4.1.8 Marriage: Fruitful Covenant
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 1.8
Marriage: Fruitful Covenant
Forgive me for beginning with this, but I’ve gotta get this out of my system. It’s a scene from one of my favorite old movies, The Princess Bride, where the evil Prince Humperdinck is forcing Princess Buttercup to marry him so he can murder her on their wedding night, blame it on his enemy, and start a war—it’s complicated.
The Impressive-looking Clergyman: Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder today. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam…. And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva…. So tweasure your wuv.
Prince Humperdinck: Skip to the end.
Clergyman: Have you the wing? …and do you, Pwincess Buwwercup…
Prince Humperdinck: Man and wife. Say man and wife.
Clergyman: Man an’ wife.
I don’t know if Rob Reiner (the director) really meant to present a stinging parody of what “mawage” has degenerated into in these last days, but I doubt that he could have done a better job if he’d tried. Every facet of Prince Humperdinck’s wedding was just plain wrong—if compared to what we find in scripture. Let us take a quick inventory of common marriage misconceptions:
(1) The religious institution or government “backing” the marriage doesn’t add or provide any legitimacy before God. Legal ramifications aside (which are the state’s business—render unto Caesar), a marriage does not consist of authorization, permission, or blessing by either church or state.
(2) Sappy sentimentality has no place in our mental definition of marriage. If we think of it as a “dream within a dream,” reality could turn it into a nightmare.
(3) Vows are to be taken seriously. They are promises, made before each other and before God. They are meant to last a lifetime. We are not to take them lightly, and we most certainly are not to “skip to the end.”
(4) The marriage bond is not to have any ulterior motives—for either party. If you marry to “get something for yourself,” you’ve missed the entire point: it is a covenant that makes two people “one flesh.”
(5) Pronouncing two people “man and wife” does not necessarily make it so.
(6) Force, compulsion, or pressure—from any source—make a mockery of the marriage covenant. It must be voluntary (and preferably enthusiastic) on the part of both husband and wife.
(7) The form of the wedding has no bearing on the reality of the marriage. It is not ceremony that binds a husband and wife to each other, but mutual commitment, devotion, trust, loyalty, and unconditional love.
Let us then turn to the scriptures for insight into what marriage is supposed to be. We’re first introduced to the concept (sort of) in the very first chapter of the Bible. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.’” (Genesis 1:26-28) The context, of course, is the creation of higher animal life on the earth during the “sixth day.”
After creating a myriad of different life forms on the fifth and sixth days, God introduced the human race, instructing us to manage His biosphere. How we differ from the animals is stated here in the briefest of terms: we were made in the Creator’s own image (which implies that the animals, by contrast, were not). Four times in Genesis 1—going back to the most primitive life forms introduced on the Fifth Day—the word nephesh (soul) is used to describe what made the animals “alive.” Man too has a nephesh: he is bodily alive, just like bacteria, cockroaches and chimpanzees. The technical difference is stated (albeit subtly) in Genesis 2:7, where Yahweh is said to have “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” The “breath” here is something called a neshamah—a word that really has no direct English equivalent. It is neither the soul (nephesh) nor a spirit (ruach)—both of which are also based on the concept of breath or air in motion—but it’s a related concept. The neshamah is the feature unique to human life—that “breath” or life-component which defines us as having been made in the image and likeness of God. It appears to be our unique capacity for being spiritually alive—beyond mere biological existence.
Anyway, both the male and the female (Adam and Eve) were created in God’s image—i.e., with the spiritual component lacking in animals. Although the animals presumably didn’t need any specific instruction beyond the instincts with which God had programmed them, His very first instructions to the man and woman were “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” Animals (above a certain level) reproduce sexually—they mate, sometimes for life, sometimes for a season, but more often merely as the result of sporadic, random, and temporary biological urges. Physically, humans were instructed to mate as well—to reproduce their kind.
The question is: did the fact that humans were created in the image of God change the way we were intended to mate? Does the unique way humans are wired—with a spiritual component—imply that we are to be “like God” in the way we relate to each other sexually? In other words, is marriage, as the expression of human mating practice, an artifact of our unique spiritual nature? And is physical human reproduction therefore intended by God to be a metaphor for creating spiritual offspring? I believe it is.
We’re given more detail in the next chapter. “And Yahweh, God, said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him….’” God had made all of the higher animals male and female, so it wasn’t as if He was surprised to find that Adam wasn’t complete without a mate. This information is for our benefit: He’s telling us why He invented sexual reproduction in the first place—as a clue as to what His own nature is. Yes, Yahweh our God is One (see Deuteronomy 6:4), but He manifests Himself in several different ways (as we saw in detail in Volume 1 of this work). So Adam without Eve would have been analogous to Yahshua without the Spirit-indwelled church—incomplete, alone, bereft of purpose. In this metaphor, the union of the man with the woman—the marriage itself—was analogous to Yahweh’s unity, of which we believers have become a part (through our association with the Holy Spirit). So as long as we view marriage only as the convenient and pleasurable cohabitation of two people for mutual benefit, we have missed the entire point: a married couple becomes one, as we are one with Christ through His Spirit.
God let Adam live and work alone for a while so he’d become aware of his deficiencies. “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. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field….” Note several things here:
(1) The bodies of animals and people (and even plants) are all made of the same stuff—the dust of the earth. We are all built for life on this planet. The fact that every living thing is genetically constructed using DNA is not evidence of evolution, but of creation by the same Maker.
(2) Adam was created with the capacity for rational thought and speech. His “day job” was to study God’s creation, while developing—inventing—the lexicon with which to communicate. I have no idea how that works, but it is clear that Adam was no “caveman.” He was probably the most perfect specimen of the human race who ever walked the earth. The genetic information that would define all of humanity’s possibilities throughout the ages was contained within Adam’s genome.
(3) There was in the beginning no fear or animosity between the man and the animals among whom he lived. That would all change at the time of the flood of Noah, but it is prophesied that this state of affairs will be restored during the Millennial reign of Christ.
Every life form God had brought to Adam had a male and a corresponding female. At some point, the man must have figured it out: “Wait a minute! Where is my companion—my female counterpart?” “But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. 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 can’t say how much of that is literal, and how much is figurative. What is clear, however, is that the woman was made as genetically pristine as Adam was. It also seems clear that although there were “hominid-like” animals in the world before this time, Adam and Eve were specially created beings. They did not simply evolve (or devolve) from any animal God had previously introduced.
(I should note that I am an “old-earth creationist,” the only position I find consistent with both science and scripture. For a detailed explanation, see The End of the Beginning, Volume 4, Appendix 11, elsewhere on this website. There is no scriptural reason to presume that God created the universe about six thousand years ago. That clock began ticking when Adam fell into sin.)
When Adam saw the woman, he knew that this was the one God had prepared to complete him. “And Adam said: ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man….’” If you track down what the Hebrew words really mean, this declaration sounds a bit less clinical—and a whole lot more romantic: “This one is the next step in my life: her substance and essence are like mine, and her body is good news to me. She shall be chosen as my wife; surely I will receive her and be a husband to her.” Or something like that.
Moses’ editorial comment points out that this is the very definition of marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh….” Note four things here:
(1) The “therefore” points out that there is a reason for the union between a man and a woman—that they were created with the same “substance and essence.” That is, they were made for one another—the husband to do the work God assigned to him, and the wife as his helper, the one who completes him.
(2) There is a fundamental shift in roles between being someone’s son and being a husband. In a way, marriage is a rite of passage for the husband—he is no longer dependent, under the authority and nurturing of his parents, but is now the responsible party in a whole new entity, his own family.
(3) Being “joined” to one’s wife (Hebrew: dabaq) means to cleave, cling, adhere, or hold fast to her in affection and loyalty, to stick to her, stay close, follow, pursue, and overtake her. That implies a man’s total, unreserved involvement in his wife’s life—and she in her husband’s. There’s no “yours” and “mine.” There’s only “ours.” If she gets hurt, he feels her pain, and vice versa.
And (4) “becoming one flesh” is the result of this “joining.” At first, it’s all symbolic—the forsaking of all goals and agendas that aren’t shared mutually between the husband and his wife, the melding of the thoughts of heart and mind until one begins to finish the other’s sentences and anticipate the other’s desires. But then, according to God’s design, the “one flesh” goal eventually becomes a literal reality—with the birth of the first child, a blending of the genetic potential of both parents: two people actually becoming one.
The passage concludes: “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:18-25) This tells us more than that in their innocent state (like that of the animals in their charge) they felt no embarrassment without clothing. Their nakedness is also a euphemism for complete transparency, unadorned honesty, the total absence of guile or deceit, of hidden agendas or ulterior motives. Our shame at being naked began only when we became sinners. All of a sudden we knew that we had something to hide, something of which we were ashamed.
Clothing in scripture (a subject I’ll address in a future chapter) is symbolic of “how God sees us.” Although nothing we do or think is hidden from Him, Yahweh Himself provides us with clothing so that—figuratively, anyway—He does not see our sin and shame: it’s a phenomenon called grace. At the fall, Adam and his wife both awoke to their exposure and vulnerability at the same time: they were, after all, “one flesh.” So Yahweh provided coverings for them made from animal skin—our first hint or how incredibly costly our sin actually is: it can be covered with nothing less than the lifeblood of innocence. Or as Isaiah put it, “I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh. My soul shall be joyful in my God. For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation. He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10) Salvation never goes out of style.
Marriage is a covenant, a contract, an agreement. By design, it is to be broken only with the death of one of the partners. So Paul used marriage as an illustration of how one could become free from the literal requirements of the Torah—something (according to Peter in Acts 15:10) none of us has ever been able to keep perfectly. “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?” That is, we never outlive its ongoing precepts, like putting nothing before Yahweh, keeping the Sabbath, or refraining from murdering people. “For the woman who has a husband 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….”
The one factor that defines a marriage more obviously than any other is sexual exclusivity. One might even say that, on the physical level, sex is what forges a husband and wife into “one flesh,” both metaphorically and literally. Thus adultery, forbidden in the Seventh Commandment, destroys the very fabric of marriage, earning both the adulterer and adulteress the death penalty under the Law (see Leviticus 20:10). Adultery therefore becomes a ready and ubiquitous scriptural euphemism for idolatry—unfaithfulness toward Yahweh our God, He to whom we believers are spiritually wedded.
Paul’s point is that just as a husband and wife are “bound” to each other through marriage, Yahweh’s people are bound to Him through the Torah—His instructions. That is, the Torah and marriage are parallel and complementary cultural institutions, both of which define the nature of a relationship—the Torah expressing that of Yahweh with Israel, and Marriage delineating that which exists between a husband and his wife. In a very real sense, Yahweh is joined to Israel through the Torah as a man is to his wife through marriage—an illustration that is equally true of Christ and the church.
