Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Power Settings

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, If any man’s wife goes astray and breaks faith with him, if a man lies with her sexually, and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband, and she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her, since she was not taken in the act, and if the spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself, or if the spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself, then the man shall bring his wife to the priest and bring the offering required of her…

   “And the priest shall bring her near and set her before the LORD. And the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD and unbind the hair of the woman’s head and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. And in his hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse.  Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, ‘If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while you were under your husband’s authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you, then’ (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) ‘the LORD make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the LORD makes your thigh fall away and your body swell. May this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your womb swell and your thigh fall away.’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen, Amen.’

   “Then the priest shall write these curses in a book and wash them off into the water of bitterness. And he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain. And the priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand and shall wave the grain offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar. And the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and burn it on the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water.  And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has broken faith with her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be free and shall conceive children.

   “This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, though under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, or when the spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife. Then he shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall carry out for her all this law. The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.”  (Numbers 5:11-31 ESV)

There are times when the purity in the camp cannot be determined except by a trial by ordeal.  In the case of a jealous husband who is suspicious that his wife has been unfaithful, Yahweh gives a test.  If the wife drinks the concoction described here and does not get sick, she is innocent.  Her husband’s jealousy is exposed as unfounded.  He is the uncleanness in the camp, not her.  If she is guilty her womb will swell, her thigh fall away and she will be childless, a consequence of her infidelity.

It may be argued that this was a very male-centric regulation.  What if the woman was suspicious of her husband?  Could she have him drink the potion?  But in another sense this was a protection for the woman.  Mere jealousy on the part of her husband would not justify mistreatment.  This provided a definitive test and protected her from wrongful accusations.

God is concerned for the just treatment of those who are in the position of little or no power.  He does not hold guiltless the one who abuses his power.  We must not abuse the power we have but always use it for the benefit of others, not ourselves.

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Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Protecting Women and Sex

“If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins. (Exodus 22:16-17, ESV)

In the culture of Israel a bride-price had to be paid to the father of the bride for her hand in marriage. This could be several year’s wages, as witness Jacob’s working for Laban 7 years for each of his wives Rachel and Leah. As a precaution against irresponsible premarital sex, which treated the woman as if that was all she was worth, as if she was not worthy of a promise and covenant of life-long marriage, a man who got an unmarried woman to sleep with him was required to pay this bride-price to her father and marry her. To do otherwise was to shame her for life. If her father believed this man was not a good husband for his daughter he could refuse the marriage and still require the bride-price. These consequences served as a deterrent to premarital sex.

We can see this as an extension of the command not to commit adultery in that such a readiness to engage in such value-less sex would not bode well for marital faithfulness. The man or woman who cannot discipline his or her sexual desires and is ready to inflict damage all for the satisfaction of a few moments is a foolishness beyond words. But the Law of Moses recognizes that such foolishness abounds and thus provides checks for it. Does the Bible prohibit premarital sex? Of course. It is a denigration of the emotional and social foundation that such sexual intimacy needs to be couched in. It is an indictment of our culture that we no longer recognize that.

Does this mean that if two people do engage in premarital sex that they must marry?  Probably not.  They may be a good prospect for marriage but they may not be.  The reason there is not a one-to-one correspondence from this Old Testament law to our current situation is that there are huge differences in our cultures.  In the culture of Moses’ day a marriage was protected by the community and law and sex outside of marriage carried way more cultural shame than it does in our culture.  A woman who has engaged in premarital sex today is not necessarily in danger of being unable to marry in the future because of her shameful behavior.  Plus, we recognize that the male involved is just as guilty and that it would be an inequality if only the woman bore these consequences.  The law in Exodus is a protective one for the woman and her family, a protection that is not required in our culture.  Other cultures in our world might be so similar that it would be a law applicable to their situation.

The law of Exodus 22 assumes that premarital sex is wrong but is more focused on the social consequences of engaging in this behavior.  It is to our shame that we have made premarital sex of such little consequence in our world.  We have lost how special the sexual experience is and how such a precious intimacy must be protected.

Sex must be seen as “an earthly pleasure and a heavenly treasure, a feast and a gift, a delight and an honor and therefore a breathtaking responsibility.”  Matthew and Elizabeth Myer Boulton, “The Real Value of Sex” (Christianity Today, May 2013)

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Seventh Command

It is stark in its bold simplicity. It gives no room for special circumstances or exceptions. It doesn’t explain why, but then it doesn’t really need to. The seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14), is self-explanatory. Or so it would seem. Though such disloyalty to one’s partner in marriage would seem to be held in contempt by any society, the fact that God included it in the list indicates that it is a problem of large proportion for the human race. And it indicates that God sees it as a behavior that brings great destruction to any individual and society. If our understanding of Malachi 2:10-16 is right, violation of one’s marriage covenant leads to failure to raise children in the right way.

