The knee jerk reaction from both Jews and Christians is a resounding, “NO!!!” But, does Scripture bear this out, or are we willfully blind to a most difficult topic that we relegate to some ancient culture and time?
Ezekiel 23 is a vile and gut wrenching chapter that few read with any pleasure. Jerusalem and Samaria, capital cities of Judah and Israel respectively, are vividly described as sister brides, wed to God Himself, who commit adulterous acts.
23 The word of the Lord came to me again, saying, 2 “Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother; 3 and they played the harlot in Egypt. They played the harlot in their youth; there their breasts were pressed and there their virgin bosom was handled. 4 Their names were Oholah the elder and Oholibah her sister. And they became Mine, and they bore sons and daughters. And as for their names, Samaria is Oholah and Jerusalem is Oholibah.
Begin by noting that while the language is metaphorical, God is making a very specific point. This chapter begins with a bold and direct statement: two women, daughters of one mother became His and bore sons and daughters. This is marriage language that is confirmed again multiple times through the text. Oholah and Oholibah pursue other lovers and play the harlot to the anger, frustration and embarrassment of God the Husband.
As second witness comes from Jeremiah 3 where we read,
6 During the reign of King Josiah, the Lord said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. 7 I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. 8 I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. 9 Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. 10 In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the Lord.
Israel was divorced, but Judah was not. Simply, half of a bride cannot be divorced. Israel and Judah are two separate brides, a fact again confirmed in Hosea 1,
6 Then she conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. And [c]the Lord said to him, “Name her [d]Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I would ever forgive them. 7 But I will have compassion on the house of Judah and deliver them by the Lord their God, and will not deliver them by bow, sword, battle, horses or horsemen.”
We have already established that Israel and Judah are each brides.
The immediate Christian response is reactionary against these passages and their implications, but do we take into account the whole of Scripture?
As we read these stories, the first thought that should come to mind is two other sister brides that in fact led to Samaria and Jerusalem. While the story is long and detailed, Scripture clearly relates the history of Leah and Rachel and their offspring, Judah and Joseph. It is through this intriguing story that we see God’s plan and purpose.
Christendom is quick, too quick, to dismiss Leah and claim that Rachel is the one Jacob wanted. They deny that the story of history is wrapped up in Jacob’s learning to walk at peace with both. Further, the ultimate family story is played out in Ezekiel 37 as the house of Judah (Leah) and the house of Ephraim (Joseph/Rachel) are brought together in the hand of “My servant David’ to live in the land and walk according to the statutes and ordinances in peace forever. As verse 22 clearly states, they will no longer be two nations or two peoples.
Christendom further ignores that it was God’s plan to divide the house, and once divided, the house is to never again be a singularity. Let me explain.
In I Kings 12:24, speaking of the division between Judah and Israel, God clearly says, ‘…this thing has come from Me.’ It was God who chose to divide the house! And, just as God pulled Eve from the side of Adam and then immediately made them echad, one, He pulled the house of Israel from the side of Judah and intends to make them ‘echad!’ Just look at Ezekiel 37:19 (vss.15-28 for full context).
19 say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will put them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one (echad) in My hand.”’
The Hebrew says, as noted above, ‘echad.’ Strongs Concordance explains that echad, H259, means ‘united.’ This is clearly seen in Genesis 2:24 where Adam and Eve become “one (-echad) flesh.” Never again are they a singular ‘one.’
What is fascinating is that the Ancient Hebrew Lexicon uses the image of a sword to describe echad, -two edges, two blades, that come together into a point! The two edges are clearly separate and dangerous, but only become maximally effective when united.
The same can be said for Leah and Rachel, aka, Judah and Ephraim. Each is effective, but they will not reach full potential until they come together in unity and operate as ‘one.’ Many Scriptures bear this out, not the least of which are Isaiah 11:11-16 and Zechariah 9:11-17!!
But, what does this have to do with two brides and is that a true representation of Scripture?
Both Judaism and Christianity believe, largely influenced by western Greek culture, that Scripture only allows for one bride and therefore God can only have one bride meaning that either Judaism or Christianity must be that bride. God can’t possibly be interested in both… or, can He?
The answer, from Scripture, is jolting. Just ask Reverend William Luck, former Professor of Bible and Theology at the Moody Bible Institute and author of On the Morality of Biblical Polygyny. In his introduction he states, “God didn’t ask me my opinion about the issue. He expected me to represent His. I’ve tried. If you can prove I’m mistaken, I’ll be the first to thank you. But I’m not holding my breath in the meanwhile.” Luck expresses much more articulately the same conclusions I came to several years ago.
Quite simply, if God is a righteous God, then He must obey His own laws of righteousness as set forth in the Torah and through them we clearly see the provision for two brides and how He relates to each. Further, throughout Scripture, Genesis to Revelation, we see His passion for both and His desire to bring them together into one, unified (echad) family. It was and remains Jacob’s desire.
God LOVES Judah and Ephraim!! God loves Samaria and Jerusalem!! He only chastens those He loves!! And, pictured in Hosea, He pursues His brides-both daughters, with an everlasting love!!
God does not expect, nor even want, Judah to be Ephraim or Ephraim to be Judah! In fact, the two are incomplete if one ceases to exist or tries to be the other. What He does desire is that the two be willing to come together in peace and unity and walk together before Him reflecting His character in each!
The personalities of the brides are different. How they approach the Husband are not identical, but the rules of the house remain the same for all! This explains how Judah can have one understanding of detailed halachah and Ephraim can have another, yet both can be obedient and seek to please Him. Imposing our perspective of the relationship on the other violates our own relationship with the Father. Judah must focus on the Father and Ephraim must focus on the Father. Trouble begins when we turn our attention to each other and assume we know what is best for the other party in this marriage covenant relationship.
Family peace and wholeness comes when we recognize the legitimacy of the other bride and choose, CHOOSE, to walk at peace and harmony, rejoicing in what makes the Husband joyful about the other!! Imagine how selfless and revolutionary that Leah can JOY in the relationship of Jacob with Rachel and likewise, Rachel can be excited concerning the relationship that Jacob has with Leah. That is the point at which true unity comes to the family and envy and jealousy are put away. That is the time of their healing!!
So, to answer the opening question, indeed, God does have two brides. Will we accept this truth and walk in peace with each other, or, will He be forced to put us in a crucible? That is the real question.