Thoughts from Yirmiyahu 3

We’ve finished Yesheyahu (Isaiah) and moved on to Yeremyahu (Jeremiah). One of the images that Yeremyahu uses in his prophecy is that of a cuckolded husband forgiving his wayward wife or ex-wife. This theme first appears in chapter three, in which G-d says, in essence, that the Law forbids a man to take his wife back after he has divorced her and she has remarried, but G-d (a cuckolded husband, who should divorce his harlot wife) is inclined to forgive and take back Israel (the wife). She has betrayed her husband to every idol around, and she hasn’t even repented the crime, but G-d wishes to have her back nonetheless.

This passage and theme are well known, what isn’t well-published is the deeper symbolism that becomes apparent. Yeremyahu also talks about how Israel has dragged “her sister”, Jehudah, into adultery as well. Moreover, there are frequent references to Israel’s forbears. It is at this point that the real metaphor becomes apparent. Israel isn’t just any wife, nor is G-d just any wronged husband.

Yeremyahu is contrasting G-d’s relationship with Israel and Yehudah with the marriage of Israel’s namesake, Yakov, to Rachel and Leah–Israel and Yehudah’s righteous forbears who have been “forgotten”. Note that unlike Yakov, who had two faithful wives who were sisters, G-d has two unfaithful wives–also sisters. Rachel, whom Yakov loved best, participated in iconoclasm when she stole the idols from her father to trick him into better living. Israel, G-d’s favored wife, whores after any idol she can find.

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