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Isaiah 48-53: The Great Redeemer: Chapter 12: Israel’s Divorce and Remarriage

Isaiah 50:1, 2 says,

1 Thus says the Lord, “Where is the certificate of divorce by which I have sent your mother away? Or to whom of My creditors did I sell you? Behold, you were sold for your iniquities, and for your transgressions your mother was sent away. 2 Why was there no man when I came? When I called, why was there none to answer?...

This was addressed to the Israelites from the northern tribes whom God had divorced and had sent out of His house according to the law (Deut. 24:1-4). Judah was not divorced, however, for she had to remain married in order for Jesus to be born legitimately through Judah.

Jeremiah 3:8-11 speaks of this divorce, saying,

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. 9 Because of the lightless of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. 10 Yet in spite of all this, her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,” declares the Lord. 11 And the Lord said to me, “Faithless Israel has proven herself more righteous than treacherous Judah.”

Here we see “faithless Israel” and her “treacherous sister Judah” as the two wives of God (after the division of the kingdom into two nations). Israel was divorced and sent away. Judah was “treacherous” and actually worse than Israel, but nothing is said about divorcing her, because God had a different plan for her.

It is clear that Judah deserved to be divorced as well, because her “return” (i.e., repentance) was not genuine or heartfelt, “but rather in deception.” Jeremiah prophesied a century after Isaiah and saw the deportation of Judah to Babylon. Hence, when he speaks of Judah’s “return,” the word had a double meaning. He said that she would return to the old land physically, but that her repentance was not genuine or permanent.

That was Judah’s condition in the time of Christ when the nation acted treacherously toward the Messiah.

The Law of Divorce

Isaiah 50:1 affirms that Israel’s “certificate of divorce” had been real, but that it had somehow disappeared. The word picture is of a woman who could not find her divorce papers, having misplaced them or lost them. God then affirms His sovereignty, suggesting that He was able to reverse her situation and that she would be redeemed.

The problem is that the law forbade her from being remarried to her former Husband. The law was thus an obstacle that would have to be overcome in some way. This appeared to be impossible, apart from putting away the law. Deut. 24:1-4, KJV reads,

1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her; then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. 2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. 3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife, 4 her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the Lord…

The law did not take the time to advocate marriage counseling, nor did it specify what might constitute grounds for divorce. Other parts of the law defined sin and “uncleanness” and Moses did not think it necessary to repeat it here. The point is that if a divorce were to occur, a man could not simply send his wife out of the house. He had to give her a written “bill of divorcement,” so that she had written proof of her divorce. This would allow her to remarry without fear that her former husband might become jealous, claim that she was still his wife, and accuse her and her new husband of adultery.

The common law in ancient times, established by the law of Hammurabi (Nimrod), allowed a man to divorce his wife verbally. He only had to say three times, “I divorce you,” and she could be sent away. This provision in the law was ripe for abuse. God’s law corrected this problem by demanding that the divorce be put in writing.

Hence, God divorced Israel, and Jer. 3:8 says specifically that God gave her “a writ of divorce.” In other words, she had been divorced in the lawful manner before being sent out of His house (i.e., exiled to Assyria). There she had pursued other lovers (gods).

Who are the Legitimate Sons of God?

Hosea also prophesies about this divorce, illustrated by the prophet’s own divorce from Gomer, the harlot who represented Israel. The couple had three children before their divorce, and the prophet suggests that they were illegitimate. Apparently, the prophet did not believe that they were really his own children, due to her adulteries. In Hosea 2:2, 4, 5 the prophet tells his children,

2 “Contend with your mother, contend, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband4 Also, I will have no compassion on her children, because they are the children of harlotry; 5 For their mother has played the harlot; she who conceived them has acted shamefully, for she said, ‘I will go after my lovers’.”

When God married Israel at Mount Sinai, it was His intention to beget children who would be called the sons of God. However, the Israelites from the beginning turned to false gods and worshiped the golden calf. This was illustrated in the story of Hosea and Gomer, the harlot, who presented a prophetic picture of God and His harlot wife, Israel.

