4.1.9 Bride/Wife: The Promise of Purity
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 1.9
Bride/Wife: The Promise of Purity
“He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from Yahweh.” (Proverbs 18:22) After almost half a century of marriage (to the same woman, no less!) I can say a hearty amen to that. Most newlywed husbands would readily agree to the first half of this proverb, but it may take a while to get a handle on the rest of it. Though I’m all too aware of my own shortcomings, I have yet to discover any fatal flaws in her character. The way I sometimes put it is “I think God likes me more than He does my wife; after all, I got her, but she got me.”
The fact is, we men need “favor from Yahweh.” From day one, we’ve found it hard to get through the day without our wives by our sides. As far back as the Garden of Eden, “Yahweh, God, said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” (Genesis 2:18) Face it, guys: we need help. We just aren’t complete without our mates.
As far as we can tell, Yahweh created Adam and Eve as perfect equals—given that Eve was said to have been made from Adam’s rib, not as a separate creation. However God actually brought this about (since the language appears figurative), Adam came first, and Eve was made later. They were not “equal” physically of course, but intellectually, spiritually, and in matters of privilege and potential.
But that equilibrium changed when Eve allowed herself to be deceived by Satan into doing the one thing God had told our proto-parents not to do—eat the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” All three participants in the first sin (The serpent, Eve, and Adam) were chastised, but they weren’t given the same penalty. “To the woman [Yahweh] said: ‘I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception. In pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’” (Genesis 3:16) Eve’s punishment was two-fold, but in truth, it was less punitive than disciplinary. That is, these penalties mirrored her unique role in the fall of humanity into sin, and they would serve as a reminder throughout our generations of what can happen when we disobey our Creator:
(1) Both the physical pain of childbirth and the emotional turmoil of raising children to maturity would be greatly increased. Having delivered sin into the world, Eve’s labor pains delivering children would reflect the curse she had brought upon humanity. There is apparently a vast difference between the distress a woman feels in childbirth and that of other mammals—for whom bearing young appears to be a rather straightforward process, involving some discomfort but not a great deal of pain. Yet for all her pain and sorrow, a wife’s natural desire is for her husband. It is not without significance that the pain of childbirth is often employed in scripture as a metaphor for God’s judgment: there may be a long “gestation period” between conception and fruition, but once it begins, the pain will increase until justice has been brought forth. There’s no way around it.
(2) It has been suggested that part of the wife’s “desire for her husband” would henceforth be a longing to regain the co-authority she lost to him in the fall. After all, men (obviously) still need lots of help. But whether or not that’s true (and it isn’t actually spelled out), part of Eve’s new post-sin paradigm would be that “her husband would rule over her.” This too is discipline, not punishment per se, for her autonomous action in deciding to eat the forbidden fruit (despite Yahweh’s instructions) was deemed to have been too great a responsibility for her to bear. So her husband was henceforth assigned to be her protector, her supervisor, her guidance counselor—whether she (or he) liked it or not. We might imagine that if Adam had been the one deceived, and he had given the fruit to Eve to eat, their roles may have been reversed—meaning wives would have been deemed the heads of the household, and the Messiah could have been female. (But hypotheticals are shaky ground—let’s not go there.)
What today’s feminists fail to comprehend is that a woman needn’t be “in charge” in order to be happy and fulfilled. A wife who “rules” her husband (or tries to) will achieve something very different than what she set out to do. As Solomon said, again and again, “It is better to dwell in a corner of a housetop than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” (Proverbs 25:24) “Better to dwell in the wilderness than with a contentious and angry woman.” (Proverbs 21:19) “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who causes shame is like rottenness in his bones.” (Proverbs 12:4) “A continual dripping on a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike. Whoever restrains her restrains the wind, and grasps oil with his right hand.” (Proverbs 27:15-16)
Why are some wives “contentious” (from a word meaning a quarrel or contest, brawling, discord, or strife)? Is it not because they have set themselves in opposition to God’s ordained pattern? Why are they “angry” (from the Hebrew kaas—grief, indignation, bitterness, provocation, sorrow, anger, or vexation)? They have only Eve to blame for their discontent—not God, and not men.
Heathen cultures often elevate men over their wives in ways Yahweh neither intended nor ordained—making them virtual slaves, property, without rights or recourse. But God’s pattern (even considering Eve’s curse) looks very different in practice: “Blessed is every [man] who fears Yahweh, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. 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.” (Psalm 128:1-4) Men who “fear” Yahweh—who honor, revere, and respect Him, recognizing His power and authority over their lives—tend to treat their wives as the precious gifts they are. It’s not that wives are the husbands’ “possessions,” but are rather unique treasures, given to them by God to be held in trust—to be loved, nurtured, and cherished. The wise man knows that his wife is his only opportunity for fruitfulness in this world—his only chance this side of heaven to experience the sort of love Yahshua feels for His bride, the church.
Solomon reminds us, “Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from Yahweh.” (Proverbs 19:14) Treat your wife with honor and respect, gentlemen, for she is God’s precious gift to you.
There is one passage in the Bible (found in Proverbs, not surprisingly) that describes the “ideal wife.” The author here is said to be someone called “King Lemuel,” who is said to have learned these things at his mother’s knee. But since we have no independent record of any king named Lemuel (which means “Belonging, or Devoted, to God”) he is regarded by most commentators to be an nom de plume for Solomon. If this is true, then his mother was Bathsheba, who (as we shall see) was downright naïve in matters of political intrigue, though the qualities described here are found in a completely different realm. It’s worth noting that several times in the early chapters of Proverbs, Solomon offers this sound advice: “Do not forsake the law of your mother.” We can only conclude that Bathsheba’s counsel must have left a strong impression on her son, the future king of Israel.
Anyway, “Lemuel” writes, “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.” What a refreshing contrast to the domineering, almost misogynistic bent of pagan and secular male attitudes throughout the ages. The Bible, you’ll find, produces the only cultural traditions on earth in which women are treated with dignity and respect. Godly men see their wives as precious gifts from Yahweh, not possessions to use and abuse. “The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life….” Some wives live in fear of their husbands like cringing slaves—or conversely, work to undermine him for their own advantage. It is something else entirely to simply submit to him—defer to his judgment—as the authority in the home. (More on this later.) The virtuous wife is one with her husband, his partner, his mate. She knows that their fortunes are linked, inseparable, and indivisible.
So she works hard to provide for her family—not because she is forced to, but because she loves them. “She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands.” The symbols are telling. Wool speaks of good works, and flax (the source of linen) indicates grace, unmerited favor. The ideal wife, then, knows how to both give and receive graciously. She labors diligently herself, but isn’t obsessive or controlling—she’s merely trying to be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem. Her talents include stewardship skills, resource allocation techniques—okay, she’s cheap: she knows how to stretch a dollar by shopping wisely. “She is like the merchant ships. She brings her food from afar. She also rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household, and a portion for her maidservants….” If my wife is any indication of how this works, she’ll ferret out the best values available, planning weeks ahead if it will help the budget stretch a little farther.
And what about the entrepreneurial spirit? “She considers a field and buys it. From her profits she plants a vineyard.” That is, the virtuous wife doesn’t sit around waiting for the world to come to her, but is a shrewd investor of the family’s resources, whatever they happen to be. She’s also industrious: “She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle….” In that culture, a woman’s typical vocation would include spinning yarn and weaving cloth. Today, it might be something else. But the point is, even if the virtuous wife finds herself in a prosperous position, she is not idle or lazy, but is hard working and conscientious.
The beneficiaries of her labors extend beyond her immediate family: “She extends her hand to the poor; yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.” And she prepares for unforeseen eventualities and adverse circumstances: “She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself. Her clothing is fine linen and purple….” It’s not that the virtuous wife invariably ends up rich (as the imagery here might suggest). It’s just that with foresight, industry, and care, she’s never caught flat-footed when times get tight. I remember that back when my children were little (i.e., when I wasn’t earning all that much money), my wife’s “shopping skills” always left the illusion that we were more prosperous than we really were, for she was adamantly unwilling to allow our adopted “orphanage kids” to look like second-class citizens. If we were poor, our kids (or their friends) never knew it.
Furthermore, her qualities have the tendency to put her husband in the best possible light among his peers: “Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land….” In context, what’s being revealed is not the husband’s status, but her effect upon it. The last thing that’s likely to happen is for people to whisper, “that poor guy—how does he endure that woman?” They’re more likely to be saying, “You married well, didn’t you, sir?”
In the interests of “keeping women in their place,” some repressive religious types used to insist that “a woman’s place is in the home.” That view may seem a bit outdated in these last days because our collective apostasy has made a dollar practically worthless, begging both the husband and his wife to join the workforce just to make ends meet. How interesting it is, then, that a thousand years before Christ, scripture was extolling the virtues of women in business—and not just as employees, but also as owner-operators of their own enterprises. In “King Lemuel’s” litany of the attributes of a virtuous wife, we find this revealing entry: “She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants. Strength and honor are her clothing. She shall rejoice in time to come….” If she runs a “sweat shop,” the sweat is her own.
Some of this profile is the direct result of a positive self-image. The virtuous wife knows she is loved and treasured: her labors are appreciated, her opinion is valued, and her character is unassailable. And the result is that her contribution to her family’s welfare is a major component of its overall prosperity and stability. “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.’” They can’t all be the best, of course, but that doesn’t prevent their husbands from seeing them—and treating them—as if they were.
And where do all of these positive attributes come from? “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears Yahweh, she shall be praised.” As we shall see when we consider a few “case studies” of wives in the Bible, the only quality that counts in the long run is a woman’s reverence for God. Every other glowing trait flows from this. (Of course, the same is true of their husbands.) Lemuel admonishes men not to take such a godly wife for granted, nor exploit her just because her natural inclination is to do the right things for the right reasons. Rather, “Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates.” (Proverbs 31:10-31)
Solomon’s love poem to his bride, the Song of Songs, goes a long way toward demonstrating something he wrote in another book—that there is “nothing new under the sun.” The ardor young husbands feel toward their brides (and brides-to-be) is nothing new. It has been “part of the formula” since God introduced Eve to Adam in the garden. King Solomon is heard gushing over his bride, the Shulamite maiden—who is every bit as smitten with him.
Unfortunately, however, we men may have lost a step over the centuries in how eloquently we express ourselves. “You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way. Come with me [literally, to me] from Lebanon, my bride, come with me from Lebanon. Come down from Mount Amana, from the peaks of Senir and Hermon, where the lions have their dens and leopards live among the hills….” It matters not whether the bride is actually the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. The king’s love makes her appear so to him. Love is blind (or at least nearsighted), and all of its other senses are similarly impaired. And that’s a good thing.
The geographical references here are telling. Whereas the king lives in Jerusalem, his bride is in Lebanon. If we correlate this to the definitive description of Israel’s borders in Numbers 34, it would appear that she is as far as you can get from the politics of Israel and still be within the borders of the Land. (That’s right: according to Yahweh, most of Lebanon is actually Israelite territory.) Amana is also known as Tavros Umanis or Mount Hor, and is listed as the northern border of the Land in Numbers 34:8, not far from the ancient seaport city of Byblos. The other peaks named are in the same general neighborhood. It’s a rough though beautiful place, and not a little dangerous—so Solomon is asking his bride to find rest and safety with him—by his side—in the city of the great King.
Besides, he misses her. “You have captured my heart, my treasure, my bride. You hold it hostage with one glance of your eyes, with a single jewel of your necklace. Your love delights me, my treasure, my bride….” If you’ll recall from a previous chapter, “the family’s treasure” is the daughter. But the word used here (Hebrew: achot) literally means “sister.” This doesn’t mean that the Shulamite was Solomon’s literal, biological sister, of course. A spiritual kinship is implied: both share the same Heavenly Father, Yahweh.
The lovesick bridegroom’s description of his bride now lurches into purple prose, but can you blame him? “Your love is better than wine, your perfume more fragrant than spices. Your lips are as sweet as nectar, my bride. Honey and milk are under your tongue. Your clothes are scented like the cedars of Lebanon. You are my private garden, my treasure, my bride, a secluded spring, a hidden fountain. Your thighs shelter a paradise of pomegranates with rare spices—henna with nard, nard and saffron, fragrant calamus and cinnamon, with all the trees of frankincense, myrrh, and aloes, and every other lovely spice. You are a garden fountain, a well of fresh water streaming down from Lebanon’s mountains.” (Song of Songs 4:7-15 NLT)
We’ve explored many of these metaphors previously in this work: (1) Honey represents the sweet life. (2) Cedar indicates strength. (3) The water of the secluded spring brings cleansing and restoration. (4) Pomegranates speak of refuge (specifically in the blood of Christ). The anointing oil used to inaugurate priests into the tabernacle service contained (5) Calamus (qaneh, that is, sugar cane), (6) cinnamon (considered an aphrodisiac), and (7) myrrh (in the form of stacte—adding an element of sorrow). (8) Frankincense (symbolizing purity attained through sacrifice) was used in the tabernacle’s incense formula—indicative of prayer. And (9) aloes (aromatic wood) are the very fragrance of love; and remember, the Hebrew word for aroma or fragrance (reyach) is derived from ruach—Spirit. All of these things say something about what the bridegroom perceives in his bride—that is, what Christ sees in us.
Short of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I’m having trouble understanding why the rabbis and scribes of the Second Temple period would have chosen to include the Song of Songs in the canon of Hebrew scripture. It’s classified as “wisdom literature,” but it contains precious little in the way of advice. Neither Yahweh’s name nor title (“God”) is mentioned directly. It can’t even be construed as a prophecy of Israel’s restoration, because the “Daughters of Jerusalem” are portrayed as bystanders, distinct from the king’s beloved “outsider” bride. From a Christian perspective, of course, it all makes perfect sense (in a steamy, R-rated sort of way), but the Hebrew canon was closed and settled long before the Messiah showed His face upon the earth. Once you realize that Solomon represents Christ in this story, and his betrothed Shulamite maiden plays the part of the church, the book’s purpose (to reveal Yahshua’s passionate love for His bride—and vice versa) becomes blatantly obvious, spelled out in terms utterly unlike anything else in the Bible. But after Israel’s leaders had rejected Christ’s claims, the Song must have seemed like an insoluble (and embarrassing) puzzle to the scribes, Pharisees, and rabbis.
But I digress. We were discussing the bride—her description and qualifications. Christ’s ultimate bride—the church, those “called out”—is first and foremost characterized as “a chaste, pure, and holy virgin”—untouched and uncompromised by the world. Paul puts it like this: “I am jealous for you with godly jealousy.” “Jealousy” in scriptural parlance speaks of zeal or enthusiasm for one’s own—not paranoid obsession. “For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ….” Paul sees himself as a matchmaker, one who has introduced two parties who were “made for each other.”
Yahshua’s character is beyond reproach, but His “fiancée” (that’s us) may not be quite so pure or trustworthy, no matter that He chooses to regard us as “flawless.” So Paul warns us of the pitfalls looming before us: “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!” (II Corinthians 11:2-4) Yahweh has created nothing that our adversary cannot attempt to corrupt, counterfeit, confuse, or claim for himself—and this is doubly true of His manifestation as the Messiah. We know from sweet personal experience what our Beloved is like, even though we have not yet consummated our marriage with Him—we are not yet physically together. As the parable puts it, He is on a long journey: He has ascended to the Father while we are left here with only our hopes, His promises, and the indwelling Holy Spirit to bring His word to remembrance. The fallen world, meanwhile, portrays our betrothed as something He’s not, for they don’t really know Him. They misconstrue His motives, character, power, plan, and identity. They ask, “Where is the promise of His coming?” That promise, if you must know, is in His scriptures and in our hearts.
The problem is not with Yahshua; it’s with us. Having been born into sin (confirming our fallen status with our own transgressions), we are not actually the “chaste virgin” that Paul wished to present as a bride to Christ—at least, not due to our own efforts. Our attempts at sinlessness are like trying to remove the yeast from a loaf of bread that has already been leavened, kneaded, risen, baked, and eaten: they aren’t even conceivable, much less possible. We must become entirely new creations if we are to be in reality what Yahshua chooses to see in us. It is His effort, His sacrifice, that changes us from the inside out. Paul explains: “Christ… 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.” (Ephesians 5:25-27) In other words, it was the promise of purity—our purity—that compelled Yahshua to sacrifice Himself to redeem us.
So progressive philosophy notwithstanding, we do not enter into this marriage covenant with Christ as equals. Just because He loves us (quite literally) more than life itself, we must never entertain the idea that we’re actually worthy of His love—not in our natural state, at least. Our purity as a bride was achieved by the self-sacrifice of the Bridegroom. We can bring nothing to the match except our gratitude. Even our love is merely a response to His. As John puts it, “In this is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [atonement or appeasement] for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world…. We love Him because He first loved us.” (I John 4:10-11, 17, 19)
This reality is supposed to be recapitulated—reenacted—in our own earthly marriages, which are, after all, symbolic of what our relationship with Yahshua can be. So Paul instructs us, “Wives… be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear [i.e., respect]….” A wife’s submission to her husband is a picture, a symbol, of the church’s relationship with Christ. If the husband is a believer, he is instructed to love his wife as Christ loves the church—to the point of death. But even if he is not, the wife’s conduct will be a wordless witness to him, saying, “My respect for you, my submission to you, is a reflection of my devotion to Yahshua my God.” The reality is that a wife’s demonstration of God’s love in her life can be counted on to be a far more effective, productive witness than nagging her husband because of his bad habits.
Paul continues, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” He’s not saying that there’s something wrong with trying to look attractive for your husband, but only that your efforts shouldn’t begin and end with grooming and apparel. A wife’s real beauty—attractiveness that lasts a lifetime—comes from within, from her positive attitude, reverent spirit, and sweet demeanor. “For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.” (I Peter 3:1-6) Interesting example. Sarah, though recognized for her beauty, wasn’t a mindless mushroom: she thought for herself and let Abraham know how she felt about things—sometimes with disastrous consequences. (The Hagar affair, for example, was Sarah’s idea.) So “submission” doesn’t mean “rolling over and playing dead.” Nor does it mean being afraid of your husband or letting him abuse you. Submission simply means recognizing and respecting the husband’s ultimate authority (and responsibility) before God.
His subsequent instructions to Christian husbands sheds more light on the God-ordained post-Eden role of their wives: “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” (I Peter 3:7) This is a million miles from the odd Islamic idea that a woman’s opinion or testimony is only worth a quarter of a man’s. Yes, men, your wife is to be considered “a weaker vessel” than you—and not merely because God built you with greater upper-body strength. But that doesn’t mean she’s fundamentally inferior to you—it means that comparatively, she’s fragile and precious. The life-giving grace the husband receives as a child of God, however, is identical to his wife’s.
A “vessel” is used to contain or carry something. When considering the human condition, that “something” might be stress, worry, guilt, fear—you get the idea. A Christian husband, then, is to protect his wife from assuming too great an emotional load. This in turn means that his own trust in God’s provision must be rock solid. He must strive to be as dependable as humanly possible, so his wife will have no reason to live in doubt. One does not carry mud, sewage, or acid in a delicate and priceless Ming vase—unless he’s an idiot. If the load is dirty, heavy, or dangerous, it is up to the husband, not his wife, to shoulder it. Remember, if she falls, you break with her. And note the zinger at the end of Peter’s admonition: if a man disregards the comparative fragility of his wife’s emotional constitution, God reserves the right to disregard his prayers. Ouch.
The apostle Paul (presumed to be a bachelor, ironically enough) also had a great deal to say about the role of Christian wives. Being one of the foremost Torah scholars of his day, Paul could easily see the symbolic correlation between human marriages and the relationship between Christ and His called-out assembly of believers. “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.” (Ephesians 5:22-24)
Who among us would deny that Yahshua is in every way superior to us (which is what you’d expect of God Incarnate, of course), and that as a result, we are invariably better off if we submit to His will, subjecting ourselves to His word and example? Like virtually everything in the Torah, what we (well, the Israelites) were instructed to do was actually a picture (or at least a reflection) of what Yahweh was doing—or was planning to do—for the human race. So when wives are told to be submissive to their husbands (who are a long, long way from being “gods”), a metaphor is being presented. Wives are to recognize their husbands’ authority, responsibility, and good intentions because they (the wives) are symbolic of the bride of Christ, the church; while their husbands are symbolic of Christ Himself. Believe it or not, this arrangement is harder on the husbands than it is on their wives, as we shall see in our next chapter.
Paul’s admonitions to the young pastors Titus and Timothy extend the metaphor of how the church is to comport itself as the bride of Christ. “Admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, [and] obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” (Titus 2:4-5) “Likewise, [deacons’] wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.” (I Timothy 3:11) The secular mind may scoff at the apparent “snooze factor” here, but if we look at the converse traits—those against which Paul was warning—we realize that a wife need not be plain, mousey, bland, or boring, but can (and should) be interesting, vivacious, and attractive while reflecting the attributes the church is to display before the world:
(1) “Loving one’s husband and children” means the church is to be devoted and affectionate not only to God, but also to those people depending upon Christ’s followers to show them how to live successfully in the world—namely, in Christ. We (that is, the Holy Spirit dwelling within us) are to nurture, admonish, counsel, and console the lost world, inviting them into God’s family—a far cry from trying to force them to behave themselves.
