Saturday, November 28, 2009

Divorce, remarriage, and remarriage (Part 1) Dt 24:1-4

"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 indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife, and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
This passage, contrary to its first appearance, is not a teaching on divorce. It is not about when divorce is permitted or how divorce is to be handled. Rather, this passage is a prepositional phrase, "If A and B then C", or in this case, "not C". This scripture simply states God's law forbidding a couple to remarry after they have been divorced and remarried to someone else in the interim. However, given that, there are some insights into divorce and remarriage we can glean from this passage.

First, in this passage God does not condone divorce but simply presents it as a reality. Divorce is and was a practice that persisted for ages in Israel and the surrounding nations. God was not instituting something new but rather acknowledging an existing practice among the people. While God never intended marriages to end in divorce, He did, however, permit it in some situations as a remedy for the wickedness of mans' heart.

This passage cites two separate divorces, each with their own reason. In the first case, the wife falls out of favor with her husband because he found some "indecency" in her. This Hebrew word is very interesting. It literally means nudity and refers to the exposure of one's pudenda. This is the same word used when Noah's son saw him laying naked on his bed. "Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father's nakedness." (Genesis 9:22-23) It is unlikely that this verse is referring to an actual act of sexual immorality or lewdness. If so, then other aspects of the law would have required the woman to be stoned not divorced. While it is unclear exactly what may have been meant by this term, it does give a vivid picture of the break down of the relationship between the man and the woman. The deterioration of their marriage goes far beyond the inconveniences and annoyances that are from time to time incident in almost every marriage. In the marriage cited there is a radical change in the way one partner sees the other. What love and affection that may have once existed between the man and his wife has evaporated and been replaced by despising, loathing, and contempt of the other person and for who they are and/or have become.

In the second case, it is simply recorded that the second husband "hates" his wife. This Hebrew word literally means to become and enemy or a foe. Sometimes, due to constant and repeated fighting and bickering, a couple's relationship can be reduced from one of love to one of hate. In this case, the problems that exist between the couples are more than irritations, misunderstandings, and frustrations, they have actually become enemies. Instead of serving and preferring each other, they are engaged in a persistent lifestyle of attacking and tearing down one another.

In cases like these, God permits divorce as a remedy to evil that that has made itself present in their marriage. Jesus said,
"They said to Him, 'Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?' He said to them, 'Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.'" (Matthew 19:7-9)
Divorce is the remedy for the hardness of mans' heart. It is an acknowledgment that men are sinners and, at their unregenerate core, mankind is basically evil and sinful. In these cases, given the unrepentant and wicked nature of the heart of men, divorce is preferable to a life of constant waring. This is why Paul says,
"But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace." (1 Corinthians 7:12-13, 15)
God is a god of peace and sometimes divorce with peace is better than a marriage with acrimony. For this reason, God permits divorce, though it was never His original intention of design.

More to come... David Robison

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Industry, Proprietorship, and Entitlement: Dt 23:24-25

When you enter your neighbor's vineyard, then you may eat grapes until you are fully satisfied, but you shall not put any in your basket. When you enter your neighbor's standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor's standing grain." (Deuteronomy 23:24-25)
This scripture deals with three aspects of personal property.

Industry: A person's industry is to be rewarded. One who applies himself to the formation of wealth had the right to the fruits of such pursuits. In this case, those who apply their efforts to tilling and farming the land. Those who work do so in hope of a profit and are deserving of their rewards. "Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? Because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops." (1 Corinthians 9:7, 10)

Proprietorship: While one may be the proprietor of his own wealth, it is the Lord who gives the increase. All that we have, including the strength to create wealth, comes from God. The law allowing a neighbor to eat from another's field as they pass through is, in part, to remind us that before anything became ours, it was first God's. Since God gave us the land and its increase, He has also the right to give it to others for their use, enjoyment, and satisfaction. We must not hold on so tight to our possessions that we forget to be charitable and generous to others. "The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it." (Psalms 24:1)

