The prophets frequently use the spousal imagery of husband and wife to
portray the Covenant relationship between God and the people of Israel
"What is the sin of infidelity that stains Israel, Yahweh's
'wife'? It consists above all in idolatry: according to the sacred text,
in the Lord's eyes recourse to idols by his chosen people is equivalent
to adultery", the Holy Father said at the General Audience of
Wednesday, 24 April, as he examined the relationship between God and
Israel, which is often described in the Old Testament with the metaphors
of spousal union and infidelity. Here is a translation of his
catechesis, which was the 17th in the series on the Blessed Virgin and
was given in Italian.
1. The Bible often uses the expression "daughter of Zion"
to indicate the inhabitants of the city of Jerusalem, of which Mount Son
is historically and religiously the most significant (cf. Mi 4:10-13;
Zep 3:14-18; Zec 2:14; 9:9-10).
This feminine personalization facilitates the spousal interpretation
of the loving relationship between God and Israel, frequently described
with the terms "betrothed" or "wife".
Salvation history is the story of God's love, but often too of human
infidelity. The Word of the Lord frequently reprimands the wife-people
who break the marital Covenant established with God: "Surely, as a
faithless wife leaves her husband, so have you been faithless to me, O
house of Israel" (Jer 3:20), and invites the children of Israel to
plead with their mother: "Plead with your mother, plead—for she
is not my wife, and I am not her husband" (Hos 2:2).
What is the sin of infidelity that stains Israel, Yahweh's
"wife"? It consists above all in idolatry: according to
the sacred text, in the Lord's eyes recourse to idols by his chosen
people is equivalent to adultery.
2. The prophet Hosea develops, with strong and dramatic images, the
theme of the spousal Covenant between God and his people and of their
betrayal: his own personal experience becomes an eloquent symbol of it.
Indeed, at the birth of his children he is ordered: "Call her name
Not pitied, for I will no more have pity on the house of Israel, to
forgive them at all", and again: "Call his name Not my people,
for you are not my people and I am not your God" (Hos 1:6, 9).
God announces a more perfect Covenant for the future
The Lord's rebuke and the disappointing experience of worshiping
idols makes the faithless wife return to her senses and, repentant, she
will say: "I will go and return to my first husband, for it was
better with me then than now" (Hos 2:7). But God himself wishes to
re-establish the Covenant, and then his word becomes memory, mercy and
tenderness: "Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her
into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her" (Hos 2:14). The
wilderness, in fact, is the place where God made his definitive Covenant
with his people after their deliverance from slavery.
Through these images of love, which portray the difficult
relationship between God and Israel, the prophet illustrates the great
tragedy of sin, the unhappiness of the way of infidelity and the efforts
of divine love to speak to human hearts and bring them back to the
3. Despite the problems of the moment, through the mouth of the
prophet God announces a more perfect Covenant for the future: "And
in that day, says the Lord, you will call me, 'my husband', and no
longer will you call me, 'my Baal'.... And I will betroth you to me for
ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in
steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness,
and you shall know the Lord" (Hos 2:16, 19-20).
The Lord is not discouraged by human weakness but responds to human
infidelities by proposing a more stable and intimate union: "I will
sow him for myself in the land. And I will have pity on Not pitied, and
I will say to Not my people, 'You are my people'; and he shall say, 'You
are my God’" (Hos 2: 23).
The same prospect of a new Covenant is presented again by Jeremiah to
the people in exile: "'At that time, says the Lord, I will be the
God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people'. 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
afar. 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!’" (Jer 31:1-4).
Despite the people's infidelity, God's eternal love is always ready
to re-establish the pact of love and to offer a salvation beyond all
4. Ezekiel and Isaiah also mention the image of the unfaithful woman
who is forgiven. Through Ezekiel the Lord tells his wife: "Yet I
will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will
establish with you an everlasting covenant" (Ez 16:60).
The Book of Isaiah quotes an oracle filled with tenderness: "For
your Maker is your husband.... For a brief moment I forsook you, but
with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a
moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have
compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer" (Is 54:5, 7-8).
That promise to the daughter of Zion is a new and faithful love, a
magnificent hope which overcomes the abandonment of the faithless wife:
"Say to the daughter of Zion: 'Behold, your salvation comes;
behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him'. And they
shall be called The holy people, The redeemed of the Lord; and you shall
be called Sought out, a city not forsaken" (Is 62:11-12).
Relationship with God is described in ideal terms
The prophet explains: "You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and
your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My
delight is in her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the
bride, so shall your God rejoice over you" (Is 62:4-5).
Images and attitudes of love, which the Canticle of Canticles
summarizes in the statement: "I am my beloved's and my beloved is
mine" (Sg 6:3). Thus the relationship between Yahweh and his people
is presented again in ideal terms.
5. When she listened to the reading of the prophecies, Mary must have
thought of this perspective, which nourished messianic hope in her
The rebukes addressed to the unfaithful people must have inspired in
her a more ardent commitment of fidelity to the Covenant, opening her
spirit to the proposal of a definitive spousal communion with the Lord
in grace and love. From this new Covenant would come the salvation of
the whole world.