Violating the Torah’s precepts, then, is tantamount to spiritual adultery, a capital crime of which we all stand guilty. How then can our union with God be restored? Paul continues: “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….” Many in the church have misread this. Who died? It is not the Law, which is perfect from its inception. The Torah still lives, and still points toward life in Yahshua (if only we knew what to look for). No, it is we who have died with Christ, raised in newness of life with His resurrected body, becoming “new creations” (as it’s put in II Corinthians 5:17).
“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) The Torah, like marriage, is a concept that is inflexible in its perfection. As long as we were adulterous and unfaithful, its requirements were impossible to live up to. The problem, in other words, was not with the Torah (or with marriage, for that matter) but with us. It’s not that we didn’t want to live within the constraints of perfection, but once we were sinners, it just wasn’t within our power to do so. And worse, as long as we were living in sin, we were, and would remain, enemies of our husband, Yahweh.
Hypotheticals can be a slippery slope into error, but let’s (carefully) play the “what if” game with Adam and Eve. Eve had fallen for the serpent’s line, and had eaten of the forbidden fruit. We all know what happened then. But what if Adam had refused to bite? He would have remained sinless, but the marriage would have been destroyed. He would have found himself at enmity with the love of his life—permanently estranged from her until she died. It was a prospect he couldn’t bear to face, so he transgressed God’s Law, and was promptly punished for “heeding the voice of his wife” (Genesis 3:17).
Don’t look now, but this is a picture of that with which God Himself was faced: a conundrum too terrifying to contemplate. We humans were created by Yahweh to be His companions, His bride—in ways angels, apes, and amoebas couldn’t begin to be. God’s solution was the most counterintuitive stroke of genius imaginable: He said, “Okay, if somebody has to die to end this ruined marriage so we can begin anew, then let it be Me. I have life within My very nature. So if my bride chooses to die with Me, to die to her sin, it is within My power to raise her from the dead as I raise Myself. Thus the issue from this point forward is trust. Will she trust me to do what I alone can achieve on her behalf?” The remainder of the Bible is nothing more than the record of how this scenario is being played out in the real world.
Liberals would have you believe that men and women should be absolutely equal in all respects. (Why they invariably side with Muslims, who think women are nothing but property, is a mystery.) This equality might have been true if sin had never entered the picture: it was the way God created Adam and Eve (though Adam, having been created first, wore the mantle of the “firstborn,” i.e., preeminence). But God’s determination to die so that His bride might live changed the whole dynamic: her job was now to trust Him. And that necessitates submission, of acquiescence to His sovereign will whether or not she agrees with (or even comprehends) it.
So Paul points out how God’s relationship with His people plays out in the parallel pantomime of marriage: “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….” This doesn’t mean that men are superior to women, and it certainly doesn’t give husbands the right or privilege of treating their wives like second-class citizens (as we shall see in a moment). It simply means that marriage is to be lived as if it were a public performance of a parable explaining to the world what God’s relationship to His bride really is.
What should the world see? That the wife trusts her husband implicitly, though she feels secure and confident enough to offer counsel and make requests—a picture of prayer. That the husband is trustworthy and loyal, eager to make his wife happy and fulfilled, and willing to work hard to see that her needs (and yes, her desires) are met. And that there is passionate affection shared between them, something that is apt to break through their façade of easy familiarity at any given moment.
So wives are to submit to their husbands, because husbands play the role of God in this little drama: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 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….” (No pressure, or anything, guys.) Loving your wife is one thing. Loving her “as Christ loved the church” is (potentially) something else entirely. After all, Christ died so that His bride (us) might have life. But that’s not what Paul stressed (because, let’s face it, the chances of us men literally being called upon to die to rescue our wives are vanishingly remote). No, Paul’s emphasis is on what “Christ’s giving Himself for the church” was meant to achieve: her purity, holiness, sinlessness, and ultimately, glory. This premise puts a huge responsibility on the shoulders of husbands. They are hereby commanded to be the spiritual leaders in their own homes. We are not to repeat Adam’s first mistake—leaving our wives alone in the garden with the snake.
This doesn’t mean husbands are to micromanage, oppress, or hide their wives. It’s easy enough to see where the practice of “protecting” them in an atmosphere devoid of love (or even trust) can lead: look at Islamic culture, in which women are often “protected” into oblivion by husbands who would rather see them dead than free. God’s plan is radically different: “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. 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….’”
How do we “love” our own bodies? Given the opportunity, we make sure we are fed, clothed, happy, and fulfilled. We do what we can to avoid sickness and pain. Many of us discover (through trial and error) that being a positive force in someone else’s life—being someone for whom they are justified in giving thanks—is as good for us as it is the object of our attention. We also notice that being kind, patient, loving, and forgiving is beneficial not only to others, but also to us. So for husbands to love their wives as they do their own bodies, they must provide all of that for them.
It’s easy enough with food, clothing, and shelter, I suppose. Where it gets tricky is in allowing one’s wife to be a blessing to others—supporting (and guiding) her in whatever “good intentions” pop into her head. This could take any number of forms, but I’ll offer a personal example to give you the idea. My wife and I adopted nine of our eleven children. But I’d be lying to you if I told you it was all my idea, and she backed me up as a good and submissive wife. Frankly, after our first couple of adopted kids came home, it never would have occurred to me to go any further. I figured my quiver was full; I felt supremely blessed. But she developed a burden for unwanted kids, handicapped, abused, forgotten—whatever. And I, desiring to “love her as I do my own body,” supported and encouraged her—and then worked my butt off to make sure it all worked.
Is that not a fair picture of how Yahshua provides for our needs? Paul concludes, “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 5:22-33) As Christ loves and provides for the church, so men should love and provide for their wives. And as we who are called-out of the world by Christ revere, honor, and respect Him, so wives should treat their husbands—even though we are nowhere near as worthy as Christ is. Marriage, in short, is a parable designed to teach us what our relationship with our Creator can and should be like.
Let us explore how this truth might illuminate a hypothetical situation posed to Yahshua by the religious liberals of His day: “The Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: ‘Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her….’” The Torah (in Deuteronomy 25:5-10) had provided that if a man died childless, his brother (if they lived “together”) should marry his widow and father children for her in the dead brother’s name, the idea being that a man’s brother was as close as you could get to a genetic match. The Sadducees stretched the precept to the breaking point and then tried to use it to ridicule the idea of a resurrection.
Yahshua’s response demonstrated that the Sadducees didn’t know much about either marriage or the resurrection, because they were in the habit of playing fast and loose with God’s revealed truth. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven….” Marriage, as we have seen, is a covenant that ends with the death of either the husband or the wife (just as the Torah is no longer binding on one who has died).
I have a sneaking suspicion that in the eternal state, our personal relationships formed here on earth will be (or at least can be) deeper and more meaningful than ever. But that won’t include procreation. No new souls will be created in heaven, for the paradigm of choice under which we mortals live today will have been superseded by the consequences of our choices. We will spend eternity living out whatever lives we selected here on earth. Faith will be replaced by sight, and we will know as we are known. Besides, as believers, our “spouse” (so to speak) will be King Yahshua, not our human mates. Although it’s hard to envision or even comprehend, both my wife and I will be part of the “bride of Christ.” We will be “one” with Him in eternity as we are now “one flesh” with each other.
Yahshua wasn’t quite done chastising the unbelieving Sadducees. “‘But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.’ And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.” (Matthew 22:23-33) Mortal life ends, but if we have been made alive through our trust in God, our souls, quickened by His Spirit, will live forever. And as Yahshua pointed out to Nicodemus in John 3, the new birth in the Holy Spirit must follow our physical birth as a mortal human being: the pattern is birth by water, then by Spirit—not by Spirit alone.
Apparently, then, sex is something reserved for our life as mortals, for it is by God’s design the road to physical fruitfulness, every bit as much as it is the path to intimacy. So we read: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” (Hebrews 13:4) Sex within marriage is encouraged (and in a sense, commanded—“Multiply and fill the earth.”) But at the same time, sex outside of marriage is forbidden. How can something natural—even essential—to our species be both good and bad at the same time?
We must come to understand that sex is a euphemism for worship—intimate fellowship with our deity (whether true or false), designed to produce offspring. If our worship is for Yahweh (through Yahshua), that offspring—the “fruit of the Spirit” is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23) But if our “god” is something else (and by necessity, something inferior), then our offspring will be “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
This isn’t rocket science: to determine who we’re really worshiping, to identify who our God really is, we need only examine the “fruit” of our relationship. So Paul’s wise advice is, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish…. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16-17, 25) Notice that this last sentence is admonition, encouragement. It should be apparent that learning to “walk in the Spirit” is a process. It’s a capacity we gain as we put our faith in Christ, like having a light fixture installed in our lives: we still have to remember to flip the switch.
Is marriage mandatory? No, but it takes someone gifted by God to resist sexual temptation in order to successfully live separately. We are, after all, built as sexual creatures. There are, it would seem, reasons not to marry mentioned (sporadically) in scripture, balanced against those suggesting most of us should. It’s mostly a matter of God’s equipping and the times in which you find yourself living.
In I Corinthians, Paul was writing to folks whose loose Grecian traditions about sexual morality had led them into error. So he sets the record straight: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Why? Because when we’re thinking about sex, we’re not thinking about the kingdom of God. But Paul realizes that celibacy is a rare gift, not the norm, even for believers. “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife [singular], and let each woman have her own husband.” Ancient customs notwithstanding, monogamy—not plural marriage—is God’s pattern. More on that in a bit. “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband….” Just because marriage is a covenant, a legal construct, it doesn’t follow that overt signs of the bond of love shouldn’t be in evidence. There should be tenderness, devotion, and care between a husband and his wife in public; and in private, emotion, passion, and desire—even if sex isn’t in the immediate picture.
“The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.” Don’t stop there. This is a two way street. “And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does….” Men the world over really like the sound of the first half of that, but balk at the idea of their wives having authority over their bodies. Since the context here is sex within marriage, note that Christian culture is unique in the world in this regard. Although husbands are by divine decree the heads of the household (symbolic of Christ’s authority over the church), they and their wives are absolute equals in the bedroom—the wife submitting to her husband’s desires, and the husband happily acquiescing to hers at the same time. One-sided sex is tantamount to rape.
But this reveals a fascinating parallel: if “the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does,” then there are conditions under which Christ is happy to defer to the wishes of His bride, the church. Those “conditions” are analogous to sex within marriage: when the couple is closest, most intimate, most in sync with each other’s needs and desires. And (short of our physical intimacy with Yahshua during the kingdom age) when does this happen? When we are communing with Him in fervent prayer.
