth,
    his offer would be utterly scorned. (NLT)

Solomon’s description of love as something that flashes like a fire, the brightest kind of flame (Song of Solomon 8:6) makes it clear that God’s passion for his people is not just the result of a strong emotional attachment, but also an enduring devotion that cannot be quenched.

Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s love for them when he instructed them to obey his commandments and to remain faithful to his covenant. Moses said:

“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. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today. And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-13)

The Hebrew word that is translated steadfast love in Deuteronomy 7:9 and 7:12, chesed (khehˊ-sed) is one of the most important terms in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. “In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: ‘strength,’ ‘steadfastness,’ and ‘love.’ Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. ‘Love’ by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet ‘strength’ or ‘steadfastness’ suggests only the fulfillment of a legal or other obligation. The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel)…Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law” (H2617).

The seriousness of worshipping other gods is demonstrated in the sin’s punishment of stoning the person to death. Deuteronomy 17:2-6 states:

“If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.”

Throughout the Old Testament the Israelites demonstrated their unwillingness to be faithful to God. Even Solomon, who was in many ways the most successful king over Israel, was involved in idolatry (1 Kings 11:4-8). The prophet Hosea, whose ministry extended from about 770 to 725 BC, was called to exemplify the relationship between God and Israel through his marriage to a harlot (Introduction to the book of Hosea). Hosea 3:1 states, “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.”

Solomon’s depiction of the adulteress indicated that she was making an intention effort to lead others astray. Solomon said:

For at the window of my house
    I have looked out through my lattice,
and I have seen among the simple,
    I have perceived among the youths,
    a young man lacking sense,
passing along the street near her corner,
    taking the road to her house
in the twilight, in the evening,
    at the time of night and darkness.

And behold, the woman meets him,
    dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.
She is loud and wayward;
    her feet do not stay at home;
now in the street, now in the market,
    and at every corner she lies in wait. (Proverbs 7:6-12)

Solomon used several words in this passage that are associated with spiritual activity. The young man that went to meet the adulteress was lacking sense; his heart was not open to the influence of the Holy Spirit (H3820). The young man was passing along the street near her corner; he had crossed over the boundary of right and entered the forbidden land of the wrong (H5674). The young man was taking the road to her house; he participated in the adulteress’ life-style (H1870) and the young man went “in the evening, at the time of night and darkness” (Proverbs 7:9); he intended to relinquish his spiritual protection and keep what he was doing a secret (H3915/H653).

Solomon portrayed the young man’s decision to commit adultery as being trapped in a life or death situation and cautioned him against taking that first step. Solomon said:

With much seductive speech she persuades him;
    with her smooth talk she compels him.
All at once he follows her,
    as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast
    till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare;
    he does not know that it will cost him his life.

And now, O sons, listen to me,
    and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;
    do not stray into her paths,
for many a victim has she laid low,
    and all her slain are a mighty throng.
Her house is the way to Sheol,
    going down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7:21-27)

Solomon referred to the words the adulteress used to convince the young man to do what she wanted him to as seductive speech and smooth talk. The essence of these types of communication is that they are easy to listen to, what you might call ticking your fancy or making you feel good about yourself, but it is clear that Solomon was concerned about the effect of adulteress’ words on the young man’s spiritual perception.

The underlying message of Solomon’s warning against committing adultery was the spiritual prostitution that believers become susceptible to when they listen to false teaching about God’s word. The Hebrew word that is translated seductive speech in Proverbs 7:21, leqach (lehˊ-kakh) “means teaching; instruction; persuasiveness; understanding, in the sense of something taken in” (H3948). An issue that came up at the time of Moses death was how the people would know if they were being lied to. Deuteronomy 18:20-22 states, “’But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” “The existence of prophets during the period of the monarchy necessitated a means by which to distinguish between a true prophet and a false one. Turbulent times, during which the people wanted to hear words of hope and security, produced outbreaks of prophets for hire and seers with optimistic lies. Shortly after Judah started going into exile in Babylon, but before the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah and Ezekiel had to contend with a rash of charlatans, upon whom they issued stern denunciations (Jeremiah 23:9-40; Ezekiel 13:1-23)” (note on Deuteronomy 18:20-22).

