Whoredom: God's Unfaithful Wife in Biblical Theology

By Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (1996). 200 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Grisanti
9.2 (Fall 1998) : 255-256

The volume by Ray Ortlund, Jr., is the second in the series entitled, New Studies in Biblical Theology. This series of monographs seeks to address key issues in the disciplines of biblical theology and attempts “to help thinking Christians understand their Bibles better” (7). Although this book’s one-word title, Whoredom, is somewhat distasteful, it is no more offensive than the sin to which it refers.

Ortlund contends that if Yahweh is indeed the husband of His people, then His people’s rejection of His covenant love constitutes the moral equivalent of whoredom (8). The author’s argument falls into three sections. In chap. 1 Ortlund focuses on Gen 2:23-24 in order to delineate the biblical rationale and pattern for marriage. The human marital bond provides the foundation for the biblical use of the metaphor of the harlot to depict graphically Israel’s covenant treachery.

The next four chapters trace the theme of spiritual harlotry through selected passages in the Pentateuch (chap. 2), Hosea 1–3 (chap. 3) and Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel (chaps. 4–5). The Pentateuch seems to assume Yahweh’s identity as Israel’s husband by using the expression “play the harlot” to describe Israel’s worship of other gods. Hosea vividly depicts Yahweh’s persistent love for promiscuous Israel. Although God’s people had a rich heritage, they failed to allow their theology, history, and worship to impact their conduct before a pagan world. With increasing intensity Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and, most fully, Ezekiel develop the presentation of Israel as an unfaithful wife.

Chapter six demonstrates that Jesus and the NT writers share the OT’s concern that God’s people remain faithful to their relationship with the covenant Lord (Jas 4:4; 1 Cor 6:15-17; 2 Cor 11:1-5). In addition to this, the NT writers anticipate a day when the Savior, Jesus Christ, will take the church as His bride (Eph 5:31-32; Rev 14:4; 19:6-9a; 21:1-3, 9-10).

In his concluding reflections (chap. 7), Ortlund affirms: “More than our popular churches and institutions and movements, God wants us ourselves. He wants our hearts, our loyalty, our love for himself alone. He wants to find in us the same sense of intimate belonging to him that is appropriate to sexual union on the human level. More than our showing the world how ‘relevant’ the church can be, God wants us to show him how much we treasure him above all else” (176).

The volume concludes with an appendix in which Ortlund interacts with current feminist interpretations of the harlot metaphor.

Ortlund appears open to critical theories concerning the composition of the Old Testament (“recreating pre-canonical forms of the text is a valid, and culturally necessary, exercise” [9]), but limits himself to the existing biblical texts in his own exposition of this biblical theme. Also, in his chapter dealing with the NT, he appears to merge the church and Israel.

In order to avoid a cluttered text, Ortlund relegates a wealth of textual, lexical, and bibliographic information to the footnotes. One editorial oddity is the consistent use of transliteration for all the Hebrew and Greek words in chaps. 1 through 5 and then the use of Hebrew and Greek fonts in chap. 6.

This monograph is quite readable and provides a graphic and painful portrayal of the reprehensibility of spiritual harlotry. It sets before each reader God’s demand for spiritual fidelity alongside the painful reality of spiritual whoredom. That stark contrast serves as an exhortation to every member of God’s family to honor the intimacy of his or her relationship with God.