Our culture is looking for ways to represent adultery as an acceptable alternative to a dead-end marriage or even a healthy thing for a so-so marriage. But God, in his wisdom and concern for the welfare of his children, has clearly spelled out the dangers of adultery. Most of Solomon’s advice to his son in Proverbs 5-9 centers around the dangers of sexual sin. He acknowledges that adultery is seductive and enticing (“the lips of an adulteress drip honey,” 5:3) but that the result is deadly (“her steps lead straight to the grave,” 5:5).

But in Solomon’s exposition of the seventh commandment he also gives the positive aspect of the command: “Rejoice in the wife of your youth!” (v.18) and “Be captivated by her love!” (v.19). You have not kept this commandment when you merely abstain from illicit sexual relations outside your marriage, but the husband or wife is further obligated to faithfully pursue a love relationship with his or her spouse. Too many marriages have failed for lack of this pursuit.

Jesus, of course, also emphasized the depth of this commandment. In Matthew 5:27,28 he rebukes the teachers of the day for assuming that obedience to this command was achieved without consideration of the heart’s attitude. He affirmed that God’s original intent for this law was to include a lustful heart as an aspect of adultery, as a secret adultery of the mind. Not only is there adultery, there is adultery in one’s heart. And though the latter is not as bad as actual adultery, it is what leads to adultery if unchecked. It is a failure to pursue a love relationship with one’s spouse.

Though adultery is forgivable, the seriousness of this sin cannot be played down. It is serious enough to be a legitimate ground for divorce (Matthew 19:9). It is one sin that God explicitly says He will avenge (1 Thessalonians 4:6). Paul says, “Flee from sexual immorality!” because such a sin is a sin against one’s own body and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:18,19).

Michael Grant, on marriage:  We continue to adjust to each other, an adjustment that started 19 years ago and will never stop because we each continue to grow and change.  We will always be different.  I think of anniversaries as a time for roses and dinner; she prefers Mexican food and a movie.  For Halloween she thinks apples are a good treat; I say, since when did Halloween have anything to do with nutrition?  Don’t mistake it for a solid marriage.  There is no such thing.  Marriage is more like an airplane than a rock.  You have to commit the thing to flight, and then it creaks and groans, and keeping it airborne depends entirely on attitude.  Working at it, though, we can fly forever.  Only she and I know how hard it has been, or how worthwhile.  (San Diego Union)

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My husband was just coming out of anesthesia after a series of tests in the hospital, and I was sitting at his bedside.  His eyes fluttered open and he murmured, “You’re beautiful.”  Flattered, I continued my vigil while he drifted back to sleep.  Later he woke up and said, “You’re cute.”  “What happened to beautiful?”  I asked him.  “The drugs are wearing off,” he replied.

Ephesians 5:31-33 — Conversations with God

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Lord Jesus, everything You have created seems to have a paradigm in heaven.  And here You are saying through the apostle Paul that our marriages are analogous to Your marriage to the church.  Our marriages are meant to picture Your relationship to us.  Just as we have become one flesh through marriage, you have become one with Your church.  There is this unbreakable bond you have with us that You will never abandon.

We are to submit to You as our “husband” and follow Your direction.  And You love us enough to die for us and have actually done that.  So we should mimic You in our marriages and demonstrate to the world what it means to be in relationship with You.  Why would You tie Your image to our weak attempts at modeling our relationships after You?  You know how much we have failed and are going to fail.  Does this not frustrate You endlessly?

Somehow You value this connection and are unwilling to back off from calling us to imitate You.  You are always modeling what it means for us to love one another and be committed to each other and how order should be kept in a chaotic world.  You’re our marriage manual, our marriage Counselor and Mentor by example.  Your interaction with Your church is our couple therapy.

Make my marriage a credit to Your character.

Ephesians 5:25-30 — Conversations with God

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body.

Lord Jesus, it doesn’t get much clearer than this!  You love Your church, Your bride, and You want us to love our brides with you as a model and pattern.  I know there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence.  I can’t make my wife holy.  My life in sacrifice for hers can only be effective on the physical and emotional level.  It won’t save her soul eternally.

But I can be concerned about her spiritual growth as she can mine.  I can be of help to her in that area as much as I am spiritually mature.  I can seek to help her develop to the maximum of her potential as You have gifted her and developed in her unique talents.  I can sacrifice myself for this cause because I love her with Your love.

