Posts Tagged ‘Divorce’

2 Samuel 11:1-27 (Part 5 of 5)
David Sins with Bathsheba & Arranges Uriah’s Death

The leading cause of divorce in America is infidelity, according to http://www.marriage.com. Losing trust in the sexual fidelity of your spouse is one of the most difficult things from which to recover. While other issues such as money issues can cause divorce, they are more easily recovered from than sexual infidelity. It just seems that sexual infidelity hits us at our core of who we are as a person. It rocks our world in a way that any other potential divorce issue cannot. It sends the “cheated on” spouse into a spiral of distrust, self-doubt, anger and resentment that often cannot be unraveled. Because of the nature of infidelity and its affects on trust and self-image, it is no wonder that it is the leading cause of divorce. It is because marriages rarely ever recover from it. According to an article I read recently, only about 20% of marriages will survive infidelity. That means that 80% of marriages where there has been an affair that will not survive (and that includes couples that have reconciled for a period of time). It is, thus, by far the most damaging way for a marriage to encounter trouble.

You think about it too that sexual infidelity in 8 out of 10 cases will end in divorce and it is the single greatest cause of divorce in America, the damage does not end there. You may have an affair and it seems like your favorite chip and dip combination (you just can’t get enough of it). You get to see the person at their best and in limited ways so every encounter seems power-packed and emotionally charged. But home life is day to day. It is taking out the trash. It is taking kids from here to there. It is fixing the toaster. It is mundane, day-to-day life. Affairs are the playground from real life. The fantasy of affairs is intoxicating. But it is not real life. When real life crashes into the fantasy of an affair, real life wins. Eight out of 10 marriages where there has been infidelity end in divorce. Divorce is messy, ugly and costly. Divorce makes people bitter. Divorce damages children most of all. Unless you purposefully try not to do it, one of the marital spouses will use the kids as pawns in the game of “who wins the divorce!” Kids often have to pay the price. Children of divorce require counseling and their relationship with one or both of their parents is damaged for long periods of time and sometimes for a lifetime. The fun of an affair quickly turns into a lifetime of trouble. Even if one marries the person with whom they had the affair, that relationship enters real life and it becomes mundane. Second marriages end in divorce far more often than first marriages (67% vs. 50%). So, affairs though seemingly intoxicating while they are undiscovered always get discovered.

After discovery then it leads to a bee’s nest of costs both emotional and financial for your family. The financial costs of sexual infidelity by themselves are staggering. Studies have shown that the therapy and mental health costs alone add up to over $15,000 a year!!! Nope, there was no misplaced comma or zeros. The cost is seriously 15k annually. And of course this is a lengthy process. When all is said and done if will easily cost $60,000 and likely more than that. Often, life savings are altered and growth of retirement funds are stunted by dividing them and by using them to finance divorces and maintaining multiple households. Even before a divorce, sexual infidelity has its costs when carrying out affairs such as lost days at work, hotel costs, non-business expenses on business trips, and even the cost of getting fired and finding a new job. Detection costs such as private investigators, monitoring costs, and other detection methods such as detection software. The sexual infidelity detection business is a multi-billion industry just by itself.

That was the thing that I thought of this morning as I read 2 Samuel 11 for the fifth and final of five times before we move on to the next passage – how sexual infidelity is like the myth of the siren on the shore. She seems so beautiful and you steer your ship toward only to have your ship sunk on the rocks. It is a venus fly trap to a fly. It always ends badly and not just for the participants but the whole family. In fact, the ripples go beyond your own family. Two families are directly affected. And the ripples continue out from there. Friendships are affected. Battle lines are often drawn and people must choose. Groups of friends often split over an affair even if it did not occur between two members of the group. The implications of sexual infidelity are far-reaching and go far beyond the two people who were unfaithful to their spouses.

Chapter 11
1 In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites. They destroyed the Ammonite army and laid siege to the city of Rabbah. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem.

2 Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. 3 He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period. Then she returned home. 5 Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent David a message, saying, “I’m pregnant.”

6 Then David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent him to David. 7 When Uriah arrived, David asked him how Joab and the army were getting along and how the war was progressing. 8 Then he told Uriah, “Go on home and relax.[b]” David even sent a gift to Uriah after he had left the palace. 9 But Uriah didn’t go home. He slept that night at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard.

10 When David heard that Uriah had not gone home, he summoned him and asked, “What’s the matter? Why didn’t you go home last night after being away for so long?”

11 Uriah replied, “The Ark and the armies of Israel and Judah are living in tents,[c] and Joab and my master’s men are camping in the open fields. How could I go home to wine and dine and sleep with my wife? I swear that I would never do such a thing.”

12 “Well, stay here today,” David told him, “and tomorrow you may return to the army.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 Then David invited him to dinner and got him drunk. But even then he couldn’t get Uriah to go home to his wife. Again he slept at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard.

14 So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. 15 The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.” 16 So Joab assigned Uriah to a spot close to the city wall where he knew the enemy’s strongest men were fighting. 17 And when the enemy soldiers came out of the city to fight, Uriah the Hittite was killed along with several other Israelite soldiers.

18 Then Joab sent a battle report to David. 19 He told his messenger, “Report all the news of the battle to the king. 20 But he might get angry and ask, ‘Why did the troops go so close to the city? Didn’t they know there would be shooting from the walls? 21 Wasn’t Abimelech son of Gideon[d] killed at Thebez by a woman who threw a millstone down on him from the wall? Why would you get so close to the wall?’ Then tell him, ‘Uriah the Hittite was killed, too.’”

22 So the messenger went to Jerusalem and gave a complete report to David. 23 “The enemy came out against us in the open fields,” he said. “And as we chased them back to the city gate, 24 the archers on the wall shot arrows at us. Some of the king’s men were killed, including Uriah the Hittite.”

25 “Well, tell Joab not to be discouraged,” David said. “The sword devours this one today and that one tomorrow! Fight harder next time, and conquer the city!”

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 When the period of mourning was over, David sent for her and brought her to the palace, and she became one of his wives. Then she gave birth to a son. But the Lord was displeased with what David had done.

In this passage, we see that the effects of sin are far-reaching as we will see in the prophecy by Nathan in the next passage. David’s giving in to his carnal lusts would ultimately have disastrous effects on the kingdom of Israel. The consequences for David’s sins were spelled out and fulfilled precisely. Because David used the sword to strike down Uriah the Hittite, God said the sword would not depart from David’s dynasty. The sword was often employed in David’s dynasty. Intrigue would not depart as well. Ammon rapes his half sister and then kicks her to the curb. His son, Absalom, would kill another son, Amnon. Absalom would seek to overthrow David, and thus David would have to fight against Absalom and his forces to defend his kingdom. Joab would kill Absalom. Adonijah would seek to establish himself as king in David’s place, and Solomon would eventually have him executed (1 Kings 1 and 2).