Paul continues: “Do not deprive one another 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.” The Torah (in Leviticus 18:19) instructs husbands not to engage in sexual intercourse with their wives during their periodic menstrual cycle—typically about five days per month for a healthy woman. I believe that’s what Paul is talking about here. We can only imagine how different the attitude and walk (and love life, for that matter) of the average young Christian husband would be if he and his wife “gave themselves to fasting and prayer” in place of sex for five or six days out of every month while God took care of the routine periodic maintenance chores on his wife’s sexual apparatus.
“But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. For I wish that all men were even as I myself.” That is, single-mindedly focused on the things of God, not on the inevitable distractions of marriage and family. “But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.” Then, of course, there’s the factor that if all believers remained celibate, no children would be raised in Christian homes—something between a disadvantage and a disaster. “But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (I Corinthians 7:1-9) Left unsaid here is that normally, people are passionate. It’s how our species is wired. Marriage is how God channels and focuses those passions. Agape is the cake and eros is the frosting.
Yahweh once instructed one of his prophets, Jeremiah, not to marry, not to father children. Why? Because the Babylonians were being sent to punish Judah for half a millennium of apostasy and idolatry. As I’ve said before, God is patient, but not infinitely so. “The word of Yahweh also came to me, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place.’ For thus says Yahweh concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning their mothers who bore them and their fathers who begot them in this land: ‘They shall die gruesome deaths; they shall not be lamented nor shall they be buried, but they shall be like refuse on the face of the earth. They shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, and their corpses shall be meat for the birds of heaven and for the beasts of the earth.” (Jeremiah 16:1-4)
Repeated Babylonian invasions, beginning in 601 BC and culminating in the total destruction of Jerusalem and its temple fifteen years later, made Yahweh’s gruesome warning all too timely. But this isn’t only ancient history. A thousand prophecies detailing the Great Tribulation (coming soon to a world near you) would suggest that perhaps this is good advice for the present world as well: bear children only if you don’t mind seeing them “consumed by the sword and by famine” as Satan gains power in the earth. His reign will be short but deadly, and before it’s over, by my best guess, some ninety percent of the world’s population will lay dead.
On the other hand, unlike Jeremiah, believers in these Last Days can look forward to being kept out of “the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 3:10) This, of course, is due to the event popularly known as “the rapture,” which will be the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets—the next event scheduled on Yahweh’s prophetic calendar—the fifth of His seven holy appointments with mankind. Until that day, we can count on being challenged and hated by the lost world, but we won’t be totally overcome by the evil that surrounds us. We have every reason to believe that the small children of godly parents will participate in the rapture, though their faith is undeveloped. It should go without saying that the imminence of the event is a compelling reason for parents to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of Yahweh (see Ephesians 6:4).
We live in perilous times, times of increasing spiritual oppression. Paul writes, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” (I Timothy 4:1-3) These indictments can be laid squarely at the feet of the historic Roman Catholic Church, whose manmade traditions have sought to overrule the plain teaching of scripture for centuries. The idea of a celibate priesthood in particular runs counter to everything God taught us about what a leader of His flock should be—specifically, “the husband of one wife” (I Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6).
But since Paul specifically references “the latter times,” perhaps we should consider permutations of the “forbidding to marry” principle unique to these Last Days. The institution of marriage in our present world is increasingly viewed as a quaint anachronism of a bygone era—something obsolete and pointless (unless you’re a homosexual, of course, in which case it is embraced and celebrated—it’s totally upside down and backward, evidence of a satanic agenda).
If I may quote from The End of the Beginning (elsewhere on this website), “Forty-eight percent of ‘first children’ are born out of wedlock, and although the numbers vary by nation, the percentages of births to unmarried women have doubled or tripled over the past half century. Wikipedia reports that ‘In 2009, 41% of children born in the United States were born to unmarried mothers (up from 5% a half century ago).’ Let that statistic sink in: that’s an increase of over eight hundred percent in illegitimate births over the past fifty years. The numbers are even worse among minorities: ‘…That includes 73% of non-Hispanic black children, 53% of Hispanic children, and 29% of non-Hispanic white children…. Nearly 40 percent of American infants born in 2007 were born to an unwed mother….’ Remarkably, ‘Latin America has the highest rates of non-marital childbearing in the world (55–74% of all children in this region are born to unmarried parents). In most countries in this traditionally Catholic region, children born outside marriage are now the norm.’”
Meanwhile, in the Muslim world, marriage is all too often little more than institutional rape. Wives are seen (and treated) as being “owned” by their husbands. They have little choice who they marry, and often the “bride” is bought and paid for, or worse, is merely a child. This is how it works (from the Hadith of al-Bukhari: Vol. 9) “The Prophet said, ‘A virgin should not be married till she is asked for her consent.’” Sounds okay so far, right? But here comes the punch line: “‘O Apostle! How will the virgin express her consent?’ He said, ‘By remaining silent.’” So if she’s sufficiently terrified, no problem. Close family intermarriage is common in some Muslim countries, because trust for outsiders is practically non-existent—the tribe is everything. And then of course, Sharia Law allows a man to take as many as four wives. And although adultery is ostensibly forbidden, “one-hour marriages” are allowed. The whole thing mocks the love-based family structure as Yahweh ordained it.
So the “doctrine of demons” that “forbids marriage” is largely cultural—even if it is practically universal in our world. There is—especially for men—no longer any social stigma discouraging premarital or extramarital sexual relations (not that hatred of sinners or hypocritically ostracizing people who have fallen short of perfection was ever a sane strategy). And let’s face it: the out-of-wedlock birth statistics mask an even greater evil—the cold-blooded murder of 45 million unborn children in the womb every single year worldwide.
Would any of this happen if God’s pattern for marriage were honored and respected? I think not. I’m not saying that there aren’t single mothers who do an amazing job with their kids, given their disadvantages. But any woman can bear children (or have them aborted). It takes a committed couple—a husband and wife—to provide the stability and security children need (and God intended them to have) during their formative years. Is it any wonder the whole world is dysfunctional?
Let us not forget that marriage is a picture of our potential relationship with God—fruitful, loving, enduring, and eternally secure. Satan hates and envies the human race, so it’s not surprising that marriage is one of his favorite targets.
Never let it be said that God can’t come up with colorful ways of expressing fundamental truths. Solomon wrote, “Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well. Should your fountains be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be only your own, and not for strangers with you.” Okay, if you’re a little slow on the uptake, he’s talking about marital fidelity. “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times, and always be enraptured with her love. For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman, and be embraced in the arms of a seductress?” (Proverbs 5:15-20) I shouldn’t have to say it, but considering the times, I will anyway: that’s a rhetorical question—there’s simply no justification for cheating on your spouse.
Or, you could simply heed the Seventh Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14) Yahweh is dead serious when it comes to the sanctity of marriage. The penalty for adultery is death: “The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10) Note that both the man and woman are to be executed—one is as guilty as the other. It is implied (see the related case in Deuteronomy 22:21) that the method of execution for adultery was to be stoning. Why is this significant? Because stoning was used when the offense was construed to be perpetrated against the entire congregation—thus the whole assembly was required to participate in punishing the offenders. The point, of course, is that adultery is not the “private sin” it may seem to be, but rather degrades the purity and morality of the entire community.
When a principle is really important to Yahweh, He invariably repeats it, and that is the case here: “If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die—the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall put away the evil from Israel.” (Deuteronomy 22:22) This chapter also makes it clear that a betrothed virgin—engaged to be married to a man but not as yet formally wed—is considered “married” for all intents and purposes. If she has sex with a man not her husband, they shall both be put to death. But if she is raped, she is required to cry out. Within the city, it is assumed that others would hear her and respond. But if raped outside the city gates, it cannot be presumed that anyone would hear her cries for help, so only the man would be put to death.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, this has less to do with sex (forced or otherwise) than it does with the spiritual counterpart—the symbolic equivalent. Marriage, as we have seen, is God’s picture of our union with Him. Thus adultery is symbolic of idolatry, of giving what belongs exclusively to Yahweh—our love, devotion, hope, and trust—to someone or something else: by definition, a false god. The “betrothed virgin” image describes our present condition as believers in the church age. That is, we have not yet been clothed in “fine linen, clean and bright…the righteous acts of the saints,” (Revelation 19:8) the purity with which the bride of Christ will be adorned at the marriage supper of the Lamb. But we are “betrothed” to Him, and thus are truly the King’s bride, legally, spiritually, and emotionally—in every way that counts save one: physical proximity. In short, we are “spoken for.”
Going back to the Torah’s imagery, then, a few things are made clear. If something attempts to seduce the bride of Christ (or worse, take us by force) we are required to “cry out” to God for rescue and protection. I realize that sounds a bit like “too little, too late” in these corrupt Last Days, but perhaps that’s only because we’ve failed to identify sin as sin and condemn it as such over the past half century—allowing our attackers to gain the upper hand. Little by little, one after the other, our moral qualms have been ridiculed, attacked, and buried under an avalanche of cultural apostasy, until the church is barely recognizable anymore. We have compromised with the world, and grown fat, comfortable, and lazy in Babylon—though we were instructed to scream and run away from it. As one courageous pastor (and martyr) of the Nazi era in Germany put it, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
What about an unattached, un-promised virgin? It’s not quite the same, though there are still consequences. “If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) Exodus 22:17 makes it clear that if her father determines that the horny gentleman is indeed nothing more than a glorified rapist, he has the option of keeping the dowry and telling him to hit the road. The spiritual parallel speaks of inflicting such psychological damage on an honest searcher, they may never be able to trust anyone again—even someone worthy of trust: Yahshua.
But on the literal level, the precept covers the “hormones run amok” scenario so familiar to the entire human race since the dawn of man. The girl and her boyfriend get familiar, then frisky, and the next thing you know, she’s no longer a virgin. So we move on from here: you’ve consummated the marriage, so now you’re married. But there’s no divorce for you—ever—even if she gets fat and mean and turns into a total shrew—or an adulterous whore—a few years down the line. Poetic justice, Torah style.
The fifty-shekel dowry, by the way, is ten times what the token “firstborn” ransom was. The Exodus passage makes it clear that this was the normal bride-price of the day. A young man should feel the weight of his responsibility toward his bride—from day one. After all, Yahshua “paid” for His church with the most expensive substance known to man: the priceless blood of Yahweh’s Messiah.
