If you’ve read the OT history books and the prophets, you know that God’s people time and again were unfaithful to him. One biblical metaphor for this unfaithfulness is spiritual adultery, or playing the harlot. Israel prostituted herself with false gods, forsaking her Maker and Husband, Yahweh. So the Lord brought punishment upon them for their adultery/idolatry.
Ramond Ortlund wrote an excellent book that traces this theme throughout Scripture: God’s Unfaithful Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery. In just under 200 footnote filled pages, Ortlund traces the theme of spiritual adultery from Genesis to Revelation. There is a scripture index at the back of the book.
I agree with Ortlund: this theme usually isn’t discussed enough (perhaps because it isn’t a PG theme!). But it is true: “…if Yahweh is the husband of his people, then their lapses from faithfulness to him may properly be regarded as the moral equivalent to whoredom” (p. 8). We do live in a sexually charged culture, so these themes must be discussed carefully and with a biblical nuance, but they must be discussed! Ortlund does this well.
While this book does discuss the spiritual adultery theme in the Pentateuch, most of this language is found in the prophets, so Ortlund does spend a lot of time talking about Hosea, for example. In fact, chapters 3, 4, & 5 are entitled “Committing Great Harlotry,” “Under Every Green Tree,” and “In Every Public Square,” echoing the prophetic language of Hosea 1, Ezekiel 6, and Ezekiel 16. Ortlund does a nice job exegeting and explaining these texts that talk about Israel whoring after other gods. It is quite a gruesome and disgusting picture – but then again, forsaking God and running after idols is indeed gruesome and disgusting (and supremely foolish!).
Ortlund also talks about the marriage imagery in the NT. The spiritual adultery imagery is not quite as pervasive in the NT as it is in the OT prophets, but it is there. The NT discussion also includes a nice section on what it means that Christ is the bride of the church and how we are to remain pure and faithful to him. There is a concluding reflections section which is quite short. (One of my few critiques of this book is that I wish there was a bit more application in this last section.) Finally, there is an appendix about this harlot imagery and modern feminist interpretation.
I recommend this book for students of the Word who want a helpful, detailed read on this theme of spiritual adultery in the Bible. It’s not always easy and quick reading, but it is clear, level-headed, and nicely summarizes Scripture’s teaching on the topic. Also, if you’re studying or preaching through Hosea or Ezekiel, use this book as a supplemental commentary! I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will use it again when this theme comes up in my studies, teaching and preaching.