Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD: “I remember you, The kindness of your youth, The love of your betrothal, When you went after Me in the wilderness, In a land not sown. (Jeremiah 2:1–2)
It’s often quoted in many different ways that relationships require hard work, commitment, and self-investment. Marriage can require just that much more because, unlike friendship, we cannot ‘go home’ or take time out. Marriage is forever – at least in God’s eyes, it is – so wherever we go, we take it with us. The same applies in our relationship with Jesus. We are betrothed to Jesus, an expression we often misinterpret because our customs are rather more flexible than the biblical custom and so we don’t fully grasp the real meaning of ‘betrothal.’ It’s a simple and understandable error, but it results in a tragic misconception that colours our response to and relationship with Him.
Betrothed to Jesus literally means ‘already married.’ It is not simply an intention to be married, but is marriage and is binding and irrevocable.
We perhaps get confused with verses that tell us that Christ will one day come for His bride, the inference being that the wedding hasn’t happened yet and we will only be the bride on that day of the marriage feast. That is entirely incorrect. Though we await the celebration and the return of the bridegroom, we are already bethrothed to Jesus. In simple terms, the biblical Jewish ‘marriage’ worked like this: A couple would be betrothed in a formal ceremony, with an exchange of gifts and all the other wedding traditions that usually accompanied a wedding but usually not with a marriage feast. This was because the young man still had to build a home for his bride, as he likely likely lived with his parents at this point. So after the betrothal – through which they were considered married – he’d go off to prepare a place for her (sound familiar?) then return to claim her once it was ready. The marriage would then be consummated and would be followed by the marriage feast to launch them into their new life together.
The point to take hold of here – the point which provides the insight and impetus to understand the lament in today’s verse – is that we are already betrothed to Jesus. Read ‘betrothed’ as ‘married,’ because that’s what the Bible means. We tend to equated betrothal with engagement, our modern-day replacement, but our perception of being engaged is an entirely different animal. It carries none of the formality and legal weight of biblical betrothal and is little more than an excuse to have a party and let our friends and family know we intend to be married. A lot has changed with regard to betrothal-engagement in the last few hundred years or so. There was a time in our ‘modern’ – as opposed to biblical – times where one could be sued for breach of promise for breaking an engagement.
While I certainly don’t encourage people to marry for the wrong reasons, and must therefore accede that perhaps it’s better to break the engagement than a marriage in the context of our society, the logic must always be that an engagement should only be entered into after much thought and prayer, and only on the confirmed leading of God. Remember, what the world thinks isn’t important. What God thinks is the only thing that matters and to Him, engaged equals betrothed equals married. We take our promises far too lightly these days and lose sight of the spiritual reasons and principles for God-ordained relationships and how they should be conducted. While they may seem rigid and outdated, they are there to protect us. We need to reevaluate our commitment in relationships and especially to Christ, and keep in mind the truth that we are already betrothed to Jesus. We are married in the eyes of God, and wait only for the bridegroom to take us home to the place He has prepared for us and an eternal marriage feast.
Today’s verse is a call to our hearts to remember our ‘first love,’ the love we felt for Him at the moment of our betrothal. While addressed here from God to Israel, it is poignantly relevant to our relationship with Christ which is the type of God’s relationship with Israel and the fulfillment of His relationship with those He calls His. The tragedy is that many don’t even realise that we are betrothed to Jesus at the very moment of salvation. In that precious moment when we accept Him as Lord and Saviour, we enter into an eternal betrothal, one that is legal and binding in spiritual terms. It’s not something that’s only going to happen in the future when He comes for His bride – remember, it’s for His bride, not His bride-to-be. It’s a done deal, and we need to take hold of that.
The Bible explains a critical issue relating to marriage which we perhaps also miss in this day and age where self and independence and individual rights are the societal flag we all wave. That truth is that when a man and woman are married, they cleave together and become one. I only saw the significant truth of this after the death of my husband, when I realised I was grieving not only for him but also for the death of the person I had become together with him. That oneness is so spiritually complete that when one dies, the other does too and needs to be reshaped as a single person once more. This is why soul ties are so powerful. It is a beautiful illustration of the unity we have in and with Christ. We are betrothed to Jesus, and God’s intention is that the two of us become one. We become a new person in Christ. Its a remarkable and beautifully powerful truth that can transform our way of thinking.
The lament in today’s verse is the early echo of that found in Revelation 2:4 – we have lost our first love. Think back for a moment to those days of new love – the breathless excitement, the anticipation, the need and the desire to be constantly together, the feeling that anything was possible, the times when even simply sitting together in silence felt like coming home. Those were the days when nothing was too big or too small, where we would search for opportunities to do things for the other, where we didn’t mind picking up the socks or that the dinner was a little late. Above all, there was a joy that infused every moment, a kind of warmth that radiated out from the heart and coloured our world beautiful. That was our response, too, when we were first betrothed to Jesus at salvation. We couldn’t get enough of Him, couldn’t wait to spend time with Him, couldn’t imagine our lives without Him. What happened?
Well, life happened, for one thing. And self. And the devil no doubt did a little stirring here and there to muddy the waters a little when we gave him the opportunity. Our ‘pre-betrothal’ friends happened, and our families, and the sins that we had momentarily lost sight of. Anyone who is or has been married will agree that once the honeymoon is over, the hard work begins. It’s not easy making one ‘person’ out of two, forging a oneness that respects the individuality and unique strengths of each and balancing their weaknesses. Self jumps up and down on the sidelines with its constant mantra of ‘me, myself, I’ and we find small irritations creeping in. Novelty fades into daily routine, and daily routine quite often becomes a chore. We can expect exactly the same when we are betrothed to Jesus. The halcyon days – when storms don’t occur – disappear quickly when the realities of life return.
Spending time with our betrothed becomes hard work, a journey of discipline and transformation into a spotless bride, perfect for His return. We don’t want to change. We don’t want to go through endurance, perseverance, and all the other ‘ances’ to be His bride. We are quite happy with the idea that He’s preparing a place for us with Him in eternity, but we don’t want to have prepare ourselves for Him. This is the basic problem. Our attitude to Him has changed, but we expect Him to stay the same. We want the gifts, the blessings, and the potential we find in Him, but we don’t want to have to put in the hard work and discipline from our side. We’re betrothed to Jesus, and if we want the relationship to work, it requires our all – the same all that He gave for us on the cross, the ‘bride price’ and the blood price, to make us His.
Today’s verse is a beautifully poignant revelation of the heart of God. It is a call to the betrothed, the bride, to remember our first love and the tender surrender of those early days. It’s a call to recognise our waywardness, our self focus, our distractions. It’s a call to return to our first love, to immerse ourselves in the beauty of Christ and the perfect joy that being betrothed to Jesus brings. He is still our all-in-all. Though our hearts may have faded a little, He has not. Though we have changed, He has not. Though we may have moved away, even a little, He has not. Our bridegroom will never leave us nor forsake us. Let us return, today, and do whatever it takes to restore our first love with Him.
Sweet Saviour, forgive us for allowing the distractions of self and the world to intrude in our relationship with You. Help us, Lord, to return to our joy, to that place where You are our heart song and our centre. Help us to recognise and put aside those things that steal time that should be spent with You, and draw us back into the place of oneness, You in us and us in You, where we are home.