I should probably mention that, literally at least, this series of precepts—stoning adulterers and shotgun weddings—is probably meant to be restricted to Theocratic Israel—where Yahweh’s symbols were designed to be real and visceral, with Israel living out (and acting out) the spiritual principles He was introducing to the world. If you tried to enforce them in today’s world, you’d have to stone half the population (which may raise some eyebrows with the authorities), or have ten-way marriages, like some sort of drug-crazed free-love hippie commune. We’re that far gone.
Besides, our Gospel insights lead us to the conclusion that forgiveness, not literal punishment for symbolic crimes, is God’s real agenda. “Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act….’” Wow, they “caught” the woman, but not her lover. Clearly, the scribes needed to go back and review the Torah. Both of them were guilty under the Law.
“‘Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?’ This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.” Here we go again, trying to trap Yahshua with a technicality. It didn’t work. It never worked. It was His Torah, after all. “But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear….” One wonders what He was writing. I like to imagine it was the names of the accusers, beginning with the oldest among them. Just a guess.
“So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last….” Note that He didn’t say, “Now that I’m here, the Torah is obsolete.” No, He affirmed its principle: the guilty are condemned to death by their sin. The thing is, we’re all guilty of something deserving death. The older we get, the more sensitive we become to our own failures—probably because we’re that much closer to our own day of reckoning. Perhaps it’s that with age comes wisdom (theoretically, at least), and with wisdom comes the sure knowledge of our own guilt before God. Every stone I’d throw at a “sinner” would leave a bruise on me.
“And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’” (John 8:3-11) Being sinless Himself, Yahshua had a perfect right to pick up a rock and throw it at her—or anybody else, for that matter. But He had not come to condemn or judge us—not during this advent, anyway. That’s what we had the Law for. His mission, rather, was to seek and save those who were lost—all of us.
If Yahshua had stoned the woman, He would have had to stone practically everybody for the same crime. No, they hadn’t all been “caught in the act” of overt adultery, but their lustful thoughts betrayed them. During the Sermon on the Mount, He’d said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart….” His point was that there is a fine line between normal, healthy physiological responses and sinful thoughts—sexual covetousness.
Let’s face it: the brain’s occipital lobe (that which processes visual signals) is right next to the temporal lobe (where expressed behavior originates). It is a rare man indeed who can look at a beautiful woman and see nothing but a fellow human being—and not a potential mate. And I’m pretty sure that works in the other direction as well. The biological functions that make a husband and his wife attractive to each other, keeping the species viable, don’t switch off just because the person standing next to you is not your spouse. Lust isn’t automatic, of course, but it’s not particularly easy to avoid, either. Yahshua’s point was that you don’t actually have to have sexual relations with someone in order to sin—all it takes is a glance and a thought.
It helps, of course, if women dress modestly. But as a lust-avoidance strategy, modesty is a red herring. Many Muslims, for example, insist that their women be covered from head to toe in shape-concealing burqas, open only at the eyes. And yet, these same Muslim men are some of the most sex-crazed, sexually repressed males on the planet. The four-wife limit imposed by Shariah Law is insufficient to satiate their lust, so they fall into patterns of rape, bestiality, and in extreme cases, suicide bombing in order to secure a promised (but fictional) 72 virgins in paradise. It’s insane, but no more so than the opposite scenario—women wearing purposely provocative dress, such as showing up at the beach or pool wearing next to nothing. The imagination is left with nowhere to go, and as men become accustomed and inured to the sight of public semi-nudity, they lose interest in women except as ships passing in the night—sporadic and spontaneous sexual encounters designed to satiate lust, not express enduring love for one’s mate.
What’s the solution? Don’t look at women at all? Don’t even touch one of them? What does it take to avoid mental adultery? Yahshua’s concluding advice draws us close to the answer, but He lets us do the math ourselves to get to the heart of the matter. He says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30) What? Are we to lop off body parts until we no longer feel lust toward our sisters? Not exactly. Think about it. Is it really your eye, or your hand, that’s causing you to sin?
No. It’s your mind, your imagination, your fallen, sinful soul—something you can’t “pluck out and cast from you.” Or can you? The only way your body is going to stop sinning is for it to die. Sounds drastic, I know, but in a way, that’s precisely what we need to do: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove [test, examine, analyze, and determine] what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2) Boiled down to essentials, the goal of replacing and renewing the mind requires transformation. This change cannot be wrought by following the world’s wisdom, but only by the will of God, revealed in our lives by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
If you think about it, this is analogous to marriage as Yahweh defines it: we (the bride) are the “living sacrifice” offered up to our Husband, Yahshua, set apart to him and covered in His righteousness. Our identity has been transformed: we are no longer the daughter of the corrupt world, for we have “died” to that relationship. Instead, we have become the wife of Almighty God, pure and holy. What we have “plucked out” and “cut off” is our old character as fallen children of Adam and Eve—replaced with a new identity as the Bride of Christ.
To show us how it works, Israel’s relationship with Yahweh and the institution of marriage were intended to be symbolically analogous. A husband has a right to expect absolute faithfulness in his wife, and vice versa, for marriage (though based on love, trust, and devotion), is nevertheless a covenant, a contract, a binding agreement. So Yahweh through Moses instructed Israel to “Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst….” A covenant with the pagan inhabitants of Canaan would have entailed accepting their false gods as valid alternatives to the One who had brought them out of Egypt—which in turn would have been tantamount to spiritual adultery.
Rather, they were to be proactive in their opposition to false gods: “But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images (for you shall worship no other god, for Yahweh, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods, and one of them invites you and you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters play the harlot with their gods and make your sons play the harlot with their gods.” (Exodus 34:12-16) “Jealousy” in Hebrew parlance indicates having zeal for that which belongs to you. Israel (like us) had been “bought with a price.” There was no room for compromise here. The Israelites were instructed by God to drive the seven Canaanite nations out of the land He had given to Abraham—or failing that, to kill those who refused to flee. They were specifically instructed not to intermarry with them, for marriage makes two people one flesh, and one cannot be devoted to Yahweh and to Ba’al at the same time. (Or to Christ and the world, for that matter.)
If you’re familiar with the subsequent history (over the next thousand years) you know that Israel did indeed end up “playing the harlot” with the pagans they had failed to drive out. Like some other nations I could name, Israel had a severe learning disability. After they had been split into two nations, after the apostate ten northern tribes had been hauled off to oblivion by Assyria, and even after the two southern tribes (known collectively as Judah) had been taken captive by Babylon (the originator of false worship, ironically enough), Yahweh still had issues with His “wife’s” faithfulness—or lack thereof. The last prophet in the Old Testament writes, “Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem, for Judah has profaned Yahweh’s holy institution [literally: holiness] which He loves: he has married the daughter of a foreign god. May Yahweh cut off from the tents of Jacob the man who does this, being awake and aware, yet who brings an offering to Yahweh of hosts!...”
It wasn’t just that Judah had carried on affairs with the gods of the pagans; it was that they had done so while pretending to honor Yahweh—going through the motions of Torah observance and Levitical ritual sacrifices and offerings. Yahweh says, in effect, “Don’t bother. If you don’t worship Me exclusively, you aren’t worshiping Me at all.” You can’t be “married” to both Yahweh and Ba’al.
It wasn’t all purely symbolic, either. Many of the men of Judah had defiled themselves by marrying pagan wives, or by partaking in the pagan practice of ritual prostitution—again, while pretending to honor Yahweh at the same time. So Malachi continues: “And this is the second thing you do: you cover the altar of Yahweh with tears, with weeping and crying. So He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?...’” Their society was so far gone, they couldn’t even recognize their own cognitive dissonance. They (like modern Americans, I’m thinking) didn’t even realize that you couldn’t live with a foot in each world. Yahweh is not willing to share our devotion: He is a jealous God—zealous for what belongs to Him.
The evidence of Judah’s duplicity lay in their marriages. “Because Yahweh has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously. Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” Notice that when you say “wedding vows,” you’re saying them “as God is my witness.” He expects—nay, demands—that we keep our word. “But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? [Or, ‘with a portion of the Spirit in their union?’ (ESV)] And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.” (Malachi 2:11-15) It matters not whether the men of Judah were using pagan temple prostitutes or divorcing their Hebrew wives to marry pagan women. The effect was the same: “treachery.” Our God demands our absolute faithfulness, because He Himself is absolutely faithful. And as we’ve seen, our marriages are a reflection of His covenant promises to us. If we destroy our marriages, we are destroying God’s picture of His undying love for us; and Yahweh is very serious about His metaphors.
Paul picks up on the theme: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?...” Marriage, of course, is only one of many endeavors in which being “unequally yoked” is a really bad idea. But because of the sheer intensity of such a relationship, being in fundamental disagreement with one’s spouse—about anything, but especially concerning God’s will—is a recipe for utter disaster.
“For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’ Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.’” (II Corinthians 6:14-17) If we are one with God, then we must be separate (read: holy) from the world’s values, for the two are incompatible. In the same way, a man and a woman become “one flesh” when they marry. A body thus constituted cannot be both alive and dead, or saved and lost, at the same time.
Since Yahweh created men and women to function as man and wife—becoming one flesh in their married state—it should come as no surprise that He’s not a big fan of the dissolution of marriage. Following up on a passage we just read, Malachi reports, “For Yahweh, God of Israel, says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence…. Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” (Malachi 2:16)
Garments in scriptural symbolism invariably speak of “the way God sees us.” Thus at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9) we believers (the bride) are to be clothed with “fine linen, clean and bright—which is the righteous acts of the saints.” In other words, God sees us as righteous because (and only because) we are covered by the atoning blood of the Lamb. So to “cover one’s garment with violence” is to alter or obscure the blessed fiction God has created on our behalf—the idea that we are innocent because that’s how He chooses to see us. The word translated “violence” here is the Hebrew chamas, a noun meaning wrong done, physical violence, injurious language, harsh treatment, cruelty, damage, or oppression. It seems to me, this is the last sort of thing we would want God to see when He looks at us, but divorce brings these attributes to the surface.
Note, however, that the garment itself (imputed righteousness, if we’re redeemed believers) is still there, though it has been hidden or concealed under our disobedience. That is, divorce (even if God hates it) is not the unpardonable sin, but it does carry adverse consequences—sort of like Moses striking the rock instead of speaking to it as Yahweh had instructed (see Numbers 20:8). It cost Moses the opportunity to lead Israel into the Promised Land—the one thing for which he had been working for the past forty years. Similarly, we can survive divorce, but not without scars.
The issue is so thorny, the Pharisees thought maybe they could use it to trip up Yahshua: “The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’ And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate….’” Two people becoming one flesh is, as we have seen, God’s established pattern—the very definition of marriage. If we were sinless, that would have been the end of the discussion. But alas, we are not.