David being one of God’s people and a generally wise man (except when it came to women) knew God’s law and I am sure that he had seen the effects of infidelity in Israelite society, but that did not matter to him when it came to that moment when he saw Bathsheba naked and bathing. Sexual desire can be so overpowering to us that we let it consume us and ruin us. David almost lost his kingdom over it. The seeds for the splitting of the kingdom into the northern and southern kingdom two generations later were sown here in his infidelity with Bathsheba and the family trees and troubles that it started. Just as many of us today in this society of serial marriages forget the huge financial, social and familial problems that extramarital affairs cause and plunge headlong into satisfying our sexual desires and carnal lusts. God does not condemn adultery just to be some capricious God but rather He knows full well what happens as a result. He has seen man destroy himself since the beginning of time with sexual infidelity. He condemns adultery because it has such disastrous effects on our lives.

So flee my friends from sexual immorality. It is not because it is prudish. It is dangerous and unhealthy in so many ways for you, your spouse, the one you are having the affair with, their spouse, your children, their children, your parents, their parents, your friends. Even our legal system is overburdened with the results of infidelity. Even our social service agencies are overburden with the results of broken families. It’s just not worth all the costs. God condemns adultery for these very reasons – not to hold us back from sexual freedom. God condemns adultery because it destroys families and societies.
It may sound crude but we must think with our heads rather than our sexual organs when it comes to slipping into affairs. Sure, it may satisfy some sexual curiosity or some personal worth issue or some other psychological deficiency that you may be suffering through but is it really worth it?

Lord help us to honor our spouses in our marriages. Help to be honest with them when things are not working. Help us to work through our problems rather than throwing the marriage away through infidelity. Help us to see that marriage is more than just sex. Help us to see the devastating affects of infidelity before we act upon it. Help us to learn from the mistakes of others such as David with Bathsheba. If we are suffering through the affects of infidelity in the past that caused divorce, help us to repent and restore those relationships by admitting our mistakes. Help us to forgive those who have hurt us deeply through infidelity in our pasts. Help us all to have a realistic view of the power of sex in our society and return to a biblical view of sex and of marriage. Help us to choose our spouses wisely. Help us to marry only when we know that the person that we are marrying is a person that we can be friends with in the living room as well as the bedroom. Help us to go into marriage knowing that its not all fantasyland. Help us to realize that marriage is real life and its has its highs and lows but that it is the most important relationship in the world. Help us to see our marriages as bigger than each of us individually. Help us to see our families as worth fighting for and thus be willing to work on our marriages. Help us to become best friends with our spouses. Help us with this thing called marriage.

Amen and Amen.

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1 Samuel 2:1-11 (Part 2 of 3)
Hannah’s Prayer of Praise

In the world of divorces, there is this thing about “winning the divorce” or “winning the breakup.” What that means is whose life turns out better in the long run of the two people who were in the previous relationship. Luckily, my divorces occurred before the advent of the major social media forums such as Facebook and ones similar to it. Nowadays, when a relationship breaks up, we get to be vicarious observers of who “wins the breakup” in many relationships. Back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s when my divorces occurred, it was simply word of mouth about who won the breakups. So many people are hellbent on revenge in relationship breakups. That’s not winning the breakup. That’s just allowing yourself to be consumed. The best revenge in a breakup is living a happy life in the wake of something horrible that happened.

When I look back on my first two marriages, they ended in different ways. My first marriage was good for maybe the first 5 years of it but then my wife’s drug addiction, affair, and spending addiction after all that and just plain out meanness were contributing factors toward me committing the same sin of adultery with the woman who would become my second wife. Later, because of the conflict ever present in our marriage about my responsibility toward my children and me not being man enough to do what I needed to do for my kids out in the open, it lead her to have an affair which lead to my second divorce.

After my breakup with my first wife, she made it her mission in life to destroy me. Though she had an affair during our marriage, the fact that I had one consumed her. She wanted to win the divorce by destroying me. It was a divorce that could have been a made-for-TV movie. It was ugly. Harassment. Nasty and mean phone calls at all times of day or night. Daily voice mails from overnight when I got to work that were just pure hatred. She become consumed with consuming me. It was pretty intense from 1993-1996 in so many ways. It was not until she remarried in 1996 that she relented somewhat on her hatred. However, she never let go of it and it consumed her life even until the day she died in 2015. My second wife after our breakup was the party girl of all party girls. She was living the nightclub scene. She seemed to be winning the breakup in those early years. It was about two years ago that I heard from my youngest daughter that my second ex had gotten messed up with drugs and ended up losing her job at the bank she had worked for much of the time since our breakup, had lost her house to the bank, and was living with one of her sons.

As for me there were dark days after both of these breakups where I did not know whether I was emotionally going to make it through it. After the breakup of the first marriage, accusations of inappropriate conduct with one of my daughters that were unfounded but had to be investigated kept me from my children for over six months. And the sheer poverty of starting over again after that marriage was rough. There was a time I remember stopping by the local hot dog restaurant and buying four hot dogs with $7 of the last $10 I had in the bank so that I could have two hot dogs each night the next two nights for dinner. I remember after the second marriage breakup just being so down and blue that I hated weekends because I did not have work to distract me. It was rough for a long time just getting my head around being single again. It took a good while for me to get off my pity pot after the second breakup while she had hit the ground running even before the final breakup staying out all night and partying with her single friends.
But now looking back at it, yes, you could say I won both my divorces in the sense that my life is better than it ever has been. I am more settled, more financially stable, and have the best wife a man could ask for. I married well this third and final time. Elena has been a godsend to my life. She gives me stability, unconditional love, and a sense of home and sense of belonging that I have never felt in my life. I am living well.

But the thing that I know the most is that it is only by the grace of God, go I. He has ordered my steps and now when I look back at the past it is not a matter of saying I won the divorces. It is a matter that God pulled me through them. It is only by His hand that I made it through the dark times. I even pray that my first wife found a deeper relationship with Christ (if she was saved) or found Christ before she died and was able to let go of all the anger that she had inside her that destroyed her life to the point that she died at age 55. I pray that my second ex-wife will find Christ and that she will get her life together and not be consumed by the fact that her life did not turn out anywhere near what she dreamed it would be. I don’t want to have won something. There are no winners in broken relationships. There are no winners when you try to win the divorce. There are no winners when we become consumed with hatred to the point that we lose sight of God. There are no winners when we let anything get in the way of our relationship with God.

