4.1.10 Husband: Leader & Protector
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 1.10
Husband: Leader, Lover, & Protector
“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun. It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding. It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race. The sun rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end. Nothing can hide from its heat.” (Psalm 19:1-6 NLT) Taking care not to stretch the metaphor too far, note how the Psalmist (David, in this case) uses the power of the sun and the joy of the bridegroom to illustrate the glory of God in terms we can all relate to.
David would know. He was accustomed to being outdoors, under the sun and stars for months at a time—and was a bridegroom far more often than was seemly (as we saw in the previous chapter). The sun is God’s mechanism for sustaining life upon the earth (mostly through the miracle of photosynthesis, without which we’d all starve to death). And with the moon and stars, it provides chronological context to our lives (something Yahweh wants us to perceive—see Genesis 1:14), not to mention offering a glimpse of the awesome power of the One who created them—and us.
The sidereal heavens are so awe-inspiring, in fact, that it begs the question as to why the joy of the bridegroom is even mentioned here. It wouldn’t seem to be in remotely the same league as galaxies and super-novae. But the Psalmist’s point (whether he realized it or not) was that the symbol of the bridegroom or husband reveals something remarkable about the glory of Yahweh. What makes the bridegroom happy? The bride, of course. And as we have seen, the bride or wife is symbolic of us. We believers are joined to God in a loving, fruitful, everlasting relationship, whether the symbol is presented as Israel being Yahweh’s “wife” or the church being Yahshua’s “bride.” It’s all the same metaphor: we who love our God make him happy. And that delight reveals His glory.
We are told in a rather convoluted fashion why (and how) Yahweh provided a wife for Adam, the first human. “And Yahweh, God, said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him….’” Really? After He had created a myriad of life-forms, both plant and animal, most of which were designed to reproduce sexually, God (at least in the English) sounds almost surprised to find that Adam wasn’t complete without a mate of the opposite sex.
Of course, nothing of the sort is being said here. Rather, Yahweh was unveiling the nature of the intended relationship between males and females of the same biological kind: they were not to remain alone, but were rather to “help” each other. The broadest possible terminology is used. It implies intimate cooperation and mutual support at every level of existence for a lifetime, the sort of thing that happens in the most successful human marriages. But at the very least, it means that the species won’t be viable unless sexual reproduction takes place—with egg and sperm contributed by two separate individuals, one female, and the other male.
I realize that this is so blatantly obvious it’s absurd. The only reason I even bring it up is that there is apparently a great deal of confusion these days (among liberals, anyway) about how human life happens. Homosexual men (I refuse to call them “gay”) and lesbian women seek to overturn entire societies demanding the “right” to marry each other, only to discover that they can’t reproduce. Shocker. Others decide that they don’t like themselves the way God made them (i.e., with or without a Y chromosome) so they try to “fix His mistake” by chemically and surgically (or at least sartorially) “reassigning their gender,” only to find that they no longer know which public restroom to use. It has gotten to the point where “being happy with the way God made you” is considered a hate crime in some circles. Like I said, it’s absurd.
What’s really going on here? As I’ve said before, much of the Torah (of which the creation account is a part) reveals what God is doing to bring about our salvation, as revealed in the actions required of men. So what Yahweh is actually implying here is His observation that “It is not good that I should be alone in the universe, so I will make a helper comparable to Me.” (That is, this “helper” would be made in His own image and likeness—i.e., with free will, something the angels apparently weren’t given.)
The story of the creation of Eve is told as a parable of sorts, explaining (in obviously figurative terms) how Yahweh created the human race. “Out of the ground Yahweh, God, formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.” Thus we see Adam in the role of God’s “helper” from the very beginning: he was put in charge of managing the biosphere Yahweh had created (by breathing life into inert chemical elements He had previously created). “So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him….” Yahweh is subtly implying that He would consider Himself incomplete (if such a thing were possible) until the free-will-endowed human race was introduced into the earth, and we were given the opportunity to walk with Him in the Garden in the cool breeze (Genesis 3:8—literally, the Spirit) of the day.
This brings us to one of the strangest descriptions of God’s work in the entire scriptural record: “And Yahweh, God, caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which Yahweh, God, had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man….” I’m not particularly interested in precisely how Yahweh made Adam’s wife. The language here seems highly figurative (which is not to imply that it didn’t happen just as He said). One word that bears a closer look is that translated “rib.” It’s the Hebrew tsela (or sela), meaning “a side, a side room or chamber, a hillside, or a wall. It refers to a side or rib of a human body or the side of an object.” (Baker and Carpenter)
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes that “God created woman by taking ‘a rib’ from Adam while he was in a very deep sleep. Conceivably this means that God took a good portion of Adam’s side, since the man considers the woman to be ‘bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh.’ This picture describes the intimacy between man and woman as they stand equal before God. Since God made the woman, she is responsible to Him in worship. She is not a mere extension of man: she possesses a unique individuality in her own right. There is no indication that woman is inferior. On the other hand, since her body is made from man’s, there is a continuity between the two with the result that they can find a fulfilling relationship only in one another….”
The provocative question I’d like to pose is, could this convoluted description be intended as a picture of what God was doing when He created humanity? Is Yahweh saying (between the lines) that we were meant to walk through our lives at His side, not so much as equals, but as partners, friends, and lovers? There is “continuity” (as TWOT puts it) between Yahweh and us. So as with men and women, we (humans and our Creator) “can find a fulfilling relationship only in one another.” This whole perspective reveals us (potentially) to be in a far more intimate relationship with God that we’re accustomed to contemplating. Sure, we see ourselves as grateful worshipers, humble supplicants, sinners saved by grace, and creatures infinitely inferior to our Creator—and we’re not incorrect to do so. But surprisingly, He wants us to relate to Him more as a bride does her doting husband than as a servant does his master or a goldfish its owner. It boggles my mind.
God is eternal—He has no beginning and will have no end. We, in contrast, are derivative creatures—like Eve was of Adam. Our lives—our very existence—descend from this First Cause. We (our bodies) are mortal, designed to have both a beginning and an end. But one’s soul (that part of us which defines us as living individuals) can be—and is designed to be—immortal. That is, though we don’t exist in eternity past, we can exist in eternity future. All we need to do to attain this blessed state is to walk in peace with our Maker.
Meanwhile, back in the Garden, “And Adam said: ‘This is now bone of [or from] my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man….’” Continuing the thought (the parallel between the creation of Eve for Adam and the creation of mankind for Yahweh), we conclude that we must be made out of the same stuff as God. But God is spirit—not flesh and bones (John 4:24). If this line of reasoning is valid, it means we have a spiritual component in our nature, for we are “made from” God on some level. Yes, we are constructed of dust, but that’s just our bodies—the “shell” in which we sojourn. Like any animal, a man’s body is made alive by its soul, its living mind. When the soul departs, the body dies. What gives man the capacity for immortality is our spiritual component, for spirits are immortal: they cannot die. But as sinners, we are not born with indwelling spirits: we must ask for that which makes our souls immortal.
Humanity’s unique dual nature (this soul-quickened body and spirit-quickened soul) is essential to Yahweh’s plan for our salvation, for although spiritless animals cannot exist beyond the departure of the soul from the body, spirit-indwelled people do. But how does this correlate to the institution of marriage being discussed here in Genesis? How does Adam’s experience reveal God’s plan? Read the conclusion of the passage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:18-24) This, of course, is the foundation of the whole concept of marriage, of a man and a woman joining together in a blessed, fruitful, and permanent union. They are no longer two separate people, but are now one couple, one family, one flesh (symbolically at first, and then literally when children are born).