Moses told the people of Israel that God would raise up a prophet to take his place, someone that they could trust who would assure them of spiritual success. Moses told the Israelites, “And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:17-19). “The identity of this unnamed prophet is not revealed anywhere in the Old Testament. By Jesus’ day, the Jews had developed a clear expectation of a figure that would fulfill Moses’ words. Priests and Levites from Jerusalem asked John the Baptist if he was ‘the prophet,’ and he denied it (John 1:21). Peter identified ‘the prophet’ as a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 3:22, 23)” (note on Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Jesus fulfilled the test of a true prophet in that he predicted his own death and resurrection and it happened exactly as he said it would.

Jesus’ compassion toward a woman that was caught in the act of adultery showed that God was not so much interested in punishing the sinner as he was revealing the hardened condition of the religious experts’ hearts. John’s gospel tells us:

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:2-11)

The scribes and Pharisees wanted Jesus to condemn the woman who had been caught in adultery, but he wouldn’t do it. Instead, “Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground” (John 8:6). The King James Version of the Bible states in John 8:9, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” No one knows what Jesus wrote on the ground, but whatever it was, it caused everyone in the crowd to be convicted by their own conscience. Although it seemed at first that the adulteress was a wicked sinner that deserved to be put to death, it turned out that no one was able to condemn her and so, Jesus liberated her from the power and punishment of her sin (G1659).

Two sisters

Jerusalem and Samaria were described as two adulterous sisters in a parable that was intended to portray the two cities as corrupt and tied to the past by their habitual idolatry. (Ezekiel 23). The origin of the adulterous sisters’ behavior was an early exposure to sexual misconduct in the land of Egypt. The Israelites lived in bondage in Egypt for 430 years. When they were finally delivered from bondage by Moses, they had to be taken out of the land almost by force. During the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land, the Israelites were continually reverting to old habits such as worshipping a golden calf (Exodus 32:4), and engaging in the fertility rites of Baal, the god of the Moabites (Numbers 25:1-2).

The parable of the adulterous sisters opened with a stark picture of violent sexual abuse. God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother: and they committed whoredoms in Egypt: they committed whoredoms in their youth: there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity” (Ezekiel 23:2-3). The accusation of having committed whoredom was due to a voluntary and willful choice of a particular lifestyle that was contrary to God’s commandments. As God’s chosen people, the Israelites were forbidden to worship any god other than Jehovah. Even before Moses was given the Ten Commandments, it was clear to Abraham’s descendants that they were not to engage in idolatry. Circumcision was symbolic of God’s ownership rights to Abraham’s offspring, and a token of his entering into a covenant with each man individually (Genesis 17:10).

In the parable of the adulterous sisters, Jerusalem, capital of the nation of Judah, was designated as the younger sister, Aholibah, who followed in the footsteps of her older sister, Aholah, who represented Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel (Ezekiel 23:4). After the fall of Samaria, Jerusalem was expected to heed God’s warning and turn back to him, but instead, Jerusalem became even more corrupt than Samaria by defiling God’s holy temple. The result was alienation from God and isolation from his messengers, the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

In the parable, Ezekiel was told, “And when her sister Aholibah saw this, she was more corrupt in her inordinate love than she…She doted upon the Assyrians her neighbors, captains and rulers clothed most gorgeously, horsemen riding upon horses, all of them desirable young men” (Ezekiel 23:11-12). Jerusalem’s reliance on military strength rather than God’s protection was evident when king Jehoiakim paid tribute or ransom money in order to receive protection from Pharaoh-nechoh of Egypt (2 Kings 23:35). In the end, king Hezekiah of Judah invited the Babylonians to view the treasures of his kingdom which were later taken by king Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 20:13; Ezekiel 23:16).