Reading Hannah’s prayer this morning shows us how Hannah was above “winning the relationship battle” with her co-wife, Peninnah. Sure, Peninnah deserved to be driven into the ground by Hannah, by our human standards of revenge. But that’s not the road that Hannah took as evidenced by her song of praise. Let’s read 1 Samuel 2:1-11 now:

2 Then Hannah prayed:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord!
The Lord has made me strong.[a]
Now I have an answer for my enemies;
I rejoice because you rescued me.
2
No one is holy like the Lord!
There is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

3
“Stop acting so proud and haughty!
Don’t speak with such arrogance!
For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;
he will judge your actions.
4
The bow of the mighty is now broken,
and those who stumbled are now strong.
5
Those who were well fed are now starving,
and those who were starving are now full.
The childless woman now has seven children,
and the woman with many children wastes away.
6
The Lord gives both death and life;
he brings some down to the grave[b] but raises others up.
7
The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
he brings some down and lifts others up.
8
He lifts the poor from the dust
and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s,
and he has set the world in order.

9
“He will protect his faithful ones,
but the wicked will disappear in darkness.
No one will succeed by strength alone.
10
Those who fight against the Lord will be shattered.
He thunders against them from heaven;
the Lord judges throughout the earth.
He gives power to his king;
he increases the strength[c] of his anointed one.”

11 Then Elkanah returned home to Ramah without Samuel. And the boy served the Lord by assisting Eli the priest.

In this passage, we see that there is no doubt, as Hannah said these words, she was thinking of Peninnah’s arrogance and chiding. Hannah could have gotten even with Hannah by reacting in some way about her finally giving birth to a child. Hannah did not though! She knew that God is all knowing and that He will judge all sin, pride, and arrogance. Hannah wisely left judgment up to God. We have to resist the temptation to take justice into our hands or to go after revenge. However, God will weigh our deeds as well as the deeds of those who have wronged you.

No stronger statement in this regard was ever made than at the arraignment hearing of Dillon Ruff in Charleston, SC after the Emmanuel AME Church shootings, where one by one the families of the slain victims told Dillon that they had forgiven him and it was done only through the power of Jesus Christ. They could have been bitter and wished him to the pits of hell on national television but they chose to demonstrate God’s love to the very man who had cold-bloodedly killed their loved ones. They won the relationship breaker that day. They could have continued the hatred that would have made Dillon feel validated in what He had done. But they chose to stop the cycle of hatred and show love and forgiveness through broken hearts toward the very man who had broken their hearts.

How much can we learn from these beautiful people of Charleston in our own relationships where revenge and winning the break up seems to be the order of the day. Jesus did not care that we have thumbed our nose at him, mocked him, shunned him, and said that He doesn’t exist. He stilled died for us anyway. He still loves us anyway. God could so easily just say it’s done. I am tired of these stiff-necked people hating me and disobeying me and acting as if anything else is better than me. He could take His revenge and no questions asked just send us all to hell. But He loved us so much that He has taken a higher road. He has offered us His Son as the way to be reconciled to Him.

So, next time, when you think about winning a relationship whether it’s a marriage, a relationship before marriage, a friendship gone wrong, a work relationship where you’ve been betrayed, or any relationship where you have been hurt in some way, what is the cost of winning? What is the cost of driving another person into the ground. Sometimes the best revenge is forgiveness. Sometimes the best revenge is letting God handle it. Sometimes the best revenge is just moving on with your life and not letting that other person live rent free in your head. Sometimes showing no response when a response is the norm is the best. Sometimes showing love where hate is the norm is the best response.

Through trusting in Jesus Christ to handle our hurts and angers we can live again. We can live well. We can rise above that which has hurt us. If we let our obsession with winning something we let pride win. We let hate win. We let something get in the way of our relationship with Him. Let Jesus handle your hurts. Lay them at the cross and walk away. I am not saying that we forget hurts but we do lay them at the cross and not let them become our god instead of God. Instead of our victory. Let God have the victory.

Amen and Amen.

 

Ruth 1:1-5

Elimelech Moves His Family to Moab

Recently, this past week, I had someone make a comment on a blog that I had written about two and a half years ago, yeah, that’s right. Two and a half years ago. So, the dude really must’ve been examining my blog space to find a blog from two years ago to take issue with me. This blog from two years ago was about the wonders of the grace offered us through Jesus Christ. I used myself as an example of the wonders of grace and how grace is superior to legalism. In that blog, I noted that according to Scripture that divorce is a sin. The only reason that God gave Moses rules about divorce was to regulate the way that it was handled. Since God’s people were stiff-necked sorts, God wanted to ensure that women were treated properly in this distasteful and sinful marriage breaker. Under the law, divorce is sin. Plain and simple. It is validated by Jesus himself. In Luke 16:16-18, Jesus says,

 

 

 

16 “Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in.[a] 17 But that doesn’t mean that the law has lost its force. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the smallest point of God’s law to be overturned.

 

 

 

18 “For example, a man who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery. And anyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

 

 

 

Under the law, I stand condemned as does my wife of the past 7 ½ years, Elena. We both have been married twice before. However, both of our previous marriages (two for her and two for me) each began prior to each of accepting Christ as our Savior and Lord. That does not make divorce any less sinful, but it does go to our motivations for marriage. It does go to the fact that we did not have Christ at the center of our lives at the times that we were choosing our spouses during those years. We were not Christ followers during those years. I did not come to Christ as my Savior until near the end of my second marriage (which crumbled under the weight of her adultery, my mistakes with money, and the death of her oldest son). Elena came to know Christ as her Savior about six months before we got married (as we sat in the small group meeting at our pastor’s house when we lived in California). Under the law, we both stand condemned. Under the law, we are sinners because of our divorces even though the marriages began when we were rebels against God and we chose poorly as to who we should be married to. Under the law, we are condemned as should have no access to God or to worship in the temple. We should be excluded from the people of God because of just this one sin much less a lifetime of other sins committed. According to my commenter at my blog, my mention of how God can redeem a second or third marriage is giving him the thought that he could steal money from a bank, beg for forgiveness from God, and then say that because he begged for forgiveness that it validates the stolen money as OK to spend. I think this fellow missed the whole point of the blog which was that God is in the redeeming business. Elena and I did not steal anyone’s spouse when we met. We were already divorced when we began dating but that does not minimize the sin of divorce for us. We are condemned by this sin alone and, like I said, not mention that we have mountains of sin that convict us as well. On our own merits, we stand convicted before God for the sins that we have committed. We do deserve a sentence to hell on the merits of our divorces alone. We can’t pretty that up or make that right or go back and change. According to the law, yes, we should be excluded from the pleasures of God’s righteousness. We should be excluded from heaven. We should have no claim to enter the gates of heaven on just this one sin alone. Just this one sin. What are we to do? How can we fix this? How can two sinners who have these sordid, sinful pasts that we cannot undo before the Lord before we met one another. How do we reconcile our sinful past to the purity required before God?