(2) Being “discreet and chaste” as wives is parallel to the church’s refusal to compromise with the world. The all-powerful religious monolith that grew out of Emperor Constantine’s “conversion” to Christianity early in the fourth century bore no resemblance to the simplicity and Christ-centeredness of the church of the apostolic age. The church is being warned not to use worldly means and methods to attract followers, nor is it to allow false doctrine or pointless pursuits to adulterate the pure teaching of the Gospel of grace.
(3) A “homemaker” is one who keeps, watches over, or works in a home. The Greek oikourgos is based on “érgon (from ergō, to work, accomplish)—a worker who accomplishes something. Ergon (work) is a deed (action) that carries out (completes) an inner desire (intension, purpose).”—Helps Word-Studies. So a wife may be employed outside, but her heart’s desire is her own home. Her passion is for her own family. Likewise, the church is to do what it does within its own confines, saving the lost and growing the saved. That is, to be a “homemaker,” the church should not embroil itself in commercial pursuits, politics (except for moral guidance), or military conquest. Alas, as with chastity and discretion, the historic church has fallen woefully short in this area.
(4) “Goodness and obedience” imply (logically enough) that wives and the church they represent are to be neither evil nor rebellious. Christ’s earthly walk defined what it means to be “good.” The Greek word here (agathos) describes that which originates with God and is empowered by Him, encompassing such attributes as generosity, kindness, excellence, usefulness, salutation, joy, pleasance, happiness, and benevolence. The godly wife and church are to be “good” because our Savior/husband is good personified. In other words, our obedience is actually emulation of His intrinsic goodness. If we (the church) are not “good” (as defined by the life of Yahshua), then our actions blaspheme God before the world—the last thing we should want.
(5) “Reverence” is the antithesis of “slander.” But the word translated “reverent” in I Timothy 3:11 is semnos, “an adjective derived from sébomai, ‘to revere, be in awe’—properly, what is august (dignified, has ‘gravitas’); weighty, deeply respected because it is viewed as majestic (having ‘gravity’); grave.”—Helps Word-Studies. The wife (as with the church) must not only regard her husband with deep respect, but must also endeavor to be worthy of such reverence. The wife who is dignified like this is a picture of a church that is serious about presenting Christ with proper reverence: not flippantly, as “the Man upstairs” (or worse, fraudulently, as a great moral teacher or prophet who wasn’t actually divine), but as our God, Savior, and eternal King.
(6) Finally, a wife is to be “temperate,” free from negative influences (represented by intoxicants such as wine). That is (figuratively) she is to be clear-minded, not dominated by external stimuli. At the same time, the wife/church is to be “faithful.” That’s the Greek pistos: trustworthy, faithful, and believing, from the verb peitho: to be persuaded, to have confidence. Yes, I realize that the world finds it rather intimidating when a wife (or the church she represents) is sober minded and sure of her position. They prefer them to be “gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (II Timothy 3:6-7) Christ’s bride is nothing like that.
Perhaps the most egregious example of Paul’s instructions concerning women being misused in order to subjugate them beyond what God intended is this: “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak.” (I Corinthians 14:34) A wise man once said, “A text without context is pretext.” And this, my friends, desperately needs context. It turns out that Paul wasn’t speaking generally of decorum in the church (although the principle of male authority over women—in emulation of Christ’s authority over the church—had already been firmly established). Nor was he trying to “keep women in their place,” or expressing disdain for the feminine intellect. No, this is found in the middle of a passage discussing the exercise of spiritual gifts—and especially that most esoteric of gifts, that of speaking in unknown tongues in public.
So here’s the context: “For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.” (I Corinthians 14:31-40)
As usual, Paul appeals to the “Law,” in this case, the notice (as we studied above, in Genesis 3:16) concerning Eve’s post-fall status—that her husband would henceforth “rule over” her. Here Paul points out that this authority extends to the public performance of spiritual gifts—specifically the more esoteric, volatile, and potentially disruptive ones like prophecy and speaking in unknown tongues. These gifts (which were not exclusively given to men) were to be exercised by women only in private settings—not in public meetings of the church, that all things might be done “decently, and in order.”
Paul continued the theme in his instructions to young pastor Timothy: “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works….” When he says “in like manner also,” Paul is including wives in the privilege (or duty) of public prayer, but with the caveat that they endeavor not to be distractions to men (for we are easily distracted, are we not?).
Then he goes back to the lessons of the curse of Eden: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” (I Timothy 2:8-14) The differences in position and privilege between Adam and Eve (after the fall) illustrate those between Christ and the church—and they are therefore supposed to be reflected in the structure of the family, of a husband with his wife. Obviously Yahshua precedes the church: as Eve was “made” from Adam, we believers (as a body) are “made from” Christ. But in a manner of speaking, the mode of Eve’s sin also parallels ours: we humans are all deceived by Satan, and have therefore forfeited our right to stand as equals (as if such a thing were possible) with our Lord.
Adam, meanwhile, sinned purposely, with his eyes wide open, because (I’m guessing) he was unwilling to be separated from his precious bride—even by death. Okay, Adam got it wrong. But Christ—faced with the same conundrum—got it right. Adam became a sinner, but Yahshua became sin (or a sin offering—the word in Hebrew is the same) on our behalf, so that we, his bride, though lost in sin, could be reunited with Him. That is why we are to submit to Him, to recognize and accept His authority over us, and to refrain from usurping His place and privilege. And this relationship structure is to be reflected—emulated—in marriage: the wife is to submit to her husband as the church submits to Yahshua.
As with most of the Torah, what we are commanded to do is actually a picture of what God is doing for us. So Eve’s subjection to her husband in the wake of her sin is a symbol of humanity’s subjection to God because of our sin. We are to submit to Him and keep “silence” before Him (that is, refraining from usurping His authority) because we have proved our gullibility and inadequacy by falling into sin in the first place.
That principle goes a long way toward explaining a couple of very strange-sounding precepts in the Torah, both concerning wives. Neither of these procedures was possible in any literal sense after the time of David, and both of them present so dubious a scenario, it is unlikely that either of them was ever carried out in Israel. So why are they there in the Torah? I believe they’re here to teach us (if we’re willing to look) about things God is doing in the world.
The first one speaks of seizing a woman in war and making her your wife. “When you go out to war against your enemies, and Yahweh your God delivers them into your hand, and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall set her free, but you certainly shall not sell her for money; you shall not treat her brutally, because you have humbled her.” (Deuteronomy 21:10-14) Forget for the moment that the Israelites had been instructed to wipe out or exile—not enslave—the seven Canaanite tribes inhabiting the Land, making this scenario all the more unlikely. There is something else going on here, but we’re going to have to dig for it.
On the surface, the idea is that an Israelite soldier could marry a captive woman whose beauty made her attractive to him, but only after she had been humbled, “uglified,” and seen at her worst. On the face of it, picking a bride on the sole basis of beauty is the dumbest course of action imaginable. Note: (1) your people have just sacked her city and killed her family, so she can be presumed to hate your guts forever, and not without reason. (2) A woman’s beauty never lasts—wives get old. (3) She has not been consulted about the arrangement, and can be presumed to be opposed to it, though she has no power to do anything about it other than to make your life miserable in a hundred little ways.
So God says, “At least go into this with your eyes wide open: see her at her worst, without her fine apparel, jewelry, hairdo, and makeup; live through her PMS at least once; listen to her cry in mourning for a month, remembering with every tear that you and your buddies were responsible for her parents’ gruesome deaths, even if they had it coming. If she still looks good to you after a month of that, then good luck—go ahead and marry her. But if you’ve come to your senses and changed your mind, you can’t then sell her like a slave. She’s free to go.
Okay, did that ever really happen? I doubt it. So what is God talking about here? I believe it is a rough parallel of the message of the Song of Solomon, in which the outsider and the King fall in love—the most unlikely of matches—and she is elevated to a place of glory and honor by virtue of her passionate relationship with Him. I’m speaking, of course, of the Messiah, Yahshua, and His bride, the church. The bride’s “parents” are the bondage of sin and despair under which she was born and raised. If she awakens to her new reality, she will realize that her “captivity” is actually freedom from her abusive childhood.
If you think I’ve lost my mind, consider a portion of this blatantly Messianic Psalm. “Listen, O daughter. Consider and incline your ear. Forget your own people also, and your father’s house.” The “daughter” here is the “captive,” pondering the loss of her old life—her roots in sin and hopelessness. Her “father’s house” is the lost world, in which she was formerly held in bondage. “So the King will greatly desire your beauty.” King Yahshua sees not the beauty of our self-adornment (which is nothing but filthy rags, even if they are made of silk), but the beauty He Himself has bestowed upon us—the countenance of joy, and the garments of righteousness. It’s the beauty He always meant for us to have: we are, after all, made in His image and likeness. “Because He is your Lord, worship Him. And the daughter of Tyre will come with a gift. The rich among the people will seek your favor....” The “captive” is surprised to find that her love for the King has elevated her status in the eyes of the world. This should be read as a clue that this is not only a Messianic prophecy, but also a picture of the Millennial Kingdom, in which the church/bride has already been raptured, transformed into a sinless, immortal state. Until that time, the world will hate and distrust us (in case you haven’t noticed).
“The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace. Her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors.” These attributes are reminiscent of the church of repentant Laodicea (Revelation 3:18, 20:4-6), another indication that we’re looking at the Millennial kingdom. “The virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to you.” These are the “daughters of Jerusalem,” seen celebrating the love match between the king and the Shulamite in the Song of Songs. Israel too has an exalted role to play in the kingdom—though different from that of the church. “With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought. They shall enter the King’s palace. Instead of your fathers shall be your sons, whom you shall make princes in all the earth.” Remember the captive woman’s mourning for her parents? Mourning for her abusive “father” (the lost world, though the only world she once knew) will be replaced—superseded—with celebration at the new birth of new souls into the life of Christ. “I will make your name to be remembered in all generations. Therefore the people shall praise you forever and ever.” (Psalm 45:10-17) That is, the Millennial mortals will honor the immortal church throughout the thousand-year reign of Christ—and beyond.
Still think I’m crazy? I may be, but it doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
The second “unlikely scenario” in Torah Law is found in Numbers 5. It appears to deal with jealous husbands and adulterous wives. This is about as convoluted as anything you’ll find in the Torah. Hang onto your hat.
“And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: “If any man’s wife goes astray and behaves unfaithfully toward him, and a man lies with her carnally, and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband, and it is concealed that she has defiled herself, and there was no witness against her, nor was she caught—if the spirit of jealousy comes upon him and he becomes jealous of his wife, who has defiled herself; or if the spirit of jealousy comes upon him and he becomes jealous of his wife, although she has not defiled herself—then the man shall bring his wife to the priest….”’”
Like so many precepts in the Torah, this one cannot literally be carried out without a priesthood and temple or tabernacle—a clue that this is more conceptual (i.e., prophetic) than practical. The scenario is that the husband suspects his wife of cheating on him with another man. It remains to be seen whether his suspicions are groundless or justified. “He shall bring the offering required for her, one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil on it and put no frankincense on it, because it is a grain offering of jealousy, an offering for remembering, for bringing iniquity to remembrance….” Note that the husband, not the accused wife, is to bring the offering. This is all being done at his instigation, and at his expense. It is not a blood sacrifice, so issues of salvation or redemption are not in view. Most minha, or grain, offerings were to be saturated with olive oil, but not here: the oil represents the Holy Spirit, so if the wife is found guilty, the Spirit’s absence is significant. Nor is the usual frankincense offered. This would have indicated purity through sacrifice, but achieving purity is not the objective here, but rather establishing guilt or innocence. As the text says, this is an “offering for bringing iniquity to remembrance.” If guilt is established, atonement will be achieved in a separate sacrifice, if at all.
Here’s where it gets weird. “And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before Yahweh. The priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water….” In anybody else’s world, this would begin to smell of magic incantations and religious hocus pocus—“eye of newt and toe of frog,” as Shakespeare’s witch put it. But in Yahweh’s world, we should by now have learned to be on the lookout for symbolic clues. The water would normally speak of cleansing and restoration, but there is an added ingredient (actually, two—we’ll encounter the other one in a moment). A little dust from the dirt floor of the tabernacle is mixed in with the water. This “dust” (Hebrew aphar) is what the serpent was condemned to eat in Eden (Genesis 3:14)—a token of sin’s humiliation and punishment. Furthermore, this dust came from a place where only the priests were authorized to stand. That is, their role as intermediaries between God and man is in view. And remember, their feet (representative of their walk before God) must be cleansed at the bronze laver every time they entered the tabernacle.
“Then the priest shall stand the woman before Yahweh, uncover the woman’s head, and put the offering for remembering in her hands, which is the grain offering of jealousy. And the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that brings a curse.” The next step speaks of openness and honesty before God—which includes remembering what you have done, whether good or evil. The “curse” or oath is now pronounced: “And the priest shall put her under oath, and say to the woman, ‘If no man has lain with you, and if you have not gone astray to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be free from this bitter water that brings a curse….” This is what the woman has been saying all along: “I’m innocent.” If she actually was innocent, of course, she would be positively livid with her paranoid husband by this time. No normal woman would ever willing share his bed again. In other words, there’s no way the husband can win at this. If he were not absolutely positive of his wife’s adultery (though proof was not forthcoming, or she would already have been stoned along with her illicit lover) he would never put her through this ordeal. He has nothing to gain except establishing the truth, and everything to lose.
She is then required to call down a curse upon herself if she is lying. “But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has lain with you’—then the priest shall put the woman under the oath of the curse, and he shall say to the woman—‘Yahweh make you a curse and an oath among your people, when Yahweh makes your thigh rot and your belly swell; and may this water that causes the curse go into your stomach, and make your belly swell and your thigh rot.’ Then the woman shall say, ‘Amen, so be it.’ Then the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall scrape them off into the bitter water. And he shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her to become bitter….” There is nothing particularly poisonous about a little dust and dried ink dissolved in a glass of water. But the priest (and the husband) are calling her bluff: if guilty, she has called upon Almighty God Himself to “make her belly swell and her thigh rot.” Very colorful: I have no idea what it means. But if Yahweh is “answering” that prayer, it’s probably fatal, or at least painful. It’s never a good idea to lie to God’s face. Just ask Ananias and Saphira.
“Then the priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand, shall wave the offering before the Lord, and bring it to the altar; and the priest shall take a handful of the offering, as its memorial portion, burn it on the altar, and afterward make the woman drink the water….” Waving the grain offering before Yahweh was the usual way of saying, “This whole offering belongs to You, O Yahweh,” even though only a portion of it was actually burned on the altar. (The rest would be eaten by the priest.) The whole procedure says, “I acknowledge that You know and remember what actually transpired here. Vindicate the innocent and punish the guilty.” Only then does the wife drink the “bitter water.”
“When he has made her drink the water, then it shall be, if she has defiled herself and behaved unfaithfully toward her husband, that the water that brings a curse will enter her and become bitter, and her belly will swell, her thigh will rot, and the woman will become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself, and is clean, then she shall be free and may conceive children.” The water won’t be “bitter” until she has drunk it, and then, only if she’s guilty of adultery. Of course, if she’s not guilty, she will never trust her husband again. “This is the law of jealousy, when a wife, while under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, or when the spirit of jealousy comes upon a man, and he becomes jealous of his wife; then he shall stand the woman before Yahweh, and the priest shall execute all this law upon her. Then the man shall be free from iniquity, but that woman shall bear her guilt.’” (Numbers 5:11-31)
It is not particularly surprising that this precept is never referred to again in scripture. No one is recorded as having put his wife through this ordeal. Frankly, it is practically inconceivable that any rational husband would have invoked this law if he loved his wife, no matter how much he doubted her fidelity. And as I said, this couldn’t literally be done after Solomon’s temple was built, for it involves a tabernacle with dirt floors.
So why is it included in scripture? Because it is prophetic of something Yahweh would achieve in an effort to awaken His people to the reality of their sin and apostasy. If I may quote from my prophecy study, The End of the Beginning, “In 1033 [A.D.], a great earthquake shook Jerusalem. Result? The Spring of Gihon (the sole source of water for the old city, located a stone’s throw from the temple mount) turned bitter—a condition that persisted for forty years. This was taken as a bad sign by the Rabbis at the Jerusalem Academy, so they left town and set up shop in Damascus. The Islamic overlords then raised taxes for all non-Muslims, driving out the last remaining Jewish farmers. But there were also ramifications for Christendom. This year saw a great surge in Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem, since exactly one millennium had passed since Yahshua’s passion. And Catholic pilgrims, like the departing Jews, found the waters of Gihon (now literally mingled with the dust of the sanctuary) poisonous.
“Yahweh has described Himself as ‘a jealous God’ (Exodus 20:6). Through the events of 1033, He flatly stated that both Israel and the Church had been unfaithful to Him. The curse of Numbers 5 had come to pass. Not only did the Jews’ “belly swell and thigh rot” (so to speak), but the prophecy concerning the Church of Thyatira had come about as well: ‘Indeed, I will cast her [the false prophetess “Jezebel,” who had seduced the Church into idolatry] into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.’ (Revelation 2:22)”
So is that it, then? Was God’s only purpose in putting forth the Law of Jealousy to blow the whistle on a Christianity and a Judaism that had both fallen into adulterous patterns of behavior—without even realizing it? That would be enough, I suppose, but no, I believe there’s even more to it. It goes a long way toward explaining one of the very first principles laid down in scripture—the Law of the Sabbath. Yahweh incessantly states His plan for mankind in terms of sevens (invariably expressed as six of one thing followed by one of another). Six days of creation, one of rest. Six days to work, one of respite (the Fourth Commandment). Six years to plant and harvest, one to let the land lie fallow and release your bondservants. Six church profiles before the rapture, one after. There are to be seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls of wrath during the Tribulation…. You get the idea.
But what does the Sabbath principle have to do with unfaithful wives or the year 1033? First, I took to heart the formula presented in II Peter 3:8. “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” What if this actually means what it says (what a concept!) and isn’t merely a metaphor about God’s patience? Then I noticed a pattern in scripture—that incredibly significant events (from the point of view of spiritual symbols) have been occurring on what appear to be precise one thousand year intervals. Could these be milestones marking God’s plan for our redemption? If so, the real Sabbath will be the last of seven one-thousand-year periods of time encompassing the entire tenure of fallen man upon the earth. I obviously can’t verify all of the dates historically, but the list is fascinating nevertheless.
Let us begin with the obvious “anchor date” and work backward. (5) The fifth millennium began with the passion of the Christ, in 33 A.D.—the most important year in the history of the human race. (4) Moving back exactly one thousand years, we see the building of Solomon’s temple in 967 B.C.—the first “permanent” expression of the symbol-rich tabernacle’s prophetic architecture. From here back, we can’t correlate the Biblical events with secular historical dates, but we know we’re very close. (3) In 1967 B.C., Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of Isaac took place on Mount Moriah, establishing him as the father of our faith. (2) In 2967 B.C., Yahweh determined to wipe out mankind’s corruption with a flood, beginning over again with Noah and his immediate family. And beginning it all, (1) the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden took place (according to the theory) in 3967 B.C. This was the singular event that made all of the rest of it necessary. (The Irish Bishop James Ussher had calculated the date to 4004 B.C., and scientist Johannes Kepler to 3992. But they were both using scriptural genealogical data, and the record may have gaps or overlaps within it. All we know for sure is the ballpark in which we’re playing.)
Moving forward in time from the Passion in 33 A.D., we come to number (6) in the series—i.e., the beginning of the sixth millennium of fallen man—to 1033, and the event described above. (Note too that from the time of Abraham forward, all of these events transpired in what is now Jerusalem—on Mount Moriah.) During this last millennium before the Sabbath, beginning in 1033, Yahweh has continued the discipline of His adulterous “wife,” Israel, that began when they crucified their Messiah. Hosea informs us (in so many words) that when the sixth day began, He was only halfway through: “[Yahweh] has torn, but He will heal us. He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days [read: two thousand years] He will revive us. On the third day [that is, the third millennium after the passion] He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.” (Hosea 6:1-2) Bad news, good news.
And to shift the metaphor slightly, Yahshua the Messiah has also been confronting His betrothed bride, the church, about her dalliances with pagan thought, religious power, satanic influence, or plain old apostasy. The profiles of the bride’s “progress” during this time are chronicled in Revelation 2 and 3, in the letters to the corrupt church at Thyatira, the dead church at Sardis, the faithful church at Philadelphia, and the disgusting, lukewarm, and ultimately left-behind church at Laodicea.
The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, so it represents the seventh and final millennium in the age of fallen man. Don’t look now, but if my observations are even remotely correct, the sun will set on our “work week” in only a few short years from when I’m writing these words—in 2033. Before that time, Yahshua will have taken his bride (the faithful church of Philadelphia—the sixth assembly on the list) to His home to participate in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). And by 2033, He will have dealt with all of the evil in the world during the dark time known as the Tribulation, in which the belatedly repentant church of Laodicea will finally come to faith, and—most significantly—the remnant of Israel will at last receive her Messiah.
