Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Wives are not property (part 1) Dt: 21:10-14

"When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her." (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)
At times, when reading the Old Testament, it is hard to distinguish between those social behaviors that God tolerates and those He condones. This passage describes a practice that most of us would find intolerable but one which was very much accepted and practiced in that day. I believe that in addressing this practice, God is not condoning the practice but rather trying to teach us some principles of marriage using this practice as a backdrop.

The backdrop is the taking of wives, either through arraigned or forced marriages or though the spoils of war. Marriages where the women had no say in the arrangement of their marriage. These women became wives completely apart from their own volition and often contrary to their individual consent. While in the western mindset such "arraignments" seem antiquated and belonging to an age long ago, these practices still persist in many part of the world today. God describes the practice as "humbling". This is the same term used to describe the forcing of a woman into an unwanted sexual encounter; it degrades and humbles the woman as a person. However, once a marriage has begun in this way, God's word seeks to remind the husband of his duties and obligations to his wife.

There is an innate tendency in husbands, irrespective of how their marriage came about, to view his wife as his property. Especially, in this case, where she became his as the result of the spoils of war. It is easy for him to see her just as property; property to be used for his own pleasure and purpose. However, this attitude can exist in marriages where both parties entered into the marriage relationship through mutual consent. I have met husbands who treat their wives as objects to be ordered around, items to be used to serve their own needs and interests, and, just like their children, someone to be punished when they do not measure up or meet their particular needs. God outlines in this verse some important principles that can be applied to any marriage, but especially to marriages that may have gotten off "on the wrong foot."

Remove the clothes of her captivity: There are many reasons for getting married, but God intends the married life to be better than the single life that each partner is leaving behind. Marriage is not intended to solely, or even primarily, benefit the husband, but rather should also benefit and be a blessing to the wife. Unfortunately, many wives find themselves trapped in marriage, their marriage has become their captivity, and many desire to be unshackled and once again be set free to an independent life. God intended marriage to be liberating, God intended that wives would find in their marriage new freedom to be and express who they are, to be and become all that God has created them to be.

Jesus warns us against exercising dictatorial rule over those under our care. "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.'" (Luke 22:25) Unfortunately, too many husband try to rule their homes in this manner; they are the masters of the home and everyone else exists to serve and meet their needs and wants. Jesus, however, teaches us a better way. "But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant." (Luke 22:26) It is a wise husband that learns to go low and lift up his wife and children; to be for them launching pads from which they may fully realize all that God has called them and made them to be. Only when we, as husbands, learn to let others become the "benefactors" within our homes, will we truly experience the blessing and joys of marriage and family. Husbands, remove the clothes of your wives' captivity and let them be set free in your love and in your marriage.

More to come... David Robison

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