Too late

On August 14, 591 B.C., “certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD” (Ezekiel 20:1). At that time, the fall of Jerusalem was inevitable and king Zedekiah’s plan to escape into the desert was most likely already in place. The elders of Israel may have been hoping that Ezekiel would give them an alternative to what they had already heard from the prophet Jeremiah. The fact that they went to see Ezekiel while he was being held captive in Babylon suggests that the elders of Israel were expecting Ezekiel to be aware of the current situation in Jerusalem and was able to tell them what to do even though he had been in captivity for more that seven years. Otherwise, there would have been no point for the elders to travel such a long distance to get his advice.

Unfortunately, the elders of Israel were disappointed when they arrived. Instead of receiving the latest news from God’s appointed messenger, the elders of Israel were told it was too late for them to seek God’s counsel, their judgment was already sealed and God would not reconsider his sentence against them (Ezekiel 20:31). Ezekiel was instructed to pronounce sentence against them and was told exactly what to say so that the elders of Israel would realize time had run out and Jerusalem would soon be destroyed.

The seriousness of Israel’s wrongdoing was such that God had Ezekiel recite the history of their idolatry from its beginning in the desert outside of Egypt before the people ever entered the Promised Land. Several times, God wanted to pour out his fury, but spared the people for his own name’s sake. Eventually, God gave up on his effort to change the Israelites’ behavior and let them have their own way. He explained to Ezekiel, “Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols. Wherefore, I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; and I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 20:24-26). In other words, God let them do what they wanted to so that they would become aware of their own sinful way of life.

The sisters

God’s anger toward the city of Jerusalem was not an isolated incident. Beginning with the flood that wiped out all life on earth (Genesis 7:21), God continually acted to rid the world of corrupt humans. Two cities in particular were singled out for their wicked behavior, Samaria and Sodom. God likened these cities to sisters that loathed their husbands and their children (Ezekiel 16:45). God said of Jerusalem, “And thine elder sister is Samaria, she and her daughters that dwell at thy left hand: and thy younger sister, that dwelleth at thy right hand is Sodom and her daughters” (Ezekiel 16:46).

The characterization of these cities as sisters was meant to portray a similar behavior that was common to all, as if it was a family trait. What was the same about all of them was idolatry. It was said of Jerusalem, “Thus saith the Lord GOD: Because thy filthiness was poured out, and thy nakedness discovered through thy whoredom with thy lovers, and with all the idols of thy abominations, and by the blood of thy children, which thou didst give unto them; behold, therefore, I will gather all thy lovers…and will discover thy nakedness unto them, that they may see all thy nakedness” (Ezekiel 16:36-37).

The city referred to as Jerusalem’s elder sister (Ezekiel 16:46), Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Samaria was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. Among the many wicked kings that ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel were king Jeroboam who made two calves of gold to be worshipped as gods, and Omri who established the capital of Samaria and instituted Baal worship there. Comparing Jerusalem to Samaria, God said, “Yet hast thou not walked after their ways, nor done after their abominations: but as if that were a very little thing, thou wast corrupted more than they in all thy ways…Neither hath Samaria committed half of thy sins; but thou hast multiplied thine abominations more than they, and hath justified thy sisters in all thine abominations which thou hast done” (Ezekiel 16:47,51).

Sodom, a city that was destroyed when God rained brimstone and fire on it from heaven (Genesis 19:24), was described as haughty or proud. God said, “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). God said that Jerusalem had justified Samaria and Sodom because she was more wicked than they were. The Hebrew word translated justified in this instance is tsadeq (tsaw – dak´). “This word is used of man as regarded as having obtained deliverance from condemnation, and as being thus entitled to a certain inheritance” (6663).

Because Jerusalem was proven to be no better than Samaria and Sodom, these two cities would be restored to their former estate, just as Jerusalem would be in the future. In other words, when the Messiah came, he would not limit his ministry to the city of Jerusalem. God intended to extend his grace to the surrounding region, and eventually to the entire world. In spite of Jerusalem’s failure to meet God’s standards, God did not abandon his holy city. He said, Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant…That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 16:60,63).