And what momentous scripturally prophesied event will mark the commencement of the seventh millennium—the “day of rest” mandated throughout the Bible from one end to the other? Unless I’m woefully misinformed, our Sabbath rest will begin on the seventh and final appointment with Yahweh—the Feast of Tabernacles, the convocation in which God will come to “camp out” with men for a thousand years—the Millennial reign of Christ. It is scheduled for Tishri 15 on the Hebrew calendar—that’s October 8 in 2033. And take note: this is an eight-day feast, so it spills over into eternity at the end.
You weren’t expecting to find that in the Torah’s “Law of the Jealous Husband,” were you?
Let us now consider a few examples of how wives in Biblical history fleshed out the concept of “the promise of purity.” It’s mostly a story of disappointment and hope, of failure or catastrophe followed by redemption. Just remember the key to the cypher: wives in the Old Testament are invariably portrayed the same way the bride of Christ (the church) is in the New: whatever chastity or purity we bring to our marriage with Christ is the result not of our own efforts or intrinsic holiness, but rather a result of God’s grace in our lives—of renewal, rebirth, and transformation.
Case Study #1: Eve
We have already discussed the case of Eve to some extent, in the context of why wives are “ruled” by their husbands (Genesis 3:16), though they were created as equal partners. God had made Eve as a “helper appropriate for Adam,” something no wife can be if her husband is standing upon her in order to elevate himself.
Adam’s “day job” was to give names to the creatures he met, and the woman was no exception. “Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” (Genesis 3:20) “Eve” is a transliteration of Chavvah or Hawwah, meaning “village or town”—a place where people live, hence: “life” or “life producer.” His name (meaning “red earth”) was reflected in the curse Yahweh pronounced upon him: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) Having sinned, he was now mortal—destined to physical death. Thus the only way for human life to continue on this planet would be for Eve to bear his children—for her to become the “mother of all living.” Indeed, childbirth was at the heart of her penance for having been deceived by the serpent’s lie: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception. In pain you shall bring forth children.” (Genesis 3:16)
God’s plan for Adam and Eve (and us) was that they would live in holiness before Him. But in order to live in holiness, one first has to be alive. It is reasonable to assume (considering the way we’re built) that childbirth was always part of the plan. But now that sin had entered the picture, there was a deadline—literally. For life to continue, Adam and Eve would have to produce children before they died. They didn’t know how long they had to live when Yahweh evicted them from the Garden, of course. We’re not given statistics on Eve’s longevity, but as it turned out, Adam would live for 930 years. Of course, nobody knew that at the time.
If we’re willing to see it, the story of Eve can be taken as a parable concerning Christ and the church. We (His bride) were deceived, just as Eve was. And like her, we have been rendered righteous once again in God’s sight by donning garments provided by Him to hide our shame—garments that required innocent life-blood to be shed: “For Adam and his wife Yahweh, God, made tunics of skin, and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) These “tunics of animal skin” are analogous to the “fine linen, clean and bright” in which the Bride of Christ is to be arrayed, “for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Revelation 19:8) Our righteousness (in God’s eyes) is attained only through our association with the slain and risen Christ.
And like Eve, our restored purity going forward entails our going back and taking heed of God’s very first instruction to us: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28) The risen Yahshua commanded the same thing, in principle, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) We like Eve are to bear fruit because our desire is for our Husband, Yahshua. Yes, we shall bear our spiritual children—these “disciples of all the nations”—“in pain,” and raise them “in sorrow.” But our pain is as nothing when we consider that our purity was purchased for us with the most expensive substance known to man: the blood of Christ’s sacrifice.
Case Study #2: Sarah
We’re all familiar with another desperate wife, another tempting suggestion, another gullible husband, and another disastrous result. God had promised Abram (in Genesis 12 and 15) that his physical, biological descendant would be a blessing to all the families of the earth. But He hadn’t (to our knowledge) said anything about the other half of the equation, the wife of Abram’s youth, Sarai. And now, years—decades—after the initial prophetic promise, the couple was still childless. Sarai’s biological clock had stopped ticking altogether, and “tocking” (if you’ll pardon the pun) was about all Abe seemed able to do about her “chronologically challenged” state. So Sarai suggested her husband take her young handmaiden Hagar as a surrogate wife—a concubine—so Abe could get himself a son while the gettin’ was good.
It may seem to us to be a selfless sacrifice on Sarai’s part, but in that culture this sort of surrogacy was a rather common procedure. More to the point, the child of their union would “officially” be considered Sarai’s, not Hagar’s. You know the story: Abram had sex with Hagar and a child was conceived. Abe was thrilled, but Sarai—far too late—began having second thoughts, especially when the pregnant maidservant began treating her barren mistress like a second-class citizen. Sarai fumed, Hagar fled, and God found it necessary to intervene—sending the chastised handmaiden back to Sarai, where a son was born. This son, Ishmael, would become the father of the Arab peoples—and a thorn in the side of Abe’s heirs of promise, the Jews, to this very day.
The bridge we must cross here is that God knew exactly what He was doing when He promised Abram a son but then withheld fertility from his wife Sarai for so long. Resorting to the “Hagar option” proved to be a mistake, but it wasn’t exactly disobedience—overt sin—on Abram’s part. It was, rather, an object lesson for us, a classic example of how we so often get ourselves in trouble doing what we perceive to be God’s will, but in our own strength or with our own methods. If Yahweh had not allowed Abram and Sarai blunder into error in pursuit of His promise, we would not be blessed with this perfect parable of the dangers inherent in practicing religion instead of simply trusting Him. “Best laid plans” are laid by Yahweh alone, and they never go astray.
Note that both the man and his wife had to be given whole new identities before they could conceive the Child of Promise. The change was subtle: Abram (“Exalted Father”) was given the new name Abraham (“Father of Many”). The name “Abram” speaks of being somebody’s father in a limited, personal sense. But his new name, “Abraham,” denotes that his symbolic paternity would extend beyond his own progeny (which eventually included not only Ishmael and Isaac but also the six sons he fathered with a concubine named Keturah after Sarah’s death, making him literally the “father of many nations”). Abraham would also become the spiritual “father” of everyone who places his faith in his descendant Yahshua for salvation—people from every nation on the planet.
And Sarai’s name (“My Princess”) changed to Sarah (“Princess”). “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.” (Genesis 17:15-16) The shift in meaning is the basically same as Abraham’s. (Benson’s Commentary points out that the same Hebrew letter was added to both names.) “My Princess” speaks of a personal relationship with her beloved husband; but Sarah—“Princess” (without the modifier)—becomes an indication of her exalted place among many nations. The same people who call her husband their father in the spiritual sense are indebted to Sarah as the mother of Isaac and the grandmother of Jacob/Israel, hence the ancestor of David, and through him, of Yahshua.
The change in identity for Abraham and Sarah should be taken as a clue as to what must change within our lives if we are to be fruitful and productive—the bearers of spiritual offspring in the kingdom of God. We must come to realize that it’s not about us, about our temporal desires, personal needs, and individual gifts. It is, rather, about our impact upon the world for Yahweh’s eternal glory. For some reason known only to Him, God has chosen to show His love to the lost world during the age of grace primarily through the deeds and testimony of His children—us. It’s the heart of the great commission, and the reason Christ commanded us to “take up our crosses and follow Him.” Yahshua confirmed that the two greatest commandments of the Torah are to love Yahweh with our whole being, and then show it by loving our neighbors as we do ourselves.
Yes, He provides for us: everything we need for life and godliness. But God sees the big picture. If the world can perceive His love only through our perseverance under adversity, then God may just allow trial to enter our lives, as in the case of Job. (It doesn’t change our ultimate destiny one iota, you understand.) The church spread like wildfire during the terrors of Nero’s persecution, due largely to the patience, love, testimony, and endurance displayed by his Christian victims. Today, when Christians are beheaded for their faith by Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East, the love of Yahweh and His Messiah is revealed in stark contrast against the irrational hatred of Muhammad’s followers as they honor a god who doesn’t even exist except in their paranoid delusions. And as a result, Muslims are coming to Christ in droves. Tertullian was right when he wrote that “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
It’s not that God doesn’t want to bless us with material prosperity and robust health. Abraham indeed became a man of vast wealth, and his wife Sarah a virtual queen, as they waited faithfully on Yahweh. But these things are secondary considerations when the eternal destinies of billions of lost souls are at stake. And they’re next to nothing when compared to the blessings of eternal life in Christ. The prosperity was appreciated, of course, but it was never considered the “end game,” the sum total of Yahweh’s blessing. In order for Abraham to receive all of what God had promised (“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), his wife Sarah would have to bear him a son.
So upon instituting the rite of circumcision (symbolic of being permanently and irrevocably separated from your old life in a process involving blood and pain) Yahweh informed Abraham that his Son of Promise would be born to Sarah during the following year—when Abe was one hundred years old. It was as if God was telling us (in sign language) that without being separated to Him, cut off from our sin, we could never be fruitful in His kingdom. But note something else: only Abraham (and the other males in the household) were to be circumcised—due to the biological reality of the thing. Sarah’s blood would not be shed, nor would she experience the pain. This tells us (in symbolic terms) that the sacrifice that bought our redemption would be borne by God alone—through Christ—not by the church, His bride. His suffering is what makes us fruitful and righteous. We can add nothing to it through our penance, sacrifice, dedication, or alms, though these are all good things. It is finished.
The Son of Promise was to be named Isaac, which means “laughter.” Both Abraham and Sarah laughed when first informed that they would bear a son in their advanced years. I can understand that. If God told me that my wife was going to bear me another son next year, my response on Facebook would be “ROTFLMBO,” or words to that effect. It’s not that I don’t love my wife, and it’s not that I no longer like children; it’s just that we’re old enough to be great grandparents. But upon reflection, I think that maybe that’s the whole point—not the age exactly, but the seeming impossibility of the thing. If Yahweh wants to use us to be “fruitful” in the service of His Kingdom, then He can make us fruitful. All we have to do is place our bodies at His disposal.
Being flawless or capable in our own strength is not only unnecessary, it’s unachievable. Sarah was far from perfect, as was Abraham. If God worked only through (or with) perfect people, nothing would ever get done, for perfect people don’t exist in the real world (not yet, anyway). No, what Yahweh seeks is willingness, obedience, and trust. Miracles are God’s purview, even when He chooses to use us to perform them.
Case Study #3: Job’s wife
The book of Job is probably the oldest scriptural record we have. Job was apparently a close contemporary of Abraham (whose story was compiled by Moses, half a millennium later). A righteous man in his generation, Job was blessed by God with seven sons, three daughters, many servants, and vast material wealth—all of which were suddenly taken away from him in a series of unfortunate disasters.
Well, that’s what it looked like. Actually, we are told that Satan had been given permission to test him: “Yahweh said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?’ So Satan answered Yahweh and said, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!’ And Yahweh said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.’” (Job 1:8-12)
The devil had a point, I guess. We never really know, unless adversity strikes, whether our devotion to God is the result of His blessings or His intrinsic goodness and glory. On this side of Calvary, of course, God’s glory and plan are relatively easy to see. But in Job’s day, nothing much had been revealed. It is little wonder that folks got the impression that temporal blessings (such as those Job enjoyed) were evidence of God’s blessing and approval. They had no canon of scripture, little sense of the history of God’s work in the world (except maybe for the flood of Noah, now a thousand years in the past), and no clear idea of what He had planned for the future of the human race. When Yahweh wanted to communicate with men, He used theophanies and angels—anthropomorphic manifestations—to deliver His message, one on one. One gets the impression that perhaps God used this encounter with Job to jump start the whole process of delivering scriptural revelation to humanity at large.
So what did Job do, faced with the loss of everything he owned—including his beloved children? “Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away. Blessed be the name of Yahweh.’ In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:20-22) Job mourned, but he didn’t cast blame. All Job had left at this point was his health, a few friends, and his wife—the one who had borne him his ten children. She is mentioned directly only once in this story. We’ll review her reaction shortly.
Meanwhile, back in heaven, we see God “bragging” on Job’s fortitude and faithfulness in the face of adversity. Yahweh began with exactly the same endorsement He had when He and Satan had first discussed the man’s qualities. “Then Yahweh said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause….’” It sounds as if Yahweh had allowed our adversary Satan to play Him like a fiddle—tricking Him into removing His hedge of protection around the one who had served Him so faithfully. But reading between the lines (and considering the rest of the book) I believe that Yahweh purposely used this opportunity to teach the human race a great many things about His nature and plan that we had never had the opportunity to see before. In the end, Yahweh was using Satan’s animosity for our ultimate benefit. Satan (not a name, but a title, a “job description,” meaning “adversary”) may be hateful, tricky, intelligent, and powerful, but he’s always forty moves behind Yahweh.
That being said, it was about to get even worse for poor Job. “So Satan answered Yahweh and said, ‘Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!’ And Yahweh said to Satan, ‘Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life.’ So Satan went out from the presence of Yahweh, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head….” In all of this testing, Satan had strict limits placed upon him, boundaries he could not cross. That is perhaps the most encouraging thing about the story of Job: The devil can do nothing to us that our God has not allowed. That, however, doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen to us. It only means that our trials in this life—up to and including martyrdom—are seen and allowed by God. This in turn means that the tribulations we endure are never pointless. They either teach us something about Yahweh’s ultimate glory, or they are permitted in order to show other people how His love overcomes adversity in our lives—a witness of fortitude. He knows our pain: having manifested Himself as a man, God can honestly say that whatever we have gone through, He has personally experienced worse.
That being said, Job’s boils were no picnic. They were painful, ugly, and disgusting—the worst plague Satan could think of short of taking Job’s life, which was something he had not been given permission to do. “And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes.” It was in this pathetic condition that Job’s wife turned on him in anger and frustration, adding insult to injury. Satan had assumed that given enough pain in his life, Job would “curse God to His face.” But Job endured under pressure. His wife, not so much: “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!’” (Job 2:3-9)
Her frustration was palpable. Job’s friends and peers would later show up to “comfort” and counsel him, assuming that His misfortunes were due to some hidden sin in his life, just as his blessings had been the direct and inevitable result of God rewarding his former righteousness. (God Himself would later point out that they were wrong on both counts, calling their opinions “words without knowledge”). But Job’s wife knew that her husband was still “holding fast to his integrity,” and specifically, that there was no new pattern (or old habit) of wickedness in his life that would account for God’s hand of punishment upon him—and by extension, her. Her reaction in the wake of all this sudden misfortune was, “If Yahweh is no longer going to keep up His end of the bargain by blessing your socks off, then what’s the point in serving Him?” Her mistake, of course, was in her perception that there was a bargain involved. But Job worshiped Yahweh simply because He was God, and thus by definition worthy of adoration—he needed no other reason. Nor should we.
We must remember that she too had lost everything (except her health). Those ten dead sons and daughters had been her children; the wealth and prestige Job had enjoyed had been the foundation of her status in the community. She had labored alongside Job for decades, building a life and a home, raising a family, and establishing their standing, a degree of prestige, among their peers. But the curse of Eve was fully upon her, from the physical pain of childbearing (and the emotional pain of child rearing) to her desire to occupy her husband’s place in the world. The one component of Job’s psyche that she didn’t quite comprehend was his calm and steadfast trust in Yahweh, even though he was suffering. She had looked on the good life she had built with her husband and had thought, as Last-Days Babylon will say, “I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.” (Revelation 18:7) But it had all fallen apart, suddenly, inexplicably, and violently. And she lost her mind, at least temporarily.
Job was quick to correct her: “But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10) I get the impression (though I could be wrong) that she didn’t usually “speak as one of the foolish women speaks.” She was hysterical, and not without reason. Obviously, “cursing God and dying” would solve nobody’s problems—especially hers. So Job, being the “strong one” (even though he was sitting in an ash pit scraping boils with a potsherd) had to get up and pour a bucket of cold water over his wife’s head to bring her back to reality.
And I like to imagine that she stopped ranting, sputtered, blinked, grabbed a towel, and told her husband, “Thanks, honey, I needed that.”
Case Study #4: Deborah and Jael
Any man who has gotten it into his silly little head that Yahweh considers women fundamentally “inferior” to men (just because we men are usually taller and have more physical strength) needs to read the fourth chapter of the Book of Judges. I’m going to quote the whole thing here, because I wouldn’t want anyone to miss any of the nuances of this fascinating tale of how women “took care of business” in theocratic Israel.
The Book of Judges covers the period of time between the conquest of Canaan (after Israel’s forty years of wilderness wandering) and the advent of the monarchy—basically, the four hundred years between Joshua and Samuel. There was a regrettable cycle going on this whole time. Israel would fall into a pattern of evil, ignorance, apostasy, and idolatry, which God would answer by allowing foreign enemies to oppress them. Then the people would cry out to Yahweh for deliverance, and in response He would raise up a “judge,” someone who would pull the nation back together—whether spiritually or militarily. As long as the judge led Israel (notice that I didn’t say “rule”—they had no official status) the nation tended to remain under God’s blessing, mostly because the judge insisted on reverence for Yahweh and His law.
So we read: “When Ehud [the judge who had delivered Israel from Moabite oppression] was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of Yahweh. So Yahweh sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor.” This is that pattern we see over and over again in the Book of Judges, a pattern that had been predicted in gory detail in Deuteronomy 28. There was no shortage of potential enemies, for the Israelites under Joshua and Caleb had failed to finish the job of ridding the Land of pagans. “The commander of his army was Sisera, who dwelt in Harosheth Hagoyim….” The Canaanite power center was in northern Israel at the time. Hazor was between Lake Huleh and the Sea of Galilee. Harosheth Hagoyim (which means “carving—or engraving—of the nations”) was thirty miles or so southwest, not far from Megiddo.
“And the children of Israel cried out to Yahweh; for Jabin had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he had harshly oppressed the children of Israel….” Note that Yahweh didn’t turn off the oppression of the pagans like a light switch at the first sign of Israelite distress, but rather waited half a generation to raise up a judge. In other words, He let the people who had abandoned Him bear the brunt of His “rod of correction,” but He had mercy on their children, who were not directly to blame for turning away from Him.
Here’s where Deborah enters the picture. “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment….” In Deuteronomy 17:8, Moses had instructed that although straightforward civil cases were to be decided locally throughout Israel, tricky or controversial cases involving degrees of punishment were to be brought to the priests at “the place which Yahweh chooses,” commonly understood to be where the tabernacle was set up at the time—in this era, at Shiloh. Deborah was (obviously) not a priest, nor did she live where the tabernacle was, but about ten miles south. So she was by definition one of Israel’s “local” judges, known and recognized for her wisdom in judicial matters, and up until this time, involved only in peaceful arbitration and simple legal decision making. Her role as a prophetess will soon become apparent. (The name “Deborah,” by the way, is derived from the Hebrew verb dabar, meaning: to speak, command, counsel, proclaim, or promise.)
Deborah was a married woman. Her husband (if we may read between the lines) had no problem with her exercising her prophetic gifts or judging disputes between Israelite men. He was as acutely aware of her qualities as any man alive, and was thankful, supportive, and proud of her (not threatened, as some misguided misogynistic pansies might be today). She hadn’t seized his authority. She was merely exercising the gifts Yahweh had given her.
Because of her prophetic gift, she was aware of Yahweh’s specific instructions for the conquest of Canaan—at least in this one instance: “Then she sent and called for Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, ‘Has not Yahweh, God of Israel, commanded, Go and deploy troops at Mount Tabor; take with you ten thousand men of the sons of Naphtali and of the sons of Zebulun; and against you I will deploy Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude at the River Kishon; and I will deliver him into your hand’?...” A few notes on the geography of the thing: Barak lived in Naphtali—up north, not far from where Jabin reigned, at the latitude of the Sea of Galilee. Deborah was some seventy miles to the south, far removed from the Canaanite scourge. She called for the Israelite commander and delivered God’s instruction to him: he was to attack Sisera (Jabin’s general) in his own backyard. Zebulun was Southern Naphtali’s neighbor to the west, and the River Kishon ran through it.
In other words, Deborah’s message was, “Why have you not removed the Canaanite threat where you live? Yahweh is with you. Here are your marching orders: assemble a ten-thousand-man army from the two northern tribes most directly affected by Jabin’s oppression—Naphtali and Zebulun.” The fascinating thing here is that Deborah reported that Yahweh would “deploy” Sisera against the Israelites. That is, He would draw them out and force them to face Barak’s army. God chooses the time and place of battle—and provides the victory. All Barak had to do was show up and swing his sword. Some things never change.
It’s hard to “read” the response of the Israelite commander. “And Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!...’” We’d like to think that Barak wanted Deborah to accompany the expedition because he knew Yahweh was with her: “If she’s there with us, then what can possibly go wrong?” But it’s equally possible that he wanted to test her commitment, ensuring that she wasn’t merely putting words in Yahweh’s mouth based on what she wanted. It’s one thing to say, “I think you need to take on the Canaanites in battle.” It’s something else entirely to declare, “Yahweh commands that you do this.” Barak could merely have been requiring that Deborah put her money where her mouth was—to have some skin in the game.
