The Divorce Metaphor (Jer. 3:8)

By Timothy Sparks


(Adapted from McFall:, pages 143-145)


The “divorce” metaphor (Jer. 3:8) is very appropriate under the circumstances. God can break his covenant relationship with Israel on the strength of its conditionality which he made very clear to them. God is not breaking any “marriage” vow which he gave them. God did not promise to stay in a permanent “one flesh” relationship with Israel. Such a relationship never existed. The covenant was broken by Israel. So God drew upon their own evil practice of divorcing their wives, in essence, to say, “This is how I am now going to break my covenant relationship with you.” It is a valid use of the divorce terminology with which that they could identify, without validating the human practice of divorce.

The reality was a conditional covenant which was entered into between God and his people. There were only covenant vows to be broken. There were no marriage vows to be broken. The relationship was conditional on Israel keeping the terms of that covenant. A marriage is not conditional. A marriage is established with a vow for life and “bound” for life by God as he established in the beginning (Mt. 19:4, 6, 8; Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:39). The Old Covenant envisioned the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). Israel did not keep the terms of the Covenant, therefore, to use a metaphor they could understand, God “divorced” them. But the use of “divorce” does not mean there was a literal “marriage.” A person might say “I am divorcing my family” but it does not imply that person went through a literal marriage ceremony. It is using “divorce” as a metaphor. The metaphor increases and deepens our understanding. We should not get confused and take the metaphor literally. God’s situation with Israel was a covenant relationship, not a literal marriage relationship.

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