I can treat her as if she is me and I am great at giving myself credit for the slightest of good motives, rationale for the most egregious of sins, and pampering when I am the least bit uncomfortable.  If I give myself the benefit of the doubt, I must do so for her as well.

Pretty simple…pretty hard!  Help me, Lord Jesus.  You’re my only hope.

Ephesians 5:22-24 — Conversations with God

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Lord Jesus, I’m a husband and so are You.  My wife is to be subject to me as we, the church, are to You.  I dare say my wife has done a way better job of being subject to me than the church has to You.  That is as much a praise of my wonderful wife as it is an indictment of me as a part of Your church.  You have earned the right to have a submissive “wife” by becoming our Savior.  Forgive us for not being more submissive and obedient.

I don’t know, Lord, that I have earned my wife’s submission, but she has freely given it and trusted me beyond my trustworthiness.  Perhaps that trust has helped me become more trustworthy.  I want to be as wise and loving a leader of her as You are of us.

Being a follower of someone else, whose leadership might result in financial failures, unhealthy responses to stress, and less than godly paths, is an exercise in trusting You, really.  You are the one who put people in authority in our lives.  You know how subject to failure all leaders are, especially husbands.  Help my wife by helping me be a more stalwart “head” to her, and in so doing help me be a better, more submissive “spouse” to You.

Lessons From the Old Testament: God and Terrible Marriages

LOL Just divorced. And no, that's not my car.
Image via Wikipedia

Yahweh has had one of the worst marriages possible!  Jeremiah 3 chronicles some of it:

“If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again?  Would not the land be completely defiled? But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers—would you now return to me?” declares the LORD.  During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 3:1,6-10)

Things got so bad between Yahweh and Israel, the northern part of Israel that split from Judah and formed its own kingdom, that He divorced her.  The practical import of this is that He allowed a foreign nation, Assyria, to take Israel captive and exile many of her inhabitants in Assyria’s other conquered territories.  The real penalty for adultery was death, but Yahweh instead divorced Israel and then was ready to go against His own prescription for healthy marriages in Israel (found in Deuteronomy 24:1-3) and remarry her.  The same offer was available for Judah, the southern part of the once unified kingdom of Israel, but it had no affect.  Jeremiah is told to prophesy her “divorce” as well.  This did indeed happen in Jeremiah’s lifetime when Babylon conquered Judah and exiled many of her residents.

So God has had a terrible marriage to Israel/Judah.   And we may suppose that His current wife, the Church, hasn’t been a complete blessing to Him either.

How has God responded?  Well, in one case, Israel/Judah, things got so bad He felt the necessity of divorcing.  God is a divorcing husband!  He didn’t want to do it.  He gave numerous opportunities for his bride to repent.  And I would suggest that this is what any husband or wife ought to do upon discovering unfaithfulness in one’s spouse.  This process would be greatly helped by loving counselors being involved and the prayers of loved ones and friends.  But there may come a time when the unfaithfulness cannot be stopped or it is so egregious or flagrant that divorce is best worst option.  God believed so.  This still did not preclude the possibility of restoration, but only God can make an erring spouse repentant, and His grace is desperately needed should restoration be a consideration.  Jesus does not require restoration (Matthew 19:1-12), but He certainly desired it, if possible (Matthew 18:15-17).

As for the church, Paul warns that individual churches can be spit out of his mouth (Revelation 3:14-22).  It seems, however, since the Church, as a whole, is now living under the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8), that we are no longer susceptible to divorce.  Though it seems the Church has been allowed to languish in idolatry for long periods of time, God has always called her back and brought her to repentance and restoration.  Individual congregations may, however, lose their “lampstand” (Revelation 2:5).  There is the promise, however, in such a church, that one who is willing to open the door to a knocking Jesus may usher in the restoration of this church under Jesus’ loving direction (Revelation 3:20).

What does this mean for our terrible marriages?  We must look to God for the same power to love that He has displayed toward his erring spouse.  We must love the way He loves even when, especially when, what we are getting in return is so painful.  After all, what does it mean to love someone if you don’t love them when they are giving you nothing but pain in return (Matthew 5:43-48)?

Related Articles: 

Four Views on Divorce and Remarriage (The Counseling Moment) ; The Truth About Divorce (The Counseling Moment); A Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage (The Counseling Moment); I Stayed (The Counseling Moment); Does God Want Me in a Bad Marriage? (The Counseling Moment); Lessons From the Old Testament: Passionate Marriages (Thimble Full of Theology for Daily Living)