“So she said, ‘I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for Yahweh will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.’” As we shall see, she wasn’t referring to her own presence with Barak’s army. God had something more provocative in mind. “Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh [i.e., Kedesh-Naphtali, on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee]. And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; he went up with ten thousand men under his command, and Deborah went up with him….” So far, everything is going according to plan. God called Deborah, she called Barak, and he in turn called the soldiers of Zebulun and Naphtali—and they all met at a place called Kedesh (related to the Hebrew word for being set apart, sacred, or holy). From there, they proceeded west to Mount Tabor to challenge Sisera, the Canaanite commander.
But now we’re given a seemingly random bit of information: “Now Heber the Kenite, of the children of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, had separated himself from the Kenites and pitched his tent near the terebinth tree at Zaanaim, which is beside Kedesh….” We were told back in Judges 1:16 that this group had accompanied the Israelites into the Promised Land. The names can get confusing. Moses’ father-in-law was actually Reuel (a.k.a. Jethro). Hobab was Reuel’s son (see Numbers 10:29). He’s called a Kenite here, but he was identified as a Midianite elsewhere. Hobab’s group had settled in Jericho (“the City of Palms”) after the conquest, but his son (or descendant) had later left and moved up north near Kedesh, where Barak’s army assembled (or perhaps the reference is to another city named Kedesh, a city of refuge, still in Naphtali but farther north). Heber, then, wasn’t an Israelite (biologically, anyway) but was rather one of the gentile “mixed multitude” who worshiped Yahweh and settled in the Promised Land with His people. The distinction will loom large as this saga unfolds. Trust me: it will all make sense in a moment.
Meanwhile, back in the camp of the Canaanites, “And they reported to Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor. So Sisera gathered together all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth Hagoyim to the River Kishon.” Just as Deborah had promised, the Canaanites were drawn to the battle like moths to a flame—very numerous, very well-armed moths. “Then Deborah said to Barak, ‘Up! For this is the day in which Yahweh has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not Yahweh gone out before you?’ So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him….”
God, of course, was as good as His word—as it had been delivered by Deborah. “And Yahweh routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth Hagoyim [Sisera’s home town, if you’ll recall], and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left….” Sisera reminds me of one of those cringing Nazi SS officers at the end of World War II, as the Allies closed in on Berlin. He stripped off his uniform and tried to blend in with the civilian population, hoping nobody would recognize him as he tried to make his way to safety in neutral Switzerland, so to speak.
So we read, “However, Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.” Not being Israelites, the house of Heber was not formally at war with Jabin the Canaanite king—and General Sisera knew that. “And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, ‘Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; do not fear.’ And when he had turned aside with her into the tent, she covered him with a blanket. Then he said to her, ‘Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.’ So she opened a jug of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him. And he said to her, ‘Stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes and inquires of you, and says, “Is there any man here?” you shall say, “No.”’”
Sisera presumed (reasonably enough, I suppose) that if the house of Heber was not at war with him, then they could be viewed as allies. But the desire to live in peace with one’s neighbor does not necessarily imply agreement or support for his agenda or actions. True, a peaceful person won’t automatically attack you, even if he or she hates everything you stand for. On the other hand, if you’ve earned a gruesome death, it’s never a good idea to assume that someone’s desire for peace won’t be overwhelmed by the need for justice. “Then Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went down into the ground; for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died. And then, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said to him, ‘Come, I will show you the man whom you seek.’ And when he went into her tent, there lay Sisera, dead with the peg in his temple….”
So it was that, as foretold by the prophetess Deborah, Yahweh delivered the life of the Canaanite tyrant into the hands of a “mere” woman. Jael could never have bested the general in hand-to-hand combat of course, but she knew exactly how to defeat him using his own weaknesses against him—gullibility, fear, thirst, and exhaustion. Jael was careful not to give Sisera any reason to suspect betrayal, for in his desperation, he could easily have killed her and hidden in her tent from his pursuers without her assistance. He needed to feel safe, and she was willing to provide the illusion he craved. The warm blanket was a nice touch. He asked for water, so she provided something “even better,” a drink of fresh milk, nutritious, enjoyable, and loaded with enough tryptophan to put an elephant to sleep—or an exhausted warrior on the run. Having thus incapacitated the enemy of her family’s friend, Jael waited for Sisera to nod off, and killed him in his sleep by driving a tent peg through his temple. “Women’s work,” ironically enough.
Jael, then, became a hero in Israel, though she and her husband weren’t actually Israelites, strictly speaking, but “friends of the family.” The death of the Canaanite commander (not to mention the destruction of his armies) meant that Jabin could not rebound from his defeat. “So on that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan in the presence of the children of Israel. And the hand of the children of Israel grew stronger and stronger against Jabin king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.” (Judges 4)
There may also have been another factor, though I’m admittedly projecting. Today, Islamic fundamentalists are “encouraged” to kill, rape, and plunder in the name of Allah by being promised 72 virgins in paradise if they’re killed in battle. (I have a hard time believing anybody is gullible enough to swallow that, but it’s a well-documented incentive.) However, the deal is off, it is said, if they are slain by women. So since firearms are great equalizers on the battlefield, brigades of Kurdish or Yazidi women have been formed with the specific purpose of robbing ISIS terrorist-fighters of their shot at paradise. (Israel’s vaunted IDF also deploys women.) I understand they have had great success—both in killing the enemy and scaring them spitless. Could it be that the misogynistic Canaanites also lost a great deal of “pagan prestige” by having been defeated by the actions of these two women—Deborah and Jael—who were simply willing to listen to Yahweh?
Considering the fact that women are so often told to “sit down and shut up” by men in this world, it is remarkable how often God endowed them with prophetic gifts in scripture. Specifically called prophetesses (besides Deborah) are such ladies as Miriam, the sister of Moses (Exodus 15:20), Huldah, the wife of Shallum (II Chronicles 34:22; II Kings 22:14), Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3), Anna (Luke 2:36), and the four virgin daughters of Philip the Evangelist (Acts 21:9). Paul issued instructions for women who have the prophetic gift in I Corinthians 11:15. Mary, the mother of our Lord prophesied (Luke 1:46-55), as did her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:42-45). We shall review the prophecy of Hannah, the mother of the prophet/judge Samuel, in a moment.
But (as with male prophets) there are false prophetesses as well. Several are named: Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), and someone named “Jezebel” (possibly a metaphorical alias) who troubled the church at Thyatira (Revelation 2:20). Both false prophets and prophetesses were numerous in the days just preceding the Babylonian conquest of Judah: “‘The prophets of Israel…prophesy concerning Jerusalem, and…see visions of peace for her when there is no peace,’ says Yahweh, God. Likewise, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people who prophesy out of their own heart; prophesy against them, and say, ‘Thus says Yahweh, God: “Woe to the women who sew magic charms on their sleeves and make veils for the heads of people of every height to hunt souls! Will you hunt the souls of My people, and keep yourselves alive? And will you profane Me among My people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, killing people who should not die, and keeping people alive who should not live, by your lying to My people who listen to lies?”’” (Ezekiel 13:16-19) I can only reflect that “false prophetesses” of this sort are back in vast numbers in these Last Days. They too achieve power, prosperity, and prestige by profaning Yahweh and perverting justice. Woe be upon them.
Case Study #5: Ruth
Alas, sometimes it seems as if triumph only follows in the wake of tragedy. Since we are creatures endowed with the privilege of choice, God’s provision and mercy can often be perceived best if contrasted against some catastrophe in our lives—as often as not, self-imposed at some level. The greater the contrast, the clearer the lesson. It’s the first thing they teach you in art school: things show up strongest through dissimilarity—value: dark against light; hue: colors juxtaposed against their complementaries; texture: smooth against rough; saturation: black or white vs. shades of gray.
The story of Ruth is a good example of this principle. It presents a widely recognized scriptural “type” of “the kinsman-redeemer,” the basis of our salvation by grace through faith—but we would be hard pressed to see it if the story had not begun with misfortune, disaster, and heartbreak. The good (love, redemption, and security) is set in stark contrast against the bad (famine, exile, and death).
About three centuries into the age of the Judges, Israel still had the Torah, but they had forgotten why it mattered. (It sort of reminds me of Americans’ current relationship with the Constitution—it’s still in force, but largely misunderstood, maligned, or ignored.) As a result, the “curses” of Deuteronomy 28 had washed over Israel like waves breaking on a beach, one after the other. The pattern was that the people would fall into apostasy and error, then some disaster would befall them, like invaders, famine, or plague, then they would wake up and cry out to Yahweh for deliverance, and then He would appoint a “Judge” to lead them back to His ways. But a generation later, they would again get complacent and slide back into idolatry. And the cycle would begin all over again.
During one such “low spot,” a man named Elimelech packed up his wife and two growing sons and moved to Moab, across the Jordan River to the east, to escape a famine besetting their home—Bethlehem, in Judah. Over the next ten years, Elimelech died, both sons married, and then they died as well—leaving Elimelech’s widow, Naomi, alone in a foreign land with two widowed Moabite daughters-in-law. They were both good girls, and devoted to their mother-in-law, but Naomi, quite reasonably, saw no future for them with her. Since the famine in Israel was finally easing, she decided to go back home, and sadly suggested that her widowed daughters-in-law stay there in their own land, find new husbands, and begin their lives anew.
One daughter, after much soul searching, decided to follow Naomi’s advice. But the other, named Ruth, dug in her heels and refused to leave her side, saying: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. Yahweh do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17) Ruth was so stubborn and determined in her devotion, Naomi finally relented, and the two ladies set out for Israel. But in truth, it would seem that Ruth’s heart had already made the journey: when she had married Chilion, she had also become a worshiper of her husband’s God, Yahweh. For all intents and purposes, she had become a foreigner in her own homeland on her wedding day. I think I know how she felt: I was born an American, and my body still lives (and pays taxes) here. But I consider myself a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. That is where my first (and indeed, only) allegiance lies.
Needless to say, when Naomi and Ruth came back to Bethlehem (Elimelech’s home town), they were poor—almost penniless. But the barley harvest was just beginning (which would place the time of year around Passover), so Ruth (who knew something about Yahweh’s Instructions concerning the poor) suggested that she go out with the other poor folks, who were allowed to follow the reapers and glean the grain that they had missed. This was God’s “welfare system” in theocratic Israel: you wouldn’t get rich, but if you were willing to work hard, you wouldn’t starve to death, either. Landowners were also instructed to leave the corners or edges of their fields, orchards, and vineyards unharvested, for the express purpose of letting the poor come in and gather what grew there. Whatever the land produced was to be shared with the community, and the poor were to be treated with dignity. But if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat.
So Ruth went out to follow the reapers, and worked so diligently, she got herself noticed by one of the local landowners, a wealthy man named Boaz, who, coincidentally, was related to Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. Upon discovering the family connection, Boaz approached Ruth and suggested that she glean only in his fields, where he could protect and provide for her. Boaz explained, “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. Yahweh repay your work, and a full reward be given you by Yahweh, God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge….”
And Ruth graciously accepted his kind offer. “Then she said, ‘Let me find favor in your sight, my lord; for you have comforted me, and have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants.’” (Ruth 2:11-13) Boaz was as good as his word, going so far as to instruct his reapers to “cheat” on Ruth’s behalf—to make sure she could gather a decent amount, even if it meant “accidentally” dropping a sheaf or two in her path. “So she gleaned in the field until evening, and beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.” An “ephah” is about .65 bushels (a bushel being approximately 64 pints) so she brought home 42 pints: over five gallons of grain. It was a really good day’s work for a poor girl who was only authorized to pick up the left-overs. “Then she took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. So she brought out and gave to her what she had kept back after she had been satisfied. And her mother-in-law said to her, ‘Where have you gleaned today? And where did you work? Blessed be the one who took notice of you.’” (Ruth 2:17-19)
Ruth told Naomi that her benefactor was a guy named Boaz. And Naomi’s eyes got really big: “Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘Blessed be he of Yahweh, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!’ And Naomi said to her, ‘This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives.’” (Ruth 2:20) What Ruth didn’t know (but Naomi did) is that God had set up a whole procedure for redemption—the recovery or “buying back” of lost property. The underlying foundation was that the Land belonged to God, and was given to a man and his heirs as their perpetual inheritance. That’s why genealogies are such a big deal in scripture: a family’s possession could never permanently change hands.
But if a man ran into hard times (as Elimelech had), he could “lease” his land to others. For that matter, he could even sell himself (or his children) into indentured servitude—not slavery, per se, but into the service of another—for a period of up to six years. Payment for these services was made up front. On the seventh year, he was to be set free: his debt was paid. This was the law of the Sabbatical year—or at least part of it.
Elimelech had apparently not taken the “indentured servitude” route when times got hard, but he had let his land go, sold—temporarily—to someone else. This is a provision of the law of “Jubilee.” “And you shall count seven sabbaths of years [that is, sabbatical cycles of seven years each] for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.” (Leviticus 25:8-10) “Jubilee” is a transliteration of the Hebrew yobel, a ram’s horn or shofar, the “trumpet” that was to be blown on the Day of Atonement once every fifty years, announcing liberty throughout Israel.
The “value” of a piece of land was based on how many years remained until the next Jubilee—that is, how many crops it could be expected to yield. Moses explains how it was all to work: “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine [Yahweh’s]; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me. And in all the land of your possession you shall grant redemption of the land....” That is, if his fortunes had improved, the one who had “sold” his land always had the right to buy it back—the price, again, being set by the time remaining until the Jubilee. This (apparently) had been Elimelech’s plan: sell his property, move to Moab, invest the money, make a profit, and then come back and redeem his land. He hadn’t planned on dying in Moab, and when his sons and heirs, Mahlon and Chilion, had also died, the whole scheme fell apart.
But wait. There’s more to the law of Jubilee. “If one of your brethren becomes poor, and has sold some of his possession, and if his redeeming relative comes to redeem it, then he may redeem what his brother sold.” The redeemer needn’t be his actual brother, of course. Any near relative would do. “Or if the man has no one to redeem it, but he himself becomes able to redeem it [this was Elimelech’s plan], then let him count the years since its sale, and restore the remainder to the man to whom he sold it, that he may return to his possession. But if he is not able to have it restored to himself, then what was sold shall remain in the hand of him who bought it until the Year of Jubilee; and in the Jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his possession….” If you live long enough, that is. Occurring only once every fifty years, Jubilee can be taken as the classic example of a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity.
The rules are further refined: “If a man sells a house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year he may redeem it. But if it is not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to him who bought it, throughout his generations. It shall not be released in the Jubilee.” We aren’t told what sort of land Elimelech had owned, but Bethlehem was probably not a walled city, even though it had a “gate” at which city business was customarily conducted. “However the houses of villages which have no wall around them shall be counted as the fields of the country. They may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the Jubilee.” (Leviticus 25:23-32)
Jubilee rules, then, were part of the reason Naomi got so excited when she discovered her late husband’s kinsman had taken Ruth under his wing. Would Boaz, perhaps, be willing to redeem Elimelech’s land, the inheritance of his sons? But there was another—apparently unrelated—Torah precept that also (potentially) came into play here. It concerned brothers (perhaps extended to include close male relatives) raising up children for their deceased siblings: “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) The procedure is called “Levirate Marriage.” Naomi’s prospects were not in view here, for she had borne two sons to her husband Elimelech. No, the widow in this case was Ruth, whose husband Chilion had died before they had any children.
Boaz, of course, was not Chilion’s brother. He wasn’t even Elimelech’s brother, so it seems a stretch to apply the principle of Levirate Marriage to Ruth’s case. Be that as it may, the parties involved all thought it appropriate to combine the roles of the kinsman-redeemer (known as the Goel) and that of the surviving Levirate brother. Back in the Book of Ruth, we see how it all played out. Naomi taught Ruth how to broach the subject with Boaz. It wasn’t seduction, exactly, but it was the next best thing. Boaz was winnowing barley on the threshing floor, and to protect his investment, he stayed there overnight. After Boaz fell asleep, Ruth lay down near him, and uncovered his feet (so he’d eventually wake up). When he did, he was startled to find a woman lying there at his feet. Naturally, he asked who she was (it being too dark to identify her).
“So she answered, ‘I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, [literally, “Spread the corner of your garment over your maidservant”] for you are a close relative….’” To “spread a garment over one” is, in this culture, a symbolic action denoting protection. At this point, both Ruth and Boaz knew what was at stake: he was being asked to be her Goel—her kinsman redeemer. And for his part, Boaz was delighted. But it was clear from the start that this was not only a request for the redemption of Elimelech’s sons’ property, but also a marriage proposal. That is, Boaz was willing to take it upon himself to raise up children for his dead “brother” Chilion.
“Then he said, ‘Blessed are you of Yahweh, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich….’” Any other young widow, he noted, would have been desperately looking for a husband to replace Chilion, but Ruth was obviously concerned only with taking care of her mother-in-law, Naomi. Their fates were, as she had said at the very beginning, bound together by love, honor, and devotion. And Boaz, an excellent judge of character, found that very attractive.
But there was a potential wrinkle in the plan: “And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman. Now it is true that I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. Stay this night, and in the morning it shall be that if he will perform the duty of a close relative for you—good; let him do it. But if he does not want to perform the duty for you, then I will perform the duty for you, as Yahweh lives! Lie down until morning….” Boaz had obviously been thinking about this, and he already had a plan formulated in his mind—including a way to “encourage” the other close relative to bow out, as we shall see.
“So she lay at his feet until morning, and she arose before one could recognize another.” I don’t think anybody did much sleeping that night. “Then he said, ‘Do not let it be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.’” The meeting had been perfectly innocent, but it could have been fodder for a scandal neither of them wanted or deserved. “Also he said, ‘Bring the shawl that is on you and hold it.’ And when she held it, he measured six ephahs of barley, and laid it on her. Then she went into the city....” Based on how much she had been able to glean in one very long, hard day’s work, this was equivalent to an entire week’s very successful labor in the fields. It was probably about all Ruth could lift.
Naomi didn’t have to be a psychic to know what it all meant. “When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, ‘Is that you, my daughter?’ Then she told her all that the man had done for her. And she said, ‘These six ephahs of barley he gave me; for he said to me, “Do not go empty-handed to your mother-in-law.”’ Then she [Naomi] said, “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out; for the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day.” (Ruth 3:9-18) They both now knew that the family property would be redeemed by a close relative. The only question was, by whom—Boaz or the other man?
Boaz stationed himself that morning at the entrance of the village, called the “gate,” where matters of civic interest were customarily discussed and decided. And, as he had surmised, his relative (the one who had an even closer relationship to Elimelech than he did) came walking by, on his way to the barley fields. Boaz laid out the issue. “Then he said to the close relative, ‘Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, sold the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech. And I thought to inform you, saying, “Buy it back in the presence of the inhabitants and the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am next after you….”’”
So far, so good. The famine was over, the harvest was going well, and the man had no problem buying back Naomi’s (i.e., Elimelech’s widow’s) debt. “And he said, ‘I will redeem it.’” Boaz was ready for this, so now he played the Levirate Marriage card. “Then Boaz said, ‘On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also buy it from Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance….’” The point was, not only was Elimelech dead, so were his sons. Although the Torah hadn’t specifically spelled it out this way, everyone agreed that in this case, Naomi’s debt and Chilion’s widow were a package deal.
This changed everything for the man, who had heirs of his own who were counting on an undiluted legacy. “And the close relative said, ‘I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I ruin my own inheritance. You redeem my right of redemption for yourself, for I cannot redeem it.’” (Ruth 4:3-6) So everyone got what they wanted. The relative got out of his responsibility without losing face, Boaz gained a young bride of proven, sterling character, Naomi gained security for her beloved daughter-in-law (see Ruth 3:1), not to mention herself, and Ruth gained a wealthy, generous, honorable, and appreciative husband to replace her beloved Chilion. At this point, it’s hard to remember that the story had begun a decade previously with famine, poverty, exile, and death—all of it the result of Israel’s apostasy.
Boaz and Ruth had one son that we know of. His name was Obed (meaning “Servant”). His son was named Jesse, and Jesse’s youngest son was David—Israel’s second king and the ancestor of Yahshua the Messiah—all of which explains why the story of Ruth is recorded in scripture. She was the great-grandmother of Yahweh’s favorite human.
But this isn’t all just history. The story of Ruth and Boaz illustrates at least some of what it means to be a “kinsman-redeemer,” a close relative to whom fell certain duties or privileges, according to the Torah. The Hebrew term for such a person is go’el, derived from the verb ga’al, meaning to redeem, to buy back, or to extricate a relative from difficulty or danger. There are four situations in which the ga’al might be called upon: (1) to deliver from bondage (Leviticus 25:48); (2) to redeem or buy back a kinsman’s possessions that had been sold in time of need (Leviticus 25:26); (3) to avenge his murder, life for life (Numbers 35:19); and (4) to redeem a sacrificial object through a payment (Leviticus 27:13). And as we have seen, the principle of Levirate Marriage might also be considered a go’el’s function.
