Our Sages identify the festival of Shavuot with the Revelation; it was at this time that the Torah was given to the people of Israel at Sinai. In our prayers, we therefore refer to Shavuot as “the season of the giving of the Torah zman matan Toratenu.” This is the source of the joy of this festival.
And Moshe brought the people out towards God from the camp, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain (Shemot 19:17).
-Rabbi Avraham Fischer
“Second Day of Shavuot”
The Talmud describes Shavuot, the day marking the giving of the Torah, as the wedding day between the Almighty and the Jewish people. The nation standing at the foot of Mount Sinai represents the couple standing under the canopy, while God’s giving the Torah to the nation represents the groom placing the ring on his bride’s finger.
What exactly is the parallel between the wedding and the giving of the Law?
Shavuot, too, marks a total commitment; the commitment between God and the Jewish people. The nation’s declaration of “Na’asaeh V’Nishma,” — “We will do and we will understand,” was a promise to follow the law under all circumstances, just as the bride pledges her faithfulness to her beloved under all circumstances. And in the same manner as the groom who accepts upon himself to love and cherish his bride forever, God committed himself not to forsake the Jewish people for all times.
-Rabbi Ephraim Nisenbaum
“Renewing your nuptial vows this Shavuot”
I know this is an old argument, but I don’t think it’s ever been answered, at least to my satisfaction, which is why I’ve turned it into a “meditation”. Let’s see where it leads.
According to Jewish wisdom, the giving of the Torah at Sinai to the Children of Israel is compared to a wedding ceremony between the Israelites and God. The Torah then, is compared to a ketubah or “wedding contract” which traditionally outlines the rights and responsibilities of each marriage partner. More specifically, the ketubah is “a one-way contract that formalizes the various requirements by Halakha (Jewish law) of a Jewish husband vis à vis his wife.” Applied to the Sinai event, this places the greater responsibility on fulfilling the contract on the husband; on God. Yet we see in Exodus 20 and beyond a rather lengthy set of conditions in the Torah that require compliance by the bride; by Israel.
History and the writings of the Prophets shows us that Israel was not always faithful and describes God, the “jealous husband” who responds to His bride’s infidelity by rejecting Israel.
For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. With their idols they have committed adultery, and they have even offered up to them for food the children whom they had borne to me. Moreover, this they have done to me: they have defiled my sanctuary on the same day and profaned my Sabbaths. –Ezekiel 23:37-38
God tried, on numerous occasions, to “reason” with His “straying” wife, but to no avail.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” –Isaiah 1:18-20
So did God “divorce” Israel because she had repeatedly violated the “marriage covenant” of Torah between them? It would appear so. From a traditional Christian viewpoint, God then “remarried” the Christian church through the (apparently) much less demanding “ketubah” of the Messianic covenant.
Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19 and Luke 5:34 all speak of Jesus as the “bridegroom” and describe his Jewish followers as the bride:
And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. –Matthew 9:15
While it’s interesting that no where in the New Testament does it explicitly say that the Christian church is the “bride of Christ,” there are a number of “marriage metaphors” that can be found which allude to this conclusion. About the closest we come to illustrating that the church is “married” to Jesus is here.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
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 splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. –Ephesians 5:22-33
But if we say that God divorced Israel and married the church, then we are saying a couple of things. We are saying that the church does not contain anything of Israel, since Israel and God are completely divorced, and we are saying that God has been married twice. He’s working on His second marriage. But did God really divorce Israel?
For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. –Psalm 30:5
“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the LORD of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the LORD has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the LORD, your Redeemer. –Isaiah 54:4-8
That certainly sounds like any “divorce” between God and Israel was “for a brief moment” but then that God returned to Israel “with everlasting love.”
OK, so no permanent divorce between God and Israel, and they are still married as they were at Sinai, and Shavuot is still considered their “wedding anniversary.” But where does that leave the “bride of Christ”; the church? If God didn’t divorce Israel so He could marry the Christian church, then does He have two brides? Is God a “bigamist?”
I know a supersessionist point of view would be quick to dispose of the body of the first wife and have the second move in to the “marriage bed”, taking possession of the first wife’s clothes, shoes, linens, and everything else she used to own, but then how does Judaism see this? Jews do not consider themselves “divorced” from God and Judaism sees Christianity as a “wannabe” bride with no actual claim to God. God married Israel, temporarily abandoned her to teach her a lesson about faithlessness, and then returned to her and remains bonded to her.
If God didn’t replace Israel with the church and God doesn’t have two wives, is there a third alternative? I suppose we could use the “one new man” argument (Ephesians 2:15) to say there is only one “Israel” and thus only one wife, but that means we have to “fuse” Israel and the church into one new element and destroy any distinctiveness between Jews and Gentiles. Is that the only answer? In Galatians 3:28, Paul said there was “neither Jew nor Greek” but he also said there was neither “male nor female”. We know for a fact that men and women didn’t stop being literally different from each other and that the “male nor female” part refers to equality in access to God and God’s love, so can we apply the same thought to the “sameness” and “differentness” between Jew and Gentile?
In other words, is there a way to see Jews and Gentiles together as a single “bride” and still see them as two distinct covenant groups?
I don’t know. The language is ambiguous. I am not writing this “meditation” to provide answers. I’m just asking questions. If you think you’ve got answers, ones that will address all of the inconsistencies and brain puzzles the Bible seems to be throwing at this issue, I’d like to hear them.