The Romance Of Passover

Many Christians have a complicated relationship with the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as it’s also called. They skip it when reading through the whole Bible, ignore it in study, and struggle to explain what it’s doing in scripture. Even the idea that the Song is an allegory for the love between God and His people and/or Christ and the church (the dominant interpretation for thousands of years) has been largely abandoned by modern Bible scholars.

In Jewish tradition, the Song is associated with Passover (Pesach) and is read at this time of year. Some say this is just because the song references the spring season. But other rabbis describe this book as the “holy of holies” in the canon of scripture. They accept as a matter of fact that “Israel, in it’s covenant with God made on Mt. Sinai, was married to God” and the people owed Him their “absolute fidelity” (quotes from “Why Do We Sing the Song of Songs on Passover?” by Benjamin Edidin Scolnic).

This assumption explains why the prophets speak so often of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God as marital infidelity. In reference to Hosea, Gerson Cohen said this was “because his Israelite mind had been taught from childhood to think of the relationship between God and Israel in terms of marital fidelity, in terms of love” (quote from “The Song of Songs and the Jewish Religious Mentality”). The Song of Songs might be the most explicitly romantic book in the Bible, but it’s certainly not the only time romantic imagery is used to teach us something about the relationship between God and His people. The Apostle Paul (also a Jewish rabbi) even said after giving instruction to human husbands and wives that “this mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32, LEB).

Covenants and Romance

So what does all this have to do with Passover? For some writers, the Song actually functions as a midrash on Exodus — a commentary in the form of a poetic, figurative retelling of the Exodus story. With this interpretation, “the Song of Songs, according to the rabbis, is a text which describes the very events that Pesah celebrates and commemorates.” You can read more about this viewpoint in Scolnic’s paper (click here).

Even without turning to Jewish midrash, though, we can find connections between God’s romance of Israel and the Exodus story. Take, for example, one of my favorite passages from Hosea: Read more

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The Bridegroom Cometh

I love weddings. Smiling faces, happy tears, white dress, flowers, everywhere, dancing, true love … *sigh*. But even the best wedding I can imagine won’t be as wonderful as the heavenly wedding after Jesus Christ returns to claim His bride.

We’re fast approaching the fall holy day season. Yom Teruah/Feast of Trumpets is on Monday, September 14. It’s the day that pictures Christ’s triumphal return, which closely connects it with His marriage.

The Bridegroom Cometh | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Building A House

In the marriage customs of Christ’s day, at least among the Jews, there were strong parallels with God’s plan. After a betrothal ceremony, the bridegroom went away to build a house. In the mean time, the bride got ready and watched carefully because she wasn’t sure when he’d show up again. The timing depended on the bridegroom’s father saying the house was complete and the bride’s father agreeing that the bride-price had been properly paid.

Jesus told His disciples He didn’t know when He was coming back — that was something only the Father could decide (Matt. 24:36; Mark 13:32). He did, however, tell us what He’d be doing in the mean time.

Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (Jn. 14:1-3)

Christ’s house-building functions on two levels. One is mentioned here – His preparation of a dwelling place for us in His Father’s heavenly realm. Another involves us more directly.

For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God. And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward, but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. (Heb. 3:4-6)

We just spent the past four weeks talking about our status as God’s temple, how we can build up each other, what obstacles we face in temple building, and how to clean a spiritual temple. The common thread in all this was the key role of Jesus Christ as Foundation, High Priest and chief Builder of His temple.

having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord,  in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:20-22)

Bridal Preparations

We are built on and in Jesus, by Jesus, so we can be fit dwellings for God. While He is preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to dwell with and be indwelt by Him and His Father. Still, He isn’t the only one working on getting the Bride ready.

Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. (Rev. 19:7)

This verse describing the bride as “ready” is in the future. Since that’s the case, the Bride today should have started preparations if she wants to be ready by the time this marriage takes place.  Yet how can we possibly prepare to marry Jesus? How can we hope to be a suitable helper for Him? Well, we couldn’t if all this preparation was done on our own.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13)

We have to work on ourselves, but that’s all made possible because God is working in us. Since He’s already adopted us into His family, He fills the Father-of-the-Bride role as well as being the Bridegroom’s Father.

Paul wrote to Timothy that if we purge ourselves form ungodliness and iniquity, then we’ll be “a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). That’s what we want to become — purified for use in the temple and prepared to do good works.

The Bridegroom Cometh| marissabaker.wordpress.com

Claiming The Bride

The time between formal betrothal and when both fathers gave the go-ahead for the groom’s return could stretch into years. Like some of those ancient brides, the church has waited a long time for her groom to come back. We know He’s coming, and we’re working on getting ready, but are we waiting eagerly for Him? Do we anticipate His arrival?

But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ (Matt. 25:5-6)

Now we get to the part involving trumpet blasts — they signaled the bridegroom’s return in an unmistakable sign that he was close at hand. It’s enough to wake you up, but doesn’t give you enough time for panicked last-minute preparation. If you aren’t ready when the trumpet sounds, you miss His arrival.

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51-52)

Once He’s here, we’re out of time. Either we’re ready to go with Jesus into the wedding feast, or we’re left outside like the five foolish virgins (Matt. 25:11-13).