“They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’” We’ll look at this precept in a moment. It’s far more restrictive that the Pharisees implied. “He said to them, ‘Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts [not to mention your heads], permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery….’” If it seems a little fuzzy in the Torah, Yahshua made it crystal clear: the only reason a man might divorce his wife was because she had committed adultery. The subject of a woman divorcing her husband is never broached in the Torah, for the simple reason that this is all a scripturally symbolic picture of Yahweh’s relationship (His marriage, if you will) with Israel. (But see I Corinthians 7:13.) The formula is, idolatry = adultery. Israel was unfaithful to her “Husband.” But Yahweh has never been unfaithful to her.
“His disciples said to Him, ‘If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ But He said to them, ‘All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.’” (Matthew 19:3-12) If you’ll recall, Paul discussed this as well, back in I Corinthians 7:1-9. Some people are gifted with the ability to remain celibate without lust (a condition Yahshua characterized as “being a eunuch” here) but this is the exception, not the rule. So is it “better not to marry?” For most of us, no, it isn’t. And note that a platonic, sexless “friendship” is not God’s idea of marriage: sex is not evil or dirty (as the repressed Victorians seem to have thought). It is, rather, the God-ordained path to intimacy and fruitfulness on every level—not an end in itself, but rather the “glue” that makes two people “one flesh.”
Let us, then, take a good, hard look at Yahweh’s instructions on divorce. God seems to take divorce almost for granted (given one very specific reason for the dissolution of the marriage), but then He hedges it about with some rather unlikely sounding circumstances, designed to teach us something about His own intentions concerning Israel. “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house…” (Deuteronomy 24:1) This is all one long unwieldy sentence, so let’s break it up into its component thoughts.
First, the only cause for divorce allowed in the Torah is “some uncleanness” on the wife’s part. Yahshua, as we saw above, defined that in no uncertain terms as adultery, sexual infidelity—her betrayal of her husband with another man. Since there was also a death penalty for adultery in Theocratic Israel for both illicit sexual partners (Leviticus 20:10), the option of divorce seems to be an opportunity for mercy, at the offended husband’s discretion. It seems clear (at least to me) that God is less interested in regulating marriages here than He is in establishing the consequences of idolatry: death or divorce from Israel, that is, the prospect of His permanent separation from His chosen people in light of their unfaithfulness.
Second, the couple doesn’t just “part ways.” Rather, the husband is to give the offending wife a formal “certificate of divorce.” Yahweh gave just such a “certificate” to Israel: “Bring charges against your mother, bring charges; for she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband!” (Hosea 2:2) We will return to Hosea, for at first glance this seems to contradict the Torah. We’ll need to stay on our toes. Jeremiah confirms that Yahweh was indeed forced by Israel’s apostasy and idolatry to “divorce” her. “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce.” (Jeremiah 3:6-8) Even after Israel had “committed adultery” by worshiping false gods, Yahweh was still willing to take her back. But given every opportunity, she neither returned nor repented. In the end, He was forced to “divorce” her.
Third, the offended husband “sends her out of his house.” Idolatrous Israel, by bits and pieces, was indeed evicted from the Promised Land. It began in 722 BC, when the ten northern tribes were hauled off to Assyria, never to return (yet). Judah (with Benjamin) was exiled to Babylon for seventy years, allowed to return (though comparatively few did), and was again evicted from the Land by the Romans in 70 AD, and more thoroughly in 135. This was their status quo (officially, anyway) until Israel’s statehood was restored in 1948.
This ongoing national restoration seems to fly in the face of the rest of the Torah’s instruction on divorce: “When she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before Yahweh, and you shall not bring sin on the land which Yahweh your God is giving you as an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 24:2-4) On a literal level, this forbids “serial monogamy,” the idea that a wife can be “one flesh” with more than one man. In particular, it says she cannot return to her husband if she has married (or had sex with) someone else after her departure.
Lest there be any confusion, let us again look at Yahshua’s teaching on the matter: “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32) That is, human marriages are designed to last for life. Lame excuses for divorce such as “incompatibility” or “irreconcilable differences” are disallowed: sexual infidelity is the only valid reason for divorce, for the act of adultery in itself destroys the union of “one flesh.” Divorce is merely a recognition of the state of affairs (if you’ll pardon the expression) that already exists. So if a man divorces his wife for any other reason, her subsequent remarriage—defined by Yahshua here as adultery—is in fact the original husband’s fault! For all intents and purposes, he has sold “the wife of his youth” into harlotry, and (more to the point) has destroyed the picture of the fruitful covenant that God wished us to understand.
Elsewhere I have noted that the eventual restoration and redemption of Israel is by far the most often repeated prophecy in the entire Bible. It is even commemorated in the sixth of Yahweh’s seven holy convocations, Yom Kippurim, the Day of Atonement. Above we read Yahweh’s certificate of divorce in Hosea 2:2. But at the same time, He determined to frustrate her efforts to consummate her adulterous liaisons with the world. Israel—unlike a hundred other ancient people groups—would never be assimilated into the nations. Yahweh says, “Behold, I will hedge up your way with thorns, and wall her in, so that she cannot find her paths. She will chase her lovers, but not overtake them. Yes, she will seek them, but not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better for me than now.’” (Hosea 2:6-7) We’re still waiting for the second half of that, in case you haven’t noticed.
This is followed by indictment after indictment of Israel’s sins, concluding with this: “I will punish her for the days of the Baals to which she burned incense. She decked herself with her earrings and jewelry, and went after her lovers. But Me she forgot,” says Yahweh.” (Hosea 2:13) Yahweh had every right to divorce Israel.
But then, without taking a breath, He says, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her….” The wilderness (as we learned in Volume 2 of this work) is the place of anticipation and preparation. It is neither the world nor the Promised Land, but the journey from one to the other. Thus we read in Revelation 12:6 that during the Tribulation, Israel will flee (from the dragon—Satan) into the wilderness, where she will be miraculously sustained and protected by God for three and a half years. It is here, in the wilderness, that Israel will finally come to know her God and His Messiah.
“‘And it shall be, in that day,’ says Yahweh, ‘that you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ [ishi—man, husband, champion] and no longer call Me ‘My Master’ [Baali—owner, husband, master]. For I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, and they shall be remembered by their name no more….” There’s a play on words here that can be lost in the English. Two Hebrew words denoting “husband” are juxtaposed. One (ishi) stresses the “maleness,” of the husband’s role—his heroism, his loving protection of his bride. The other (Baali—from which the Phoenician god Ba’al got his name) stresses the husband’s dubious role as owner or master of his wife. Yahweh intends to present Himself to Israel anew as the “husband” they never knew or recognized.
He says, “I will betroth you to Me forever. Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy. I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know Yahweh….” These are not the attributes of the “god” they had been serving, the “husband” (baali) to whom they had been joined. Yahweh hasn’t changed, but He is speaking to Israel as if they were a different person—not the old wife He divorced, but a pure virgin to whom He wishes to become betrothed—a whole new relationship.
“Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth [Hebrew eretz—the Promised Land], and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy. Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hosea 2:14, 16-17, 19-20, 23) Yahweh had told his prophet to marry a prostitute (who was to play the role of idolatrous, cheating Israel) and name their children Jezreel (“God sows”), Lo-Ruhamah (“No mercy”), and Lo-Ammi (“Not my people”). Basically, it was all an elaborate pantomime predicting the total transformation of the character of Israel.
But how can this be, in light of the Torah’s prohibition against remarrying an adulterous wife you’ve divorced? It’s amazing how many “laws” in the Torah are actually there to restrict Yahweh’s course of action—that is, to reveal what He, by His own word, will or will not do. This precept prohibits God from restoring or redeeming Israel as long as they—as a nation—are adulterous, idolatrous, and in rebellion against Him. But Israel never repented: they died in their apostasy, a bitter old woman, stubbornly rebellious to the end. Ezekiel, in fact, pictures them as a valley of dry, dead bones, utterly lifeless, completely hopeless. Yahweh instructs His prophet to say, “Thus says Yahweh, God, to these bones: ‘Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am Yahweh.’” (Ezekiel 37:5-6)
We’re halfway there. Israel’s dry bones have indeed come together and been covered with muscle and sinew, flesh and skin. But they do not yet breathe. The Spirit of God does not yet dwell within Israel. But Ezekiel reveals that this too will change: “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!” Therefore prophesy and say to them, “Thus says Yahweh, God: ‘Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am Yahweh, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, Yahweh, have spoken it and performed it,’”’ says Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 37:11-14)
Today they’re back in the Land, resurrected from their death among the nations. All that remains is for them to receive God’s Spirit. Sound like a familiar concept? It should. Yahweh told His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:15-18) The Spirit (at the moment) dwells exclusively within the church (not the pagan-influenced religious institution that calls itself the church, you understand, but the true ekklesia, the called-out assembly of Christ). The “church age” as we know it will conclude with the rapture, the “catching-up” of the bride of Christ to (among other things) attend the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven.
Israel, meanwhile, has one more “week” (seven-year period) left to run in Daniel’s amazing chapter 9 prophecy. It will be during this time that they will finally come to understand and embrace the fact that our Christ is their Messiah: Yahshua of Nazareth, the One Israel rejected and had crucified—her final act of idolatry before her untimely but well-deserved demise. That’s right: it is only through Yahshua the Messiah—the King who will rule in Jerusalem—that Israel will ever become alive, reborn, quickened and indwelled (as is the ekklesia) by the Holy Spirit.
But how can Yahweh remarry His old adulterous wife? He can’t. She must, rather, become a new person, a new life, as Paul explains: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (II Corinthians 5:17-19) The only way for Israel to become a “new creation” (and thus become qualified to be Yahweh’s “wife”) is to be “in Christ.” It can’t be done any other way. It’s no good gritting one’s teeth and doubling down on one’s efforts to “keep” the Torah: the Torah, through its symbols, reveals the very same thing. God reconciling Israel to Himself—after all they’ve been through—will perhaps be the greatest miracle of all.
Just because God uses marriage and divorce as symbols defining His plan and purpose, it should not be supposed that there is consequently no value in taking these instructions literally—even if we’re not technically “under the law” as a means of redemption. As the Christian era got underway after the Day of Pentecost, quite a few folks suddenly found themselves in the uncomfortable position of being “unequally yoked” because one marriage partner had received Christ, but the other had not. It still happens: two people marry, and then one of them finds Christ, upsetting an already broken apple cart.
So what are we to do in those situations? Paul writes, “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.” In other words, if not in agreement as before, they may remain separated but celibate while awaiting the matching miracle of salvation in the life of the spouse. “And a husband is not to divorce his wife….” Although they may have been perfectly compatible before, the couple were de facto rendered “spiritual strangers” when one of them became a believer. But as I noted, “irreconcilable differences,” even spiritual ones, are not grounds for divorce. Only adultery is. Remember, the husband’s body belongs to his wife, and hers to him. So it is (or can be) an act of sacrificial love to remain with an unbelieving spouse.
