Hamer, Colin. The Bridegroom Messiah. London: Apostolos, 2018. 80 pp. Pb; £4.99. Link to Apostolos Publishing
This short, inexpensive book distills Colin Hamer’s Chester University dissertation (published as Marital Imagery in the Bible, Apostolos Old Testament Studies, 2015). In that detailed study he surveys the development of the metaphor of marriage and divorce across the whole canon, beginning with Genesis 2:23-24. In his larger work he applies this material to the problem of divorce and remarriage in the New Testament. Hamer covered some of the same ground I did in my dissertation, published as Jesus the Bridegroom (Pickwick, 2012) and we have interacted several times over the last few years on the topic of marriage imagery in the Bible.
In this new popular work, Hamer uses the marriage metaphor to tell the biblical story of God’s relationship with mankind (chapter 1). He begins by surveying the common Old Testament use of the marriage metaphor for God’s relationship with his people. Hamer describes Israel’s covenant at Sinai as a marriage covenant and Israel’s relationship with God was a “difficult marriage.” He argues the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. and Jerusalem in A.D. 70 indicate this marriage covenant was “terminated by God” (p. 11). Does this “divorce” mean Israel can never be restored as God’s bride? This might be implied by the divorce procedures in Deuteronomy 24. If a man divorces his wife for infidelity he can remarry anyone except his first wife.
Yet the prophets look forward to Israel’s restoration in the future (for example, Hos 1:11, Isa 54; Jer 3:18-22). How can Israel return to her husband if her husband has divorced her? One option is to argue the exile was not really a divorce (See Anderson and Freedman, Hosea, 218-90 or my Jesus the Bridegroom, 120). Hamer solves this problem by demonstrating that Jesus is the Bridegroom Messiah (chapter 2). He uses John 4 to support his view that Jesus’s ministry is an offer of a remarriage to Israel. But that offer is rebuffed and Jesus announces the divorce of Judah in Matthew 23:37-39. This is Hamer’s contribution to the discussion of the marriage metaphor in Jesus’s ministry. Although Israel was divorced in 722 B.C. when Samaria fell, Hamer does not think the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. is a divorce of Judah. It is not until Judah rejects the ministry of the Bridegroom Messiah that she is finally divorced.
If this is the case, Hamer argues, then the New Covenant is a new marriage between God and all people (chapters 3-4). As he did in his Marital Imagery, Hamer argues Genesis 2:23 and Genesis 2:24 refer to two kinds of marriage, 2:23 is a miraculous union (“one flesh”) made without the need for a covenant, but 2:24 is a “marital infinity union” in which the partners choose to become what they were not, form a new relationship (family) by means of a covenant. Israel had this kind of relationship with God, but the church has the first kind of relationship. The New Covenant is the goal of Jesus’s death on the Cross, sweeping away the old Mosaic covenant and replacing it with a new marriage which will be consummated at the end of time (p. 51). Although this might sound like a kind of replacement theology, Hamer is clear this New Covenant involves all people, both Jew and Gentile. This is a canonical argument since he connects the Edenic experience of Adam and Eve to the new Eden of the final consummation (p. 62).
Hamer concludes this book with a few reflections on the cross as the way God restored his relationship with his people. For Hamer, the cross with not about paying a price for the broken Mosaic Law but rather the way God chose to restore a relationship. God did something to deal with the sin which keeps humans out of the Garden of Eden. Although underdeveloped in this short book, Hamer’s view seems to be the New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation 21 is a restoration of Eden and therefore a restoration of the original relationship between God and Man.
Since Hamer’s goal in this book is a popular presentation of the marriage metaphor in the Bible, he often makes broad statements which merit further evidence. At several points in the book I expected some further reference a more detailed study or more evidence to support an assertion. This is to be expected in a sort book like this, interested readers ought to consult his scholarly contribution, Marital Imagery in the Bible.
NB: Thanks to Apostolos Publishing for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.