There is a large debate over whether God divorced Israel, often quoting from Jeremiah 3:8 or Hosea 1, but great care is needed in our exegesis to understand what actually took place. At this point in history, Israel was divided into two houses, or kingdoms: there was the Northern Kingdom (known as Israel), and the Southern Kingdom (known as Judah). The Lord appeals to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and in Jer 3:8 the prophet writes “Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also.” At first glance it would appear that God did divorce Israel for the passage says that He had given her a certificate of divorce. Yet when we read further on in the same passage in verse 14 we find that the Lord considers Himself still married to her, “Return, O backsliding children,” says the LORD; “for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.” Jer 3:14
What are we to make of this? Is the Lord still married or not to Israel at this point in time? When Israel divided into two houses, did He then have two wives? Was the northern Kingdom a wife and the southern Kingdom another wife? Well, how many betrothals took place on Sinai? There was just one, one wedding between the Lord and Israel. Even though later she divided politically into two, God’s covenant remained with Israel as a whole – it was their corporate identity, as One people, that the Lord entered into a covenant relationship with, not with their divisions but their corporate identity as a whole. Therefore even though the nation of Israel divided politically into two, God didn’t then have two wives. In the same way He doesn’t accommodate our divisions and have a separate covenant for each. No, God will always only have one wife, and therefore there will always only be one wedding covenant, one wedding contract.
The fact is that when the northern tribes had torn themselves away from the south, they were not only divorcing (which means separating) themselves from Judah, but were also divorcing (or separating) themselves from the Lord and from the covenant that defined their relationship with the Lord as their Husband. Significantly, they then erected statues of Baal in Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom. (The word Ba ‘al means husband or master). When we step out of unity with each other into divisions or plurality we endanger the very covenant relationship by which we are consecrated unto the Lord, for at the heart of that covenant is the glory of oneness. The essential nature of the Bride is that she is One. Is Christ divided? Is there from Him plurality, divisions or even denominations, no, if we are truly in Christ, then we are also truly One with each other. Is that not the enduring message of the bread that we share, that we partake of one body, though we are many? How many wives does God have? There is but one. There has only ever been one. He fell in love with her and remains in love with her still. He has not forsaken her and gone with another, no, His love for her is eternal, yes she is Israel, but not the Israel of man, but the Israel of God (Gal 6:16), which includes all those who have come into the New Covenant, both Jew and Gentile. This is a key point when we consider what it means that the wife has made herself ready, that she has not only embraced her bridal identity with the Lord, but also her corporate reality with one another.