No one is pretending that things can’t get weird in such situations, however. So Paul offers a bit of Torah-compatible advice: “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….” How is an unbelieving spouse “sanctified” by his believing mate? The Greek verb hagizao means to make holy, set apart, consecrate, sanctify or purify. It’s not that the unbelieving spouse is “saved” against his will by the actions of the believer, but he is singled out and set apart by the prayers of the believing spouse—consecrated as an object of special focus before God (which can be a very uncomfortable place to be if one is in open rebellion before Him). Thayer notes that hagizao “is used in a peculiar sense of those who, although not Christians themselves, are yet, by marriage with a Christian, withdrawn from the contamination of heathen impiety and brought under the saving influence of the Holy Spirit displaying itself among Christians.”
It is clear, then, that if someone leaves a marriage due to spiritual differences, it is not to be the believer, but the unbelieving spouse. Then the uncomfortable question becomes, how hard is the believer to fight to hold together such a spiritually incompatible union? Paul sadly advises, “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) All we can do is diligently fulfill the roles God has assigned to us as husbands and wives. You can lead your unbelieving spouses to the living water, but alas, you cannot force them to drink.
Ideally, we are to marry spiritually compatible mates—believers marrying other believers. But beyond that, who are we to choose as a mate? And who are we to avoid? The Torah expends a surprising amount of space defining who is not an appropriate sexual partner. Yahweh prefaces the definitive passage listing these prohibitions with this warning: “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘I am Yahweh your God. According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: I am Yahweh your God. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am Yahweh.” (Leviticus 18:2-5) Several facts are therefore apparent. (1) These sorts of relationships (mostly incestuous) were routinely practiced in both Egypt and Canaan. (2) God was nullifying the laws and customs the people were used to, and substituting His own (more discriminating) precepts. (3) Yahweh’s authority as Israel’s deliverer and God was to be considered sufficient reason for obeying His precepts. And (4) keeping His statues would, in some unexplained way, keep the Israelites healthy.
That preamble, I suppose, could have introduced almost any category of Torah Law, but Yahweh was speaking in particular of sexual relationships: “None of you shall approach anyone who is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness: I am Yahweh….” “Uncovering someone’s nakedness” is a clear Biblical euphemism for sexual intercourse (as are “approaching” someone, or “lying with” them), without reference to marital status. God dealt elsewhere with the issues of adultery and fornication—illicit (and forbidden) sexual contact, whether among married or unmarried people. Here, the subject is restricted to forbidding sexual partnerships based on how close their family ties are—either as a matter of biology or respect. I realize that the children of Adam and Eve had no choice but to marry their near relatives (siblings, cousins, etc.) and the same was true in the generations immediately following the flood of Noah. But by this time, the human genome had deteriorated to the point where Yahweh had to change the ground rules in order to prevent recessive genes from degrading the health of the nation.
Most of this describes incest, whether physical or merely “legal.” And let’s face it: the appropriate response to most of what’s described here is, “Eeewwww.” But God commanded it, so here’s the list: “The nakedness of your father or the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover. She is your mother; you shall not uncover her nakedness. The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s nakedness. The nakedness of your sister, the daughter of your father, or the daughter of your mother, whether born at home or elsewhere, their nakedness you shall not uncover. The nakedness of your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter, their nakedness you shall not uncover; for theirs is your own nakedness. The nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, begotten by your father—she is your sister—you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is near of kin to your father. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister, for she is near of kin to your mother. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother. You shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law—she is your son’s wife—you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, nor shall you take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness. They are near of kin to her. It is wickedness. Nor shall you take a woman as a rival to her sister, to uncover her nakedness while the other is alive.” (Leviticus 18:6-18)
That is, don’t, under any circumstances, marry or have sexual intercourse with your father, mother, step-mother, sister, half-sister, grandchild, step-daughter, cousin, aunt, uncle, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, or any woman and her daughter, grandchild, or sister. The list is as clear as it is disturbing. I guess I’ve led a sheltered life.
But wait—there’s more. “Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness as long as she is in her customary impurity.” We covered this one earlier. For married couples, it’s a simple, low-tech way to enhance fertility and guard against certain cancers. But of course, it’s a whole other level of wrong if the woman isn’t married to the man “uncovering her nakedness.” “Moreover you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife, to defile yourself with her.” This describes adultery—a stoning offense. And it gets worse: “And you shall not let any of your descendants pass through the fire to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am Yahweh.” Child sacrifice is something so evil, only Satan himself could have come up with it. And don’t look so pious: there is a popular modern equivalent, performed with exactly the same motivation. It’s called abortion. Finally, Yahweh prohibits the twin horrors of homosexuality and bestiality: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion.” (Leviticus 18:19-23)
This treatise defining sexual perversion, as odd as most of it may sound to modern Christian ears, was based on (and it warned against) things widely practiced in both Egypt and Canaan—where the nation of Israel was coming from, and to which it was going. In other words, these things were familiar—and may even have seemed “normal”—in the cultural experience of Israel. It is as if one of us was “escaping” from California and fleeing to Virginia (as I did a few decades back) and God told him “You shall not watch television, go to the movies, or listen to the radio. It is a total waste of time.” It probably would have come as a surprise, because these things are as ubiquitous as air in modern America. It would not even occur to us to avoid them without God’s explicit instruction. That is roughly where the Israel of the exodus found itself.
So the passage concludes, “Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants….” To “defile” something is to corrupt, violate, degrade, desecrate, or dishonor it. Yahweh alone is qualified to identify which customs and behaviors “defile” a place or a people. Notice that He says He is personally “casting out” the former inhabitants of the Land—a thinly veiled warning that if Israel disobeys Him in these things, they too could be evicted from the land.
Of course, it’s not just the Holy Land that might “vomit out its inhabitants” in the face of gross and prolonged sin. Have you noticed in recent days how the Muslim nations of the Middle East are “vomiting out” their inhabitants? Hundreds of thousands of “refugees” are streaming into Europe (and, if they get their way, into North America). They are not fleeing their sin, you understand. They are bringing it with them—making the whole thing look more like an invasion than a refugee crisis. But the fact remains, Islam (like any other perversion) eventually renders a land uninhabitable.
Thus Yahweh says, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.” It’s not just Theocratic Israel: anyone who practices these things is on notice. They are the path to death. “Therefore you shall keep My ordinance, so that you do not commit any of these abominable customs which were committed before you, and that you do not defile yourselves by them: I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 18: 24-29)
So how far have we fallen? Most “civilized” folks today are opposed to incest, though they may not know why. (Some Islamic nations, however, embrace the concept wholeheartedly, since they feel they can’t trust anyone outside the clan.) On the other hand, hardly anybody understands that there’s a problem with having sex during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Adultery is considered little worse than “bad form” these days: the watchword is no longer “don’t do it,” but rather “don’t get caught.” Molech worship—child sacrifice via abortion—is perpetrated with horrifying predictability in this world. The idea of bestiality occurs to very few (outside of dar al-Islam, where it is practiced with gleeful regularity by multitudes of sexually repressed Muslim males for whom sex with four wives just isn’t enough).
But only one of these Leviticus 18 perversions has a large, well-funded public relations machine behind it, determined to make it seem “normal,” or at least “an acceptable alternative lifestyle.” Somehow (at least in the West) it has become the epitome of hate speech to agree with God on the issue of homosexuality. But there it is, as plain as day: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination” (v. 22). It’s beyond me: how can they understand that sleeping with your sister is wrong, and that having sexual intercourse with a goat is just plain weird, but not comprehend the problem with homosexuality? Worse, the “gay” lobby, not content to make same sex copulation acceptable, insists that homosexuals must be allowed to marry, with the blessing of both church and state. It’s apparently not enough to be allowed to sin in private—they crave vindication and affirmation for their perversion.
You’ll note that God didn’t say, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman unless you’re in a committed relationship.” Gay marriage doesn’t solve the problem. It only institutionalizes it. Marriage was designed to be a picture of the relationship that exists between Yahweh and His wife, Israel, or between Yahshua and His bride, the church—those He has “called out” of the world to be His. So at its very heart, marriage is defined as a fruitful covenant—and it must be both of those things if it is to be genuine. A contract or covenant alone is not enough to define a liaison as a marriage, at least as far as God is concerned. It must also be fruitful—or at least be structured to be, as a symbolic reflection of God’s design—a man and a woman.
Let us review God’s ideal for the family, from the husband’s point of view: “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears Yahweh…. May you see your children’s children.” (Psalm 128:3-4, 6) The foundation of fruitfulness is reverence for Yahweh. Our relationship with our Creator is reflected in that of the family, each of us assuming our symbolic roles. The father/husband occupies the role of God—authority and provider. The mother/wife plays the part of the Holy Spirit—the heart and soul of the family. And the children symbolize Christ’s followers, thriving like weeds (or olive shoots as it’s phrased here—fast sprouting young trees) “growing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man,” until they become husbands and fathers, and wives and mothers, in their own right. The cycle of life is meant to be perpetuated, just as the Great Commission is meant to be carried out by every succeeding generation of believers. Physically or spiritually, the human race is never more than one generation away from extinction: we must be fruitful.
Homosexual marriages cannot fit this profile, and not only because of the biological impossibilities. They are by definition founded upon disrespect for God’s law. You can insist all day long that a pink three dollar bill is legal tender, but it’s not—even if you succeed in talking a few gullible people into accepting it. Once again, I should reiterate that if you wish to live in rebellion against God, that is your prerogative. Your choices are your own to make, not someone else’s. But don’t ask God’s people to bless your rebellion. Don’t insist that I call right what Yahweh has called wrong. If God says your “lifestyle” can harm you, it is my duty to warn you, not applaud you.
Frankly, I’m having trouble seeing the attraction of homosexuality, though I realize it has been around since before the days of Sodom and Gomorrah—whom God chose to wipe out in fire and brimstone, you’ll recall. Call me unimaginative, but the natural order of things is so obvious, logical, attractive, and fascinating, the homosexual alternative would never even have occurred to me. Yahshua apparently shares this point of view. Discussing the travesty of divorce, you’ll recall, He observed, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6, quoting Genesis 2:24) God never joined two men or two women together in sexual union. He didn’t even provide the biological apparatus for it. Two bolts won’t hold anything together: you need a nut in there somewhere. That’s why God created women. There is no way for two people of the same sex to “become one flesh.”
