Ezekiel, Husbands, and Christ

New Testament authors routinely took Hebrew Bible metaphors and redeemed them by re-reading and reinterpreting them through the lens of Christ.

In my church's Ezekiel Bible Study this week, we wrestled with Ezekiel 16. It's an extended metaphor of Israel as an abandoned child that God takes under his wing. God cares for her. She grows up. And then God takes her as His bride.

Israel becomes a rebellious wife by prostituting herself to other nations and their idols. God responds by stripping his wife naked in front of everyone and then allowing her adulterous lovers to abuse her. This, according to Ezekiel, will teach Israel a lesson by making her feel deep shame. After that, then, God will take Israel back.

Ezekiel's metaphor is steeped in misogyny and the patriarchal culture he grew up in. It is clearly meant to be shocking, though that's little comfort. If there's anything redemptive about the passage, it's that Ezekiel is asking men to put themselves in the shoes of a battered woman. However, we cannot escape the fact that it makes God out to be an abuser and an entirely conditional lover.

Contrast that, however, with the metaphor of Christ as Groom and the church as Bride used in the New Testament. Ephesians 5 says that the way husbands are to love their wives in a manner parallel with how Christ loved the church. Paul is leveraging the same divine-human marriage metaphor as the Hebrew Bible, but he redeems it. God is not a jealous, angry lover who punishes His bride if she is guilty of rebellion. Instead, Christ gave his own body up for the sake of the church. Husbands are to love their wives in the same way that they love their own bodies. The way that you know you are loving your spouse well is if you are treating them in the way that you would want to be treated.

An honest reading of Scripture should be shook and, at times, even horrified by the language we see in the Bible. But readers of Scripture are not meant to read one chapter and assume that that is God's final word on any particular topic. For Christians, in particular, we see Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God's character. Christians are not meant to lift up the testimony of Ezekiel or even Moses as superior to the revelation of Jesus.

So we can say confidently that although Ezekiel was doing the best he could in the culture he lived in to call Israel back to relationship with God, he failed to portray God accurately by portraying God as an abusive lover. He simultaneously shocked his audience—maybe back to some form of obedience—but also maligned God's character.

But we can look to the life of Jesus and see that we can still use and redeem the metaphor of God as husband, as long as we identify that husband as one who is utterly self-sacrificial, nonviolent, noncoercive, and non-shaming.

Anthony Parrott

Anthony Parrott

Washington, DC