How does this development square with the idea that God is using the union of Adam and Eve to teach us about His own nature and our potential relationship with Him? Perfectly. The “Man” here isn’t Yahweh per se, for Yahweh, being self-existent, has no father and mother that He could “leave.” Rather, the “man” represents Yahshua the Messiah—who indeed “left his Father” in a sense, by setting aside the trappings of deity for a time and assuming a body of flesh in order to present Himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind. That makes this the very first Messianic prophecy in the Bible.
And how did He “leave His mother?” If we sort out the imagery of the thing, the role of His (and our) “Mother” is fulfilled by the Holy Spirit—the manifestation of the godhead who bears, nurtures, consoles, confronts, convicts, and restrains us. Yes, Yahshua was more attuned to and filled with the Holy Spirit than any man who ever walked the earth, and yet the Gospel records reveal that He was constantly walking off into the hills to pray. Why? Because the connection between the fully human Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit was anything but automatic. Rather, He had to work continuously at renewing and reestablishing the connection He had with His “heavenly Mother.” There’s a lesson for us in there somewhere.
So who is Yahshua’s “wife?” Who is the one with whom He is “one flesh?” She is the church, of course—us. That concept is (or should be) familiar to every Christian. We’ve seen it before, and will again. That being said, the ramifications aren’t as universally embraced as the basic fact is. We (the church) are supposed to be joined to Yahshua. That is, our relationship is to be intimate, inseparable, and warmly cherished. The husband is not characterized here in Genesis as a coldly distant authoritarian lord and master—even though Christ (our husband) is not (yet) physically present in our midst, even though His authority is absolute and irrevocable, and though He most certainly is our Lord and Master, God in flesh. The point is that religion (in the sense of an ecclesiastical hierarchy) has no legitimate place in our lives, for nothing is to stand between Christ and His church. Rather, the whole “marriage” symbol underscores the familiar intimacy that can (and should) characterize our relationship with Yahshua. Do we really comprehend that we are “one flesh” with Almighty God? Do we actually see Him as a loving bride envisions her Husband?
The idea that God wants to love us as a bridegroom loves his bride (instead of being seen as “the Lord,” a cold, distant, severe, and authoritarian master) is something Satan seeks desperately to keep hidden from us. After all, if we had any inkling of how passionate God was about us, how tender His intentions, we would want to reciprocate that love, wouldn’t we?
In past chapters, I have referred to the Song of Songs—Solomon’s torrid allegory ostensibly chronicling his wooing of a maiden (referred to only as “the Shulamite”) but in truth revealing Christ’s true feelings about His church—and hers for Him. We have quoted the Shulamite at length; now it’s Solomon’s (i.e., “the Beloved’s,” a.k.a. Yahshua’s) turn. It is my intention to quote everything “the Beloved” had to say in this little book—skipping over only those sections we’ve recently covered or where he repeats himself. These are the words of the king, but there’s not one hint of “Submit to me, woman, if you know what’s good for you” here. On the contrary, it’s almost embarrassing to watch him fawn over the object of his affection, shuffling his feet and searching for words that might somehow convince her of his sincere and undying love. Solomon (or is that Yahshua?) is utterly smitten, and he doesn’t care who knows it.
The speaker is identified in the text as Solomon, but he is referred to as “the Beloved.” That is, he is the object of affection, as well as the subject—he is both the loved one and the lover. There is no question that the Shulamite maiden is every bit as head over heels in love with him as he is with her. They are constrained by propriety and circumstance from consummating their love (one of many hints that this is actually a picture of Yahshua and His called-out assembly, the church—we who are still waiting expectantly and longingly for the return of our Savior). So mostly, the Beloved has to content himself with compliments and praise from afar—delivered for the most part in blushing purple prose.
Let us begin with a question from the Shulamite: “Tell me, O you whom I love, where you feed your flock, where you make it rest at noon. For why should I be as one who veils herself by the flocks of your companions?” He answers, “If you do not know, O fairest among women, follow in the footsteps of the flock, and feed your little goats beside the shepherds’ tents. I have compared you, my love, to my filly among Pharaoh’s chariots. Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with chains of gold…. Behold, you are fair, my love! Behold, you are fair! You have dove’s eyes…. Like a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” (Song of Songs 1:7-10, 15, 2:2) She’s looking for guidance: if she can’t personally be with her Beloved, at least she can seek out his true friends. And he gives good advice in his absence: follow my appointed shepherds, my apostles and prophets, those who are faithful in tending my flocks until my return: you will be safe there, and they will recognize you by your beauty and faithfulness.
Solomon’s declarations of love are mostly couched in terms of how the Shulamite maiden looks to him. There are hints that she finds this rather odd—at least, her beauty is not of the conventional sort. Unlike the ladies of the palace, her skin is deeply tanned from spending time working outdoors in the field and vineyard. She probably smells faintly of goat, and she has rich Israeli soil under her fingernails. “Behold, you are fair, my love!” He repeats this phrase a lot. “Behold, you are fair! You have dove’s eyes behind your veil.” So far, so good, but I wouldn’t suggest using much of the rest of this as a pick-up line, guys: “Your hair is like a flock of goats, going down from Mount Gilead.” That is, it’s black, free-spirited, and apt to get frisky. “Your teeth are like a flock of shorn sheep, which have come up from the washing, every one of which bears twins, and none is barren among them.” Teeth? Yup, she’s got all of them. Makes for a nice smile.
“Your lips are like a strand of scarlet, and your mouth is lovely.” Kissable, Solomon’s thinking. But she’s also shy and demure in public: “Your temples behind your veil are like a piece of pomegranate.” I think this means her beloved can see her blushing, even when she’s wearing a veil. “Your neck is like the tower of David, built for an armory, on which hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.” Perhaps this means that he sees her neck as the perfect place to display the crown jewels of Israel. And as long as we’re in the neighborhood, “Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, which feed among the lilies.” Interesting. Her older brothers (Song 8:9) see her as a scrawny, flat-chested kid. But she answers them (v. 10), “open your eyes, my brothers: I’m all grown up now. Solomon has noticed. Why haven’t you?” Or words to that effect.
The Beloved continues: “Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away, I will go my way to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense. You are all fair, my love, and there is no spot in you.” (Song of Songs 4:1-7. The following verses—7-15—were examined in our chapter on Brides, so I won’t repeat them here.) Our faults are easy enough for us to see, but the King refuses to recognize them or count them against us. What Solomon seems to be saying here is that until the Millennial dawn breaks—when He can bring his bride to reign with Him in Jerusalem (i.e., heaven), He will have to visit her (that’s us, you’ll recall) where she lives—up in the rough, dangerous hills of Lebanon (read: the earth). But her very presence here makes her home seem to the king a wondrous, pleasant place. Perhaps this explains why Yahweh has been so reticent to inflict His wrath upon the guilty earth—and has promised to extract or sequester His people when that time comes (as it must). We—the bride—are still here, and He always refuses to include the innocent in the punishment of the guilty.
The king—the Beloved—is not physically with his bride, as much as he wants to be. Where is he? “I have come to my garden, my sister, my spouse.” His “garden” is in Jerusalem—a euphemism for heaven. Why has he gone there? Because he finished the job he (or should I say He—the Christ) came to do. “I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk. Eat, O friends! Drink, yes, drink deeply, O beloved ones!” (Song of Songs 5:1) In retrospect, we can see how this esoteric imagery identifies Him. (1) The myrrh and spices speak of His anointing and burial. (2) The honey reveals the sweetness of everlasting life—His resurrection. And (3) the “wine and milk” reference takes us back to Genesis 49:12, where the King from the tribe of Judah is prophetically identified using these same terms. And who are these blessed “friends” and “beloved ones”? I believe they’re the saints who have already passed on before us. They now abide in heaven, awaiting our arrival. By the way, his spouse is called his “sister” here simply because they have the same heavenly Father (Yahweh) and Mother (the Holy Spirit). This isn’t incest; it’s inspiration.