The act of redemption that looms largest in Old Testament history is, of course, the extrication of Israel from their four centuries of bondage in Egypt. It may not seem like redemption to us, since no money was paid for their release. But (perhaps because their freedom had been stolen in the first place) there was a price to be paid: the lives of the Egyptian firstborn, those who ran afoul of the Passover Principle—that liberty must be paid for in blood. The release of the Israelite slaves from bondage is (if you think about it for a nanosecond) a picture of our release from the bondage of our sins, achieved by the self-sacrifice of the perfect Passover Lamb, Yahshua the Messiah.
Israel, then, is a microcosm, a metaphor for those of us who were enslaved in sin, but who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, if only we’ll apply it to the “doorposts” of our lives. It’s a theme that runs throughout scripture. For example: “Thus says Yahweh, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name. You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you….” The process of redemption, you’ll notice, implies a change in ownership. Having previously sold ourselves into slavery to sin, we have now been bought with a price. God owns us. It also defines an ongoing relationship. Our Redeemer didn’t purchase our freedom only in the past, but He continues to protect us as time moves forward into eternity.
“For I am Yahweh your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place.” Egypt we understand in the historical context, but Ethiopia and Seba (i.e., Africa and Arabia)? Could this be a hint that Israel’s deliverance will once again be purchased, this time at the cost of Muslim lives? Actually, it’s more than a hint: prophetic revelation confirms this notion scores of times. “Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honored, and I have loved you. Therefore I will give men for you, and people for your life.” (Isaiah 43:1-4) Yes, but only people who hate Yahweh and his chosen—because they’re His chosen. God’s preservation and deliverance of Israel, both historically and prophetically, is a scriptural certainty, but let us not forget that the principle of redemption applies to anyone—Jew or gentile—who has a relationship with Yahweh (that is, anyone to whom He has become a “kinsman” through rebirth in His Holy Spirit).
The solution to Ruth’s predicament as a childless widow in dire need of redemption—representing every lost soul on earth—is revealed in another of Isaiah’s prophecies: “‘Sing, O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman,’ says Yahweh….” Ruth’s pre-redemption status as a childless Moabite widow is analogous to the spiritual condition of the unsaved. Prior to our salvation, we are foreigners (to God), strangers, without prospects or progeny. While our redemption is not the result of our own efforts, it is nevertheless true that we do have a role to play in acquiring it—that is, God won’t hunt us down and force it upon us. We must do what Ruth did: move to where Yahweh can bless us, and then ask to be “covered with His garment” of protection, as Ruth did to Boaz. Isaiah here is contrasting the blessings of heaven with those of earth: the poorest widow in God’s care is more blessed than a queen without Him.
When we meet Yahweh on His terms, we can expect a miraculous transformation in our own lives: “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings. Do not spare; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations, and make the desolate cities inhabited. Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed, neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame. For you will forget the shame of your youth, and will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore….” He’s speaking to Israel, but remember: Israel is a metaphor for all who receive the grace of Yahweh’s redemption. This is not to say that Israel won’t be literally transformed as described, but ironically, they will be the last to do so as a nation.
They will eventually discover, as the church already has, what redemption is all about: “‘For your Maker is your husband, Yahweh of hosts is His name, and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. He is called the God of the whole earth. For Yahweh has called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit [like Ruth, it would appear], like a youthful wife when you were refused,’ says your God. ‘For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,’ says Yahweh, your Redeemer.” (Isaiah 54:1-8) The restoration and redemption of Israel—as a nation—is by far the most often-repeated prophetic theme in scripture. Their national sins (such as the rejection of their Messiah) have compelled God to “forsake” them “for a mere moment”—almost two thousand years now (as revealed subtly in Hosea 6:2). But His promises are inviolable. If I’m not mistaken, we are on the very cusp of the fulfillment of all these things.
But keep in mind that the deliverance of Israel is but a symbol of our redemption as individual sinners. Paul appeals to the Torah and the Prophets to explain what’s really going on: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ [Deuteronomy 27:26] But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith.” [Habakkuk 2:4] Yet the law is not of faith, but ‘the man who does them shall live by them.’ [Leviticus 18:5] Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ [Deuteronomy 21:23]), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:10:14)
From what are we “redeemed”? He says, “…from the curse of the law.” The Law (the Torah) is a good thing, is it not? It is the very Instruction Manual of God. So how could it possibly be a curse? The same way any other instruction manual can be a curse—if we don’t do what it said. If my car’s owner’s manual says to get the oil changed every 5,000 miles, but I wait until I’ve got 50,000 on the odometer, then it “curses” me when my engine goes up in smoke. Likewise, the Torah is only a curse if we fail to keep it. The problem is, nobody keeps it! Not in its entirety—we all fall short of its perfect life-giving requirements.
All of us, then, need to be redeemed from our pitiable fallen state—just as Ruth was. Just because it’s historical, there’s no reason not to view the “players” in the Book of Ruth as “types” of what happens in God’s plan for our redemption from sin. Chilion, Ruth’s deceased husband, represents our best-laid plans—our search for God’s favor and blessing: religion, if you will. His mother, Naomi, is the rough equivalent of the Holy Spirit—the One with “kin” in the Promised Land, the one who arranges our meeting with the redeemer. If we, like Ruth, faithfully follow her, we will find relief from our spiritual poverty. Ruth represents the gentile church, the foreigner whose devoted relationship with God’s people (though compromised themselves) has brought her to God’s barley field, where the cure for spiritual poverty is to be found, if we seek it diligently in faith. And finally, Boaz, the owner of the barley field, is a type of Christ—the go’el, the kinsman redeemer who buys back our lost life, at great personal expense, if only we’ll ask Him, if only we’ll trust Him.
We can’t push these metaphors too far without breaking them, of course, but that’s the general scenario. The dynamic between Ruth and Boaz is where the depth of God’s love for us is revealed. Boaz took notice of Ruth because she was honest, sincere, and diligent, though she initially had no idea what “redemption” was all about. Likewise (in my experience), God never turns away an honest searcher for the truth, even if beginning in a position of total ignorance. Ruth was expecting to glean barely enough to keep her and her mother-in-law alive, and that was sufficient for her. She was surprised and delighted, no doubt, to be noticed by the landowner, be taken under his wing, and blessed materially. And she was surely shocked to discover that he wished to marry her—to transform her entire life. How odd it would have been if Ruth had said, “Boaz isn’t exactly what I was expecting; this is too good to be true, and besides, he’s not all that sexy. There must be a catch—I’m not buying it.” And yet, most of the world looks at Yahshua of Nazareth and says something very much like that. It’s insane.
Case Study #6: Hannah
As with Job and Ruth, Yahweh often uses adversity to achieve His purposes or draw out characteristics in us that might never have surfaced otherwise. Such was the case with Hannah, one of the two wives of a godly man named Elkanah. In an age in which having children was considered the greatest blessing a woman could receive from Yahweh, Hannah remained barren. (My, how far we have fallen. Today, children are too often regarded as a curse, to the extent than one out of four of them worldwide—45 million out of about 178 million children conceived every year—are murdered in the womb so they won’t pose an “inconvenience.” And we wonder why God is livid with the human race.)
It wasn’t for lack of trying. Elkanah loved Hannah in every conceivable way. Yet his other wife, Peninnah, had borne children, and Hannah had not. The fact of the matter was bad enough, but Peninnah had a habit of flaunting her maternal status, making Hannah doubly miserable. It was hardest on her at those occasions when the whole family made the short journey to Shiloh, where the tabernacle was in those days. Elkanah provided offering portions for Peninnah and all of her sons and daughters, but he always gave a double portion to Hannah, recognizing her distress and comforting her as best he could.
On one such Feast, Hannah could bear it no longer. She came to the sanctuary and in anguish of spirit, fell before God in prayer: “O Yahweh of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to Yahweh all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” (I Samuel 1:11) You may recognize this as the heart of the Nazirite vow of dedication to Yahweh (Numbers 6:1-21), normally an intense but temporary voluntary spiritual undertaking that was also characterized by the complete separation from wine or grape products and from proximity with dead bodies. Other cradle-to-grave Nazirites mentioned in scripture were Sampson and John the Baptist.
The High Priest, Eli, saw Hannah crumpled on the ground sobbing, and presumed she was drunk. But she explained her plight, and told him, “‘I have poured out my soul before Yahweh. Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.’ Then Eli answered and said, ‘Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.’” (I Samuel 1:15-17) Then, sad no more, Hannah rejoined her family and returned home. Shortly thereafter, she conceived, and she bore Samuel (which means “Heard by God”).
Hannah’s knowledge of (and reverence for) the Torah was demonstrated by her reference to the Nazirite vow. But she also took to heart a fundamental principle explaining God’s plan for our redemption—something that had been acted out in the tenth plague of the exodus. Yahweh had said, “Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine.” (Exodus 13:2) And, “The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. Likewise you shall do with your oxen and your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me.” (Exodus 22:29-30) It was all an elaborate dress rehearsal of the drama Yahweh would perform for the sake of mankind—offering up His own “firstborn Son,” Yahshua, to atone for our sins.
Hannah knew, no doubt, that the firstborn of the exodus generation had been substituted for the tribe of Levi (who would henceforth own no territory within the Promised Land, for Yahweh Himself was their inheritance, but would instead receive the tithe from the other tribes of Israel). Other firstborn Israelite males were to be redeemed with a price: a ransom of five silver shekels each. Although subsequent firstborn Israelites were to be redeemed with a sacrifice—a clean animal, slain and eaten—Hannah’s heart went straight to the core principle: the firstborn—her firstborn—belonged to Yahweh.
So she kept the boy at home with her for a few years, but made extraordinary plans for his future as a man of God: “Now when she had weaned him, she took him up [to the tabernacle] with her, with three bulls [one the burnt offering with which the child was consecrated, and the other two normal festival offerings, one probably a peace offering, and the other a sin offering], one ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of Yahweh in Shiloh. And the child was young.” Children were normally weaned from the breast by their third birthday, but Gill’s Exposition, for other reasons, place Samuel’s age as late as nine or ten here. His service, after all, was meant to assist the High Priest, not be a burden or encumbrance to him. My guess (because Hannah made her growing boy a new robe every year) would be about eight years old—a bit “young,” as the text says, for an apprentice, but not too young to be helpful (and perfectly in line—if you take a day for a year—with the Exodus 22:30 precept). “Then they slaughtered a bull, and brought the child to Eli. And she said, ‘O my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood by you here, praying to Yahweh. For this child I prayed, and Yahweh has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I also have lent him to Yahweh; as long as he lives he shall be lent to Yahweh.’ So they worshiped Yahweh there.” (I Samuel 1:24-28)
Like most Christian parents, my wife and I sincerely desire for our children to follow our Lord—and as adults, some of them have, though others, not so much. But even if there had existed a mechanism whereby we could have “lent our firstborn son to Yahweh” as Hannah did when she “gave” Samuel to the High Priest, it never would have occurred to us to do what she did. Was it the fact that she had been barren for so long? (I have no way of knowing. Our first child was born to us two and a half years after we were married, so I’m a little short on insight here.) Hannah’s total dedication to God was certainly a factor, though many have been similarly devoted, without doing anything quite so remarkable.
Reading between the lines (again), we can presume that Elkanah was not only willing to go along with his wife’s “extreme” act of devotion, but was proud, inspired, and thankful to have such a godly woman as a wife. (I know I am.) Meanwhile, “Samuel ministered before Yahweh, even as a child, wearing a linen ephod.” It was the garb of a priest—albeit a short one. “Moreover his mother used to make him a little robe, and bring it to him year by year when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. And Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, ‘Yahweh give you descendants from this woman for the loan that was given to Yahweh.” (I Samuel 2:18-20) And Yahweh (not surprisingly, if you know how He works) answered Hannah’s faithfulness (and Eli’s prayer) with five more children—three sons and two daughters.
Not to stray too far from the subject of Hannah, but it’s worth noting that as Samuel grew up in the tabernacle, he was learning to fulfill the role of the High Priest of Israel—though his father was of the tribe of Ephraim, not Levi. Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were corrupt and irreverent, and would both die before their time—on the same day. But under Eli’s tutelage, Samuel became the man they should have been. So we read, “And the child Samuel grew in stature, and in favor both with Yahweh and men.” (I Samuel 2:26) Sound familiar? It should. The young Yahshua was described in very similar terms (Luke 2:40) after (at the age of twelve) having spent three days astonishing the scholars and rabbis with His wisdom in the temple. Samuel is thus a dress rehearsal for the Messiah—a thought bolstered by a scathing prophecy delivered to Eli concerning his two unfaithful sons by an unnamed “man of God.” This prophet went on to say, “Then I [Yahweh] will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever.” (I Samuel 2:35) He was hinting at Samuel’s future role in Israel, but the long-view reference is clearly to Christ our intercessor.
Samuel would indeed become the de facto High Priest of Israel, the last judge of the age, the first prophet worthy of the title, and the anointer of kings. But when we consider his role as Israel’s premier prophet, we must acknowledge that he got his gifts honestly: the prophetic apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. Listen to the words of his mother Hannah, recorded (apparently) when she first took her son to the temple:
“My heart rejoices in Yahweh. My horn [read: strength] is exalted in Yahweh. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation.” That is, the power of Yahweh gives her confidence in the face of her detractors (for instance, the proud Peninnah). “No one is holy like Yahweh, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly. Let no arrogance come from your mouth, for Yahweh is the God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed….” Our adversaries may feel they have reason to be proud when they compare themselves to us. But compared to the strength and knowledge of our God, any expression of human pride is utter foolishness. Yahweh plus anyone is a majority; the weakest of us, operating in Yahweh’s strength, is a “superhero.”
And it’s more than mere comparative strength. Yahweh delights in elevating the weak and humbling the strong. He makes a habit of breaking our pride by turning the tables on us: “The bows of the mighty men are broken, and those who stumbled are girded with strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, and the hungry have ceased to hunger. Even the barren has borne seven, and she who has many children has become feeble….” Ellicott’s Commentary notes, “There is a curious Jewish legend which relates how for each boy child that was born to Hannah, two of Peninnah’s died.” Impossible to verify, of course. But remember, this was written before Hannah had any children other than Samuel. For those keeping score, Hannah ended up with a total of six children. So the “seven” spoken of here isn’t a personal prophecy, but a symbolic statement: seven is the number of completion, of perfection, of the fullness of God’s blessing (cf. Ruth 4:15). Hannah was positive that Yahweh would reward her faithfulness with “the perfect family.”
Her point was that our lives are in Yahweh’s hands, so the only course of action that makes any sense at all is to honor Him. “Yahweh kills and makes alive. He brings down to the grave and brings up. Yahweh makes poor and makes rich. He brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory. For the pillars of the earth are Yahweh’s, and He has set the world upon them.” The principle is not that the great will automatically be humbled, and vice versa, but rather that God honors those who honor Him. “He will guard the feet of His saints, but the wicked shall be silent in darkness. For by strength no man shall prevail. The adversaries of Yahweh shall be broken in pieces. From heaven He will thunder against them. Yahweh will judge the ends of the earth….” That’s a prophecy (repeated ad infinitum in scripture) that will be fulfilled only in the Last Days—our days, if I’m not mistaken.
Her last statement is amazing. “He will give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.” (I Samuel 2:1-10) When this was written, Israel had never had a king. In fact, her own son would be called upon to anoint Israel’s first two kings, Saul and David. It’s a good news, bad news, story, for although the monarchy would eventually establish Yahweh’s Messiah on the throne of Israel (not to mention planet Earth), it initially represented a rebellion against the direct rule of God:
Thus we read, “[It] displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ So Samuel prayed to Yahweh. And Yahweh said to Samuel, ‘Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day—with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.’” (I Samuel 8:6-9) Samuel did just that, informing them that any human king they set over themselves would conscript their sons and daughters to serve him, tax them half to death, and seize their property and redistribute it to curry favor. Sound familiar? Human government may sound like a good idea on paper, but in reality, it’s the very ball and chain that enslaves us. Even the “best” systems ever devised—like America’s Constitutional Republic—are riddled with holes just begging to be exploited by evil, proud, and greedy men.
The really scary thing about this whole scene is that it demonstrates that God lets us choose our own fate, our own destiny. It’s the height of irony: if we choose to live under His scepter-of-iron rule, we’ll get liberty, prosperity, and peace. If we choose our own path, we’ll get lost. If we walk according to our own lights, we’ll run into things we didn’t see lurking there in the darkness. If we choose the lesser of two evils, we’ll still get evil.
But human government was not what Hannah was talking about (whether she knew it or not). Read those last couple of sentences again: “Yahweh will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.” This is a messianic prophecy. She’s prophesying concerning the last judgment, and of the fact that Yahweh will, in His own good time, exercise undisputed hegemony over the entire earth, and He will do so through the agency of a King He Himself will appoint, anoint, and empower—because that King is Yahshua, God in flesh.
Case Study #7: David’s wives—Michal, Abigail, and Bathsheba
David was Israel’s greatest king because he loved and trusted Yahweh, not because he was fastidious about keeping the fine points of the Torah. Alas, we have innumerable bits of evidence that lead us to believe that even if he knew the precepts of Moses, he didn’t bother keeping them beyond what his conscience would dictate—and sometimes not even that far. Case in point: he ended up with at least eight wives—Michal, Ahinoam, Abigail, Maacah, Haggith, Abital, Eglah, and Bathsheba, plus many concubines—in direct violation of God’s Law: “Neither shall he [Israel’s King] multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away.” (Deuteronomy 17:17)
Three of David’s wives stand out as “profile material.” The differences between them can teach us a great deal about what might make good (or bad) “wife candidates.” Michal is a caricature of immaturity, entitlement, and foolishness. Abigail, in contrast, shows us what reason, intelligence, and wisdom in a wife look like. Bathsheba is the very image of naiveté and gullibility.
Israel’s first king was named Saul. Though impressive of bearing and valiant on the battlefield, he had no heart (or head) for the will of Yahweh. The young David crossed paths with him on several unlikely occasions—first as the court minstrel whose deft touch on the lyre soothed Saul’s troubled soul, then as the slayer of the mighty Goliath, then as Saul’s armor-bearer and bodyguard, then as the best friend of Saul’s son, Prince Jonathan, and finally as the king’s son-in-law. As he matured, David became known as a mighty warrior in his own right—greater even than King Saul.
But before the two had even met, Yahweh had removed his Spirit from the tone-deaf king, placed it instead on young David, and had sent the prophet Samuel to anoint the shepherd boy as Israel’s next king. (One gets the distinct impression that Saul might not have not have taken to David quite so readily if he had known that.) As it was, as David’s fame increased, Saul grew jealous—to the point of wanting David dead—even though he had become an irreplaceable asset in Israel’s war effort against the Philistines.
So it was with a deceitful heart that Saul offered his eldest daughter to David in marriage. “Then Saul said to David, ‘Here is my older daughter Merab; I will give her to you as a wife. Only be valiant for me, and fight Yahweh’s battles.’ For Saul thought, ‘Let my hand not be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.’ So David said to Saul, ‘Who am I, and what is my life or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?’” The whole idea came as a shock to David, who came by his humility naturally, as the youngest of eight brothers—the “runt of the litter,” as it were. Saul wants to make me royalty? This doesn’t compute. But while David dithered, Saul found another husband for Merab. “But it happened at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, that she was given to Adriel the Meholathite as a wife….”
It would appear that Saul couldn’t keep his commitments straight. That should have been a clue to David that Saul couldn’t be trusted. But he was still a little awestruck (or perhaps intimidated: one simply didn’t say “no” to the king). As it turned out, however, there was more than one princess Saul could recruit—and the other one actually liked the handsome young shepherd-warrior. “Now Michal, Saul’s daughter, was in love with David. And they told Saul, and the thing pleased him.” For all the wrong reasons. “So Saul said, ‘I will give her to him, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.’ Therefore Saul said to David a second time, ‘You shall be my son-in-law today.’ And Saul commanded his servants, ‘Communicate with David secretly, and say, ‘Look, the king has delight in you, and all his servants love you. Now therefore, become the king’s son-in-law.’ So Saul’s servants spoke those words in the hearing of David….”
David was still having trouble with the concept, however. For one thing, how was he supposed to come up with an appropriate dowry for a princess? “And David said, ‘Does it seem to you a light thing to be a king’s son-in-law, seeing I am a poor and lightly esteemed man?’” It was true he wasn’t wealthy (yet), but David was anything but “lightly esteemed.” His natural humility, however, made the accolades being heaped upon him (e.g. “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten-thousands”) seem somehow unreal—not to be taken seriously. Even Princess Michal was star-struck—she was David’s “warrior groupie,” whether he knew it or not. “And the servants of Saul told him, saying, ‘In this manner David spoke.’ Then Saul said, ‘Thus you shall say to David: “The king does not desire any dowry but one hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to take vengeance on the king’s enemies….”’”