 

 

 

Grace is the answer. It is through Jesus sacrifice on the cross for all sins of all time that we can now approach the throne of God. Jesus paid the price and the penalty for our sins, past, present and future. I get the commenter on my blog is afraid that people abuse grace. I get that. But you have to ask the question that if a person claims grace over his apparent and unrepentant practice of sin, then, you may have to question their salvation to begin with. However, those that are truly saved have the Holy Spirit come to dwell in us and changes us from the inside out. Through the Holy Spirit’s working in my soul, I know that my past divorces are sin and it is because of just the divorce sins alone that I stand convicted by God and condemned to hell on my own merits. In the absence of the Holy Spirit, I would see that my divorces were OK and find reasons to justify them just to make myself look good. It is through the Holy Spirit that I am convicted of that sin and it pushes and prods me to make this marriage my last no matter what comes at it. I will no longer duck and run when our marriage hits a rough space. I will work on it and get through it. It is through the grace of Jesus Christ on the cross that I stand pure before God and the everyday working of the Holy Spirit that we become more and more like Christ every day. So, just as Peter stood convicted before Jesus for something he could not go back and change, Jesus asked this obvious sinner to feed His sheep. Jesus redeemed Him. Jesus made him useful to the kingdom. Jesus does the same for us through the cross. We can have our marriages that are sinful in the sight of God be made clean and holy through repentance and through grace. That is what makes for the joy of salvation and sanctification. We made free from the penalty of our past. We are given new life. We are made children of God. He can make the foulest clean!

 

 

 

What does this have to do with the passage at hand today? It has everything to do with it. Let’s read Ruth 1:1-5 together now and then I will explain:

 

 

 

1 In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.

 

 

 

3 Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. 4 The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.

 

 

 

In this passage, we see that Moab was the land east of the Dead Sea. Moabites, who were related to Israel through Lot (Gen. 19:37), occupied parts of central Transjordan at various times. It was one of the nations that oppressed Israel during the period of the judges (see Judges 3:12 and following verses), so there were tensions between the two nations. The famine must have been quite severe in Israel for Elimelech to move his family there. It is a demonstration of how sometimes we compromise our beliefs to get what we want or think we need.

 

 

 

Marrying a Canaanite or anyone who previously occupied the Promised Land was against God’s law. Moabites were not allowed to worship at the Tabernacle because had not allowed the Israelites pass through their land. If an Israelite married a Moabite woman, they would have been prevented themselves, even though they were Israelite, from worshiping at the Tabernacle because of their marriage. Sometimes, when we are in desperate circumstances we compromise our beliefs and that is what we see here. Desperate times had come but as God’s chosen people, these Israelites, even in the land of Moab, should have set the standard for moral living for other nations. However, they mixed in with the culture and even married into it. How often do we compromise our values to just fit in with the culture around us? How many times have you and I stood quiet when people were Christ bashing and we should have stood up and said something? How many times do we commit sins that we try to justify later as being OK? How many times do we ignore God’s Word because we are in desperate circumstances? How often do we do an end around on God’s Word because that’s the easiest way from Point A to Point B. All of us stand convicted on this point. We have all sinned and grieved the Spirit of God. We have all made mistakes that somewhere down the road the Holy Spirit makes us want to throw up over the kind of person that we used to be.

 

 

 

Here in this passage we see that something bad happened that was against God’s law for the people of ancient Israel – to marry outside God’s chosen people, to marry into cultures that did not worship God. And, that is something that Elimelech’s sons did. They marry the wrong kind of person according the law. They clearly did this. There was no hiding it or justifying it. They compromised because of conditions. They went against God’s own law because of their situation. Bottom line, they stand convicted. Bottom line, they broke the law. However, because of the redemptive nature of God’s love and because Naomi and Ruth had such great faith, they were eventually redeemed from the horrid life that they were going to have to live. Because of their faith, they were rewarded. Because of their faith, the bad situation that began with a sin of marriage to the wrong crowd, God actually redeemed it. God made Ruth, who was from the wrong side of the tracks…I mean….wrong side of the Dead Sea, into one of the great women of the Bible. God made Ruth into part of the lineage of King David. She was his great grandmother. She also became part of the earthly lineage of our Savior and our Lord, Jesus Christ. She became part of God’s family and the line through which Jesus’ earthly family came. Her marriage was born in sin but it was redeemed. She would not have come to know God had it not been for this apparent mistake or sin of marrying outside the people of Israel. God used this mistake of the past because of the faithful obedience of Ruth after she came to know God and turned it into something beautiful.

 

 

 

No matter where you are at right now in life. Murderer. Idolater. Adulterer. You name it. God can redeem it and make it part of His plan. Your past you can do nothing to change. All you must do is admit before God that you are a sinner and believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross as punishment for your sins that you personally deserve. And proclaim with your mouth that He is indeed the rightful one to do this because He is the Son of God and that as the Son of God He arose from the dead to give you victory over sin and death and you will be saved. You will be redeemed. Your sins are forgiven through your repentance and revulsion over your past sins. Your sins are forgiven through the grace that covers them at the cross. You are now redeemed. You are now made new. Through the Holy Spirit, you will come to repent and be grieved over each and every sin you commit from now on and you will be changed from the inside out by Him. Through the Holy Spirit, you can see how we really do deserve hell in the absence of Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit process of sanctification, we are made useful to the kingdom. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, we see joy of our salvation as we stand at the precipice of what was our eternal damnation in the fires of hell. Through Jesus Christ, we are pulled back from the brink. Through Jesus Christ, we are made clean. By God’s grace, we are made into a part of the kingdom of priests. By God’s grace, we are made part of those who are useful to God in bringing about His kingdom here on earth.

 

 

 

Yes, I am a sinner. Yes, thank God, I am redeemed. Yes, thank God, he has made my marriage clean. Yes, thank God, He has made two mistake-makers into a couple that is useful to His kingdom. No cheap grace here. Changed lives here. Joy here at what God has redeemed, made clean, and made part of the fabric of His redemptive plan. Joy here at God taking filthy rags and clothing them in the embroidered cloak of grace.

 

 

 

Amen and Amen.

 

Deuteronomy 24:1-4

Regulations Concerning Divorce

When God called me to the ministry, I come with a handicap. No, other than not being the brightest bulb in the marquee and not a whole lot of experience in public speaking, I do not have any physical handicaps or any emotional ones. However, I do come to full-time ministry with a handicap. I am divorced. Some churches won’t even give me a second glance. No matter how good my qualifications are for any position. I am divorced. In the eyes of many churches, that is a disqualification. Door shut. Resume set on the “throw away” pile.