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  (1Thes. 4:16-17)

This is what Yom Teruah — the Feast of shouting and trumpet-sounding — pictures. It’s a yearly reminder for the Bride of Messiah to get ready. Your Bridegroom is coming! Do you hear the trumpet?

 

Credits for photos used in blog images this week:

Mercy For My People (Hosea 1-3)

Of all the minor prophets, Hosea is probably the one I spend the most time reading. But I usually just focus on the first three chapters, where God is talking about His marriage covenant with Israel. I thought it might be interesting to look at the book as a whole and see what God has to teach us in the entire prophecy. I still only had time to get to the first three chapters today, but we can save the rest for a later post.

An Unfaithful Wife

Hosea’s book begins with God telling him to marry a prostitute. This rather unusual marriage was meant as an illustration of God’s relationship with Israel.

When the Lord began to speak by Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea: “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son (Hos. 1:2-3)

The covenant established between God and Israel was like a marriage, to which Israel was unfaithful. To further illustrate God’s message to the people through Hosea, He gave Gomer’s children meaningful, specific names. The first child, which Hosea fathered, was named Jezreel. This name means “God will sow,” and is also a place name in the land of Israel.

Then the Lord said to him: “Call his name Jezreel, for in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, and bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. It shall come to pass in that day that I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

And she conceived again and bore a daughter. Then God said to him: “Call her name Lo-Ruhamah, for I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, but I will utterly take them away. Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen.”

Now when she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then God said: “Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be your God.” (Hos. 1:4-9)

It’s chilling to hear God say He will not have mercy and will no longer call someone His people. This isn’t something we picture God ever saying in the New Testament church that we’re a part of, but Paul tells us that the things which happened to physical Israel were our “examples, and they were written for our admonition” (1 Cor. 10:11). We often think we’d never do anything like Israel did, turning away to worship other gods, but evidently the New Testament writers — and God Himself — thought there was a danger or they wouldn’t have given us warnings like John’s admonition “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly — and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! (2 Cor. 11:1-4)

Paul is worried about the Christians he’s writing to doing exactly the same thing Israel did. They went after something that was not in line with the truth which God had given them. This started at Mount Sinai, when they made a golden calf to replace God just a few weeks after promising, “All the words which the Lord has said we will do” (Ex. 24:3). They made a covenant with God Himself, and when Moses took a bit longer to come back than they expected, they “corrupted themselves” by turning away from God’s commands and trying to replace Him with something else (Ex. 32:7-8).

Justice and Love

God’s covenant with His people is consistently compared to a marriage agreement. Because of Israel’s conduct, however, when Hosea was told to model the relationship between God and Israel in his own marriage he had to marry a harlot. That’s how unfaithful Israel was to God.

Bring charges against your mother, bring charges; for she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband! Let her put away her harlotries from her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and expose her, as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst. …

She will chase her lovers, but not overtake them; yes, she will seek them, but not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better for me than now.’ For she did not know that I gave her grain, new wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold—which they prepared for Baal.” ( Hos. 2:2-3, 7-8)

You can read the full conversation in verses 2 through 13, but this gives the general idea. We might think these words sound excessively harsh coming from God. Isn’t He a God of love and mercy with loads of forgiveness to pour out on us when we do something bad? yes, but He is also justice (Ps. 89:14). And His justice involves consequences for sin. Is there any one of us who wouldn’t be upset, angry even, if our spouse used the gifts we gave them to entice other lovers? and how many of us would then die to pay the price for that unfaithful spouse’s transgression, and freely forgive them the way God already has died for and forgiven us?

Ammi and Ruhamah

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her. I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.

And it shall be, in that day,” says the Lord, “That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master,’ for I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, and they shall be remembered by their name no more. In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, with the birds of the air, and with the creeping things of the ground. Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth, to make them lie down safely.

I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.” (Hos. 2:14-20)

Hosea acts out this redemption in chapter 3 by buying back his unfaithful wife. He says, “I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley.” My study Bible notes that the price paid in verse 2 adds up to 30 shekels — the same amount Judas was paid to betray Jesus (Matt. 26:14-16). 30 pieces of silver to redeem an unfaithful wife, 30 pieces of silver to betray the One whose sacrifice made the ultimate redemption pictured by this transaction possible.

It shall come to pass in that day that I will answer,” says the Lord; “I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth. The earth shall answer with grain, with new wine, and with oil; they shall answer Jezreel. Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ and they shall say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hos 2:21-23)

Remember the names God gave Gomar’s and Hosea’s children? This promise hearkens back to them, and reverses the decrees of “No-Mercy” and “Not-My-People” that were contained in the names Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi. This is was also addressed earlier in Hosea, in some verses we skipped over in chapter 1.

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’ Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head; and they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel!

Say to your brethren, ‘My people,’ and to your sisters, ‘Mercy is shown.’” (Hos. 1:10-2:1)

The King James translates this last verse, “Say ye unto your brethren, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ruhamah.” Essentially, dropping the “Lo-” prefix changes “not my people” into “my people” and “not having obtained mercy” into “having obtained mercy.” God’s plan is to bring Israel back to Himself, and reverse the judgement that separated her from Him. This process began with Christ’s sacrifice, and will be completed after His return.