Okay, I just have to say upfront that the Bible uses some intense language and is pretty scandalous! It’s not necessarily the G-rated Bible you may have learned about in Sunday School. It’s full of stories of scandal: drunkenness, murder, sex, hunger for power, betrayal. On top of that, the Old Testament over and over again asserts that God’s people have acted like the “whore,” “prostitute” or “harlot”. Yes, the Bible actually uses those words! Just FYI, those are really strong – and accurate – words. They are scandalous words to describe a scandalous people.
God was in a covenant relationship (like a marriage) with his people – a covenant that they continually betrayed when they went after other gods, put their trust and hope in the nations around them rather than God, and disobeyed the voice of the Lord (Jer. 9:13-16). Though God continually pursued his people, his bride, they continually turned astray to lesser loves. When God spoke to his people through the prophets, warning them and imploring them to turn to him, they didn’t listen (Jer. 7:25-26). They remained unfaithful to their good, gracious, sovereign, and faithful God. They were adulterers and played the whore, despite their covenantal relationship with God.
The book of Jeremiah (and other prophets) mention over and over the whoredom of Israel and Judah and the impending judgment because of their arrogant and unrepentant hearts. In light of that, Jeremiah 31:3-4 has such rich meaning.
Thus says the Lord: “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel!”
That. Is. Beautiful. There’s a little word there that I would usually just read right past, but recently stood out to me in the midst of God’s covenant people’s constant whoredom: “virgin.” Despite the persistent sin and unfaithfulness of God’s people, he promises to be faithful to them and to renew them.
If you are a believer in Christ, you are in a covenantal relationship with God. But have you ever played the adulterous whore? Have you ever gone after worldly pursuits or passions, or worthless idols? Do you keep going back to that guy, that addiction, that comfort food, that TV show, that person for approval? Have you sinned so badly that you feel like you can’t receive God’s love? Please see how beautiful this verse is!God promises us total restoration. He says he will make a whore into a virgin. That’s literally physically impossible, but God says that he will do SUCH a great work in his people, he will be SO faithful to us and give SO MUCH grace, that he will give us a fresh start and a completely new identity in Jesus. His rebuilding and restoration is so thorough that it’s like it never happened to begin with. Or, as Psalm 103 says, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
This is the gospel – the good news! That Jesus, the perfect one, took on our whoredom at the cross and instead He gave us His purity. Jesus does this amazing, mysterious work in turning a whore like me into a virgin in his eyes. Let’s encourage one another in this gospel truth – that in Christ, God promises a new identity, a new creation, and complete restoration and renewal. This is more scandalous than words – this is scandalous grace!
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)