 

There was a seen from the movie, A Time to Kill, that seems apropos here. In one scene, the prosecuting attorney completely discredits the defense psychologist by attacking him for his own past. The prosecutor, played by Kevin Spacey, found out that the defense psychologist had been arrested for statutory rape in his younger days. The defense psychologist tried to cover it up on the stand but the prosecutor proved it and he had to admit on the stand. It was a devastating blow at that moment to the defense’s case. The defense attorney, played by Matthew McConaughey, in the next day’s action told the jury that he would have never knowingly put a rapist on the stand as a defense witness. He said it should matter that there was a back story to that arrest. The defense psychologist was 19 years old at the time and the girl was 17 years old. It should matter that the 17 year old girl became the man’s wife six months later. It should matter that they were married for 35 years and that she gave the man three wonderful children as a result of their marriage. Headlines don’t always give us the back story. We see headlines and don’t bother to delve into the details.

 

Automatically judging someone without a check under the hood seems unwise to me but that’s what happens in many search committees for pastoral or pastoral related positions. I am being held accountable for actions that I took or were forced upon me before I became a Christian. Shouldn’t the measure of who I am be how I carry myself since I became a Christ follower? I am not proud of my past. It is ugly and has warts. I lived a life not characterized by Christian values. I am not saying that I should not have to explain my past but I am saying I should get the opportunity to do so.

 

My first divorce was squarely before I came to Christ as my Savior. God was never part of the equation in that marriage even though we attended church at her family’s church – more of social club than a church. We were selfishly oriented people seeking to make the other comply with our wishes and we were willing to trash it all because of selfish desires. Although we reconciled after her affair, her drug abuse was my out for that marriage and led to my affair. We were not Christ followers and God was never part of our marriage from the beginning. My second marriage, born while the first one was crumbling, was not much different. It started without God at the center of it and it was not until after the marriage was crumbling under the weight my financial blunders and her affairs that resulted that I came to Christ as my Savior.

 

God has redeemed me from my past. I have now have a marriage, my third and final one, where God is at the center of it all. We are both Christ followers and it is our expectation that if we ever hit a rough spot that divorce will not, no longer or ever, be an option. We will work through those problems when and if they come. We are committed to the long haul. We know that grace has been given to us by Christ in our salvation and that we will give each other grace in our marriage. In our salvation, we have come to realize that the marriage is bigger than both of us. We should be molding ourselves to the ideal of marriage rather than trying to mold the other person into the perfection that we want. We have been through so much in our previous marriages and realize the mistakes that we have made, ourselves, in our previous marriages, that we do actually grant each other grace in this marriage. Our ministry is the redemptive power of God’s grace. Taking two people who have been married twice before and having their third marriage speak of what God can do when He is the center of it all. It speaks loudly to the fact that God redeems. It speaks loudly that God can use even the most flawed person to be a spokesman for His kingdom.

 

It is that handicap, that stigma of divorce, without knowing my story and my wife’s story, that I immediately thought of when I read today’s passage, Deuteronomy 24:1-4. How do we reconcile divorce, the reality that it is in our world, with the Christian worldview (based on the biblical evidence)? Let’s read through this passage and come to some conclusion about it after we have read it:

 

24 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

 

In this passage, we see the only Old Testament law that deals with divorce. The way it is written, with its “if…then” wording, suggests that Israelite society was already accepting of divorce. God is setting for regulations for something that was already a problem. He is not condoning it. He is simply regulating it now that the cat is out of the bag, the horse is out of the barn. This law is intended to restrict a practice that could lead to treating women as a commodity – to be traded like merchandise. Cavalier divorce would rob the Israelite wife not only of her dignity but also of her wealth. By divorcing his wife, an Israelite man would acquire solely the wedding dowry that the wife brought to the marriage. The wedding dowry was the Israelite father’s marriage gift to the daughter. It immediately became the property of her husband upon the consummation of the marriage. Thus, the law protects marriage by imparting a solemn gravity to divorce.

 

As I have stated many times, the laws of the Old Testament were set as a minimum of behavior expected of God’s people. Jesus told us that He did not come to abolish the law but rather to fulfill it. He came to give life to the law and set us free from its condemnation. He also came to teach us that we must obey the spirit of the law and not just the letter of it. He was saying that if we are believers that we must take the law and take it to the next level. For example, with regard to divorce, Jesus says that the law was created as a minimum of behavior. He says that that divorce is only in the law because of our fallen nature and that it is not an expectation of God. He says that the only reason that we should consider divorce is if there has been sexual immorality, nothing else. If both spouses are believers, then, sexual immorality is off the table and thus divorce is off the table.

 

Matthew 19:3-9

3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

 

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

 

7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

 

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

 

Paul reiterates the higher level of expectation for believers that Jesus set before us. Paul expects us to reconcile our marriages even when the get into a hard place. Divorce simply should not be our first reaction. See what Paul says here:

 

1 Corinthian 7:10-14

10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

 

12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. 15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.

 

The only outs that the Bible thus gives us for divorce is if (1) there has been sexual immorality, (2) attempts to reconcile have failed and the non-believing spouse leaves the marriage. Believers are expected to try to reconcile their marriages even when one spouse is not a believer. If both are believers, forgiveness should be the hallmark of our behavior. If it takes a separation for an extended period of time, then, so be it but the idea for believers is to save their marriages. Sexual immorality is our only out for divorce as believers (when our spouse has committed the crime) but even then should we not exhibit grace instead of pride when it comes to our marriage. And if a so-called believer (either the spouse who has cheated or the spouse who was cheated upon) refuses to work on their marriage after adultery has occurred, then, the fruits of the spirit are not evident.

 

These are hard words in a world where we throw away spouses like we throw away soft drink bottles. Divorce is as rampant in the church as it is in the general public. It is a fact of life that we must deal with as people enter our doors. However, once we become Christ followers, we must see marriage as something that we don’t take lightly. Marriage is something that we must try to save at all costs. We must give grace and be given grace in marriage. We must think long and hard before we get married as Christ followers. Because as Christ followers, we are to be committed to our marriages for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parts us. No longer can we change spouses like we change underwear. We must see the good in our spouses and pray that they see the good in us. We must seek to forgive their weaknesses and pray that they forgive ours. We must pray for them daily and hope that they pray for us daily. Help us to be humbly in love with our spouses.

