The Lord’s Faithless Beloved

Lorenzo Jessica Belmont Merchant of Venice

Israel is a luxuriant vine
whose fruit matches its growth.
The more abundant his fruit,
the more altars he built;
The more productive his land,
the more sacred pillars he set up. (Hosea 10:1)

Israel: beautiful, luscious, verdant, fruitful, and unfaithful. As green and flowery as Israel grows, just so does she stray. She offers pagan sacrifices to strange gods.

The prophet Hosea’s words remind me of the exchange between the young lovers Lorenzo and Jessica at the beginning of Act V in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. They have just arrived safely in Belmont, after fleeing Venice in the middle of the night to escape Jessica’s disapproving father…

Lorenzo. The moon shines bright: in such a night as this,
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees
And they did make no noise, in such a night
Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls
And sigh’d his soul toward the Grecian tents,
Where Cressid lay that night.

Jessica. In such a night
Did Thisbe fearfully o’ertrip the dew, etc.

Lorenzo. In such a night
Stood Dido with a willow in her hand
Upon the wild sea banks and waft her love
To come again to Carthage.

Jessica. In such a night
Medea gather’d the enchanted herbs, etc.

Lorenzo. In such a night
Did Jessica steal from her wealthy father
And with an unthrift love did run from Venice
As far as Belmont.

Jessica. In such a night
Did young Lorenzo swear he loved her well,
Stealing her soul with many vows of faith
And ne’er a true one.

Hosea’s book outlines the pained struggle of God’s faithful love. He perseveres in perfect fidelity and unflagging ardor. Yet He loves a faithless strumpet. Us.

He threatens. For our sake. To help His beloved find a way to reform. He threatens terrible punishments.

But He can’t stop loving. He loves us practically in spite of Himself, because He sees that we don’t deserve it, that we are beneath Him, that we won’t love Him back like we should.

But He keeps loving us anyway. No matter what we do, He never stops.

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