Jer. 31:32 – Jeremiah’s play on words: Baal and husband

“not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:32, ESV).

בעלתי (husband, master): The verb form of “husband” means to “marry.” This is meant to emphasize the idea of the rights of the husband in the context of marriage (e.g., Gen. 20:3; Deut. 21:13; 22:22; 24:1). Does this mean that God has a right to exercise rights over his people in a religious covenant? I would think so, especially when this is placed in the context of covenant. The writer is trying to emphasize the seriousness of their covenant by making a comparison between a marriage covenant and a religious covenant.

God was calling his covenant people on violating their religious covenantal agreement. However, the writer of Jeremiah also added a play on words only noticeable in the Hebrew language. He points out the people’s adulterous worship of Baal with a pun. I am not a Hebrew scholar so I’d appreciate it someone will correct me if I’m wrong. It is interesting to note that there is an intended pun with the name Baal (בעל), which in the original Hebrew, rhymes with the word “husband” (בעלתי). To serve בעל, “Baal,” was to abandon the LORD who had “mastered” or “married” them as a בעל, “husband.”

Why did the writer use this marriage analogy? It was to teach the people that a covenant made with God was to be taken as serious as a marital covenant. God demands loyalty and purity within a relationship with him.

However, since we have failed in keeping the old covenant of the law, God decided to give us a “new covenant” that is to be written on the tablets of our hearts. This is where we can find the gospel of the messiah in this Old Testament text.

Next post: Sexual imagery in Revelation

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