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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 31:32b

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, June 3, 2015

32b although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.

The reason we need to look more closely at this part of verse 32 is that God uses the verb baal, “marry, be a husband.” This means that it looks like God is saying: “although I was Baal to them.”

Over the years, some scribes have struggled with this phrase. The Greek (Septuagint) and Syriac have “although I despised them,” reading baalti “I was a husband” as gaalti, “I loathed.” Another Greek translation by Aquila in the second century has “I was Lord (to them)” (kyrieusa), and this is also the understanding of the Latin Vulgate: ego dominatus sum eorum, “I was Lord to them.”

The concern these translators ran into was with God saying “I was Baal” in the middle of a book condemning everyone who worships Baal. But let’s look a little more closely—and calmly—at the Hebrew word baalti. This is actually a verb, based on the root word from which the pagan god Baal got his name. Baal means “master” (Hosea 2:16), “husband” (Joel 1:8), or “bound by oath” (Nehemiah 6:18). It comes from the verb baal meaning “to be a husband, to be a master” or just “to get married” (Proverbs 30:23). So God is not actually saying, “I was Baal,” but “I was a husband (to them).” God already said the same thing in Jeremiah 3:14.

As the husband of his people, God promised to be faithful to them, an oath he never broke. He promised to protect and save them—another oath he never broke. He also promised to make them his family, to bind them together with him. This, too, was an oath God has never broken. In our verse, it is “although” that is heartbreaking, because it follows the sad statement that the covenant was broken by God’s people. He did not break it, but they did, even though he was a husband to them.

Does Israel’s unfaithfulness release God from his promises to them? Not at all. “I hate divorce,” God says (Malachi 2:16). Although he might permit divorce in some cases of infidelity or abandonment, he himself would not divorce his people. But he has brought more people into the meaning of “Israel.” It is not the blood of the Israelites that makes them truly part of God’s family. It is the blood of Christ that makes anyone and everyone who trusts in Christ part of God’s family. You might have a marriage that ended because of your mistake. You might never have gotten married, because of fear, or a misunderstanding or an argument. You might have a marriage that ended through death—a heartbreak from which you have never quite recovered. Or you might be discontent with some part of your present marriage. But you can rejoice that God is faithful, that God is forgiving, and that God is forever. Your marriage by faith to God is the most important relationship in your life. Cherish his forgiveness and your place in his kingdom, and serve him with your life.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.