posted on Jul, 29 2016 @ 05:04 PM
When God made the living things of the world, he blessed them.
That is, he told them to be fruitful and to multiply.
I believe the ancestors of the Israelites would have first known their God as the source of life, in the animals they hunted, in the animals they
herded, in the crops they planted, and in their children.
That is the meaning of “blessing”;
“Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man who has his quiver full of them” (Psalm 127 vv4-5).
And this is where marriage comes in.
“Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis ch2 v24).
This firm and stable relationship is the Biblical ideal of marriage;
“The Lord was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth… she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (Malachi ch2
But the purpose of marriage, in God’s eyes, centres upon the children;
“Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does he desire? Godly offspring” (v15).
And we can see the importance of children from Ezekiel’s white-hot anger over the practice of sending them “through the fire” to other gods;
“And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small
a matter that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them?” (Ezekiel ch16 vv20-21)
The Biblical God seems to take marriage much more personally then the gods of some of the other nations.
The laws of Hammurabi and the laws of ancient Rome deal with marriage as a business transaction.
They concern themselves with questions like “if a man’s wife runs off with the milkman, how much of her dowry is he allowed to keep?” But this
God takes marriage under his own protection.
In the laws of the Pentateuch, he is prone to describe the various disorders which affect marriage as abominations. And an “abomination”, in the
Old Testament, means another god or an act of idolatry. By extension, any direct offence against the Lord God of Israel.
One such disorder is divorce, which breaks up the stability of marriage. Malachi’s homily on the subject concludes;
“So take heed to yourselves and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering
one’s garment with violence [i.e. injustice]” (Malachi ch2 vv15-16).
Jesus drew the same conclusion out of the Genesis verse. It was not God’s intention that men should be sending their wives away to suit their own
convenience. If it was allowed in the Law of Moses, that was only because of “the hardness of your hearts” (Matthew ch19 vv3-9).
The Law also implicitly accepts that men will have multiple wives and concubines.
Jesus was not asked about this, probably because the custom had died out.
But if the question had come up, he would surely have given the same answer.
The statement in Genesis clearly assumes a one-to-one relationship.
The later indulgence given to polygamy must again have come from “the hardness of men’s hearts”.
Another disorder is adultery, something else which breaks up the stability of marriage.
It is forbidden, of course, in one of the Ten Commandments.
Adulterous behaviour is not just the husband’s concern, but a direct offence against God himself (though the introduction of the death-penalty may
be another symptom of human “hardness of heart”).
Thus the main purpose of the law on divorce is to protect the marriage custom from “defilement”; if a divorced woman loses her second husband,
through death or divorce, her first husband is forbidden to take her back.
A resumption of the first marriage would be “an abomination before the Lord”, which would “bring guilt upon the land” (Deuteronomy ch24
That is, the forms of marriage are not to be turned into a mask for casual promiscuity.
Another direct offence is harlotry.
“Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, lest the land fall into harlotry and the land become full of wickedness” (Leviticus ch19
“You shall not bring the hire of a harlot, or the wages of a dog, into the house of the Lord your God in payment of any vow; for both of these are
an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy ch23 vv17-18).
The prophets underline the point by using both adultery and harlotry as metaphors about the spiritual faithlessness of God’s people Israel;
“A spirit of harlotry has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the harlot…
Therefore your daughters play the harlot and your brides commit adultery” (Hosea ch4 vv12-13).
And we also see in Proverbs the analogy of the “wicked woman” as the seductive opposite of Wisdom.
She is both harlot and adulteress, the married woman making the most of her opportunities;
“My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey” (Proverbs ch7 19).
(Or “Me man’s away to Ballynahinch, d’ye knaw?”, as an Ulsterwoman once said to my father)
Incest is another disorder. Most cultures have rules which define incestuous relationships, and the rules found in Leviticus are not very unusual.
One interesting feature is the logic applied to what might be called “adulterous incest”- that is, coupling with the wife of a close relative,
such as father, brother, or son. The reasoning is that this act is “uncovering the nakedness” of the relative in question. Obviously this relies
on the premise derived from Genesis, that husband and wife are “one flesh”.
On the same principle, the relatives of one’s own wife are also forbidden;
“You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, and you shall not take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter… they
are your near kinswomen… And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive”
(Leviticus ch18 vv17-18).
Another variant is the complaint found in Amos;
“A man and his father go into the same maiden, so that my holy name is profaned” (Amos ch2 v7). The implication is that this double coupling
counts as incest, even in the case of a harlot, no less than if she had been the wife of one of them.
Finally there are the disorders of sterility.
A eunuch (“a dry tree” in Isaiah) is not even allowed to be part of the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy ch23 v1).
There are laws about men or women who couple with beasts (Leviticus ch18 v23 and ch20 vv15-16). The relevant curse in Deuteronomy ch24 immediately
follows the curse on incest with father’s wife (and precedes the curses on incest with sister or mother-in-law).
The chief objection must be that the act has nothing to do with human reproduction. It is fundamentally sterile.
Again, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus ch18 v22).
This would surely be for the same reason.
The coupling of man with man is necessarily as sterile as the coupling of man with beast.
These things are associated, in Leviticus ch18, with incest, adultery, and “sending children through the fire”, none of which offer the right
conditions for bringing up “godly offspring”.
Conversely, we find nothing, at least in the Old Testament, to encourage vows of celibacy.
Sexuality, in itself, comes under no condemnation.
Far from it.
The Biblical God is a God of “Get married and have lots and lots of children”.
Because this is a God of Life.