Idols

In his call to turn from idols, the LORD repeated three times the accusation, “these men have set up their idols in their hearts , and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face” (Ezekiel 14:3,4,7). To set up an idol in one’s heart means that you are intentionally giving it a place of priority in making your decisions. In other words, you are planning your life around the thing that you worship and want to make sure it remains a part of your life.

The Hebrew word translated idols in Ezekiel 14:3, gillul (ghil – lool´) is properly translated a log, as in something that is round and can be transported through rolling it (1544, 1556). A log was synonymous with an idol because the images of pagan gods were usually carved into wooden statues from giant trees. Jesus used the illustration of a log being cast out of the eye to teach against hypocrisy. He said, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5, ESV).

Jesus may have been referring to the practice of idolatry as a serious problem compared with worry or being anxious about God providing for our needs (Matthew 6:32). At the core of idolatry was the belief that spiritual beings had power apart from God’s control. If you wanted to excel in a certain area of your life, you could gain an advantage by seeking the assistance of a god whose domain was that area. For example, Asherah was the Canaanite goddess of fertility.

Thinking of idols as images that were stored or set up in the heart, you could say that Asherah was a symbol of or was similar to pornography. She was often depicted as a partially naked woman and her image was probably intended to stimulate sexual excitement. As with pornography today, images of naked women take the place of a normal, healthy sex drive. When God said, “these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face” (Ezekiel 14:3), he was most likely referring to the statue of Asherah that was erected in the temple to serve as a daily reminder that sex was the most important thing in these men’s lives.

In as much as God knew that idols were a perpetual problem with his people, he reminded Ezekiel that the remnant of people that would be saved from destruction were just as evil as everyone else. It was only by his grace that God would be able to save anyone. He said, “Yet behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their ways and their doings: and ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought upon it. And they shall comfort you, when you see their ways and their doings: and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 14:22-23).

Remember me

One thing that is clear about God is he has feelings just like we do. The type of things that upset us, also upset God and cause him to act in ways that we can relate to. God’s anger toward his people was justified in that they had intentionally turned their backs on him after he had blessed them and shown them undeserved favor. Everything God did for the Israelites, he did out of love and compassion for them and he did not punish them until it was evident that his people had rejected him completely.

In the book of Hosea, the children of Israel are portrayed as an adulteress who looked to other gods, and loved to get drunk on wine (Hosea 3:1). In spite of their infidelity, God promised to restore the nation of Israel and to unite the divided kingdoms into one. God’s love for the children of Israel was like that of a jealous husband because his emotions were involved in the relationship. God had a strong emotional attachment to his people (160) and wanted to remain in fellowship with them, even though they did not feel the same way about him (Hosea 3:1).

In his explanation to Ezekiel of the destruction of Judah, God revealed his personal anguish over the situation (Ezekiel 6:9). Once again, he promised to leave a remnant that would one day acknowledge him as Jehovah, the Jewish national name of God. He said, “Yet will I save a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries. And they that escape shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart which hath departed from me and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations” (Ezekiel 6:8-9).

The Hebrew word translated remember in Ezekiel 6:9 is properly translated as “to mark (so as to be recognized)” (2142) and is suggesting that God’s people would stand out among the other people of the nations in which they would be living in exile. God intended for his people to be different in that they were not to worship idols, nor were they to practice witchcraft or the occult. The idea that God’s people would remember him among the nations where they were taken captive was about the continued worshipping of God without a temple in which to do it. Only those who truly loved God would be able to maintain their relationship with him. Over time, it would be evident who really believed in God and who didn’t.