The more things change, the more they stay the same: then as now, you can’t trust a politician (at least one who isn’t driven by honor and integrity precipitated by reverence for Yahweh—a rare thing indeed). “But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines….” Saul was not above killing David with his own two hands—something he had already tried to do on several occasions. But David was now a hero in Israel: murdering him personally wouldn’t do the paranoid king’s image any good at all. So he devised a plot: send the hated hero into harm’s way, against what looked like impossible odds. That way, his death in battle would merely seem “unfortunate,” and Saul could feign sorrow while giving him a hero’s funeral.
“So when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to become the king’s son-in-law.” David wasn’t yet jaded enough to see through Saul’s duplicity. All he could see was the opportunity to marry into the royal family. Saul was, after all, “Yahweh’s anointed,” something David took very seriously. We aren’t given one hint as to how he felt about Michal at this point. Face it: he had been willing to marry her older sister Merab on the same terms. “Now the days had not expired.” Saul had set a deadline, designed, of course, to rush David into making fatal tactical errors. But David didn’t know he was supposed to go out and get himself killed. “Therefore David arose and went, he and his men, and killed two hundred men of the Philistines.” Saul had demanded one hundred—David went the extra mile, doubling it.
The foreskins of enemy penises may seem like an odd dowry, but it proved that the fallen were indeed uncircumcised Philistine males (and not merely unfortunate Israelites whom David had murdered for convenience—something someone of Saul’s flawed character might have done). “And David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full count to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him Michal his daughter as a wife….” We aren’t told what Michal thought of the arrangement. She probably thought, “Eeeeeew, gross.”
The whole plot had backfired on the deceitful, backstabbing king. Not only was David not dead (even after having endured twice the danger required), he was now Saul’s own son-in-law. “Thus Saul saw and knew that Yahweh was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him, and Saul was still more afraid of David. So Saul became David’s enemy continually. Then the princes of the Philistines went out to war. And so it was, whenever they went out, that David behaved more wisely than all the servants of Saul, so that his name became highly esteemed.” (I Samuel 18:17-30)
Saul’s paranoia concerning David would alienate both his son Jonathan and his daughter Michal. On one occasion, Michal even warned David to flee from her father, whom she had heard planning to murder her husband on the following day. She aided in his escape, letting him down through a back window (presumably because the front door was being watched by Saul’s goons) and then buying time by dressing up a dummy and placing it in bed, as if David had fallen ill. But when her ruse was discovered, she told her father the king that David had threatened to kill her if she didn’t help him—a bald-faced lie, but one that Saul was willing to believe. While David was on the run, Saul annulled the marriage and gave Michal to another man, one Palti (or Paltiel). But later (after the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, and after David had been confirmed as king of Judah), David annulled the annulment, negotiating with Saul’s heir Ishbosheth for the return of his wife Michal, leaving the hapless Paltiel spouseless.
None of that was the basis of Michal’s enduring reputation. Until this time, she had been little more than a pawn in the hands of powerful men, doing what she had to in order to survive. She is remembered, rather, for what happened later, when her husband, now King of the united Israel, moved the Ark of the Covenant to his new capital city—Jerusalem. In David’s mind, this was the crowning achievement of his reign—the irrefutable association of reverence for Yahweh with Israel’s monarchy. So he celebrated with every fiber of his being:
“Then David danced before Yahweh with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod.” I Chronicles 14:27 reports that he was also wearing a robe of fine linen, like those being worn by the Levites who bore the ark. “So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of Yahweh with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet….” Such spontaneous and unrestrained celebration had likely never been seen before in Israel. The ark was the symbolic location of Yahweh’s presence on earth—the object upon which the Shekinah had rested during the wilderness wanderings. The tabernacle in which it was housed had moved from place to place during the age of the judges, but everyone now sensed that the City of David, Jerusalem, Zion, was to be its permanent home—the place where Yahweh had chosen to make His name abide forever. So David led his nation in uninhibited celebratory worship, the sort of thing we probably won’t see again until the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
It is said that two things are doomed to failure: a woman who expects her man to change, and a man who expects his woman to stay the same. Michal had fallen madly in love with David when he had, as a teenager, killed Goliath in single combat, and had celebrated God’s victory by carrying the giant’s severed head around with him for a whole day. But now, a couple of decades later, she had grown dignified, refined, and used to decorum and propriety, as was befitting the daughter and wife of kings. She knew what to wear, how to act, which fork to use, and what to say to impress foreign dignitaries and servants alike. David, not so much.
“Now as the ark of Yahweh came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before Yahweh; and she despised him in her heart….” Like her father Saul, Michal had no heart for the genuine worship of Yahweh. The passion and enthusiasm David openly and unabashedly displayed—without regard for his dignity or rank—was disgusting to her. She would have been fine, I suppose, with a solemn and stately procession led by the High Priest, accompanied by the king and his retinue in all their royal finery, but this—to show genuine and uninhibited zeal for a God she didn’t know, and didn’t want to know—was just too much to stomach.
“So they brought the ark of Yahweh, and set it in its place in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it.” We’re not told whether this was the tabernacle of Exodus fame (which would have been half a millennium old by this time). I’d like to think it was. “Then David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before Yahweh.” Burnt offerings (the olah) were an expression of pure homage to Yahweh, performed for celebration, atonement, or worship. They were totally consumed upon the altar—something Michal would doubtless have considered a waste. Peace offerings (the selem) were a spontaneous expression of praise to Yahweh, given as a way to express one’s thanksgiving for answered prayer, to underscore the seriousness of a vow the worshiper was taking, or as a freewill offering to show one’s devotion. Peace offerings were to be eaten, shared between the priests and the worshipers. That made the whole affair a big party, a national barbeque. “And when David had finished offering burnt offerings and peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of Yahweh of hosts. Then he distributed among all the people, among the whole multitude of Israel, both the women and the men, to everyone a loaf of bread, a piece of meat, and a cake of raisins. So all the people departed, everyone to his house….” It’s remarkable how often the worship of Yahweh as described in the Torah entails food, parties, and celebration. He delights in supplying what our bodies need, and what we enjoy.
Only after “all the people” were fed and blessed did David take care of his own family’s needs: “Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, ‘How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!’” Her sarcasm was taken for what it was—a repudiation of David and his God. So he not-so-gently reminded her why he was now the king: “So David said to Michal, ‘It was before Yahweh, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of Yahweh, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before Yahweh. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor….’” In Yahweh’s world, humility outdistances dignity by a country mile, and arrogance has no place at all.
So there were personal consequences for the proud princess. “Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.” (II Samuel 6:14-23) We aren’t told, so I can’t be dogmatic, but I read between the lines here that God didn’t have to miraculously close Michal’s womb. Rather, it would seem that David was so disgusted by her attitude, he simply refused to visit her bed from that point forward. The response to her arrogance was to let her sit there for the rest of her life watching David’s other wives and concubines bear him children, one after the other.
Power, wealth, or fame can apparently make you a little crazy. But it’s not automatic: David, for instance, was renowned throughout Israel, but he didn’t have an arrogant bone in his body. Another example: while on the run from Saul, David ran into a rich man named Nabal whose wealth made him insufferable, but whose wife, Abigail, somehow remained untouched by money madness.
David eventually gathered about six hundred warriors about him, and not all of them were known for their godly character. But under his leadership, they generally behaved themselves, roaming the countryside partly to protect Israelites from marauding Philistines and other threats—and partly to avoid Saul’s goons. They found themselves near Carmel, west of the Dead Sea, about twenty-five miles south of Jebus—which would soon become David’s capital city, Jerusalem.
“When David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep, David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, ‘Go up to Carmel, go to Nabal, and greet him in my name. And thus you shall say to him who lives in prosperity: “Peace be to you, peace to your house, and peace to all that you have! Now I have heard that you have shearers. Your shepherds were with us, and we did not hurt them, nor was there anything missing from them all the while they were in Carmel. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever comes to your hand to your servants and to your son David.”’” David’s band had been a hedge about Nabal’s operation for some time, and had never “appropriated” anything from him. Now they wished to celebrate the Passover (sheep are shorn in the spring), and asked Nabal for a few animals—whatever he felt comfortable contributing from his flocks. It would have presented no hardship: Nabal owned three thousand sheep and a thousand goats, all of which had been kept safe under David’s protection. “So when David’s young men came, they spoke to Nabal according to all these words in the name of David, and waited….”
His answer would reveal his character. “Then Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, ‘Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse?’” Of course he knew who David was. Everyone knew who David was, and what he had accomplished in the interests of making Israel safe. Nabal was merely saying, “David doesn’t impress me. I respect no one, neither God nor man.” Then he called David and his young men frauds and rebels, who ought to go back and surrender themselves to Saul: “There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master.” Then he shifted gears again and claimed to be looking out for the interests of his own employees in refusing to grant David’s request: “Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?” Admit it, Nabal, you’re just a greedy, selfish old coot, and everybody knows it. As the text puts it, he was “harsh and evil in his doings.”
And shortsighted, it would appear. “So David’s young men turned on their heels and went back; and they came and told him all these words.” What did Nabal think would happen when six hundred armed and seasoned warriors were insulted, disrespected, and denied one small favor? David lost his temper. “Then David said to his men, ‘Every man gird on his sword.’ So every man girded on his sword, and David also girded on his sword. And about four hundred men went with David, and two hundred stayed with the supplies....” It wasn’t his finest moment, I’ll admit. But David wasn’t exactly renowned for his impulse control. Just ask Goliath.
Nabal’s field hands smelled trouble coming. They knew their boss was a fool, but his wife Abigail was known for knowing what to do when her husband did dumb things like this. “Now one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, ‘Look, David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master; and he reviled them. But the men were very good to us, and we were not hurt, nor did we miss anything as long as we accompanied them, when we were in the fields. They were a wall to us both by night and day, all the time we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore, know and consider what you will do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his household. For he is such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to him....” One gets the feeling this wasn’t the first time Abigail had been called upon to extricate Nabal & Co. from a self-imposed disaster.
So she sprang into action, doing what her idiot of a husband should have done in the first place: “Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep already dressed, five seahs of roasted grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded them on donkeys. And she said to her servants, ‘Go on before me; see, I am coming after you.’ But she did not tell her husband Nabal.” You may “fault” Abigail for being less than “submissive” to her husband, but she was pretty sure she was saving his life—and those of his employees. That, I’d say, is a higher form of respect than blind obedience in the face of suicidal arrogance. In other words, love trumps submissive behavior.
Haste was of the essence. She knew David by reputation—when a war needed fighting, he was not one to wait around to ponder the ramifications or count the cost. “So it was, as she rode on the donkey, that she went down under cover of the hill; and there were David and his men, coming down toward her, and she met them. Now David had said, ‘Surely in vain I have protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belongs to him. And he has repaid me evil for good. May God do so, and more also, to the enemies of David, if I leave one male of all who belong to him by morning light….’” Let’s be honest, David. Wiping out Nabal and his entire entourage because he was too stingy to give you a few sheep with which to celebrate the Passover is hardly a fair or even-handed response. Under Torah rules (with which David wasn’t particularly conversant, but should have been) the punishment would have precisely fit the crime. Perhaps it would have been: “No sheep were provided by Nabal—so there’ll be no more protection for Nabal’s sheep. Time to move to someplace we’re appreciated, lads.” It’s not as if Nabal had welshed on a contract or anything. David had been protecting him simply because he was an Israelite. He was merely doing the right thing.
“Now when Abigail saw David, she dismounted quickly from the donkey, fell on her face before David, and bowed down to the ground. So she fell at his feet and said: ‘On me, my lord, on me let this iniquity be! And please let your maidservant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your maidservant. Please, let not my lord regard this scoundrel Nabal. For as his name is, so is he: Nabal [literally: fool] is his name, and folly is with him!...” What kind of parents name their child “Fool”? Perhaps it was a nickname, picked up in his youth. But more likely, they meant to name him Nabel (spelled the same in Hebrew), meaning a wine jug, or a harp or lyre—a hopeful metaphor for happiness and prosperity.
“But I, your maidservant, did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent. Now therefore, my lord, as Yahweh lives and as your soul lives, since Yahweh has held you back from coming to bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hand, now then, let your enemies and those who seek harm for my lord be as Nabal. And now this present which your maidservant has brought to my lord, let it be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your maidservant.” It wasn’t remotely Abi’s fault that she hadn’t been around when Nabal had acted so insolently, but she was willing to take the blame anyway if it would help to diffuse the situation. She presented the gift that her husband should have given—the token of appreciation David had asked for, with which to celebrate the feast of Yahweh. Abigail knew that the worst thing David could have done—to his own reputation and that of his God—would have been to avenge himself on her clueless and classless husband, Nabal. Vengeance belonged to Yahweh alone. Abigail knew this, but David (who was used to being the sword in Yahweh’s hand) had forgotten.
Then she uttered an amazing prophecy concerning David’s legacy: “For Yahweh will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord fights the battles of Yahweh, and evil is not found in you throughout your days. Yet a man [Saul] has risen to pursue you and seek your life, but the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with Yahweh your God; and the lives of your enemies He shall sling out, as from the pocket of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when Yahweh has done for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you ruler over Israel, that this will be no grief to you, nor offense of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood without cause, or that my lord has avenged himself.” In other words, she was telling David that he would be glad later that he had not taken matters into his own hands with Nabal, and she was right. It’s rather remarkable that she could perceive even at this early date that the throne of Israel would fall to David, who was living as a fugitive. Then she says, “But when Yahweh has dealt well with my lord, then remember your maidservant….” In other words, “When God has established your rule, David, don’t forget who prevented you from doing something stupid.”
David immediately came to his senses when faced with the truth. It’s called repentance, and David got very good at it as the years went by, for he had much to repent from. “Then David said to Abigail: ‘Blessed is Yahweh, God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! And blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand. For indeed, as Yahweh, God of Israel lives, who has kept me back from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, surely by morning light no males would have been left to Nabal!’ So David received from her hand what she had brought him, and said to her, ‘Go up in peace to your house. See, I have heeded your voice and respected your person….’”
David had been dealt with, and he (being as wise as he was impetuous) was grateful for Abigail’s cool head. It remained for her only to inform Nabal about what had happened, for Abigail was a loyal, submissive wife, who would not presume to hide such a thing from her husband. She owed him an explanation. “Now Abigail went to Nabal, and there he was, holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. And Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; therefore she told him nothing, little or much, until morning light.” There was no point in telling the fool what had transpired until he was in his right mind. People do stupid things when they’re drunk. “So it was, in the morning, when the wine had gone from Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became like a stone….” Imagine being told, “I went behind your back and did for David precisely what you refused to do. Oh, and by the way, it’s the only reason he didn’t come back here and kill you. You’re welcome.” We have to read between the lines, but it appears that Nabal did not react with humility and thanksgiving, as David had. We aren’t told whether this was an actual heart attack, or merely the shock of being faced at last with the consequences of his own corruption, but Nabal was literally petrified with fear at the prospect of what had almost happened.
“Then it happened, after about ten days, that Yahweh struck Nabal, and he died….” God gave Nabal another week and a half to ponder his pathetic, pointless life, and then He slew him. In case you haven’t noticed, this sort outcome—of Yahweh personally taking proactive vengeance on a specific mortal life—is extremely rare in scripture. When He does this, He always seems to have a very important point to make. Examples: (1) The Egyptian firstborn: only the blood of the Lamb can save you; (2) the exodus complainers: trust God for deliverance and provision; (3) Nadab and Abihu: regard Yahweh with reverence; (4) Uzzah with the Ark of the Covenant: do not treat God’s holy symbols as profane; (5) Ananias and Saphira: don’t lie to God; (6) Herod being struck down with a worm infection: don’t take for yourself the honor due only to God.
There are a few other examples, but you get the idea. The only reason Yahweh ever proactively slays someone is to demonstrate that He is Holy: He is to be treated with reverence and respect, and His plan for our salvation is inviolable. The death of the irreverent Nabal falls within these parameters: he showed disrespect and arrogance toward God’s anointed, David, the man through whom would come the Messiah. The moral of the story: be respectful toward everyone, for you never know who Yahweh has chosen as His vessel—even a ragged fugitive.
In this case, there may also be a not-so-subtle Messianic prophecy in play: “So when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, ‘Blessed be Yahweh, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and has kept His servant from evil! For Yahweh has returned the wickedness of Nabal on his own head.’ And David sent and proposed to Abigail, to take her as his wife. When the servants of David had come to Abigail at Carmel, they spoke to her saying, ‘David sent us to you, to ask you to become his wife.’ Then she arose, bowed her face to the earth, and said, ‘Here is your maidservant, a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.’ So Abigail rose in haste and rode on a donkey, attended by five of her maidens; and she followed the messengers of David, and became his wife.” (I Samuel 25:2-42)
There’s a regular symbol tsunami going on here. David (whose name means “love”) represents the Messiah, Yahshua. Nabal (“foolishness”) is dead; that is, wisdom has prevailed—which is cause for celebration before Yahweh. Abigail (which means, “my father is joy”) is asked by David’s servants (the Messiah’s believers) to be the bride of David (“love”). So she (representative of the church) is approached at Carmel (literally, “a fruitful, bountiful place—a vineyard”) and is told that “Love (David) has sent us to you.” And she responds in an attitude of worship and humility—the same “foot-washing” mindset Yahshua commanded us to observe, during the Last Supper. Abigail is accompanied by five of her handmaidens—five being the number symbolic of grace. And finally, she is seen following the “messengers of David” (i.e., the messengers of Love)—which I’d take to represent the apostles and prophets of Yahweh. Did I miss anything?
The third of David’s eight (or more) wives that I’d like to profile was nothing like either Michal or Abigail. Her name was Bathsheba, and around her swirl the most tempestuous and destructive of David’s sins. Not her fault, necessarily: she was guilty mostly of being naïve, gullible, and too pretty for her own good. I’m surely wrong about it but I’ve always pictured Bathsheba as a blonde.
She shows up late in the story—after David had become king over all of Israel, reigning in Jerusalem, a position he would hold until his death at the age of seventy. That would mean David was probably over forty when he first met Bathsheba. “It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem….” At forty, David was getting a bit long in the tooth for iron-age hand-to-hand combat.
“Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.” It wouldn’t have been that unusual to bathe on the rooftop on a warm spring evening. It probably never occurred to Bathsheba that anyone might see her this late at night. David’s mistake #1: he should have averted his eyes, and if he was that horny, he should have visited the bed of one of his wives—he had several by this time. But as I said, David was never a great proponent of impulse control. “So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, ‘Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?...’” Mistake #2: learning she was a married woman should have put an abrupt end to his fantasy.
But no: “Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house.” Mistake #3: he had sex with her even though he knew it was forbidden by the law of adultery, the Seventh Commandment. “And the woman conceived; so she sent and told David, and said, ‘I am with child.’” This, of course, was proof before the world that adultery had taken place. Her husband Uriah had been away at the front for some time. And messengers from both her house and David’s knew exactly what had been going on. This was a stoning offense in Israel—for both parties. And God’s law had made no exemptions or exceptions for kings.
At this point I have to ask, why didn’t Bathsheba just say “No”? Why didn’t David’s servants, tasked with procuring her for him, beg him to reconsider? Everyone in the loop, from perpetrator to victim to bystander, knew this was wrong. The king was known to be a reasonable man, and more to the point, one who loved and trusted Yahweh with his whole heart. A straightforward warning to turn from evil (such as Abigail had given him years before) would surely have brought David to his senses. But apparently, no one could see past the crown anymore. No one understood that Yahweh holds shepherds to a higher standard of conduct than sheep. Not being a respecter of persons, God doesn’t give powerful people a license to sin—quite the opposite.
Mistake #4: David now acknowledged his own guilt by trying to cover up the crime. If Uriah came home and slept with his wife, they could pass of the baby as his, and no one (cough, choke) would be the wiser—“only” David, Bathsheba, half a dozen servants, General Joab, Yahweh, and His prophets, that is. The initial ruse went like this: “Then David sent to Joab, saying, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite.’ And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah had come to him, David asked how Joab was doing, and how the people were doing, and how the war prospered. And David said to Uriah, ‘Go down to your house and wash your feet.’” Loosen your tie, put your feet up, open a nice bottle of wine with your wife. You deserve it. “So Uriah departed from the king’s house, and a gift of food from the king followed him….” David reasoned, who could resist a little well-deserved R&R in the arms of the lovely Bathsheba?
As it turned out, Uriah could. “But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. So when they told David, saying, ‘Uriah did not go down to his house,’ David said to Uriah, ‘Did you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?’ And Uriah said to David, ‘The ark and Israel and Judah are dwelling in tents, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are encamped in the open fields. Shall I then go to my house to eat and drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing….’” Uriah, it turned out, was a man of honor—all the more remarkable because he was a Hittite, a gentile, not an Israelite. He was fighting Israel’s enemies not because he was born into their family, but because He revered their God.