But that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? Yahweh wants us to understand that we (as His “bride”) may become “one” with Him, though we are even more different than men are from women. We may be indwelled with His Holy Spirit, allowing our souls to experience eternal life in Him—a process every bit as counterintuitive (not to mention miraculous) as creating a new human by blending the DNA of a father and a mother. Satan, meanwhile, wants us to believe that his queer (an adjective even homosexuals use to describe their lifestyle) alternative is “just as good.” He promises us that single-sex unions can be just as pleasurable, just as emotionally fulfilling, and just as stable as the heterosexual marriages that have kept the human race viable for the past six thousand years. But even if those things were true (and something tells me they’re not), neither pleasure nor fulfillment nor stability lead to life.
It’s the same sort of switcheroo Satan got away with in the Garden of Eden. God provided “A,” which was very, very good—something leading to life and godliness. But Satan suggested to Eve that “A” was incomplete, and that “B” would provide something “A” lacked—and actually, he was right about that. “B” provided the firsthand knowledge of evil—something God had withheld for our own benefit. What the adversary didn’t tell us is that “B” leads to death and estrangement from our Creator. The lesson: everything isn’t always superior to something, more isn’t necessarily preferable to less, and enough does not mean insufficient.
Considering the alarming failure rate (around 50%) of traditional marriages, and considering the equally alarming growth in the percentage of out-of-wedlock births (now over 40% worldwide), it would appear that Satan is winning the battle over the sanctity of marriage. If the mainstream media can be believed (it can’t, by the way), practically the only people interested in marriage anymore are homosexuals. It’s a gross exaggeration, of course, but it does shine the spotlight on a growing Last-Days trend: “Know this, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (II Timothy 3:1-5)
In our present context, pay careful attention to that little phrase: “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” That describes the trend toward institutional immorality to a tee. Satan doesn’t much care which road you choose, as long as it’s not the path of righteousness. The path of least resistance for many, of course, is heterosexual sex without commitment (since mechanically at least, that’s how God designed our bodies to function). The vast majority of us find the very idea of homosexual copulation odd at the least, and disgusting at most. (Even Muslim fundamentalists, who have no problem with polygamy, rape, pedophilia, sex slaves, bestiality, and “one-hour marriages,” find homosexuality so loathsome, they throw gay men off the roofs of tall buildings). So Satan is happy enough if we engage in extramarital fornication, though he doubtless prefers adultery, which also implies betrayal—bonus! But if he can get people to buy into the idea that homosexuality is “normal,” and should be “acceptable” in society, he has achieved the spiritual equivalent of winning the Triple Crown: (1) God’s opinion is ridiculed; (2) the continuation of human life ceases; and (3) its practitioners (or supporters) betray their very nature in the name of something as silly as political correctness.
Another phrase in Paul’s warning to Timothy stands out as well. He says these Last-Days apostates will have “a form of godliness, but deny its power.” One disturbing side issue in the whole “gay” discussion is that some (so-called) “Christian” denominations—ones that have historically opted to play fast and loose with the plain reading of scripture and the authority of God—have made it a point to install homosexual pastors. Never mind Paul’s instruction: “A bishop [literally, an overseer] must be blameless, the husband of one wife…having his children in submission with all reverence.” (I Timothy 3:2, 4) Needless to say, this sort of blatant apostasy—taking a stand against God’s word in the name of liberal progressivism—has tended to drive out the real believers from their midst.
The other side of “having a form of godliness but denying its power” is the idea that marriage somehow lends divine approval to a homosexual liaison. Marriage between a man and a woman is designed to be a picture of the relationship that can exist between Yahweh and His people—a fruitful partnership in which the two fulfill different and contrasting roles. But if two men “marry,” the comparable picture would be of joining Yahweh to Ba’al, or Zeus, or Allah. It’s impossible: Yahweh our God is One—alone, unity, holy and incomparable. (It’s no coincidence that “churches” who advocate Chrislam—an unholy blending of Christianity and Islam—also tend to be open to homosexuality.) Conversely, if two women “marry,” the picture is sort of like that of Eve being joined to the serpent (instead of Adam): neither of them is able to help, guide, or provide for the other, nor could their union produce any offspring other than deception and death.
Granted, God is normally all about covenants—promises made and kept. But God does not approve what He has forbidden; He does not bless what He has cursed. Ideally, marriage begins with the exchange of vows, witnessed by God and men, that define a covenant relationship between a man and a woman. The covenant component is of great symbolic significance to Yahweh, for our relationship with Him is based on His promises—and our faith that He is willing and able to follow through on them.
This concept is demonstrated by Abraham’s family. God made some remarkable promises to Abram (before his name had been change from “Exalted Father” to “Father of a Multitude”: “I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3) The conditions of this covenant were contingent upon Abraham “leaving his family” behind in Haran, and settling in Canaan. Abram was married to Sarai (later called Sarah) at this time. In God’s eyes, she was not merely a “family member” (one of the clan) but part of Abraham: even without children, they had become “one flesh.” In other words, she was meant to accompany her husband and play her role in the unfolding of the prophecy. (Lot, Abe’s nephew, was not supposed to have come along—and his presence precipitated a whole string of unforeseen complications, providing headaches for Abraham but valuable lessons for us.)
You know the story. Abraham was promised a child through whom the previous predictions of blessing would come to pass. He believed the promise, and that unshakable faith was considered righteousness by Yahweh. But when decades had gone by with no offspring, Sarai offered her maidservant, Hagar, to him as a surrogate. Sure enough, Hagar bore Abraham’s firstborn son, Ishmael. But God insisted that the promise would be fulfilled not through Hagar, but through Sarah. Why? Because Ishmael was not the son of Abraham’s lawful wife. No marriage covenant existed between Abraham and Hagar. The child of promise would have to be Sarah’s son, even if such a thing was physically “impossible.” “Is anything too hard for Yahweh? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:14) Yahweh is very serious about His metaphors.
The bottom line, then, is that both the mechanism for fruitfulness and a binding lifelong covenant must be present for real marriage to exist. Sex, and even childbearing, are (obviously) possible outside of marriage—as demonstrated by Abraham’s “relationship” with Hagar (not to mention almost half the “first children” born into the world today). But sex alone does not in itself define marriage. Procreation must be paired with promise. To reprise the words of Malachi, “Yahweh has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one?... Let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.” (Malachi 2:14-15)
This begs us to take a hard look at another bit of institutional weirdness we see practiced time and again in the pages of scripture—polygamy. Apparently, taking a second wife was not necessarily defined as “treachery,” although it could certainly be a component. Polygamy in theocratic Israel, as in the age of the patriarchs, was not unusual (always with multiple wives, not husbands). Strangely enough, God did not go out of His way to ban polygamy outright in the Torah (except for kings, as we shall see). In fact, there is one instance where it is sort of commanded. We’ll touch on that one in a bit.
God’s pattern from the beginning had been one husband and one wife joined exclusively for a lifetime. Whenever we see marriage “extended” beyond that, there is always trouble attached, one way or another. But for reasons of His own, God allowed (while regulating the potential abuses of) both polygamy and concubinage. The reason, as with a few other institutional evils such as slavery, divorce, poverty, and war, was “because of the hardness of our hearts,” but also to provide an opportunity to teach us something about Himself. As usual, there is a symbolic component to all of this. So don’t take this as an indicator that God is willing to “bend the rules” on a whim—giving us carte blanche to do the same. Some behaviors are never “given a pass”—such things as idolatry, adultery, murder, theft, and homosexuality. Polygamy (as with slavery) offers God the opportunity to illuminate His plan—even if it isn’t His ideal for our lives.
Perhaps the most famous scriptural instance of polygamy is the story of Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel. He didn’t plan it that way—he was hoodwinked on his (supposed) wedding night by his father-in-law Laban, who switched his elder daughter Leah for Jacob’s beloved Rachel at the last minute. (The story is found in Genesis 29.) So Jacob found himself with two legitimate wives, though he only wanted one. But later, both of those wives provided him with their maidservants as concubines, in what seems to me to be an insane contest over who could produce the most children. The point I wish to make here is that Jacob’s wives, Rachel and Leah, were both “covenant” marriage partners, while the concubines they gave their husband, Bilhah and Zilpah, were not. But while Jacob showed special affection for the sons of his beloved wife Rachel, all twelve of his sons were considered “legitimate,” even those born to the two concubines. As strange as it may seem to us, there was no cultural stigma attached, for the children borne by Bilhah and Zilpah were considered (according to custom) to be those of their mistresses, Rachel and Leah.
But whom did Yahweh honor? The birthright ended up going to the eleventh son, Joseph, Rachel’s firstborn (whose faithfulness and wisdom saved both Israel and Egypt). The royal (and Messianic) line would be that of Judah, the fourth son of Leah. And the priesthood would rest in Leah’s third son, Levi. Other than contributing sheer numbers, only the children of Jacob’s “legitimate” covenant wives counted for much in the unfolding history of Israel as God ordained it. Even when the entire nation was threatened with extinction for one brief moment under the Persians, Esther and Mordecai (of the tribe of Benjamin, Jacob and Rachel’s last son) were there to save the day.
While we’re at it, let us look at the women in Abraham’s life. His covenant wife was Sarah, who bore him the son of promise, Isaac—through whom the Messiah would come. But (at her instigation, and later regret) he also took a concubine, Hagar, who bore him Ishmael, one of the founding fathers of the Arab peoples. And after Sarah died, Abraham also fathered children with a woman named Keturah: “Now the sons born to Keturah, Abraham’s concubine [Hebrew: pilegesh], were Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. The sons of Jokshan were Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.” (I Chronicles 1:32-33)
So much for being “so old he was as good as dead.” Keturah was called Abraham’s “wife” in Genesis 25:1, but the word used there (Hebrew: ishshah) simply means “woman, or female.” It can denote a wife, but is also properly used to describe a concubine, or even an adulteress. Based on word usage, I think it’s safe to say that Keturah was Abraham’s concubine, not a second covenant wife (even though Sarah was deceased). Yahweh had changed the patriarch’s name from “exalted father” to “father of many,” so none of this took God by surprise. But note that the names we can trace of Abraham’s children by Keturah (especially Midian, Sheba, and Dedan) turned out to be thorns in the side of Israel over the centuries. Sheba and Dedan (Arabian tribes) even show up as players in Last Days prophecy (see Ezekiel 38:13, Isaiah 60:6).
What’s the emblematic bottom line? I’m not saying that your life is doomed and worthless if you were conceived out of wedlock. We are creatures of free will: our individual choices determine our personal fortunes. DNA is not destiny. But God seems to be making a symbolic point here: in His plan, marriage is a metaphor for the fruitful covenant that exists between Him and His people. Thus if no covenant exists (as was the case with Bilhah and Zilpah, or Hagar and Keturah for that matter) then nothing particularly good is likely to come from the union. It’s all a complex metaphor contrasting being “religious” with having a real covenant relationship with Yahweh.