He continues with the obscure but significant comparisons: “O my love, you are as beautiful as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem, awesome as an army with banners!...” Jerusalem, as we have seen, is symbolic of heaven in this allegory. But what, who, or where was Tizrah? This takes us back to the wilderness wanderings, where the question arose as to what should happen to the inheritance of a man who had daughters but no sons. Zelophehad was just such a man. The solution was that his daughters, Mahlah, Tirzah, Milcah, and Noah, would receive his portion of land. The beauty of Tirzah, then, is the attractiveness of independent, industrious women. Tirzah and her sisters were restricted to marrying only within their father’s tribe (Manasseh, in this case) so the tribal inheritance would remain intact. Thus we find a town named Tirzah, mentioned several times in scripture, nestled in the hills of West Manasseh. We are not told if Solomon was comparing the Shulamite’s beauty to Tirzah the woman, or Tirzah the place.
“Turn your eyes away from me, for they have overcome me.” This next chapter reveals a seeming dichotomy in Solomon’s attitudes. First, we see that the Shulamite’s very glace is enough to turn his knees to jelly, he’s so in love. But Solomon had more wives and concubines than you could shake a stick at. In the previous chapter, I gave David a hard time for violating the Torah in the matter of polygamy: “Neither shall Israel’s King multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away.” (Deuteronomy 17:17) I’m afraid Solomon made his father look practically monogamous in comparison. And we sadly note that in his old age, he did “turn away” from the exclusive worship of Yahweh to some extent—the direct result of trying to please his foreign wives. So he admits, “There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins without number….”
And yet, the Shulamite—the church—is in a class by herself: “My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother, the favorite of the one who bore her.” Amazingly, however, this does not cause jealousy among Solomon’s harem. Quite the opposite, in fact: the others (notably the “daughters of Jerusalem”) recognize the Shulamite as the King’s true love, and they rejoice with (and for) her. And who is “her mother, the one who bore her”? If my assessment of the symbols is correct, “Mom” is the Holy Spirit, and we (the church) are Her “favorites.” “The daughters saw her and called her blessed, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her. Who is she who looks forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?... Return, return, O Shulamite. Return, return, that we may look upon you!” (Song of Songs 6:4-5, 8-10, 13) As with Solomon, they too long for the Shulamite to arrive at the King’s court.
Don’t look now, but this isn’t exactly reality in today’s world. The entrenched Jewish position toward the “church” (ever since they were separated by Rabbi Akiba in the second century) is suspicion, jealousy, and mistrust. This, alas, is not surprising, for the “church” (in the eyes of the world) now includes far more than what scriptures call the ekklesia—the called-out assembly of Christ. The lion’s share of what people call “the church” these days is actually nothing more than a manmade religious organization that follows its own dictates and doctrines. It is a group led not by Yahshua at all, but by people who have clawed their way to the top, as if this were some sort of business enterprise—which in truth it is.
I have a feeling, however, that when Yahshua’s rapture precipitates a real “church split,” Israel will begin to recognize the difference between those who are represented by Solomon’s Shulamite and the remainder of “nominal Christianity”—those who are left behind. Israel will then say, “Return, return, O Shulamite. Return, return, that we may look upon you!” And we will return—when the King returns, for we’ll be with Him.
John saw the scene: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him [King Yahshua] was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war…. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean [that’s us, the Shulamite, the church, covered in imputed righteousness], followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11, 14-16) When we “return,” it will be in the company of our beloved Husband. (And in case you didn’t catch it, this is all one more verification of the pre-tribulation rapture. We can’t “return,” as repentant Israel so earnestly desires, if we haven’t previously departed, or haven’t been gone long enough to have been missed.)
In chapter 7 of the Song, Solomon once again launches into lurid prose, comparing his betrothed to every beautiful thing he can think of. “How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O prince’s daughter! The curves of your thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a skillful workman. Your navel is a rounded goblet. It lacks no blended beverage. Your waist is a heap of wheat set about with lilies.” Again, I would caution against using these statements as “pick-up lines,” gentlemen. These days, they might just get you arrested. “Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. Your neck is like an ivory tower, your eyes like the pools in Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim. Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon which looks toward Damascus….” You’re killin’ me here, Sol.
“Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel, and the hair of your head is like purple.” That’s not: “Your hair is purple.” She’s not some pop singer desperate for attention. It’s like purple—that is, comparable to the finest, most expensive fabric in the world. “A king is held captive by your tresses….” Face it, Solomon: everything she is or does turns your mind to mush. You’re seeing her with your heart, not your eyes. “How fair and how pleasant you are, O love, with your delights! This stature of yours is like a palm tree, and your breasts like its clusters. I said, ‘I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of its branches.’ Let now your breasts be like clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, and the roof of your mouth like the best wine.” (Song of Songs 7:1-9) It appears that maybe Solomon is getting a little too excited about His bride. But just remember: this is a picture of what King Yahshua feels about His church. It’s enough to make you blush. Or faint.
As the book concludes, we’re witness to one final exchange. The Beloved says, “You who dwell in the gardens [i.e., the Shulamite—the church], the companions listen for your voice—Let me hear it!...” Who are these “companions”? They’re everybody who’s not the Shulamite or the king—the whole lost human race. The Beloved, in other words, wants everyone to learn of the love that is flowering between the Shulamite and her king. The implication is that they’re listening for the good news with eager anticipation. It’s not a stretch to see this as the motivation behind the great commission. Why are we to “go into the world and preach the good news to every creature”? Because they’re hungry for it—they may not admit they want it, but somehow they know they need it. Note that when we speak about our Beloved to our “companions,” He—the Beloved—hears us, even though He’s not physically present. He wants to hear us speaking about Him.
And how does the Shulamite respond? By doing what we all do as we look forward with eager anticipation to our Savior’s appearing: we beg Him to hurry, even though we know He’s on a schedule known only to Him. “Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices.” (Song of Songs 8:13-14) The Bible concludes with similar words: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)
If you never venture east of Malachi (into the New Testament) all of this might seem an extrapolation—or a hallucination. But in light of the history of Christ’s advent, it all makes perfect sense. It’s not as if they didn’t expect someone to show up and make sense of it all. Early in Yahshua’s ministry, “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’” (John 1:45) There are quite a few of prophesies that demand a “prophet” or “Messiah” to appear and set things right.
Even the Jewish religious leaders understood this—though their conception of who He’d be was skewed and twisted. Yahshua told them: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” (John 5:39) Daniel (in 9:25) had even pinpointed the time of His advent, if only we’d do the math. And later, after His resurrection from the dead, He instructed two bewildered disciples on their way to Emmaus, “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:27) Somehow I get the feeling, however, that He left a lot of the more esoteric evidences for us to explore and discover on our own.
So it should not be surprising that the writers of the New Testament—and especially the Torah scholar Paul—would recognize the husband-wife relationship as a God-breathed picture of Christ and His bride, the church. First, the hierarchy was defined: “I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (I Corinthians 11:3)
This whole idea, of course, is an anathema to Satan, who doesn’t want us to recognize our responsibility to worship and obey Yahweh or His Messiah. If God assigned the husband to be the authority within a family (because he metaphorically represents Christ), and then directed his wife to submit to him (because she symbolizes the church), Satan figures that convincing wives to “wear the pants in the family” (so to speak), will obscure God’s ordained order. And he’s got a point: if men won’t lead and their wives won’t follow, it will be that much harder to understand that Christ is sovereign.