Entitlement: No one has the right to presume or intrude upon another's wealth. He who works is entitled to the increase of his labors and the rewards of his industry belong to him. We do not have the right, or entitlement, to another's wealth for which we have not labored. The world and our society does not owe us its wealth, nor are we entitled to its riches, except to the degree to which we apply ourselves in labors, efforts, and industry. "For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either." (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

David Robison

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Vows and Vowing: Dt 23:21-23

"When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the Lord your God will surely require it of you. However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you. You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God, what you have promised." (Deuteronomy 23:21-23)
I remember my grandmother telling the story of a time when she was called to testify in court. As she took the stand, the bailiff approached and asked her to place her hand on the Bible and asked, "Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" She simply responded, "I affirm." The bailiff, who had obviously never heard such a response, looked puzzled and wondered if such a response was to be allowed. The judge, however, who knew my grandmother to be a Christian, informed the bailiff that swearing was against her Christian faith and that it was sufficient for her to simply affirm to tell the truth without being required to swear or invoke and oath. My grandmother fully believed what Jesus had said,
"Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.' But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil." (Matthew 5:33-37)
We have all hear stories of those who, during times of great distress and danger, made vows and promises to God, to serve Him if only He would save them and preserve them from their distress, and whom, only later, after being delivered from their danger, forgot all about their vows and failed to fulfilled their promises to God. James, echoing Jesus' words, warns us of the consequences of false vows saying, "But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment." (James 5:12) When we fail in our vows and promises to God we fall under the judgment of God.

In today's culture, we do not have the same reverence and understanding of vowing as the ancients once did, but God takes the words we speak very seriously, and God expects us to fulfill all the vows and and promises that escape our lips. Jesus warns us that we shall stand in judgment for every word we speak. "But I say unto you, that every idle word which men shall say, they shall render an account of it in judgment-day: for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37 Darby) God hears every word we speak and takes note of all our vows and promises. He remembers our words and the judgments we impose upon ourselves should we ever fail to keep our words. This is why Jesus counsels us to "make no oaths at all."

When we are tempted to go beyond a simple "Yes" or "No", it is not God who is tempting us, but such motivation "is of evil." Such swearing often proceeds from a proud and presumptuous heart. The same kind of heart that James was referring to when he said,
"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.' But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil." (James 4:13-17)
When it comes to tomorrow, we are not the masters of our own fate and we are powerless to determine and direct the course of future events. Worse yet, history has shown us that we, as humans, are very bad at keeping covenant and fulfilling our promises. When we swear and take oaths, it is often the result of seeing ourselves too highly then we ought, and it is this pride and presumption that leads us into judgment over our unfulfilled vows and promises. Jesus' counsel is for us to remember that we are but men and, in all humility, to let our conversation be simply "Yes" and "No" and to leave the promising up God.

David Robison

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Lending to the poor: Dt 23:19-20

"You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest. You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countrymen you shall not charge interest, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are about to enter to possess." (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)
God's rules on lending without usury apply primarily to lending to the poor. These rules do not, however, forbid the lending of money as an investment in some business venture or lending for a commercial desire rather than an absolute need, for example lending money for a car, a house, or some other purchase. God is here primarily concerned with our treatment of and response to the poor. "If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest." (Ex 22:25) "He who increases his wealth by interest and usury gathers it for him who is gracious to the poor." (Proverbs 28:8)

The Hebrew term translated here as "loaned at interest" is an interesting word. It literally means to strike with a sting or to bite. It is the same word used to describe the bites of the serpents send to punish the nation of Israel while they were in the desert. "The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died." (Numbers 21:6) The term here for "they bit" is the same word used for "loaned at interest". It is God's intention that we pity the poor rather than see them as an opportunity for gain. God desires us to have hearts of compassion, hearts that reach out to help those in need, hearts that think of other more than ourselves and how we might be increased. God identifies with the poor and, when we lend to the poor, it is as if we are lending to Him. "One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed." (Proverbs 19:17)

David Robison

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