 

Yes, I am divorced. I have a past before I became a Christ follower. However, I am redeemed. My wife of 7 years is redeemed. Our marriage is a testament of God’s redeeming, reclaiming power. That preaches. That teaches. That shouts from the mountaintop of the redeeming power of the Lord that makes even the foulest clean.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 1:19-25

Scouts Explore the Land

I remember a short time ago as far as eternity goes, how things were extremely different than they are now. It was a mere twelve years ago. My second marriage had ended. As I have stated before, I allowed myself to get so wrapped up in maintaining my second marriage that I forsook all things including my children. Just to keep my wife happy I would do only what was necessary for my kids and no more. I do not blame my second wife anymore for these things. I allowed it to happen. She knew she had power over me and who wouldn’t take advantage of that? I had made her my god and all else was secondary to making her happy. I lost my soul in maintaining access to her female charms to the point that I lost who I was. Any behavior was acceptable to me to maintain approval so as to maintain access to what a woman can give a man. So, when the trajectories of having to support my child in college (beyond what was required of me by child support order) and my need to maintain the approval of my wife collided, the marriage ended before it ended. My second wife began staying out all night with her buddies from work and would not come home until late in the evening. The marriage was dead and beyond repair. We split up. I had to walk away.

 

When things came to a head and she left me no alternative but to leave after three weeks of bickering and three weeks of silence that was not to change, I called it quits. When I finally got the kahunas to do that, I think I actually heard the earth split into inside my head. Those first months after the breakup were the hardest. The weeks were hard. It was hard to even get out of bed, but something made me go to work in those days. It was a diversion from my depression that was always there in the background. It was like I felt that people could see how lousy I felt about myself and I had to work hard to hide my warts all day. However, if it were not for work, I do not know what I would have done. It was a temporary time to focus mostly on something else other than my loneliness and depression. The evenings and weekends were the worst. I was so depressed those first few months that there was no way for me to get out in the world. I was so self-conscious. It felt like people could see that my second wife was out there living it up with her party girl lifestyle and that I had nothing. It made me withdraw. Weekends were long and painful as I would hardly leave my apartment from Friday evening to Monday morning. Each tick of the clock was excruciatingly long and painful. Each tick was loud and palpable as time slowly, ever so slowly marched forward. I used to look forward to weekends but during those first few months after the breakup, I dreaded the weekends. The march of time on the weekend was audible. There was a time that I just wished I would stop living. I never considered suicide. That’s just not who I am. I did however wish that the pain would go away fervently. I was in a hole and did not know when and if it were to ever end. That’s what happens when you make a person your god and then that god is removed.

 

Even though a natural death would have been welcomed those first few months, there was always that hope that things would get better. It was a small sliver of hope that was microscopic back then, but it was a hope nonetheless. There was a dream of a life that was better. There was a slight point of light that said you will have joy again. It was a battle against the overwhelming depression that I felt in those days, but it was there and that little tiny, infinitesimal, faint light of hope that kept me going. Things would get better. Things would get better. Things would get better. Like a drug addict coming off drugs thinks the world is going to end, I was coming off my drug of making a person my god. It was the most painful experience of my life. There was a hope, however small, that pulled me through. I think that it was the Holy Spirit maintaining my sanity so that I could get to where I am today. That sliver of hope carried me through. I have been through the valley of darkness and I have survived it. If you only have a sliver of hope that things are going to get better, you still have hope. Cling to it. It is a life raft offered by the Holy Spirit.

 

It is that idea of clinging to hope instead of letting the overwhelming sense of doom overtake you that I thought of this morning. We all need that life raft of a bed frame to cling to like in the movie Titanic when all things around you are sinking. Let’s read the passage together today, Deuteronomy 1:19-25:

 

19 Then, as the Lord our God commanded us, we set out from Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites through all that vast and dreadful wilderness that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea. 20 Then I said to you, “You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. 21 See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

 

22 Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.”

 

23 The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe. 24 They left and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshkol and explored it. 25 Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they brought it down to us and reported, “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.”

 

The scouts had been sent out to determine not whether to enter the Promised Land but where they should enter. Upon returning, though, the scouts concluded that the obstacles were too large. God would give them the power to conquer the land, but they decided that the risk was too great and they let fear overtake them. God gives us the power to overcome our obstacles but we often let our circumstances control our lives. We can let our circumstances define us and defeat us and drive us into the ground. When we have trust in the Lord, no matter how bleak the situation looks, we demonstrate courageous, overcoming faith.

 

Don’t let anyone tell you that you do not have doubts about whether God is listening and caring when we go through the depths of the valley. Sure, even the strongest have doubts. Even, Jesus in the flesh on the cross asked the Father why He had forsaken Him, as Jesus felt the weight of the punishment of God for all sin for all time. We, too, will have doubts as we go through our valleys. But Jesus never lost faith while suffering on the cross. He clung to the obedience of doing His Father’s will. He knew that His objective was greater than His momentary pain. We too must cling to hope when we go through our valleys. I am witness to tell you that your resurrection is coming. It will get better. I am a living example. I am now standing on the high, dry ground. He has blessed me with a resurrected life that is firmly planted in Him. I have a great wife who loves me unconditionally no matter what. She is the wife that He intended for me. I have a great job in the secular world and I am serving the Lord at my church part-time on staff and full-time in any way I can. I am blessed. Jesus pulled me through those dark early days. I survived. I made it to the other side. Jesus was that faint light that I walked toward when I was surrounded by darkness.

 

Keep you eyes on Jesus and not your circumstances. Things will change if you trust Him no matter how hard it seems right now. You will make it. Hold Jesus’ hand!

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 5:11-31 (Part 4)

Protecting Marital Faithfulness

Yesterday, in the league of bloggers that are out there, we occasionally are impressed enough by what one of our fellow bloggers has written that we may hit the button that we like what we have read as a form of encouragement to the blogger. Yesterday, one of the people that follow my blogs is a fellow blogger herself. I happen to read one of her blogs about the struggles of being committed to saving herself sexually for the man whom she will marry. The blog was about the struggles of being single and being a virgin in the 21st century. It is a mighty struggle in this day and age to reserve the sanctity of sex for marriage and marriage only. She wrote the blog after waking up one morning crying her eyes out for the choice she has made but yet wanting to remain committed to it. You could feel her pain with every word that she wrote. I was moved by the raw honesty of her blog so much so that I left her a comment giving her encouragement. I do not know this woman as she desires anonymity by not revealing her name anywhere in her blog, but I do respect that there are actually some people out there that have committed themselves to virginity until they are married. We should be applauding and encouraging them. It is almost unheard of these days, particularly if you are somewhere in your twenties or thirties as I suspect that this woman is. Sure there might be some who are virgins that rush to get married when there are in their late teens or early 20s but being a virgin in your late 20s or into your 30s boggles the modern mind.

 

We have so institutionalized and accepted that sex is no longer just for married people that we are shocked when someone saves themselves for marriage. Having sex outside of wedlock is commonplace. I read somewhere of a survey taken in 2013 that 47% of high school students (typically ages 14-18) are sexually active. And by the time our children reach their senior year in high school, that statistic jumps to 62%. As I sit here on the precipice of becoming a grandparent to my granddaughter who is supposed to make her appearance in this world, if all goes according to the doctor’s projections, on Tuesday of next week, I reflect back on the world that I lived that are completely in contrast to the desires that I have for my granddaughter’s future.