So Paul explains how it’s supposed to work. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything….” First, note what he doesn’t say about why wives are supposed to be submissive. They aren’t to defer to their husbands’ leadership because men are smarter, more worthy, more deserving, or more spiritually astute. Fact is, we seldom are—and even if we were, it wouldn’t matter. This all has nothing to do with relative competence or qualification, and everything to do with our perception of God’s order. Whether we men like it or not, and whether or not we’re up to the challenge, God has assigned us to play His role within the family structure.
It’s not even because Yahweh, in His essential state, is a “male.” He’s not—never mind the fact that when He manifested Himself among us as a human being, He chose the male of our species as a vehicle. The symbol had been established as far back as the Garden of Eden. But God is Spirit, uncreated and totally beyond the comprehension of us mere mortals—He can’t be confined to any gender category to which we might relate. Sex is merely a tool God uses to help us comprehend His nature.
So wives are instructed to submit to their husbands. But anybody who has a living relationship with Yahweh through His Messiah should know that His emphasis is not on controlling us, but on protecting us—it’s not on Self-aggrandizement, but on love. He doesn’t require our alms, support, penance, or piety, but rather delights in providing for us the necessities of life—not to mention over-the-top blessings (to the extent that we can handle them).
Thus any man who revels in the idea of “being in charge” because he’s a male has entirely missed the point. Our job is to show our wives and our children what God is like, through example, effort, and determination. Problem is, none of us men actually are “like God.” (He knows this, of course, but has assigned us the role anyway.) We don’t have unlimited resources, perfect knowledge, unfaltering love, or a sinless nature. What we do have is a promise that God will supply all of our needs (like the ability to love our wives) if only we’ll trust Him. That will have to do.
As it turns out, our wives have the easy part (or it would be, if we men played our parts to perfection). “All” they are asked to do is to submit to us as we do to Christ. The responsibility for making sure everything goes well for our families rests squarely on the shoulders of us husbands. Of course, only an arrogant idiot would therefore presume that his wife is brainless, useless, and untrustworthy, “forcing him” to micromanage everything, make every decision unilaterally, and keep her sequestered for her own good. It doesn’t work like that. Remember why Eve was given to Adam in the first place: we men need help.
So Paul explains that our relationship with our wives is meant to emulate that which exists between Christ and His church. It’s a tall order, guys. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…” And how did (or does) Christ love the church? Let’s begin with the fact that He died to atone for our sins. Our love for our wives must go to the same extreme. Granted, it seldom comes down to a matter of life and death. Usually, it’s meeting her needs (and those of her children) even at the expense of our own desires. You want the pick-up truck and the bass boat, while she needs the minivan. You get the idea.
And what was Yahshua’s motivation for loving the church beyond all reason? It was “…that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish….” That’s right: it was to make His bride a better person. Usually, a desperate, needy, deprived or abused woman won’t just roll over and play dead: that’s not how she’s wired. She will do whatever is necessary to survive and take care of her children—even if that entails rebellion against her husband. So God’s instructions are that we men never give our wives reason or occasion to doubt our love or commitment, our fierce determination to provide for them—ever. Even when we fall on hard times (and yes, I’ve been there) we are to do whatever it takes to make our wives feel secure.
The effect (according to the passage at hand) will be to (1) set her apart from the world’s evil, (2) bathe her in the healing Spirit of God’s word, (3) draw you closer together, and (4) purify her from every doubt and evil thought. In other words, husbands are to do for their wives what Christ did for His church—even if it kills us. The surprising thing (perhaps) is that this benefits both the husband and his wife: “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church….” Did you catch that? Christ considers us His own flesh. We are (as Adam put it) “bone from His bone, and flesh from His flesh.” We (His bride) are made from God’s substance—in His own image and likeness. If nothing else, this explains why God is so kind and merciful toward us. My “flesh” fails me from time to time, but I never stop loving it and taking care of it.
Or as Paul puts it, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:22-32) No man who considers his wife’s body “his own flesh” will willingly harm her, by commission or omission.
The whole concept forces us men to be “better” than we really are. And that’s a good thing. Better—stronger, more resilient, more faithful, more industrious, more caring, more loving, more thoughtful, more patient, more generous, and more attuned to the leading of God—than we ever thought we could be. As Peter put it, “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” (I Peter 3:7)
The weaker vessel? Yes. Think of it this way. Your wife is like a corrugated paper box. Strong enough, if you take care not to leave her out in the rain or run over her with the car. In her, you’d store or move the fine china, the delicate electronic gear, or the family photo albums. That leaves it to you, gentlemen, to be the armored car, the septic tank, the gun safe—the proper holding places for all the dangerous or dirty necessities that inhabit our lives. She’s the baby stroller; you’re the pickup truck. She’s the flower vase; you’re the backhoe. She’s the scissors; you’re the chain saw. She’s the violin or flute; you’re the double bass or tympani—the orchestra is incomplete without both of you.
But know one thing for certain, guys: if you fail to support her like this, she will try to do your job in addition to her own. And in case you missed it, that is the symbolic equivalent of people trying to do God’s job for Him. It won’t work: it never works. Hence the admonition: “…that your prayers may not be hindered.” God never fails us, gentlemen, so we are to do everything in our power—with God’s help—to honor and support our wives.
The Torah provides an interesting example of how this is to work. It concerns the taking of vows. Men are required to perform whatever vows or obligations they make, without fail, for they represent God in the symbolic equation. Yahweh is absolutely trustworthy, so men—husbands—are to demonstrate what that looks like in and to the world. But what about women? The Islamist would contend that the word of one’s wife is practically worthless—only one fourth of his own (which is pretty bad, since he is allowed to lie through his teeth—it’s called taqiya—if it gives him an advantage). So does the Torah hold wives to the same standard of trustworthiness God demands of their husbands? Yes and no.
It all depends on the husband’s reaction to his wife’s vow: when did he hear of it, and did he deem it wise at the time? Remember, his duty is to “Give honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel.” Has his wife promised something she can’t (or shouldn’t) deliver on? The Torah gives the husband veto power over his wife’s vows—but only for one day. “If she vowed in her husband’s house, or bound herself by an agreement with an oath, and her husband heard it, and made no response to her and did not overrule her, then all her vows shall stand, and every agreement by which she bound herself shall stand....” In other words, if the husband doesn’t exercise his God-given veto power immediately, his wife’s vow is accepted as being every bit as binding as his would have been. It’s worth noting that her father had the same veto power over her vows when she lived under his roof. The picture is the same: God reserves the right to protect us from our own foolishness.
“But if her husband truly made them void on the day he heard them, then whatever proceeded from her lips concerning her vows or concerning the agreement binding her, it shall not stand; her husband has made them void, and Yahweh will release her. Every vow and every binding oath to afflict her soul, her husband may confirm it, or her husband may make it void. Now if her husband makes no response whatever to her from day to day, then he [tacitly] confirms all her vows or all the agreements that bind her; he confirms them, because he made no response to her on the day that he heard them. But if he does make them void after he has heard them, then he shall bear her guilt.” (Numbers 30:10-15) The rub (for the husband) is that if he does not make his wife’s vow void, then if she fails to keep her vow, the guilt will fall not upon her, but upon him.