David waited two more days for Uriah’s resolve to weaken, but it never did. Time for Plan B, a.k.a. Mistake #5. “In the morning it happened that David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah.” Sealed, of course. “And he wrote in the letter, saying, ‘Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck down and die.’” That is really cold, being asked to deliver the order for your own execution. David had lost his spiritual bearings. Now he dragged his top general into his cover-up conspiracy. “So it was, while Joab besieged the city, that he assigned Uriah to a place where he knew there were valiant men. Then the men of the city came out and fought with Joab. And some of the people of the servants of David fell; and Uriah the Hittite died also.” (II Samuel 11:1-17) In case you missed the irony, this is precisely the same “dirty trick” King Saul had attempted to use to get David killed, dangling as bait the hand of his daughter Michal in marriage. The difference was, David knew what he was fighting for, and Uriah did not.
“When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. And when her mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son.” David thought he had dodged the bullet, that his sins would be buried forever, hidden from the world. Nice try: as it turned out, this is now probably the most infamous sinful episode ever recorded—read about by hundreds of millions of people in the best-selling book of all time. “But the thing that David had done displeased Yahweh.” (II Samuel 11:26-27) No kidding, Sherlock. Evil would follow David sporadically from this point forward.
The first order of business was for God to send His prophet Nathan to “blow the whistle” on the errant king. II Samuel 12 relates the parable (disguised as “news”) that Nathan told David, in which a rich man wanted to entertain a stranger, but was unwilling to slaughter one of his own sheep, so he took the little ewe lamb of a poor neighbor, a pet, the only sheep he owned, and served that up instead. David, of course, was livid at the injustice of the thing, and told Nathan, “As Yahweh lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity….” The Torah had called for fourfold restoration, but not for the death of the thief. David was once again shooting from the hip, blending imperfect knowledge of God’s Law with a sense of “justice” driven by conscience and emotion. Nathan was not surprised.
“Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!” Oops. Busted. “Thus says Yahweh, God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! Why have you despised the commandment of Yahweh, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife….’” This principle cannot be overstated: David’s sin with Bathsheba wasn’t just sex, lies, and murder. It was an indication that (at least for one brief moment) David had despised Yahweh and His commandments. Had he been thinking, it would have been the last thing he wanted to do.
The bad news continued: “Thus says Yahweh: ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.’” All of this (and more) would transpire just as the prophet had foretold. “So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against Yahweh.” Not to mention Uriah—and Bathsheba. “And Nathan said to David, ‘Yahweh also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of Yahweh to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.’” (II Samuel 12:5-14) This too came about just as Nathan had prophesied.
In this one episode, David had violated half of the Ten Commandments, without even thinking about them (which was kind of my point—he wasn’t thinking). He would get sent to Yahweh’s “woodshed” for a sound spanking—and because he was the king, all of Israel would suffer. (I wonder if our politicians today ever consider that.) In all of this, it’s hard to gauge Bathsheba’s culpability. Was she trying to seduce David up there on the roof? I doubt it. Did she feel like she had a right to say “No!” to the king? That’s doubtful as well.
Perhaps one way of gauging how God felt about Bathsheba is to note whether or not she was given children, and what roles they were given to play. Nineteen sons of David are listed by name in scripture (I Chronicles 3:1-9) plus one daughter, Tamar, who played a part in the unfolding drama (II Samuel 13). Four of those sons (plus the one who died in infancy) were born to Bathsheba, leaving the other fifteen spread out among David’s seven (actually, six: Michal bore no children) other wives—an average of two and a half children each. So statistically, at least, Bathsheba was twice as blessed in the offspring department as the other wives. But more significant by far is the fact that her son Solomon inherited the throne from David: his was the royal line of Judah from that point forward. And even more noteworthy is the fact that both Solomon and another of her sons, Nathan (three guesses as to whom he is named after), are listed in the legal and biological genealogies of Yahshua the Messiah in Matthew and Luke. So the Son of God is not only the “Son of David,” He is also the Son of Bathsheba. Our sins are not an impediment to God.
So to this point, it appears that my assessment of Bathsheba’s naiveté may or may not be unwarranted. But something happened years later that demonstrated that she really didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. The story is long and twisted. I’ll try to cut to the chase.
It begins when King David was “very old” and “advanced in years.” (I am currently the same age David was when he died, so I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this description.) The poor old guy couldn’t get warm, no matter how many blankets they threw over him. Perhaps he had an underactive thyroid gland, anemia, or maybe Raynaud’s disease. Anyway, they finally found a solution that worked: they recruited the most beautiful virgin they could find to cuddle up with the king. (Hmmm. I wonder if Medicare covers this sort of therapy. My wife says No.) The girl’s name was Abishag the Shunammite. David never had sex with her, but she was literally his bosom buddy, his constant companion and fond caregiver until the end of his days. I can’t be certain, but it appears as if Abishag might be the basis for “the Shulamite” maiden in Solomon’s torrid allegory, the Song of Songs—which explains the passion that exists between Christ and His Church, and how Israel fits into the story.
Part Two of the story concerns David’s fourth son, Adonijah, born to David’s wife Haggith during David’s seven-year reign over Judah in Hebron (described as a handsome spoiled brat who had never been told “No” in his entire life). The entitled Adonijah decided that the throne of Israel should fall to him—never mind the fact that David had informally promised it to Bathsheba’s son Solomon. Adonijah gathered an entourage to himself, including such notables as General Joab and Abiathar (who shared the high priesthood with Zadok; see II Samuel 19:11)—both of whom had been loyal to David in the past. He invited the upper crust of Judah, including David’s other sons, to a self-coronation party. Conspicuously absent from the guest list were Solomon, the prophet Nathan, the co-High Priest Zadok, Benaiah (the leader of David’s cohort of “mighty men”), and, of course, David himself. So this wasn’t a coronation—it was a coup.
Nathan the prophet (being a prophet) got wind of Adonijah’s treasonous little soirée, and went to Bathsheba, who took the matter to David, as was proper. They asked the king if he had changed his mind about his successor. No, he had not. David (who could still move quickly when he needed to) swung immediately into action and had Solomon crowned as Israel’s king by Zadok the High Priest and the prophet Nathan: “Then Zadok the priest took a horn of oil from the tabernacle and anointed Solomon. And they blew the horn, and all the people said, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ And all the people went up after him; and the people played the flutes and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth seemed to split with their sound.” (I Kings 1:39-40) If that sounds vaguely familiar, it should. It is the very image of the coronation of Yahshua the Messiah at the end of the age. Satan (with the assistance of the Antichrist and the false prophet) will try to usurp the kingdom, but in God’s perfect timing, the Messiah will prevail, anointed by Yahweh’s Holy Spirit. And His followers will rejoice like never before, first to the sound of the shofar (the “last trumpet” heralding the rapture) and then to the flutes being played in unrestrained praise at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
Adonijah & Co. were still celebrating when they heard the commotion (just as Satan will no doubt be rejoicing in his apparent victory until the rapture signals his impending doom). The son of Abiathar the priest, Jonathan by name, brought the news: David had made Solomon king. “And moreover the king’s servants have gone to bless our lord King David, saying, ‘May God make the name of Solomon better than your name, and may He make his throne greater than your throne.’ Then the king bowed himself on the bed.” The prophetic parallel consists of the fact that Yahweh has given “all authority” to Christ: it is Yahshua (Yahweh in flesh) who will reign as visible King throughout eternity. “Also the king said thus, ‘Blessed be Yahweh, God of Israel, who has given one to sit on my throne this day, while my eyes see it!’ So all the guests who were with Adonijah were afraid, and arose, and each one went his way.” (I Kings 1:47-49)
Now that the kingdom’s authority had been vested in Solomon, it was up to him to grant mercy or dispense wrath, and he chose clemency—for now. “Now Adonijah was afraid of Solomon; so he arose, and went and took hold of the horns of the altar. And it was told Solomon, saying, ‘Indeed Adonijah is afraid of King Solomon; for look, he has taken hold of the horns of the altar, saying, “Let King Solomon swear to me today that he will not put his servant to death with the sword.” Then Solomon said, ‘If he proves himself a worthy man, not one hair of him shall fall to the earth; but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.’” (I Kings 1:50-52) Basically, the deal was, “No more sneaky plots to seize the throne, brother, or you’re toast.”
Part Three of this shaggy-dog story is where we finally perceive how naïve Bathsheba really was. Remember Abishag the Shunammite? After David’s death, she was a “unique commodity” in Israel—still a virgin, still beautiful, but considered a virtual princess due to her friendship with (and care for) King David. But Bathsheba didn’t fathom the political ramifications of her status. Adonijah came to the new Queen Mother and said, “‘You know that the kingdom was mine, and all Israel had set their expectations on me, that I should reign. However, the kingdom has been turned over, and has become my brother’s; for it was his from Yahweh. Now I ask one petition of you; do not deny me.’ And she said to him, ‘Say it….’” He sounded so nice and reasonable. He didn’t want to be king anymore (he said) for God had ruled against that idea, but how about a harmless, innocent “consolation prize?”
“Then he said, ‘Please speak to King Solomon, for he will not refuse you, that he may give me Abishag the Shunammite as wife.’” Adonijah hadn’t asked Solomon directly. He wanted the request to sound like it was coming from his beloved mother—and who could refuse such a thing? “So Bathsheba said, ‘Very well, I will speak for you to the king….’” And she was as good as her word.
“Bathsheba therefore went to King Solomon, to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her and bowed down to her, and sat down on his throne and had a throne set for the king’s mother; so she sat at his right hand. Then she said, ‘I desire one small petition of you; do not refuse me.’ And the king said to her, ‘Ask it, my mother, for I will not refuse you.’” This was going precisely as Adonijah had hoped. The request sounded as if it were something she wanted—as if she had hatched the idea herself: “So she said, ‘Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijah your brother as wife….’”
Really, Mom? You have no idea what you’re asking for, do you? “And King Solomon answered and said to his mother, ‘Now why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah?’” As if I didn’t know. “‘Ask for him the kingdom also—for he is my older brother—for him, and for Abiathar the priest, and for Joab the son of Zeruiah….’” For all intents and purposes, Abishag had been David’s concubine. Even though no bodily fluids had been exchanged between them, taking her as a wife would be tantamount (in the eyes of that culture) to assuming the privileges (and hence the authority) of the king. If you’ll recall, this is precisely what Absalom had done with David’s concubines—in the sight of all Israel—to cement his own royal credentials in the wake of his coup against his father. But Bathsheba understood none of this. Fortunately, her son Solomon had been given wisdom and discernment: he saw right through Adonijah’s clever plot to seize David’s throne by stealth.
“Then King Solomon swore by Yahweh, saying, ‘May God do so to me, and more also, if Adonijah has not spoken this word against his own life! Now therefore, as Yahweh lives, who has confirmed me and set me on the throne of David my father, and who has established a house for me, as He promised, Adonijah shall be put to death today!’” He had previously warned his half-brother that any further political intrigues would not be tolerated. So Adonijah had no cause for feeling ill-used at this decree. “So King Solomon sent by the hand of Benaiah the son of Jehoiada; and he struck him down, and he died.” (I Kings 2:15-25) While he was at it, Solomon also had Adonijah’s two other co-conspirators dealt with: Joab was executed, and Abiathar was banished.
If David is a “type” of Christ (and I believe he is), then his wives are to some extent typical of the bride of Christ, the church. This is rather depressing, folks. Of his eight named wives, five aren’t particularly interesting: all scripture does is list them. Of the three wives upon whom we do have enough information to construct profiles, one (Michal) is characterized as being arrogant and godless—and subsequently fruitless. One (Bathsheba) is clueless—loved in spite of her shallow perception of reality. Only one (Abigail) is known for her wisdom. All of the other women in David’s life—his concubines—weren’t even “officially” part of the family, nor were their sons actually princes. These would correspond, I guess, to people in the world who call themselves Christians, who think of themselves as “religious,” but who have no real relationship with the Father other than having been created by Him—as were we all. So Abigail stands alone as the wise wife. I hate to ask, but could this be a hint that only about a tenth of the true church really understands what God is doing in this world?
Case Study #8: Gomer
This is about to get heavy. Hang onto your hat.
You know how I keep insisting that strict performance of the Torah’s precepts (though they’re intrinsically beneficial to us when we keep them) is not God’s primary point? Rather, they teach us one of three things: (1) who the Messiah is; (2) what Yahweh’s plan for our redemption and restoration will entail, or (3) how to love one another as we love ourselves. Of course, the closer we adhere to the spirit (and yes, the letter) of the Torah’s commandments, the closer we’ll be to the heart and mind of Almighty God. But the rules (or more precisely, instructions) are not the destination—they’re only the path toward it.
As if to make my point for me, a prophet of God was told to do something that sounded very “un-Torah-like.” “When Yahweh began to speak by Hosea, Yahweh said to Hosea: ‘Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry, and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from Yahweh. So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.’” (Hosea 1:2-3) Yahweh basically said, “Hosea, go and marry a ho, the sluttier the better.”
It’s almost embarrassing to watch the commentators squirm over this. The prophet Hosea (whose name is actually the same as that of Joshua, the conqueror of Canaan, not to mention that of Yahshua, Anglicized as “Jesus”—and seven or eight other men in the Bible) was instructed to marry an immoral woman, one known for her history of adultery or fornication—probably a prostitute. The Hebrew word used to describe her profile is senunim—harlotry, fornication, prostitution, adultery, or idolatry. Gomer would not have been considered “bride material” in Israel. She was the antithesis of the chaste virgin a godly man would ordinarily have sought out as a wife—which was God’s whole point.
It is unclear whether or not Gomer was employed as a pagan temple prostitute—something that was specifically forbidden in the Torah: “There shall be no ritual harlot of the daughters of Israel, or a perverted one [qadesh] of the sons of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 23:17) The word for “ritual harlot” in the Torah is qedeshah (the feminine variant of the word used to describe a male homosexual temple prostitute, qadesh, related, oddly enough, to the word for holy or set apart—qodesh. The question would appear to be, “Set apart to whom?”) At the very least, Gomer was a flagrant and notorious violator of the Seventh Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14)
At the risk of stating the obvious, this whole episode proves that God is less concerned with our actual sexual purity than He is with what it represents—faithfulness to Him: the exclusive, monogamous devotion of our lives to Yahweh, to the exclusion of anything else that might be construed as an object of worship. The First Commandment is the foundation of the Seventh (and all the rest, for that matter). Of course, sexual purity is to be preferred, for a dozen reasons, but (as we shall see with the story of Gomer) being a “fallen woman” is not an insurmountable problem for a forgiving God (or husband). More to the point, He wanted to paint a picture: Hosea (“Salvation”) stood in for Yahweh in this little play, and Gomer represented idolatrous Israel, that is, the ten breakaway Northern Tribes. But her name means “Completion.” Could this be a hint that she is actually playing (at least, in the long run) the role of all twelve of Israel’s tribes—and through them, the whole of the human race?
There’s no evidence that Hosea didn’t actually love Gomer, just because his marriage to her was a prophetic assignment. The fruit of that love—her offspring—would be named to show Israel where they were (spiritually) and what was coming. “Then Yahweh said to him: ‘Call his name Jezreel, for in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, and bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. It shall come to pass in that day that I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.’” (Hosea 1:4-5) The reference (Jehu) is to a commander in the army of Israel’s King Ahab, and what happened at a place called Jezreel.
Here’s the history in a nutshell. The kingdom had been divided by Jeroboam in 930 B.C. Then, in 841 B.C. (some ninety years before Hosea’s prophecy), the prophet Elisha had sent a junior prophet to anoint Jehu as king of Israel—giving instructions that he was to wipe out the entire house of the evil Ahab and Jezebel. Jehu wasn’t a godly man, but he liked the idea of being king, so he did as instructed. Ahab had died in battle a few years before, but Queen Jezebel still lived, as did Ahab’s seventy sons, including the new king Jehoram. Jehu slew them all, with a particularly gory death for the queen-mother Jezebel at Jezreel: as Elisha had prophesied, the dogs ate her, so there wasn’t even anything left to bury (though poetically enough, the dogs wouldn’t touch her evil hands). Jehu far exceeded his mandate, however, slaying Ahaziah, king of Judah (not to be mistaken for the son of Ahab by the same name who had ruled the Northern Kingdom for two years after Ahab’s death—it’s confusing, I know), and all forty-two of his brothers. (And you thought David was excessive, with nineteen sons by eight different wives.)
Jehu also slew all of the worshipers of Ba’al that he could find, tearing down their temple and sacred pillars. But “Jehu did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin, that is, from the golden calves that were at Bethel and Dan.” That is, Jehu saw the priests of Ba’al as rivals for power, and thus as targets—but state-sponsored pagan rites could be used to control his subjects, as Jeroboam had discovered. “And Yahweh said to Jehu, ‘Because you have done well in doing what is right in My sight, and have done to the house of Ahab all that was in My heart, your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.’ But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of Yahweh, God of Israel, with all his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin.” (II Kings 10:29-31) Hence the prophecy of Gomer’s son Jezreel (which means “God sows”). Israel was conquered and dispersed less than twenty years after the prophecy was given (called “in a little while” in Hosea’s message)—in 722 B.C., by Sargon II of Assyria.
Gomer wasn’t done bearing prophetically named children. “And she conceived again and bore a daughter. Then God said to him: ‘Call her name Lo-Ruhamah [literally, “No Mercy”], for I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, but I will utterly take them away. Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by Yahweh their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen….’” This was a doubling down on the previous prophecy: Israel (the ten northern tribes) was to be “taken away”—not annihilated, exactly, but dispersed so thoroughly their very national identity would be so hard to trace only God could do it. Yet Judah was to be spared (for the moment) because their iniquity was not yet full. Their miraculous salvation described here is the episode described by Isaiah (a near contemporary of Hosea), recorded in chapter 37 and II Kings 19, in which 185,000 Assyrian soldiers would be slain by God—i.e., not in battle—in one night as they besieged Hezekiah’s Jerusalem in 701 B.C.
When another son was born, Gomer was no doubt thinking, “What goofy name is this one going to get saddled with?” “Now when she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then God said: ‘Call his name Lo-Ammi [literally, “Not My People”] for you are not My people, and I will not be your God….’” After the kingdom split apart following Solomon’s death, the ten northern tribes never had a single godly king, nor did the people rise up and demand a return to Yahweh’s ways. So during the lifetimes of Lo-Ammi and Lo-Ruhamah, Yahweh would show Israel no mercy, and Israel would not be His people. It would not be a pretty sight. The names of Gomer’s children would be played out in the unfolding history of Israel.
But that includes Jezreel. The story had begun with a statement of hope, a son named “God sows.” So Yahweh interrupts this universally grim tale of guilt and estrangement with a glance at the surprising end of the matter: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered.” What? Blessing? “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’ Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head. And they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel!” (Hosea 1:6-11) When God sows, Israel—the whole restored nation—can’t help but bloom like the rose. This is exactly the same prediction as the seemingly impossible resurrection, reconciliation, and restoration of Israel foretold (twice) by the prophet Ezekiel in his 37th chapter. Look it up. Great indeed will be the day of Jezreel.
If we look carefully at the foregoing record, it is clear that Jezreel was Hosea’s son. But of Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi, all we are told is that “Gomer conceived,” with no clarification of who the father was. The ugly truth of the matter is revealed in chapter 2, where Gomer is (like Israel) accused of being unfaithful to her husband. “Say to your brethren, ‘My people,’ and to your sisters, ‘Mercy is shown.’ Bring charges against your mother, bring charges. For she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband! Let her put away her harlotries from her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts, lest I strip her naked and expose her, as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst.’” Hosea is speaking of his wife Gomer here, but through him Yahweh is accusing Israel of adultery—their sins are the same. “I will not have mercy on her children, for they are the children of harlotry. For their mother has played the harlot. She who conceived them has behaved shamefully. For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink….’”
It wouldn’t have helped matters if Gomer (or Israel) had told her husband, “Why are you so surprised? You knew I was a whore when you married me.” The marriage had been for her an opportunity for a fresh start—a.k.a. repentance. But Gomer (like Israel) had returned to her dissolute ways. What’s a loving husband to do? “Therefore, 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.’ For she did not know that I gave her grain, new wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold—which they prepared for Baal….” Whereas Israel thought her prosperity had come from the false gods she had been worshiping, her blessings had actually come from Yahweh—who was now obliged to cut them off in an effort to wake up His bride to the seriousness of her spiritual condition.
“Therefore I will return and take away My grain in its time and My new wine in its season, and will take back My wool and My linen, given to cover her nakedness.” The imagery here is that whether she had worked for her prosperity (the wool metaphor) or had received her blessings through the unmerited grace of God (symbolized by the linen), she would henceforth have nothing with which to cover her shame. Gomer/Israel would find herself back in the Garden, trying to sew fig leaves together. “‘Now I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and no one shall deliver her from My hand. I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her New Moons, Her Sabbaths—all her appointed feasts. And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, of which she has said, “These are my wages that my lovers have given me.” So I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall eat them. 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….”