 

I was a statistic. I was sexually active beginning at age 14 with a girl who was 16. This woman, Lisa, would eventually become my first wife and who would bear my two daughters (the oldest of which who is now about to make me a grand!). I was sexually active with several women after that marriage ended but eventually exclusive with the woman who would become my second wife. After that marriage ended, I was sexually active again with multiple partners until I met my third, and now final, wife. We were sexually active before our marriage and we even lived together for six months before we got married. As I have really began maturing in my Christian walk in these last 7 years since Elena and I met some profound people in our lives (Luke and Felisha), I look back on my sexual diary since age 14 and I am ashamed. I used to look at my list of conquests with pride but now it fills me with shame. I do not want to ever be that guy again. That guy who is ruled by sexual identity. That guy who measures his self-worth through sex and access to it. That is not the world that I want for my granddaughter, especially. There have been so many pains and heartaches in my life that I can trace back to being ruled by access to sexual relations. That was the thing that I think I did not learn until the circumstances of my relationship with Elena, my third and final wife. After the first month of deciding to see each other exclusively, my career took me first an hour and half away from her and then across the country from her. With our relationship ending up bi-coastal, sex was generally off the table except when we flew cross country to be with one another. It was a game changer for us. It was a game changer for me. We actually became friends without benefits as we went long stretches without seeing each other. She finally moved to be with me and we co-habitated for six months and then were married. When I look back now on my sexual past, it was sex that ruled my life and led to my first two marriages. Sex was the driving force not the reward. Until recently in the last 7 years, I was the statistic. We, Americans, think of sex as our measuring stick and our definition of happiness. We think of sex as recreation. We think of sex as a party game. To be a virgin today after middle school age, you are considered weird and a freak. To be a virgin to your wedding is wacked out according to modern sensibilities. Do what feels good! The sexual revolution was to free us from the bonds of biblical restriction. Heck, why not make it OK for people of the same sex to be glorified for having sex with each other and make it mainstream too. Right? If it feels good to you then its OK, right? Sex is no longer what God intended it for. It is a game to be played. Scorecards are kept and you get patted on the back for the number of conquests you have. Marriages are thrown away for more enticing sexual partners. Sex drives our society like no other time in history. This is the world I lived but not the world I want for my granddaughter. We have disconnected sex from the beautiful thing that it was intended to be in the marriage bedroom. It is simply a game now. What has it gained us?

 

In an sermon by Robert Rayburn of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, WA, posted at that church’s  website (www.faithtacoma.org), he laments as follows:

 

What has this disconnection produced in our culture: misery of every kind. There are estimated to be some 65 million people living in America today with a viral STD. One in four American teens will contract an STD in any given year. Billions are spent on the medical treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Some STDs, as we know, have permanent and incurable effects. More than half of Americans will have an STD at some point in their life. And it is estimated that eventually 80% of American women will have acquired the HPV infection. Some estimates place the number of Americans living with genital herpes at 25%. In the language of Numbers 5 in the NIV, we have become a people with swollen abdomens and wasting thighs. In the member with which we sinned we have received the punishment.

 

Divorce rates are, of course, at unprecedented levels, and the emotional and spiritual harm to children and ruin that they will carry into their adulthood is revealed with dismal regularity as one study after another confirms the obvious: children are not better off when their world is torn apart. Fewer young adults are marrying for fear of repeating their parents’ failure and the pain that went with it. More are co-habiting though the trend is old enough for us to know now as a society that co-habitation is a sure way to guarantee the precise fate one is attempting thereby to avoid: unstable relationships that cause unbearable pain for both the individuals and their children.

 

Man, when you look back at your life in this perspective and not avoiding what the Bible has to say on the subject, I am ashamed. I applaud women such as the blogger I told you about and men out there who are doing the same. They are God’s normal but man’s abnormal. We think of them as weird but they are living the life that God intended. They are above the soup that is our sexual mess that we have brought upon ourselves. The blogger spoke of how some men jettison themselves from her immediately when they find out that she will not have sex with them unless she is married to them. Sure, the blogger has some temporary pains associated with that. But, she may have saved herself greater pain, a lifetime of pain, associated with relationships that are built on sex first and everything else second. I can attest to building relationships on sex first are doomed and will fail. Relationships where friendships develop, love develops, caring develops, forgiveness develops first are the ones that last. Those are the ones that carry us to the finish line. Those are the relationships that God wants us to have. These are the relationships that I want for my granddaughter.

 

These were the things that I thought about today when I read through this passage for the third consecutive day. Let’s re-read it again together here:

 

 

11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13 so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14 and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— 15 then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah[a] of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.

 

16 “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. 19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse[b] among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”

 

“‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”

 

23 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 24 He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. 25 The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar. 26 The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial[c] offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 27 If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.

 

29 “‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, 30 or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the Lord and is to apply this entire law to her. 31 The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.’”

 

We live in a world where we are dealing with the curses of our sexual promiscuity. We are living with the results. We are swallowing the bitter water. My life before maturing in Christ is a testament to the destruction and trail of tears caused by sexual promiscuity. I stand ashamed before the throne. I ignored God’s Word for most of my post-pubescent life. God’s restrictions are not meant to hold us back. They are meant to keep us from harm. They are meant to make us more holy. He wants sex to be a gift and a jewel that is sacred and shared in the intimacy of a relationship that was built on friendship and agape love before it is shared. What a different world that would be if we saved sex for the marriage bed? What a different world it would be if we were not so enamored with number of partners we have had in our lifetime and praised those who have saved themselves for that one person and that one person only that God intended for us. What if we waited. What a wonderfully different world that would be! That’s the world I want for my granddaughter! And to the blogger I wrote of, I say hang in there girl, the one that God has intended for you is getting here as fast as he can!

