“They shall not take a wife who is a harlot or a defiled woman, nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband; for the priest is holy to his God… And he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow or a divorced woman or a defiled woman or a harlot—these he shall not marry; but he shall take a virgin of his own people as wife.”Leviticus 21:7, 13-14 (NKJV)
Here, God forbids priests from marrying a prostitute (harlot), yet much later in their history He commands the prophet Hosea to marry one. Why would God go against His own law? Well, for one, because He’s God. Second, in Paul’s words, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the Law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the Law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:23-27; ESV).
The Law was temporary (aside from the Ten Commandments since these are written on the heart of all mankind; see Romans 2:14-15). God was acting with a Gospel purpose. Hosea’s marriage to a prostitute was representing God’s “marriage” to Israel—Hosea representing God and the prostitute wife representing Israel. By all rights, the marriage should not exist, yet God has married Israel anyway. God also has every right to divorce Israel for her spiritual infidelity. Instead, He remains married to her, and He remains faithful to her despite her unfaithfulness.
This is God’s grace. Instead of forcibly removing Himself from Israel through divorce as His Law demands, God chooses to be gracious and faithful. It is true what Paul writes, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). The thing about God’s grace is that He doesn’t do it because it makes sense or because it’s earned; He does it because He can. We see God’s grace toward prostitutes and adulterers especially in Jesus.
The woman in Luke 7:36-50 was likely a prostitute. The Pharisee named Simon, whom Jesus is dining with, challenges Jesus’ authority as prophet. If He were truly a prophet, Simon argues, He would know what sort of woman this is. But Jesus does know exactly what kind of woman she is, and He doesn’t care. He sees her faith and repentance, He forgives her sins, and declares her faith has saved her (justification by faith).
We see a similar occasion with the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. Here, some scribes and Pharisees bring an adulterous woman to Jesus and challenge Him that the Law demands she be stoned to death for her sin, which is true. But what does Jesus say? “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (v. 7; NKJV). Realising they all have sins of their own, nobody throws a stone. As each of them left, Jesus rhetorically asks the unfaithful woman if anyone has condemned her. When she says no, He says, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (v. 11).
Not only is this vital for prostitutes and adulterers today, but it is also especially vital for those who commit spiritual prostitution and adultery. False religion is akin to selling ourselves to false gods, and idolatry is spiritual adultery. Yet, at least until Jesus returns, God does not forcibly remove Himself from us through spiritual divorce as we deserve. Rather, He patiently waits for repentance and He gladly forgives. Both the Greek and Hebrew words for “repent” literally means to “turn away” or “reconsider.” Thus, God patiently waits for us to reconsider our sinful behaviour and to turn away from them and toward Him for the forgiveness of sins and to walk in newness of life (see Romans 6:1-14).
Whether this is actual prostitution and adultery or spiritual prostitution or adultery, the Lord is patient, gracious, and faithful. Every now and then, God’s saints will commit spiritual adultery by having idols here and there, but rather than forcibly removing Himself from us through divorce, Christ will come to marry His Bride, the church, to save her (Revelation 19:6-9). Despite our faithlessness, Christ remains faithful, for He never goes back on His promises.