A legal case

Jeremiah’s message to Judah began with the presentation of a legal case against God’s people. According to the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were forbidden to worship any other God besides YHWH, the name of God translated into English as LORD. God chose this name as the personal name by which he related specifically to his chosen or covenant people (3068). The first three commandments of the Mosaic Law stated:

  1. Thou shalt have not other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
  3. Thou shalt not bow down thyself  to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children  unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. (Exodus 20:3-5)

The first three of the Ten Commandments given to the children of Israel dealt with idolatry because the covenant between God and his chosen people depended on a relationship existing between the two parties of the agreement. In some ways, the Ten Commandments were like a marriage contract that specified the terms for a divorce to take place. It was implied that both God and his people would be faithful to each other and remain in the relationship for ever. The reason why idolatry was off limits for them was because like adultery, it undermined the intimacy that was necessary for a loving relationship to exist. The only way the Israelites would trust God and depend on his provision for them was knowing God and God alone could take care of all their needs.

God’s issue with his people was not so much that they had broken his commandments , but that they had abandoned him for worthless idols. Speaking through Jeremiah, the LORD declared, “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns; broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). A cistern was a man-made storage tank designed to capture rain and make it available throughout the year. The cistern was representative of an idol because it was cut or carved out of stone and signified man’s ability to live independent of God’s ongoing provision. God’s reference to broken cisterns that could hold no water was meant to highlight the fact that a cistern was useless without rain, which God still had to provide.

The Israelites’ desire for independence was seen by God as being the same as an unfaithful spouse. Particularly in the book of Hosea, God’s people were likened to “a wife of whoredoms” (Hosea 1:2). Rather than being thankful for what God had provided, the Israelites preferred to fend for themselves (Jeremiah 2;25) and to worship whomever they pleased (Jeremiah 2:31). In spite of their flagrant idolatry, God’s people claimed to be innocent of the charges God brought against them. It was only because they refused to repent that God proceeded with his judgment. Jeremiah declared the truth about the people’s attitude when he said, “Yet thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me. Behold, I will plead with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned” (Jeremiah 2:35).

The harvest

The universal law of the harvest, sowing and reaping, applies to all areas of life and experience (2232). Referring to Israel’s idol worship, the prophet Hosea declared, “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). In this instance, the wind “may be a suggestion of purposelessness, uselessness, or even vanity (emptiness)” (7307). The wind is regarded in Scripture as an emblem of the mighty penetrating power of the invisible God, therefore, the whirlwind or hurricane, suggests a spiritual storm that would snatch away the peaceful existence of God’s people.

The Israelites’ idolatry centered around two golden calves made by king Jeroboam I after Israel was divided into two kingdoms (1 Kings 12:28). The worship of these calves was most likely connected to the 400 years Israel spent in Egypt in slavery. Shortly after they were miraculously delivered from Pharaoh’s army, the Israelites made a golden calf and their leader Aaron declared, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:8). King Jeroboam I spoke similar words about his golden calves (1 Kings 12:28). God’s sentence against the Israelites specifically condemned this practice:

Of their silver and their gold have they made their idols, that they may be cut off. Thy calf , O Samaria, hath cast thee off, mine anger is kindled against them…The workman made it, therefore, it is not God: but the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces. (Hosea 8:5-6)

While the Israelites were dwelling in the Promised Land, they had enjoyed the benefit of God’s blessing and were given something no other nation received, God’s mercy. What this meant was that even though they had sowed wicked deeds like everyone else, the Israelites were not punished for their transgressions. Their sacrifices cancelled the record of their debt and they were blessed by God even though they didn’t deserve it. Because they turned their backs on God, things would to change.

Now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins…The days of visitation are come, the days of recompense are come; Israel shall know it. (Hosea 8:13, 9:7)

The northern kingdom of Israel received harsher treatment than Judah because their idolatry was blatant and continuous from the time of king Jeroboam I until the people were taken into captivity by Assyria. In particular, the capital city of Samaria had a reputation for paying tribute to foreign kings and relied on its army rather than God to deliver her from her enemies.

Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity, ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men. Therefore shall a tumult arise among thy people, and all thy fortresses shall be spoiled. (Hosea 10:13-14)

An abomination

King Ahaz’s reign over Judah was characterized by extreme idolatry. The depths to which he sank is summarized in 2 Kings 16:3 where it says that he “made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out from before the children of Israel.” An abomination is something disgusting. The Hebrew word “to’ebah defines something or someone as essentially unique in the sense of being dangerous, sinister and repulsive to another individual” (8441).

An abomination is detestable to God because it is contrary to his nature (8441). King Ahaz’s behavior deserved to be punished and yet there is no record of anything happening to him as a result of his offenses against God. In fact, God sent Isaiah to deliver a message to Ahaz that indicated God wanted to help Ahaz and would deliver him from Syria and Israel if Ahaz would only believe in the LORD (Isaiah 7:9). But instead, Ahaz put his trust in Tiglath-pilneser king of Assyria.

When Rezin king of Syria recovered an important port city on the gulf of Aqabar, it says in 2 Kings 16:7 that “Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pilneser king of Assyria, saying, I am thy servant and thy son, come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Syria.” Basically, what Ahaz was saying was that Tiglath-pilneser was his god. Ahaz was going to rely on him for deliverance rather than the LORD.

King Ahaz’s devotion to Tiglath-pilneser enabled Judah to escape his vigorous campaigns, but the kings of Assyria that followed Tiglath-pilneser did not spare Judah from being attacked. Because king Ahaz refused to believe in the LORD, God used the Assyrians later on to draw his people back to him (Isaiah 7:20). Ultimately, the ravages of war caused Judah to look for their true deliverer, their Messiah (Isaiah 9:2).

Ahaz’s behavior was so outrageous that is served a dual purpose in bringing the people of Judah back to God. First, it showed the people that God really did love them because he allowed Ahaz to go his own way and did not punish him for his idolatry. Second, Ahaz’s determination to cut God out of the lives of his people was the impetus for God to go to greater lengths to prove himself faithful and to remind his children that their Messiah was coming.

Good out of bad

King Ahaz, the grandson of king Uzziah, reigned in Judah during the time when Israel was taken into captivity by Assyria. Ahaz did not have a relationship with the LORD and there is no record of God ever speaking to him directly or through a prophet. Ahaz worshipped Baalim and because he lived as the gentiles did, it says in 2 Chronicles 28:5 that God “delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria” and “the hand of the king of Israel.”

It could have been that king Ahaz’s apparent turning away from God was what kept the Assyrians from taking Judah into captivity along with the rest of Israel. After Israel killed 120,000 of king Ahaz’s warriors and took 200,ooo women and children captive, Ahaz asked the kings of Assyria for help in fighting his enemies. Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria didn’t help Ahaz, but instead took a bribe from Ahaz to go after a common enemy, Syria (2 Chronicles 28:21).

Because Ahaz was left on his own to fight with a significantly diminished army, he became distressed and was desperate to find a way out of his situation. In an attempt to gain spiritual strength, Ahaz turned to demon worship (2 Chronicles 28;23). His final, and perhaps greatest offense against God, was to “shut up the doors of the house of the LORD, and he made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 28:24).

King Ahaz is a perfect example of how God uses wicked behavior to bring about his desired result. In spite of all that Ahaz did to offend God, Judah was not destroyed by Assyria as the rest of Israel was. It says in 2 Chronicles 28:19 that “the LORD brought Judah low because of Ahaz.” This could mean that the LORD caused Ahaz’s army to be diminished so that Assyria would not see them as a threat.

The northern kingdom of Israel was at a peak in its strength when it was taken into captivity by Assyria. This is evident by its ability to slaughter 120,ooo of Judah’s valiant warriors in one day and to take another 200,00o people captive. Perhaps the greatest difference between the kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel at the time when Shalmaneser V initiated a three-day siege against Israel was a lack of confidence on the part of king Ahaz. Had Ahaz thought he could stand up to Tiglath-pilneser or Shalmaneser, Judah might have been attacked as well.