Just as Gomer’s children were begotten by her lovers, the Israelites themselves were not begotten by God but were “children of harlotry,” sired by other gods. The story tells us clearly that to be a legitimate Israelite was to be a son of God, of which John 1:13 speaks. Being an Israelite was thus not a matter of fleshly seed but of spiritual seed through the Holy Spirit. John says that we were begotten, “not of bloodline, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Our “natural” (fleshly) birth is thus illegitimate, legally speaking, because the only way to be a son of God is to be begotten by God Himself. Jesus is the perfect Example of this (Matt. 1:18), and this is why He was called the Son of God. He was not begotten by Joseph. It was His virgin birth that made Jesus a legitimate Son of God. We are to follow His example, if we want to be the sons of God.

The Divorce Problem Resolved in Christ

The problem raised by the law is that once divorced, a man was not allowed to reclaim her as his wife again. So once God divorced Israel and sent her out of His house with a bill of divorce, the law forbade Him from remarrying her. (In other words, the law did not give him the right to take her back without her consent, because he had relinquished his rights in the writ of divorce. On the other hand, the law upheld her right to decide.) The prophet extends hope to her, suggesting that God was carrying a secret that would allow Her to return to Him.

Would God violate His own law? Would He put away His law and violate His own nature? Or would He find a way to remarry Israel in a lawful manner?

The key is to see that death ends all lawful contracts, including marriage covenants. So Paul tells us in Rom. 7:1, 2,

1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? 2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.

Israel’s Husband was Jesus Christ Himself. He died on the cross, which satisfied the law’s demand in regard to the sin of the world. When He rose again, the law recognized Him as a “new creature,” that is, a newly-created Being. This removed the legal obstacle and gave Him the right to marry whoever would agree to marry Him.

So, as we will see, Isaiah 53 presents to us the death of the Husband, and Isaiah 54:4 then speaks of Israel’s “widowhood” that was to be forgotten. Isaiah 54:7 then says,

7 For a brief moment I forsook you; but with great compassion I will gather you.

His desire, Isaiah says, is to remarry Israel. This He could do as far as the law is concerned, but He will not marry her until her nature is changed. Likewise, she would have to have a change of heart in order to agree to marry Him. It is clear, then, that this marriage will not take place until the end of the age after the Holy Spirit has been poured out, making her ready and eligible for a New Covenant marriage and also giving her the desire to marry Him.

He will marry her through a New Covenant only, for He will never again marry Hagar, as He did at Mount Sinai. That first marriage failed, but the New Covenant marriage (to Sarah) will never fail.

This New Covenant marriage is set forth fully in Isaiah 62:4, KJV under the metaphorical names, Hephzibah and Beulah, whose names mean “My delight” and “Married.”

In this New Covenant marriage, Israel, the bride, includes all of the overcomers who are changed into His likeness, for that alone ensures that the marriage will endure forever. Collectively, the overcomers are the bride; individually, they are the sons of God and His bride.

God’s Hand is Not Short

Isaiah 50:1 asks, “Where is the certificate of divorce?” The answer is that it became irrelevant when Christ died on the cross. That certificate was an obstacle until death made it obsolete. Yet Christ’s death only resolved part of the problem. The other big obstacle was that Israel had remarried other gods and was enslaved as an Old Covenant wife to those gods. Before she could marry Christ, she would have to repent and obtain a divorce from her second husband (god).

That is why the great remarriage did not take place immediately after Christ died and rose again. Revelation 19 speaks of the great marriage in future terms. In a sense, Israel has been betrothed to Him. We are in an interim stage of prophetic history. As individual believers, of course, we are now part of the bride of Christ and should act accordingly. But in the big picture, Israel is a nation, not an individual.

In the same manner, as individuals we are each a temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16); but collectively, God is building a temple where we, as individuals, are “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5) that comprise that temple (Eph. 2:19-22). We must learn to think on both levels, because both are important.

Continuing from the middle of Isaiah 50:2, God says to Israel,

2 … “Behold, I dry up the sea with My rebuke, I make the rivers a wilderness; their fish stink for lack of water and die of thirst. 3 I clothe the heavens with blackness and make sackcloth their covering.”

Because God is sovereign, He has the ability to do many destructive things. When taken in the context of the previous verse, His point is that He is in full control of evil events such as Israel’s divorce from God. If He can “dry up the sea,” He can also dissolve that marriage. On the other hand, being in full control means also that He has the ability to reverse the problem and provide the solution.

If He can “dry up the sea,” He can also fill it with water. If He can “make the rivers a wilderness,” He can also make the rivers overflow their banks. If He can “clothe the heavens with blackness,” He can also fill the heavens with light.

Hence, God asks in the first part of verse 2, “Have I no power to deliver?” The question is rhetorical, because the answer is obvious.