Is this ringing any bells? Yes, it’s precisely what happened to the human race. God “guaranteed” the performance of Adam and Eve in the Garden, so to speak, only to see us sin against Him. And again, when Israel vowed, “All that Yahweh has said we will do, and be obedient…” after the giving of the Ten Commandments, “Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which Yahweh has made with you according to all these words.’” (Exodus 24:7-8) Yahweh accepted the vow that Israel had made, only to watch them fail Him time and again, from that generation until the present day. That made Him responsible for her performance. So who bore Israel’s guilt—or for that matter, the guilt of all mankind? God did—Christ, our “husband.” The penalty for our broken vow was Yahshua’s death.
It all puts Paul’s admonition, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” in a whole new light. Yahshua didn’t just die for us on a whim, or because it seemed to be the right thing to do. He did it because we made an impossible vow—to be sinless before God—and then failed to keep our word. So He kept His own law—bearing our guilt Himself. I’d say humility and thankfulness on our part is in order, wouldn’t you?
Yahshua spoke of Himself as the prototype “Bridegroom” all the time, either as a metaphor or the focus of a parable. For example, “The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to [Yahshua], ‘Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?’” After all, if He had merely come to start a religion or a breakaway Jewish cult, fasting would have seemed perfectly appropriate—an outward indicator of serious religious devotion. But instead, He threw them a curve ball: “And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast….” It’s a party, He says. Not some dour, joyless religion. My followers are eating and drinking with me because I am the light of the world, the way, the truth, and the life—the only way to the Father. My advent is cause for celebration. It’s as if they are My “Bride,” and I am their “Bridegroom.”
That being said, do you remember Solomon and the Shulamite maiden? They were kept apart by circumstances, no matter how much they loved each other. The same thing would happen between Christ and His church: “But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.’” (Mark 2:18-20) Of course, the disciples themselves didn’t have a clue what was going to happen. They were just happy to sit at Yahshua’s feet, being in the presence of God’s Anointed One, listening to the words of life that fell from His lips like honey from a comb. When He was no longer physically among them, it would be appropriate to fast and pray, all the better to be the vehicle through which the Holy Spirit would work in this world until Yahshua returned to reign in glory. But for now they hadn’t a clue as to His impending “departure.”
John the Baptist used the same symbol in describing Yahshua’s role—and how it contrasted with his own: “Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification.” It was another of those Torah rites that nobody would understand until after the resurrection. “And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified [i.e., Yahshua]—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!’” Hey, John! We’ve got competition. Do something—He’s stealing the glory that used to come to you! “John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ,” but, “I have been sent before Him.” He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled….’”
John compared himself to the “Best Man,” the friend of the Bridegroom who announces His arrival and acts as his “master of ceremonies.” “He must increase, but I must decrease.” I don’t know if John knew any of this, but his illustration was perfect: he was not of the bride (i.e., the body of believers who would love the Bridegroom), because he would die before Christ’s passion. In a very real sense, John was the last of the Old Testament prophets—and the greatest of them, for to him was given the privilege of “introducing” Yahshua the Messiah to the world: “He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all….” Don’t look now, but John just identified Yahshua as the Son of God—something the Pharisees and scribes were not willing to hear.
“And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.” Well, almost no one. “He who has received His testimony [at this point, that was John himself and very few others] has certified that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” Again, John is heard identifying Yahshua as “the Son of God.” Those are words one should not take lightly. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:25-36)
We’ve all heard the common wedding-ceremony line where the minister says, “If any of you has reason why these two should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace.” (It’s lifted from the Episcopalian Common Book of Prayer.) John has, in so many words, just said this very thing—and he would be answered with the protests of the scribes, Pharisees, and Chief Priests: “Yes, we have reasons why this man claiming to be the Son of God should not be allowed to take to himself people as a bridegroom takes a bride: we think he’s a fraud. We reject his claims—never mind the healings, the miracles, and the changed lives with which his betrothed is so enamored. In short, we don’t believe him.” John warned them up front: if that’s your position, you will not see life.
Yahshua also used the metaphor of the coming of the “bridegroom” in a parable clearly describing the pre-tribulation rapture. Here, however, the bride is not in view, but her bridesmaids. (The reason for this device will become evident in a moment.) “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.” Note first that this story is said to be about “the kingdom of heaven.” It concerns the nature of the relationship between the Bridegroom and the “virgins.” “Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps….” Here we see why the bridesmaids were chosen to be the subject of the parable: some were wise (as the bride is presumed to be) but some were not. The only difference between the wise bridesmaids and the foolish ones was whether or not they had brought olive oil with which to fill their lamps.
A word of explanation is in order. The groom could come for his bride at any time, day or night. After he arrived at the bride’s father’s house with his friends, all of them—bride, groom, bridesmaids (of whom ten was the customary number), groomsmen, relatives, and well-wishers—would then proceed in joyous procession to the groom’s home, where a wedding feast had been prepared. If he arrived after dark, the wedding party would put their oil lamps up on staves to provide light for the festive journey. But you weren’t supposed to just show up at the feast, since the timing of the thing was strictly at the bridegroom’s discretion, a time known only to him. You had to be a part of the procession from the bride’s father’s home to the groom’s house—usually only a short distance, within the same village. There (depending on the wealth of the bridegroom) you might be given a special wedding garment to commemorate the occasion. (See Matthew 22:1-13.)
“But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept….” Why was he delayed? The words of Christ to His disciples ring a bell—“I go to prepare a place for you.” (See John 14:1-4.) The “delay,” of course, was only in the minds of the bridesmaids. He (if we’re seeing Christ as the bridegroom) would come precisely when He’d planned to before the founding of the world. He had even told us when the thousand-year “honeymoon” would begin, if we had been sharp enough to perceive what God was telling us through the Sabbath symbol (six thousand years of waiting and working, followed by one final millennium of “resting” in God’s glory). The only thing He didn’t tell us was when He was coming for His bride. That was supposed to be a secret.
“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’” In case you missed it, that’s a picture of the rapture of the church. “Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’” The “oil” is symbolic of the indwelling Holy Spirit (as we saw back in Volume 3, Section 1, Chapter 2). In reality, of course, the issue isn’t having “enough” oil/Spirit, for “God gives the Spirit without measure or limit” (John 3:34). The point, rather, is that one cannot provide the Spirit for others—everyone must be “born again” in the Holy Spirit by their own volition.
That being said, every human being has the capacity for God’s Spirit to live within them—it’s what separates humanity from the animal kingdom. It was described in Genesis 2:7 with the Hebrew word neshamah: the “breath of life” that Yahweh breathed into Adam and Eve—and through them, into us. It is represented in this parable by the oil lamps the virgins all carried. (These were simply small, shallow ceramic bowls or pots with a pinch to hold a wick. Plain or fancy, these oil lamps are found by the thousands in archeological digs all over Israel. It is no fluke that these oil lamps are made of clay, which is basically what Man—Adam—is made of.) The point is that no one is admitted to the “wedding feast,” a.k.a. the “marriage supper of the Lamb” as it’s called in Revelation 19, without being indwelled (or being “born again—born from above”) with the Holy Spirit.
“And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’” Was the bridegroom being unfair? No. Everyone had been invited to the party. Everyone had an oil lamp. Everyone had dozed off. Everyone knew where to get oil. And even the foolish virgins wanted to have oil in their lamps, or they wouldn’t have left to acquire it when the bridegroom came. Furthermore, everybody knew the way from the bride’s house to her new home with the groom—or if they were from “out of town,” all they had to do was follow the bride and groom. As I said, you weren’t supposed to just show up at the wedding feast: there was protocol to follow, and everybody knew “the rules” beforehand. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matthew 25:1-13) The only thing that prevented the foolish virgins from joining the party was that they had neglected to bring olive oil with them.