But here’s the thing: God doesn’t chastise people He doesn’t love (see Revelation 3:19). This isn’t wrath, exactly—it’s a hard lesson, and a prophecy. “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her. I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope. She shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt….” This makes more sense in light of the vision of John in Revelation 12:6, where “the woman” (Israel) flees to the wilderness to escape from the dragon (the source of the Antichrist’s power), and is protected by God and His angels for 1,260 days—basically, the latter half of the Tribulation. In doing so, she will be following Yahshua’s Olivet Discourse instructions—see Matthew 24:15-21. The “Valley of Achor” (literally, the valley of disaster) reference takes us back to Joshua 7, where Achan and everything he owned was stoned and burned for his disobedience of Yahweh’s command to utterly destroy Jericho and everything in it, preventing Israel’s subsequent victory at the little town of Ai. Achor, then, can be a “door of hope” only when the sin is dealt with, repentance is achieved, and Yahweh is honored. In other words, Israel’s national repentance and restoration will take place, but only when her back is to the wall, and she is finally forced to admit that her own sin is what got her into the mess she was in.
“‘And it shall be, in that day,’ says Yahweh, ‘That you will call Me “My Husband,” and no longer call Me “My Master,” for I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, and they shall be remembered by their name no more….’” This doesn’t have quite the impact in English that it does in the Hebrew. It’s sort of a play on words: two unrelated words are used in Hebrew to denote “husband,” iysh, and ba’al. Iysh is used to stress the fact that one is a male, hence a husband (as opposed to a female or wife—ishshah). It is derived (apparently) from enowsh or anash, meaning “man” in the sense of being a mortal human. On the other hand, ba’al means owner, husband, ruler, possessor, lord, or master—attributes that can (if the husband-wife relationship is defined solely by the curse of Eve) be applied to a husband. (In case you were wondering, when Sarah called Abraham “lord” in Genesis 18:12, she used the word adon, which carries many of the same connotations, but is primarily used to indicate deference or respect.) In its verb form, ba’al means to have dominion over, to rule over, or to marry. Of course, Ba’al (as lord or master) is also the proper name attributed to the Canaanite “deity” who proved to be such a thorn in Israel’s side over the centuries. Hosea’s prophecy, then, states that Israel will someday come to regard Yahweh not as some overbearing tyrant of a God, but rather as a loving Husband.
The prophecy of restoration continues: “‘In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, with the birds of the air, and with the creeping things of the ground. Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth, to make them lie down safely. 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. It shall come to pass in that day that I will answer,’ says Yahweh. ‘I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth. The earth shall answer with grain, with new wine, and with oil. They shall answer Jezreel [i.e., “God will sow”]. Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, 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) It’s a complete turnaround. Israel’s characterization (as identified by the names of Gomer’s illegitimate children Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi—No Mercy, and Not My People) will be reversed.
But there’s a glitch, a Torah precept that, in so many words, makes such a thing seem unlawful. We read, “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, 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.” (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) That is precisely what happened between Yahweh and Israel, is it not?
Although Hosea didn’t necessarily answer Gomer’s unfaithfulness with a formal divorce, elsewhere God does declare that He has indeed divorced Israel: “I said, after she [Israel] 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; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees.” (Jeremiah 3:7-9) Jeremiah lived long after Israel had been scattered to the four winds—at a time when Judah was about to get hauled off in chains to Babylon for doing essentially the same thing Israel had—committing idolatry, a.k.a. spiritual adultery. So God has “divorced” Israel—and perhaps even all twelve tribes. But Yahweh is not “allowed” to break His own rules: they are there, after all, to tell us what He intends to do to restore humanity to Himself.
How are we to sort out this conundrum? Yahweh has (for good reason) divorced Israel, and yet He has promised Israel, “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.” (Hosea 2:19-20) The only way this is possible (not to mention lawful) is for Israel to become someone else—to assume a new identity. And as Paul explains, this is precisely what is about to happen: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (II Corinthians 5:17) The old Israel cannot become Yahweh’s wife again. But if—and only if—she becomes a new creation by receiving and accepting Yahshua as her Messiah, she can become part of the bride of Christ—which is the same thing. Yahshua, in other words, is now Israel’s only possible means of reconciliation with Yahweh. She can’t get there any other way—such as by suddenly keeping the precepts of the Torah perfectly on a national scale, as cool as that would be. It’s either Christ, or permanent separation from God. There is no other way. (Oh, and by the way, this also requires that the Messiah actually be God in flesh, and not merely some prophet or influential religious leader.)
So how does this play out in the story of Hosea and Gomer? “Then Yahweh said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of Yahweh for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans….’” Gomer had left her husband Hosea to pursue an adulterous relationship with another man, just as Israel had left Yahweh. In a poignant picture of God’s love for us, Hosea is commanded to “love” her, even though her affection was being squandered on another.
How was he to get her back? By buying her (though by rights, she was already his lawful wife). “So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley….” What Hosea paid to restore Homer to himself was symbolically significant. The price of a slave had been set (in Exodus 21:32) as thirty silver shekels. This was the price, you’ll recall, later paid to Judas Iscariot for the betrayal of his Master, Yahshua. Hosea paid half of that amount in cash, and then, to highlight how worthless Gomer had made herself, he made up the difference in barley—the most inferior grain you could get, used for animal fodder and making cheap bread and beer. And we should not overlook the fact that her paramour, the man with whom she had “run away,” was perfectly willing to sell her at a bargain price. In our sinful state, the world doesn’t value us very highly, either.
“And I said to her, ‘You shall stay with me many days; you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man—so, too, will I be toward you….’” Hosea says, “Okay, Gomer. Since you’re so attracted to your immorality, we’re going to try something different: we’re going to go “cold turkey” with your addiction. No sex at all, even though I’m your lawful husband, and even though I’ve now purchased you as my slave as well. I am going to share in your affliction; I am going to take your punishment upon myself.” The underlying truth is that although our sins have natural consequences for us, the Messiah bears our iniquities, and heals us by enduring our well-deserved stripes (as Isaiah puts it).
But the parable would also be played out on a larger scale, something Hosea now explains for our (and his nation’s) benefit: “For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek Yahweh their God and David their king. They shall fear Yahweh and His goodness in the latter days.” (Hosea 3) As I pointed out previously, Israel would soon (within twenty years) be swallowed whole by the Assyrian menace. Their national apostasy would be answered with separation from Yahweh. It’s not as if they hadn’t been warned. In the great “blessings and cursings” passage of the Torah, they had been promised that if they forsook their God, “Then Yahweh will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known—wood and stone.” (Deuteronomy 28:64)
And yet, the prediction of hope persists: they would—they will (though it is yet future as I write these words)—“return and seek Yahweh…in the latter days.” A few chapters later, Hosea even tells us when this reconciliation will take place. The “trigger event,” however, is far more specific than the centuries of spiritual malaise that characterized Israel’s ten northern tribes, leading us to the conclusion that here, Judah is included in the prophecy. (After all, God has promised to rejoin all of Israel into one nation again before it’s all over.) He writes, “Come, and let us return to Yahweh; for He has torn, but He will heal us. He has stricken, but He will bind us up.” That much is history for both Israel and Judah. But here the timing is revealed: “After two days He will revive us. On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight….”
Two days? The third day? That doesn’t sound so bad. Well, actually, it does. A “day” here (if we take II Peter 3:8 and Psalm 90:4 to heart) is a millennium—one thousand years. So what event in history estranged Judah from Yahweh, bringing with it “tearing” and “striking,” for almost two thousand years now? (Only one totally ignorant of history could deny that this has indeed happened: recurring persecution, expulsion, prejudice, and pogroms for the better part of two millennia.) It could only be one thing: he’s talking about Israel’s rejection and crucifixion of Yahshua of Nazareth—the Anointed One—in 33 A.D. If I’m not mistaken, that means the “two days” are due to have run their course by 2033—right around the corner. And on the “third day”—i.e., during the following millennium—all twelve tribes of Israel will be regathered, revived, restored, and redeemed, just as hundreds of prophecies demand.
That’s when this will happen: “Let us know. Let us pursue the knowledge of Yahweh.” That’s something we should all be doing, is it not? “His going forth is established as the morning. He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3) The “former rain” was Yahshua’s first advent; the latter rain will be His return in glory. Feel free to doubt this if you want to, but God himself insists that these things are as sure as tomorrow morning’s sunrise.
And what about Gomer? God makes it clear that she symbolizes Israel, who in turn represents all of us. She is the very personification of moral weakness, of poor impulse control, of someone who wants to do the right thing but just can’t seem to pull it off in her own strength. In other words, she’s just like you and me. But if God has sworn that on the “third day” after Christ’s resurrection, He will “revive” Israel and “raise her up,” then He is willing and able—and eager—to do the same for Gomer (and for us), for our sins are equally black. Yahweh can transform her into the chaste virgin she wants to be, for “If anyone is in Christ, he [or she] is a new creation. Old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.” (II Corinthians 5:17)
“Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number.” (Jeremiah 3:32) There could hardly be a more startling contrast than that portrayed incessantly in scripture—that of the difference between the giddy delight of a bride on her wedding day (mirrored by the joyful anticipation of her bridegroom) and of slaves being hauled off to a life of degradation and despair by a cruel conqueror—or worse, being unceremoniously slain and their bodies left to rot by a merciless invading army. We choose one fate or the other, Yahweh says, by either honoring Him or failing to do so.
In scripture, apostate Israel and Judah often serve as the examples of “what not to do.” For instance: “Therefore thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘Because you have not heard My words, behold, I…will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, a hissing, and perpetual desolations. Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment.” (Jeremiah 25:8-11) I edited out the “how” of it, because although God’s standards remain constant, His methods vary from case to case. Our “fate,” though, is determined by our willingness (or not) to hear (Hebrew: shama: to hear intelligently, listen attentively, understand, discern, and obey) His word. It’s all a question of what we choose to do with the instructions Yahweh has given us.
These choices can be made on several different levels—as individuals, as nations, or as the totality of the human race. In the end, our options are black and white, good or evil, yes or no—but it seldom seems so cut and dried, because Yahweh is in the habit of giving us (on whatever level) a lifetime to decide who we’re going to follow, and how. Only after we’ve been given every opportunity to choose wisely, does He unveil the full extent of the consequences of our choices. I get the distinct feeling that in the end, what’s revealed in scripture is only a mild hint as to how good our good choices are, or how evil our bad choices will turn out to be. That is, I’m guessing that heaven will be far better than anything we imagine it to be, and likewise, hell will be worse than the worst fate we can picture in our minds.
The reason for this is that God doesn’t wish to bribe us with heaven, or threaten us with hell, for the destination is merely a byproduct of our desires. Rather, He wants us to simply love Him for who He is—our benevolent Creator: the personification of infinite love, power, compassion, and authority. If we can’t respond to Him on that basis, then we can’t share a relationship at all, for He is the way, the truth, and the life. In other words, if we insist on pursuing some other way than the path He has laid out before us (salvation by grace through Yahshua’s sacrifice), some alternative to His truth (by definition, a lie), or some mode of existence other than life (death or damnation, either of which is possible but neither of which is particularly attractive), then there is no hope for us.
So Yahweh uses the illustration of marriage—the lifelong union of a bride and groom—to help us understand the ramifications of our potential relationship with Him. He plays the part of the groom or husband, of course, and we the bride and wife. Several scenarios are possible. (1) We marry Him, and live happily ever after—literally. This is heaven, in every conceivable way. (2) We marry His enemy, Satan, and end up living forever in torment, frustration, and regret, because for all his promises and panache, he is a bully and an abuser, one for whom the concept of love is completely unfamiliar. This is hell, perdition, damnation—the worst possible choice a “bride” could make.
But there is a third possible scenario—one that’s often overlooked because it’s “nothing,” which is not to say it doesn’t exist. That is, (3) we marry nobody; we don’t become anyone’s bride or wife. Instead, we live out our entire lives alone, a pointless, fruitless, dead-end existence. This is neither heaven nor hell, but death, annihilation, the cessation of existence. This is not a choice, mind you: it’s the absence of choice, a tragic wasted opportunity. It is characterized throughout scripture as “destruction,” which is (admittedly) easily mistaken for hell. But it’s not hell, as bad as it sounds. It’s not a bad marriage—it’s spinsterhood. (I realize you’ve never heard this concept preached from the pulpit, but it’s ubiquitous in scripture. For an in-depth analysis of this whole subject, read Chapter 29 of The End of the Beginning: “The Three Doors,” elsewhere on this website.)
As we saw in our case study of Gomer (Hosea’s adulterous bride) Yahweh uses Israel as a symbol of His intended wife. The picture is repainted elsewhere (in a different medium, as it were) with the church being characterized as the “bride of Christ,” His fiancée, so to speak—legally betrothed, though not yet formally consummated. (The “marriage supper” will take place in heaven, after the rapture; the honeymoon is the Millennial reign of Christ; and the “marriage” proper will be eternity with Him in the new heaven and new earth.) The idea, then, is that God’s intention is to woo and wed humanity, creating a bond of love and fidelity that will endure forever. Unfortunately, we (the intended wife/bride) tend to be two-timing (dare I say it?) sluts: our sinful nature is forever suggesting to us that we flirt with “men” other than our betrothed husband, Yahweh.
How bad can it get? The record of Israel and Judah—all the worse because they had the Torah’s wisdom to guide them—is repeated ad nauseam in the Tanakh. Typical is this scathing denunciation from Jeremiah, spoken just prior to the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem (the same impending judgment that was in view in the passage we just read). “‘They have set their abominations in the house which is called by My name, to pollute it. And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My heart….”
He’s describing the worship of a false god named Molech or Chemosh, in which—in the interests of being granted fertility and prosperity—the apostate Jews offered up their own children as burnt offerings, placing them on the outstretched arms of a red-hot metal statue of the false deity. The parents were not allowed to weep for their children, whose agonized screams were drowned out by the sound of drums. This took place in the Valley of Hinnom, just south of the city of Jerusalem—a place later referred to by Yahshua (transliterated as Gehenna) as a euphemism for hell. “Tophet” is a descriptive epithet for “‘a thing spat upon and loathed’…Other etymologies give as the meaning of the word ‘a garden,’ ‘a place of burning,’ or ‘a place of drums,’ i.e., a music grove, and so connect it more closely with the Molech ritual.” (Ellicott)
You may be saying, “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard of—how could they possibly have done that? Their whole civilization deserved to be wiped out in God’s judgment!” You’re right, of course, but consider this. Every year in this world, somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 million children (one out of every four conceived) are sacrificed to the brutal practice of abortion—a “religious rite” in every sense of the word—simply because they are viewed as being “inconvenient.” The motivation in the vast majority of cases is indistinguishable from that of Israel’s ancient Molech worship rites: the promise of relative prosperity.
Bear that in mind as you read what Yahweh promised to do to Judah in response: “Therefore behold, the days are coming,’ says Yahweh, ‘when it will no more be called Tophet, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Tophet until there is no room. The corpses of this people will be food for the birds of the heaven and for the beasts of the earth. And no one will frighten them away. Then I will cause to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride. For the land shall be desolate.’” (Jeremiah 7:30-34) You have been warned, O Earth.
That’s the second time we’ve seen that phrase. “The voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride” are to be taken away from those who don’t value the lives of their children—the heritage and reward of Yahweh (see Psalm 127:3). And we’ll see something like it again in reference to the Last Days. In response to our world’s utter disregard for the sanctity of life, Yahweh vows to kill its inhabitants, but not before removing the joy and fulfillment from the institution of marriage. The process has already begun. What should be—what was designed by God to be—a joyful union between a man and a woman, a fruitful, life-long mutual commitment of love, respect, and exclusive intimacy, has begun to degenerate into a political football, an opportunity for the public perversion of God’s natural law, or a mere legal construct designed to consolidate assets or facilitate estate planning.
But Yahweh designed marriage to emulate and illustrate the blessed relationship that can be forged between God and humanity. He (the husband) wants to love us, provide for us, shelter us, and perfect us. And we (the bride) are meant to joyfully anticipate His presence, crave His touch, revel in His mercy, submit to His wisdom, and bear His children. And all of this is intended to last forever—a sacred union that will endure for eternity.
Can the institution be salvaged, healed, and renewed, or is humanity too far gone? It seems to me, if He can restore Israel (who has fallen further than anyone), then anything is possible. And this very restoration and reconciliation is by far the most oft-repeated prophecy in the Bible. For example: “For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns. The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory….” This (obviously) hasn’t happened yet, but being God’s word, we can rest assured that it will. This will become reality when Yahshua the Messiah reigns in glory upon the throne of Israel.
It will require a total transformation of Israel—just as each of us has become a new creation in Christ. “You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of Yahweh will name. You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of Yahweh, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called Hephzibah [“My delight is in her”], and your land Beulah [“Married”]. For Yahweh delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you. And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:1-5) And, I might add, as the bride rejoices under the bridegroom, so shall we rejoice under our God. It works both ways.
I’ll admit, at the moment, it is hard to see the promise of this glorious state of affairs. Before the Millennial kingdom of Christ can commence, the world must hit rock bottom. And it will. John’s Revelation describes it like this: “The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with [the whore of Babylon] will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’… Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!...” “Babylon” is a code word for the system of satanic rebellion that permeates the earth today—and will continue to gain strength until the dark days of the Great Tribulation.
Babylon’s fall won’t be gentle or gradual, but sudden and violent. Take special note of the “bride” reference in the middle of this litany of destruction: “Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘Thus with violence the great city [think: system] Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore. The sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore. No craftsman of any craft shall be found in you anymore, and the sound of a millstone shall not be heard in you anymore. The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore.” Babylon, you’ll notice, controls the entertainment industry, the industrial-manufacturing sector, agribusiness, and the energy industry. “And the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore….” Sadly, even the institution of marriage has been usurped (as we have seen) by the forces of apostasy and idolatry that dominate life on Earth during these Last Days. But Babylon’s grip on this will be broken as well. Restoration and renewal of every facet of God’s program are just around the corner.
John reveals several more areas of Babylonian dominance that are about to fall: “For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived. And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.” (Revelation 18:9-10, 20-24) Commerce of all sorts will be released from Babylon’s iron grip. The “sorcery” here isn’t necessarily black magic or such like. The Greek noun is pharmakeia, from which we get our words “pharmacy” and “pharmaceuticals.” Drugs, both illicit and legal, are used today by Satan’s forces to divorce humanity from the reality of its dire situation, which is why the angel calls them a tool of deception. Finally, Babylon is seen of the source of the persecution and murder of God’s sanctified ones—in effect identifying politics and organized religions as institutions that will have to be brought down prior to the commencement of the kingdom age.
But once the “whore of Babylon” has been put in her place, and once the other forces of evil arrayed against the Saints of God have been vanquished, the Bride of Christ can be revealed, restored to the promise of purity that could only be achieved through our new creation—our new birth—in the Holy Spirit of Yahweh. John reports, “And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, ‘Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! 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. Then he said to me, ‘Write: Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true sayings of God.’” (Revelation 19:6-9)
The “fine linen” is symbolic of imputed righteousness—that which was provided to us through the death, burial, and resurrection of Yahshua. When he says, “His wife has made herself ready,” it is not being suggested that our own good works have qualified us to become the Bride of Christ, but only that we have proactively chosen to trust Him—we have donned the garment of righteousness that was given to us to cover our sins. And who are these who are “called” to the marriage supper of the Lamb? The answer is in the word itself. “Called” is the Greek kaleo. The Greek word oddly translated “church” is ekklesia, a compound of ek (“out of”) and kaleo. The Bride, then, is the church, those who are “called-out” of the world by Christ (as if there were any question as to her identity).
As we reach the end of the Book, the concept of being Christ’s “bride” takes on even more glorious (albeit symbolic) proportions. We find ourselves being represented by (or identified with) heaven itself—that is, by our eternal heavenly home, the New Jerusalem. John writes, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’” (Revelation 21:1-4)
This could merely mean that the New Jerusalem was as beautiful as a bride on her wedding day—as pretty as God knows how to make it, which is saying something. While this is no doubt true, the symbol is clarified a few verses later: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God….” In some sense, then, we (the Bride) are the New Jerusalem. We are where God will dwell for eternity, and we are as pure and as beautiful as it is in Yahweh’s power to make us.
The description continues. We are the home of God’s light, clear and precious and pure: “Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.” We are also protected, sheltered, sequestered in righteousness. “Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.” Access to the Bride (the gates) is provided only through Israel. There is no “back door” that bypasses Israel—a clear warning to those so-called “Christian” denominations who would play the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) game aimed at harming the apple of God’s eye. That being said, there’s more to it than Israel alone: “Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:9-14) The Bride/church is built upon the solid foundation of Christ’s disciples—that is, what Yahshua taught them, and what they passed on to us in the writings of the New Testament.
The description continues. “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” (Revelation 21:22-27) The Bride is finally pure—and will remain pure throughout eternity. Her light is her husband—Yahshua, the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.
And in one final reference to the Bride of Christ, we see her (with the Spirit who indwells her) inviting all who so desire to join her in wedded bliss with the eternal King. All are welcome; all may respond while mortal life persists. “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star. And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:16-17) All that is needed is a thirst for the truth and a willingness to hear—to listen attentively, heed, and respond—to what God has offered: eternal life as His precious Bride.
Christ is (so to speak) down on one knee. The proposal has been given. The ring is in His hand. It is now up to us to respond. Just say yes.
(First published 2016)