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 5:11-31 (Part 3)

Protecting Marital Faithfulness

Evvvvverybody loves Raymond. It was famous sarcastic line of Raymond’s brother, Robert, when it seemed to him that Ray was living a charmed life compared to him or that he was getting the short end of the stick in life compared to Ray. It was even the title of the show. As most people who watched the show, one of Ray’s most consistent complaints on the show was the lack of frequent sexual relations with his wife, Debra. She complains most often that after a day of taking care of three children all day long and then taking care of Ray, she is frequently too tired for sex. It is a common complaint among mothers with small children and validly so. It’s God form of birth control! Tiredness from taking care of little ones. In an episode recently that I saw that I had forgotten about where the kids are a little older and can more easily take care of themselves than earlier in the show’s run, Debra seems inordinately, how should I put it, “frisky”. At first, Ray is enjoying the extra “attention” but, being a comedy show, his brother and some of his buddies start to put ideas in Ray’s head about why she is so suddenly frisky. They ask him if anything has changed in their routine of life. Ray thinks for a bit and says that Debra had recently been going to an aerobics class at the local fitness club or YMCA or something. After finding a brochure from the class, he sees that the instructor for the class is young, buffed, chiseled looking young dude. The hilarity of the episode is how Ray becomes jealous and busts into her class and, of course, being Ray of Everybody Loves Raymond, he makes a complete fool of himself. The irony of the episode is that throughout most of the series, he complains about not getting enough sex but never questions Debra’s loyalty to him, but in this episode he’s is getting what he always wanted but it makes him suspicious that Debra has designs on the aerobics instructor and is just using him as the release for her desires for the instructor. Being a comedy show though, Ray and Debra resolve the issue where Debra says that getting more exercise and getting back into shape makes her feel better about herself and when she feels better about herself she feels better about other things, if ya know what I mean. They make up and the last thing we see as the episode fades out is Debra and Ray racing up the steps to the bedroom.

 

Everybody Loves Raymond was one of the funniest and most popular shows of its day. It was funny because it made fun of real life situations. The sexual politics of marriage when you have small children was always one of the real life issues that they dealt with in the show and they did so in a light-hearted and funny way. In the real world, sex is a real issue in marriages and it does not always get resolved in a single episode of life. Sexual fidelity, infidelity, and sexual jealousies are real things and real issues in marriages. But let us drift back in time to the biblical era and look at what is happening in our text.

 

To our modern sensibilities this text seems extremely sexist. Twenty-first century American women want to cry foul when they read this text. Even men of today would look at this text and wonder why men were not subjected to the same test. To us, it seems extremely discriminatory toward women. One of the dangers of reading the Old Testament is that we come at it with our 21st century predispositions and worldviews. We must recalibrate when we read this text and read it with an understanding of the culture of the times. Let us remember that in most Old Testament era societies (and in a certain sense all the way up to the mid-20th century), woman were treated with far less respect than they are today. In cultures that surrounded the people of Israel, women were mere chattel. They were treated like possessions that could be treated any way men wanted to treat them. Women had no rights. Men could abuse them in any and all ways without punishment. A woman could be tossed to the street for no reason practically at all. With no rights to property, women were at the mercy of the men of their societies. Women put simply in biblical era societies that surrounded the people of Israel were treated no better than the family’s cattle.

 

However, God, with the people He called to be His own, the Israelites, was establishing a society that lived according to His rules. And, in progressing his people toward a society where women would eventually be considered equal to men, He understood the world as it was and put plans in place to begin protecting women from the ill treatment that they have received at the hands of men.

 

Even though this passage seems archaic and chauvinistic to us, it really was a protection put in place for women. In the absence of God’s law, the Israelites would have assumed the customs of the world at that time. If a man even simply suspected his wife of being unfaithful, he could toss her to the curb and replace her just like that. He could abuse her physically, emotionally and so on simply on suspicion without proof and could get away with it. God put this procedure in place to protect women not single them out. What we must take away is not viewing this as archaic but evidence of God’s desire to protect women, his most beautiful but yet most delicate of His creations.

 

For a man in Israelite society under God’s law, he would have to be really, really sure that his wife was being unfaithful to him to invoke this ritual at the tabernacle. Not only would he be testing God if he was wrong, he would, of course, alienate his wife if she was innocent. Not only would he be putting his family on public display before God and the entire Israelite society, but he would look like a complete and utter fool if his wife was innocent. A Israelite man would then have to think long and hard about this issue before invoking the ritual. This is a far cry from being sexist toward women. God is actually protecting them from unfounded jealousies. Further, the ritual would help control men too. If a woman was found guilty of her husband’s suspicions, the man with whom she was committing adultery would be exposed as well.

 

God’s interest here is not to expose women but to protect them. God’s interest here is to preserve marriage and to punish infidelity. God’s interest here was to produce and orderly society that is not consumed by sexual sin and the destruction that it causes.

 

These were the things that I thought about today when I read through this passage for the third consecutive day. Let’s re-read it again together here:

 

 

11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13 so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14 and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— 15 then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah[a] of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.

 

16 “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. 19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse[b] among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”

 

“‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”

 

23 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 24 He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. 25 The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar. 26 The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial[c] offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 27 If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.

 

29 “‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, 30 or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the Lord and is to apply this entire law to her. 31 The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.’”

 

Sexual sin is destructive to society. It is destructive to families. Just look at our world today. Single parent homes and blended families. Each of these types of situations are fraught with problems of their own. Children in single parent homes are more likely to get in trouble at school and with the law. Blended families have destructive forces working against them called my kids vs. your kids that lead to anger, jealousy and destruction. Sure there are marriages that split up for reasons such as physical and emotional abuse but the vast majority of marriages split up over sexual sin. It is considered the norm nowadays to have been married and divorced at least once. Kids with different names than the one on the mailbox. Moms with kids but multiple fathers. Dads with children by multiple mothers. Child support payments. Visitation rights. Whose got the kids this weekend. Kids watching parents battle over them as if they were a car or a boat, a possession. Figuring the logistics of holidays. Kids caught in the middle. It’s all insane. And I have lived it myself. Married. Had kids with my first wife. Divorced. Remarried to a woman with three small boys. Blended family. Jealousies ripping that marriage apart. Divorced again. Luckily, in my third, it is a marriage where we both have decided to live our marriage God’s way. But, I have lived the insanity of divorce and remarriage as the result of the sexual sins of myself and my previous wives. Neither myself or my previous spouses were immune to the rampant sexual sin of our day. And, we accept this as the norm of life now. And, we Christians are no better than anyone else in this regard. The divorce and remarriage rates among Christians are just as high as the general population. I have seen sexual sin destroy families, active families who served and cared, in our fellowship to the point that they no longer are willing to come to our church because of perceived shame.

 

So, to me, this passage is not some sexist, chauvinistic, archaic piece of God’s legislation for a time gone by that no longer applies to us. What we must take away from this passage is that God is serious about marriage and serious about the protection of the marriage estate. God shows us that marriage is His most important institution and that He wants it preserved. He wants us to think long and hard about the curses that come with sexual sin. It should make us think long and hard about marriage. God want our marriages to last so let us think long and hard about whether we truly love someone or are just sexually aroused by them. Sexual sin rips marriages apart. It wears on the fabric of society. It creates problems that destroy societies. The sanctity of marriage is important to God. It is the closest thing to our relationship with Him when marriage is done right by us. God takes marriage serious. So should we. Take that away with you when you read this. Don’t get hung up on reading 21st century sensibilities into the Old Testament era. Really look at what God is saying here. Take that away. Live that.

 

Amen and Amen.