Does this mean that salvation is impossible after the rapture? (This is what I was taught as a young man. I took it as what it was—a threat.) No, it doesn’t: the foolish virgins were eventually equipped with oil—the Holy Spirit. The “problem” with being late is missing opportunity to live a “normal Christian life” (whatever that is). The church of the rapture (Philadelphia—Revelation 3:7-13) isn’t the last one on the list. But doesn’t the only remaining church (Laodicea—Revelation 3:14-22) make Yahshua want to puke? Yes, in their present state. However, there is also an invitation—and a challenge—in the admonition to the Laodiceans. Although they were too late to party with the raptured saints at the wedding feast, they could still have a normal relationship with the bride and groom after the wedding—that is, during the Millennial kingdom.
Christ says to them, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:18-20) Repentance is possible—even if you’re too late to attend the wedding feast. The Laodiceans are analogous to the five foolish virgins who missed the wedding supper because they didn’t have oil (the Holy Spirit) when the bridegroom came for his beloved bride. In future history, they are those who will come to faith after the rapture of the church, living through—or dying in—the Tribulation or the days leading up to it.
My sense is that there will be a huge multitude of these “Laodiceans,” the bridesmaids who acquire their “oil” after the bridegroom comes—but alas, that’s mostly because of the notices of their martyrdom in vast numbers. For example, John informs us, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen….’” The symbols tell the tale. The white robes and the palm branches both speak of imputed or derived righteousness. And everyone—the saved of all the ages, and every manifestation God ever chose to employ—agree: Yahweh is worthy.
“Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’ And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’” Why are these people seen separately from the twenty-four elders (who represent all of the redeemed of humanity)? It’s because they are the Laodiceans, the (formerly) foolish virgin bridesmaids of the parable—now (since the party’s over) admitted into the life of the Bridegroom and His bride, the church, for they had finally “acquired oil.” Better late than never. “So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Revelation 7:9-17)
John also writes concerning them, “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands.” This is “the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth” that the church at Philadelphia was promised to be kept out of, in Revelation 3:10. “They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years…. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4-6) It’s a bad news-good news story: the martyrs (the formerly foolish virgins) had been slain for their witness, but like the Christ they have belatedly chosen to follow, they will now live forever. Better yet, they will live in His very presence, a sweet reward for summoning the courage to choose Him in the face of almost certain death.
Some of these repentant bridesmaids, however, will survive until the end of the Tribulation, somehow escaping both the Antichrist’s headsman and the general mayhem of the times. (This would include wars—nuclear and otherwise—famines, earthquakes, disease, false messiahs, persecution, betrayal, etc.) These mortals will comprise the “founding citizens” of the Kingdom of God on Earth. (In another illustration, they are seen as the blessed “sheep” in the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25.) They will repopulate the planet over the next thousand years, rebuild the infrastructure, and experience what it’s like to live in a perfect world ruled by an incorruptible King—sort of like Adam and Eve, but without the sneaky snake and the temptation tree. But as blessed as they’ll be, remember that their journey began by showing up late to the party and getting locked out.
One last issue is worthy of mention, although I’m hesitant to try to build “doctrine” out of this—it’s more of an observation. The ten bridesmaids in the parable were divided into two groups of five. Five, throughout scripture, seems to be the number of grace, the unmerited favor shown to us by God that achieves our salvation. (I plan to cover biblical numerology in a future volume.) Note, then, that both the wise virgins and the initially foolish ones were admitted into the presence of the Bridegroom (Yahshua) through grace—not through any “good works” they did.
In the long run, the only difference between the two groups is when they will be admitted into the Bridegroom’s presence. Or to put it another way, the inconvenience the foolish virgins had to endure in pursuit of their “oil” (analgous to the persecution or martyrdom of the tribulation/Laodicean saints) had nothing to do with their eventual (post-party) relationship with the Bridegroom. If nothing else, the parable effectively demonstrates the fallacy of the “post-tribulation rapture” theory.
The Apostle Paul was (according to tradition) a lifelong bachelor, considering the capacity not to be distracted by the pleasures and pressures of female company a gift from God. Some are therefore reticent to take his “advice” on matters of the heart. But because he (as far as I can tell) filtered everything he said through the Torah, his lack of personal experience with a wife wasn’t too much of a handicap when he was teaching about husbands and wives. Like Peter (who was happily married) Paul had quite a bit to say about what husbands (and wives) are to do, and why.
One lengthy passage on the subject is in I Corinthians 7. He begins, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband….” If we could all get along without sex, he says, we’d be better off. Of course, that’s not how God designed our race, physically or emotionally, so we need to constrain and channel our sexual urges. The obvious mechanism for this is the institution of marriage—the process by which a man and woman become “one flesh,” in emulation of Yahweh’s design for us. For a man who has normal sexual impulses (and yes, they are normal) to remain celibate in a world populated by women is a recipe for disaster. Just ask the Roman Catholic Church (if you can catch them in an unguarded moment). Demanding that their “priests” be celibate has resulted in a legacy of frustration, homosexuality and pedophilia. (The History News Network reports that “The Church was a thousand years old before it definitively took a stand in favor of celibacy in the twelfth century at the Second Lateran Council held in 1139, when a rule was approved forbidding priests to marry. In 1563, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the tradition of celibacy.”) The unintended consequences are not automatic, of course, but they’re common enough to make the world blaspheme God because of His “church.”
Denial or suppression of our God-implanted sexual urges, then, can easily lead to sexual immorality. Paul’s (and God’s) solution? Get married—and stay that way. Note that he speaks of this arrangement in singular terms—one husband with one wife. He was aware, of course, of many cases of polygamy recorded in the Tanakh. As we have seen, they make for valuable object lessons, and more to the point, Yahweh didn’t go out of His way to prohibit such complicated unions. It would seem, however, that every time a man took two wives (or added concubines) there would soon be trouble brewing.
There is a subtlety in Paul’s instruction that has been overlooked by most couples throughout the ages. The wife “has” her husband every bit as much as he “has” her. It’s a two-way street. “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does….” Affection, tenderness, fondness, is not optional: it is “due.” It is like a debt incurred on one’s wedding day, payable in joyous installments over an entire lifetime.
And authority? Because the husband is the picture of Christ (as his wife is of the church) we often jump to the conclusion that this principle holds true in every facet of married life. But it doesn’t. Where the body is concerned, the husband has authority over his wife, but the wife has the same sort of authority over her husband. So the wife has the right to insist that her husband see a doctor about those chest pains, or wear safety glasses in his workshop, or try to lose ten pounds. And he has the right to “order his wife around” for her own good. Example: my wife has the tendency to work herself into a frazzle. Occasionally (now that I’m retired and working at home) I find myself telling her (tongue in cheek, of course) “I order you to stop working, make yourself a nice cup of tea, and relax in your easy chair with a good book,” to which she obediently replies (with a grin on her face), “Yes dear.” Her body, after all, is under my authority, as mine is under hers. But if the whole thing is not done in a matrix of mutual affection, thoughtfulness, and empathy, expect trouble.
The elephant in the room, of course, is sex. Sensitivity to each other’s needs is part of the formula. Paul’s advice is basically that if one partner is “in the mood,” the other should be willing to play along. Of course, if she really does have a headache, he should pick up on her pain and be willing to sublimate his own desires to her needs. Like I said: mutual affection. So he says, “Do not deprive one another…” but there’s a caveat: “except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control….” Ideally, sexual intimacy in a godly marriage is the glue that binds a husband and wife together so tightly in their early years that when life happens later (kids, jobs, stress, etc.) nothing will be able to pull them apart—even if the “glue” isn’t so frequently applied anymore. It isn’t spelled out here, so I’m admittedly guessing, but I think the time of separation to which Paul is referring is primarily the wife’s monthly menstrual cycle. The Torah, in fact, forbade sex during this time (Leviticus 18:19—see The Owner’s Manual, Chapter 3, Mitzvah #101).