This line of inquiry suggests that we look at the children of King David, who had more wives (not to mention concubines) than we can shake a stick at. “Now these were the sons of David who were born to him in Hebron: The firstborn was Amnon, by Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; the second, Daniel, by Abigail the Carmelitess; the third, Absalom the son of Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur; the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; the fifth, Shephatiah, by Abital; the sixth, Ithream, by his wife Eglah. These six were born to him in Hebron. There he reigned seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty-three years. And these were born to him in Jerusalem: Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon—four by Bathshua [Bathsheba] the daughter of Ammiel. Also there were Ibhar, Elishama, Eliphelet, Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet—nine in all. These were all the sons of David, besides the sons of the concubines, and Tamar their sister.” (I Chronicles 3:1-9)
Holy cow, man. What ever happened to “Neither shall he [any king Israel might appoint over themselves] multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself”? (Deuteronomy 17:17) Fifteen sons (plus who knows how many daughters—only one is named), by at least seven wives—and his first wife, Michal (Saul’s daughter) bore no children (see II Samuel 6:23). And we are not told (unless I missed it) how many children David fathered with his concubines—or even how many of them there were. We’re talking Polygamy with a capital “P” here. As with so many forbidden things, I’m having trouble seeing attraction.
The I Chronicles passage (and II Samuel 12:9) makes it clear that Bathsheba (the widow of Uriah the Hittite, whom David had murdered in battle to cover up his own sin) was “lawfully” married to David—at least after their firstborn son, conceived out of wedlock, died. This “fruitful covenant” with Bathsheba (okay, so David made a mockery of the concept) resulted in two particularly significant offspring. The legal right to the throne passed through Solomon, but the son through whom the Messiah’s physical bloodline would run was Nathan—both of them sons of Bathsheba. (Yahshua’s mother Mary was a direct descendant of David through Nathan, but Christ’s legal father, Joseph, was in Solomon’s line.) Never let it be said that Yahweh doesn’t know how to bring good out of our evil, to cleanse what we have defiled, or to right what we have wronged. If He can use David’s polygamous union with Bathsheba to deliver the world from death, there may yet be hope for me.
If polygamy was forbidden for Israel’s kings (who could at least be expected to afford the upkeep of a harem), we may safely extrapolate that it was “not recommended” for any other Israelite, though God clearly allowed it. There was but one situation in which Yahweh “required” it, in a way. We read, “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)
Unlike most polygamy scenarios, this has nothing to do with the sexual desires of the husband, and everything to do with the security of someone near of kin through marriage—his sister-in-law. Remember, sons were heirs, and firstborn sons received a double portion of their fathers’ inheritances. So a widow who had borne a son could still look forward to a place in her late husband’s family, through her relationship with his son, who would carry on his father’s name and legacy. But if she had no son, then her status was ambivalent—a situation Yahweh meant to address. The solution: for the husband’s brother to marry the widow and raise up a son for his late sibling.
The text makes it clear that he was to “take her as his wife”—regardless of whether or not he was already married. She was to be his lawful wife, not a concubine (or mere sexual liaison) whose child’s legitimacy might be in question. Thus God-sanctioned polygamy was a distinct possibility. If you’ll recall, this was the precept that precipitated the would-be “gotcha” question posed to Yahshua by the Sadducees in Matthew 22.
There are a whole lot of hypotheticals stacked up here. This precept was to be implemented only if (1) the brothers were close—if they “dwelled together” on the same piece of land, or nearby; (2) if the husband of the woman had died; (3) if he had left no son (and she was still of childbearing age). The whole point was to provide security for the widow: it was considered an act of kindness, even sacrifice, on the part of the surviving brother. The Torah leaves the distinct impression that the brother could refuse, although if he did, it would come at the cost of severe (and well-deserved) public humiliation—see verses 7-10.
Whenever we see such a convoluted precept, we should be on the lookout for its symbolic significance—since though it’s certainly practical, it’s not particularly likely. A man who refused to marry his brother’s childless widow was to be known (and ridiculed) as “the man who will not build up his brother’s house” (verse 9). As we saw a few chapters back, a man’s “brother” was metaphorical of his fellow man—of any human being we might encounter (closely related or not) who might benefit from our friendship, mercy, and love. Thus “the man who will not build up his brother’s house” indicates someone who refuses to reciprocate the love and care Yahweh has shown to him in the face of human need.
But note that it is not the deceased husband who would benefit directly by the brother’s act of kindness, but rather his widow. Thinking symbolically, who is bereft of her beloved? Is it not the church, the bride of Christ? Yes, He is alive, but He is also physically absent (a condition that will soon be remedied). In the meantime, we believers are to “perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.” That is, we are to see to it that our Lord’s bride is sheltered, supplied, and fruitful in His absence, insofar as it is in our power to do so. In short, we are to stand in for Yahshua until He returns. We who are in the church are to meet the needs of the church, beginning with our widows and orphans, but extending our charity to meet any real need. It’s a big responsibility, but at the same time (as with fathering a son with your deceased brother’s widow) not entirely unpleasant. The point is, we are commanded to do it.
As long as we’re talking about polygamy, we should discuss one last Torah precept that seemingly has no bearing whatsoever on our present cultural reality—but may yet have deep symbolic significance. We are instructed: “If a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do….” That is, she shall not be released at the Sabbatical year or Jubilee—the presumption being that there is a sexual component to her service, which renders her connection to her master’s household permanent and irrevocable. The “man who sold his daughter as a slave” is the world, and the one who bought her with a price to be his own possession is Yahweh.
We believers are the “daughter.” It is obvious (at least to me) that this is a reference to our status as “servants of Yahweh” and “bondservants of Christ.” Yes, we will rest from our labors on the Sabbath (the coming Millennial Kingdom), but the Master will never let us go, or abandon us to our fate. Once we are His, once we have been redeemed, “goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of Yahweh forever” (Psalm 23:6)
But what if we screw up? “If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her….” It’s hard to follow, but note the prophetic logic here: Israel, through her apostasy and idolatry, did not “please her master” (Yahweh), and He was obliged to “divorce her,” as we saw above. But God is once again restricted by His own precept. He is not “allowed” to abandon Israel: though He scattered her to the four winds (or in another metaphor, made her a valley of dry bones), He did not destroy the nation (as He did the Hittites, Canaanites, and Amorites), for He intends to make Israel a new creation, breathe new life into her, and restore her to Himself. This precept forces Yahweh to restore Israel and repatriate her to the Promised Land—the single most oft-repeated promise in the entire Bible. To do otherwise would have defined Him as “deceitful” or treacherous (Hebrew: bagad), and Yahweh is no such thing.
But there is yet another wrinkle to this odd precept. “And if he [we’re talking about Yahweh] has betrothed her [Israel] to his son [that’s Yahshua—and yes, the Father has done this very thing], he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights….” Here’s where it gets heavy. The “other wife” He has referred to is the church, the called-out assembly of Yahshua, the bride of Christ. Whereas Yahshua’s marriage to Israel might be characterized as having been “arranged,” His marriage to the church is the result of a torrid, passionate, and reciprocal love affair. In the Song of Songs, He is Solomon and we are the Shulamite; the Daughters of Jerusalem are welcome, but they’re not the focus of the king’s passion. In Jacob’s case, the church is Rachel, and Israel is Leah. And lest we in the church are tempted to look down our noses at the “daughters of Jerusalem,” remember that the King has chosen to rule the earth from their midst, and recall that Leah bore three times as many children as Rachel did. Our passion for the King, and His desire for us, are no occasion for pride.
“And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money.” (Exodus 21:7-11) Yahweh is basically offering a guarantee to Israel. He’s “putting His money where His mouth is.” If He doesn’t follow through on three things that would define Israel as a lawful covenant wife, equal in status and privilege to the ekklesia of Yahshua, then all bets are off. But of course, Yahweh cannot fail in the performance of a promise. At least, He never has. What, then, are these three things God must do for Israel even after Yahshua has taken the church as His spotless bride?
(1) “He shall not diminish her food.” We are reminded that “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” It’s all a question of when Israel will “come” and “believe,” not if. “But I said to you that you [Israel] have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:35-37) Israel will come to Him—after the book has closed on the church age. It’s a prophetic fait accompli.
(2) “He shall not diminish her…clothing.” What we wear is symbolically indicative of “how God sees us.” We read of the bride of Christ, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Revelation 19:7-8) Linen, then, speaks of imputed righteousness. Will Israel too be clothed in linen? Yes! Concerning the Millennial temple, we read, “They shall enter My sanctuary, and they shall come near My table to minister to Me, and they shall keep My charge. And it shall be, whenever they enter the gates of the inner court, that they shall put on linen garments; no wool [symbolic of good works, indicative of Israel’s traditional sartorial-soteriological strategy] shall come upon them while they minister within the gates of the inner court or within the house.” (Ezekiel 44:16-17) Or, to reprise a passage we visited earlier, “I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh. My soul shall be joyful in my God. For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation. He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10)
(3) “He shall not diminish her…marriage rights.” It’s the sex metaphor again. Remember King David’s first wife, Michal? She despised his enthusiasm for Yahweh, and subsequently found herself cut off from the king’s bed, childless until the day of her death, having spat upon the opportunity to become the mother of kings. This will not be the case with the restored Israel. She will be fruitful and blessed beyond measure in her restored Millennial marriage: “Thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of great age. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” (Zechariah 8:4-5) Or, “Then out of them shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of those who make merry. I will multiply them, and they shall not diminish; I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small. Their children also shall be as before, and their congregation shall be established before Me; and I will punish all who oppress them.” (Jeremiah 30:19-20)
All of this is contingent upon Israel’s repentance. At the dedication of the first temple, Yahweh promised Solomon, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land….” It’s a universal truth, but one particularly applicable to Israel, Yahweh’s chosen people.
The temple and its furnishings comprised a rich, multi-faceted metaphor for the plan of God, so the next promise should be received in that context: “Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place.” That is, our prayers for healing must be made in accordance with Yahweh’s revealed will. “For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually. As for you, if you walk before Me as your father David walked, and do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not fail to have a man as ruler in Israel.’” (II Chronicles 7:14-18)
That “man” is King Yahshua. His passionate relationship with the church and His Father’s steadfast (and dare I say, amazing) loyalty to Israel are the only reason He allowed the practice of polygamy to exist in a world where God’s clear ideal for marriage is one man and one woman living side by side in a fruitful covenant for a lifetime.