According to a nineteenth-century novelist, “the most precious possession that ever comes to a man in this world is a woman’s heart.” Humans are fragile creatures, and yet our loves are a force of nature. And by design. Man was created for romance. In the Bible, the first words of recorded human speech are a love song from man to woman: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called ‘woman’ because she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23).
In a very real sense, the entire Bible is a love story. God cares for His people in the same way that a loving husband cares for his bride. In Ezekiel 16, God describes the unique love He has expressed for Jerusalem:
Ezekiel 16:1-14 Again the word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, 3 and say, Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born.
6 “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ 7 I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.
8 “When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine. 9 Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. 10 I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. 11 And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. 12 And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. 14 And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD.
God’s people were not known for their own beauty—it was “through the splendor” given to them from God alone. God stretched out His hand, and had gained the heart of His bride, His people. But if our earlier author is correct—if a woman’s heart is man’s most precious possession, how painful must it be to lose that heart? Few images evoke more raw emotion than the image of God pursuing an unfaithful bride. Indeed, if you and I possess a “relationship” with God, then disobedience goes far deeper than a lapse in our religious devotion. It’s a profound betrayal of the deep love of God. Over and over again, God uses the image of adultery to drive home the deep wounds that idolatry creates. Even the following excerpt is only an abbreviated selection of God’s words.
Ezekiel 16:15-43 “But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his. 16 You took some of your garments and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore. The like has never been, nor ever shall be. 17 You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore. 18 And you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. […]
30 “How sick is your heart, declares the Lord GOD, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, 31 building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a prostitute, because you scorned payment. 32 Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! 33 Men give gifts to all prostitutes, but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from every side with your whorings. 34 So you were different from other women in your whorings. No one solicited you to play the whore, and you gave payment, while no payment was given to you; therefore you were different.
35 “Therefore, O prostitute, hear the word of the LORD: 36 Thus says the Lord GOD, Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your whorings with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, 37 therefore, behold, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated. I will gather them against you from every side and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness. 38 And I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy. 39 And I will give you into their hands, and they shall throw down your vaulted chamber and break down your lofty places. They shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful jewels and leave you naked and bare. 40 They shall bring up a crowd against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. 41 And they shall burn your houses and execute judgments upon you in the sight of many women. I will make you stop playing the whore, and you shall also give payment no more. 42 So will I satisfy my wrath on you, and my jealousy shall depart from you. I will be calm and will no more be angry.
As you read this passage, can you not hear the strain in God’s voice? The desperation of a lover scorned? Nothing cuts deeper than betrayal, especially when it comes from someone we care deeply about. And yet we are no different than Israel. Just as the nation looked for other means of protection and value, so too do we look to lesser things for our own sense of protection and worth. We are betrayers. We are whores. And we are in need of grace.
The amazingly good news is that God has always had a plan to bring His wayward bride back to Himself. Israel would endure hardship during her years in exile, but hope lay at her journey’s end. God would not forget about Israel, but years later His Son Jesus would inaugurate a new era through the church. And what image does God’s word use to describe Christ’s relationship with the church?
Ephesians 5:25-27 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
In our sin, we are adulterers and whores. But in grace we are a bride, washed clean and presented before God in blameless splendor. As whores we’re clothed in our own rags. In Christ we’re clothed in righteousness. One of my favorite worship songs is called “Wedding Dress” by Derek Webb, so I close with the chorus:
“‘Cause I am a whore I do confess
But I put you on just like a wedding dress
And I run down the aisle, I run down the aisle
I’m a prodigal with no way home
But I put you on just like a ring of gold
And I run down the aisle
I run down the aisle to you.”
Thank you, Jesus, for loving the unlovely and making Your bride whole.