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Husband and Wife

“And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.'” Hosea 2.16.

Without a little background knowledge, this verse is pretty incomprehensible. Why would God’s people be calling him “My Baal”? What does “Baal” mean anyway? And weren’t “baals” pagan gods of some kind?

Well that’s the problem. The Hebrew word ba’al means “master”, “possessor” or even “husband” in the sense of one who is master over, and possesses, his wife as some kind of chattel; and here it is used over against ‘iysh which is the Hebrew word for “man (in contrast to woman)” or, again, “husband” but this time in the sense of one who is the compliment to and lover of his wife. Generally, however, Baal is a proper name in the Old Testament and mostly refers to the storm-god Hadad, the most important of the Canaanite gods, though it can refer to other gods too.

So what was God saying here through Hosea? Surely it was that his people had completely failed to grasp his true nature or to understand what his intentions were towards them. It is possible that they had actually taken to calling him “Baal” — “Well, we’re all worshipping the same God really, aren’t we? — but whether that was so or not, they saw him and themselves in a relationship of master and servant, owner and object, bullying male and contemptible “her”.

And you’ve got me so, so wrong, God was saying. I’m not like that. And a day is coming when you will see that I’m not like that. A day is coming when you’ll know me as a bridegroom who will make your heart sing. “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD” (Hosea 2.19-20).

And so I jump forward nearly 800 years and I hear John the Baptist’s disciples indignantly reporting to John that all the crowds are now flocking to Jesus, not to him. “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom,” John tells them. “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” (John 3.29). The crowds (or those in them who, through their faith in Jesus will become the start of his church) are the bride and Jesus is the bridegroom. He is Yahweh, the LORD, “now in flesh appearing” and he is becoming “My Husband” to the one who is his betrothed wife — the glorious company of all on earth and in heaven who have given their hearts to him.

It was on the cross, of course, that we were shown the deep, deep love that this Bridegroom-God has for his bride. As Paul wrote: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5.25-27).

As I write this, there comes back to mind a song of Jamie Owens from the 1970s (which you can listen to by going to “New Jerusalem” under “Crumbs”) …

Lord, make ready your queen now.
She waits in hope, watching the clouds.
Clouds of rain, washing her clean now;
Soon she’ll be seen, ready to have and to hold.

Stand, new Jerusalem, stand.
Dressed in white linen, take his hand;
Take his hand, you lovely bride.

The bride-to-be is waiting, clothed in purity,
Getting ready for the wedding to begin.
And now she sings her love song, waiting for the Son,
And she knows, yes she knows, he’ll come again.

She hears of wars and famines, as her Love foretold.
She sees the nations rushing to their doom.
But she lifts her head, rejoicing, watching for her sun,
For she knows the world will bow before him soon.

Stand, new Jerusalem, stand.
Dressed in white linen, take his hand;
Take his hand, you lovely bride.

It is a song written, of course, around the glorious hope of Revelation 19 and 21. “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready … And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 19.6-7; 21.2).

What wonders await us!

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