“But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment.” Ignoring the Torah is never advisable, so he may be referring here to abstinence beyond the menstrual period. Paul is careful to point out that this is not inspired scripture at this point, but merely what seemed to him a good idea—a way to heighten both intimacy with God and the anticipation of sexual reunion with one’s spouse. He realizes that most men do not have the same capacity for celibacy that he was given: “For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.” Celibacy is a gift, but so is a godly sex life. “But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am [i.e., celibate, a state that allows total dedication to the kingdom of God]; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (I Corinthians 7:1-8)
The same passage addresses separation and divorce—something God is “on record” as hating—characterizing it violence and treachery (see Malachi 2:16). “Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband….” There are circumstances, Paul hints, where separation becomes necessary, something I know from personal experience. One of my own daughters married a man who later became physically abusive. It was all quite surreal—they were both handicapped, confined to wheelchairs. In addition to beating her, he began using the handicap-accessible van we had bought them as a wedding gift to abduct and sexually assault other women. When my wife and I found out what was going on, we rescued our daughter within the hour—even before the police caught up with her husband and threw him in jail. She spent a while in a local shelter for battered wives, and then we brought her home to stay with us, where she lived, celibate, for the next decade until her death from Huntington’s disease.
The instructions to husbands are simplified, but the bottom line is the same: “And a husband is not to divorce his wife.” Divorce is not the “unpardonable sin,” of course, but it is sin—a missing of the mark God has set for us. If nothing else, it messes up the symbol that marriage was instituted to portray, and Yahweh is very serious about His symbols. It seems to me that divorce would be extremely rare if men treated their wives as God instructed them to—and wives did the same. But not only are we fallen creatures, prone to error, the fact is that many believers were already married before they got saved. They began their married lives “equally yoked” in sin, but became unequally yoked when one of the partners came to faith. What then?
Paul offers the solution, again cautioning us that this is his idea, not God’s commandment: “But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy….” We can’t “receive Christ” on behalf of our spouses or children, of course. But we can dedicate them to God—which is basically what the verb hagiazó, rendered “sanctified,” means—set apart, made holy, consecrated. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon notes that “Since only what is pure and without blemish can be devoted and offered to God (Leviticus 22:20; Deuteronomy 15:21; Deuteronomy 17:1), ἁγιάζω [hagiazó] signifies to purify”—either externally, Levitically, by expiation, or internally by reformation of the soul.” Basically, the believing spouse, by staying with the unbelieving partner, is doing what he or she can to make the entire family holy, set apart for God’s purpose.
That being said, sometimes it’s not up to the believing spouse: “But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (I Corinthians 7:10-16) In other words, stay if you can; go if you must. But in all things, trust God to work the situation out for His glory.
A bit later in the same chapter, Paul picks up the theme again: “A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my judgment—and I think I also have the Spirit of God.” (I Corinthians 7:39-40) Since marriage is a picture of the relationship that exists between God and us who love Him, divorce is a metaphor for something unimaginably horrible—the dissolution of that relationship. Yahweh was “forced” to divorce Israel for her infidelity—her idolatry. But in reality, the only thing that freed her from that union was the death of her husband.
That happened when God (in the form of a man, Yahshua the Messiah) laid down his life for her. Now she is legally free to remarry. Paul, of course, was speaking strictly of temporal relationships. But there’s a spiritual lesson in here too, I think. Israel has three options: she can remain single, unattached to any God; she can choose poorly (as she did in the past), giving herself to satanic lovers, defiling her relationship with Yahweh; or she can choose wisely—remarrying “in the Lord” as Paul puts it. Who would this new husband be, then? The risen Christ, of course. As Paul later put it, “From now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (II Corinthians 5:16-17) New Husband, new wife, new marriage, and new life. But we, like Israel, should consider our actions carefully. Like the Jubilee, this remarriage to the risen Christ is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Paul elsewhere addressed the issue of the dissolution of marriage, but this time tied it to the concept of freedom from the literal requirements of the Torah. “Do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband [symbolically, either Israel or the church] is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man….” As I said, the death of Yahshua (Yahweh incarnate) changes everything. For her idolatry, Israel was “called an adulteress” and was divorced by God (see Jeremiah 3:6-8). And the church throughout her history has done little better—as witnessed by the scathing admonitions to the churches at Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea in Revelation 2 and 3.
Although Israel symbolically represents all of mankind, and the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 reveal now-historical trends throughout the church age, we must remember that salvation is an individual matter. We are redeemed and sanctified by God one soul at a time. In this age, we (the potential bride) are all free from mankind’s marriage to Yahweh because of the death of Christ on our behalf. Any betrothal going on these days is with the risen Messiah—for “all things have become new.” If we accept His “proposal,” our wedding will take place at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, our “honeymoon” will last throughout the Seventh Millennium, and our wedded bliss will endure for eternity.
But Paul draws some rather startling conclusions concerning our current status: not only did Christ die, we have died with Him. “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.” The law of adultery no longer constrains us, even though we always had a wandering eye. “For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:1-6)
It’s not that there was anything wrong with the law, the Torah. It was perfect. That was the problem. It’s just that we proved ourselves incapable of keeping it—thus it condemned us from morning ’til night. So when Yahshua voluntarily died on Passover to redeem us from our sins, we (and I mean all of us—saved and lost alike) died with Him, as far as our relationship to the Law was concerned. If He had remained in the tomb, we would have remained dead as well—cut off from the Law and its Author, Yahweh our Creator. But He didn’t stay dead. He rose again on the third day (as the scriptures insisted He must—on the Feast of Firstfruits). This created an opportunity for us. If we chose to, we too could live again, live eternally—but only if our life was linked to His.
Yahshua has provided the vehicle that leads to life. All we have to do is get in. The choice is ours alone. Yes, it takes faith. No, we don’t deserve it. Is it scary? Yes, a little. After all, the road is straight and narrow, and littered with potholes, so we’re not allowed to drive ourselves. And the vehicle runs on Grace, an extremely expensive high-octane unleavened fuel distilled from innocent blood and the oil of the Spirit. The journey is thrilling, but the destination is to die for.
Okay, enough with the metaphors. I’m making myself dizzy.
We weren’t quite finished in I Corinthians 7. “But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife.” He’s obviously referring to life choices open to a Christian, not outsiders. There are two ways to go, he says—a single man can either remain unmarried in order to concentrate all his energies on the kingdom of God, or marry (fulfilling God’s design for the vast majority of us) while being prepared for distractions and detours. What Paul didn’t clarify (but perhaps should have) is that although the single-minded pursuit of worldly success, fame, fortune, pleasure, or status is never proper for a Christian, either celibacy in the pursuit of godly ideals or marriage is perfectly okay, depending on one’s gifts.
The same truths apply to women: things get “complicated” when they marry. “There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman [in a perfect world] cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.” (I Corinthians 7:32-35) This is where the whole idea of cloistered nuns came from. While serving God without distraction is a noble concept on the face of it, one must be honest: there is a fine line between focused dedication to Christ and the desire to hide in a convent from the pressures of the world. God knows our motives.
I must reiterate, however, that symbolically, the “distraction of pleasing her husband” is the whole point of marriage. That is, the church does not—and indeed cannot—exist to please itself. If Christ is our “husband,” then our whole life is bound up in Him, for His life is certainly bound up in ours. He is “with us” even when He’s not—through the indwelling Holy Spirit. A husband’s job, then, is to emulate Christ in his marriage. Don’t take this the wrong way, but a married man has no life independent of his wife, just as, as far as the world is concerned, Christ has no life apart from His church. You (a husband and his wife, or Christ and His church) are no longer two people, but one family, one flesh. You’re not a partnership; you’re a corporation.
Let’s look at the parallels. Psalm 37 can be read as sort of a marriage roadmap—with the husband’s role played by Yahweh or His Messiah, and the wife’s role by us—the one being instructed through the Psalm’s admonitions. How do these commandments reveal the husband’s proper role?
(1) “Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.” (Psalm 37:1) A good husband (like God) never gives his wife cause to fear threats from outside the home or to envy the transient prosperity of people who cheat their way through life. A protector and provider may not be flashy, but he’s reliable.
(2) “Trust in Yahweh, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.” (Psalm 37:3) Give your wife reason to trust you. Be there for her, a steadfast and resolute rock in a world of uncertainty and turmoil. Your faithfulness is like food to her, keeping her healthy and satisfied.
(3) “Delight yourself also in Yahweh, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) As a husband, you shouldn’t make significant decisions unilaterally, but consult your wife. Does Christ do that? Absolutely. It’s called prayer. He cares what we think, and He knows what our desires are. But be aware that our relationship with Him will shape and transform those desires.
(4) “Commit your way to Yahweh. Trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” (Psalm 37:5-6) A good husband earnestly wishes to fulfill his wife’s fondest hopes and dreams. He endeavors to be worthy of her trust, and that trust in turn makes her a better person—calm, confident, and focused.
(5) “Rest in Yahweh, and wait patiently for Him.” (Psalm 37:7) The old joke goes, “When a man says he’ll do something, he’ll do it. There’s no need to remind him every six months.” God, of course, does not procrastinate, though He sometimes moves more slowly than we’d like. But His timing is perfect, and we husbands would benefit from learning to move on His schedule.
(6) “Depart from evil, and do good, and dwell forevermore.” (Psalm 37:27) A godly husband encourages his wife toward greater godliness. Eternal considerations aside, this process tends to prolong our mortal lives, not to mention our marriages. As David says elsewhere, “Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34: 12-14)
(7) “Wait on Yahweh, and keep His way, and He shall exalt you to inherit the land.” (Psalm 37:34) As God exalts the humble, a good husband lifts up his appropriately submissive wife with praise and thanksgiving.
To sum up, then, a godly husband is reliable, trustworthy, faithful, and sensitive to his wife’s needs. He cares about her hopes and desires. He’s attuned to Yahweh’s timing, moving ahead or waiting as God directs. He encourages godliness in his wife, and exalts her among his peers. It should come as no surprise, then, that being a good and godly husband is a baseline requirement for holding a position of responsibility or service in the church, for as one treats his wife, so can he be expected to lead the bride of Christ.
So Paul advises Timothy: “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, [Greek: episkopé—an overseer, one who “searches out the ways, deeds, character, of men, in order to adjudge them their lot accordingly, whether joyous or sad; inspection, investigation, or visitation… searching the souls of men in the time of divine judgment”—Thayer] he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife [sorry, no polygamy, homosexuality, or serial relationships], temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil….”
Putting the shoe on the other foot, these are precisely the same qualities a husband should display. In fact, one could truthfully turn the whole thing around, saying, “If a man desires to be a husband, he desires a good work. A husband then must be blameless, the overseer over his own house…” and then listing all of the very same attributes required of a bishop. Note too what’s not on the list: you don’t have to earn a ton of money; you don’t have to be movie-star handsome; you don’t have to be eloquent or highly educated; and you don’t have to be a sexual “expert.” You merely have to be a kind, temperate, godly man—the sort of man to which a godly woman would be attracted.
And what if you don’t have what it takes (having neither the aptitude nor desire) to be a “bishop”? (I would surely fall into that category. I’m not called to “oversee” anything but my own family.) Then you’d do better as a “deacon.” So Paul continues, “Likewise deacons [diakonos: a waiter, servant, or administrator—one who hastens: diákonos properly means ‘to kick up dust,’ as one running an errand. Yeah, that’s me.] must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 3:1-13)
Deacons (servants of the church) then, have very similar qualifications to those of bishops—among them, being the “husband of one wife.” Note too that the wife of a deacon/servant has some similar requirements: reverence for God, discretion with truthfulness, self-restraint, and unshakable faith. Once again, we see the husband and wife as one flesh, with one agenda, one goal, and one purpose. They’re equally yoked, plowing the same field, going in the same direction, moving at the same speed.
We began this chapter with a quote from Psalm 19: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God…. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun. It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.” Let us end it with another couple of passages that speak of the joy of the bridegroom (who we now know to be Yahshua the Messiah). This time they’re prophetic in nature:
“Blow the trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and nursing babes.” Joel’s warnings of coming judgment would be applicable to both the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions in Zion’s future as he wrote, but these are just pale hints of his real subject—the plight of Israel during the Last Days. The people are urged to call upon Yahweh in the time of their trial—when the whole world is arrayed against them. Their prayer is, “Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, and the bride from her dressing room….” The bridegroom is Christ, and His bride is the church. Yes, this is another Old Testament passage declaring (in so many words) a pre-tribulation rapture. The reason Israel is alone and under siege is that their only real ally, the called-out assembly of Christ (the bride), has been taken out of the world, and with her, the Holy Spirit who indwelled her. Zion’s only hope now is for the Messiah to return—with His wife—to set things straight. And according to Revelation 19:11-16, that is precisely what will happen.
In the meantime, Israel’s distress is palpable: “Let the priests, who minister to Yahweh, weep between the porch and the altar.” The priesthood hasn’t existed for the past nineteen centuries, nor the temple, but both will be rebuilt during the Tribulation. “Let them say, ‘Spare Your people, O Yahweh, and do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them.’ Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:15-17)
There is only one brief time in all of future history when this can literally happen: the days immediately following the Abomination of Desolation (on day number 1,230 of the Tribulation). The church will have “disappeared” some years before this. The temple will have been rebuilt, and the priesthood reestablished. Then, the war of Magog will have been fought against dar al-Islam—and miraculously won, despite impossible odds. And as a result, Israel will have reawakened to the reality and plan of their God, Yahweh. But just as their Messianic hopes have been rekindled for the first time in two millennia, the Antichrist—the charismatic European leader—will ascend to the throne of planet Earth, demanding the worship and obedience of all mankind. And just as Yahshua had warned them (in Matthew 24:15-28), Israel discovers that it must flee to the hills. Revelation 12:6 reveals that she must hide out there for 1,260 days—three and a half prophetic (schematic) years. (There’s a lot more to it, of course. See The End of the Beginning, elsewhere on this website, for the whole story.)
The point is, the Bridegroom (Christ) will return to Zion—just as Joel said He would. He will become the “overseer,” the episkopé with all that entails, over the entire planet, ruling from Jerusalem. And we, the church, the now-immortal bride of Christ, will fulfill the role of “deacons” at His side. What will become of Israel? Her future is glorious as well: “For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you [Israel]. And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you….”
Remarkably, we have the privilege of helping that to become a reality—by praying for the peace, redemption, and glorious destiny of Zion: “I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem.” A “watchman” is one who keeps, guards, or preserves—which (not coincidentally) is part of the profile of the church of the rapture, Philadelphia (see Revelation 3:7-13). It is they (we) who were commended for “keeping Christ’s word” and “keeping His command to persevere.” What else do they do? “They shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of Yahweh, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” (Isaiah 62:5-7) In other words, the bride (the church) appeals to the Husband (Christ) on behalf of the salvation and redemption of Israel (symbolic of the whole world). And the Husband, as we have seen, would do anything to please His bride.