Category Archives: Marriage

Christ, the Church, and Marriage

I have a beautiful muscat grape vine. Last week I pruned it. Then I felt bad, since Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Maybe in my pruning the vine I misrepresented the permanence of the Covenant of grace. Jesus will never cut us off, will he?

Last night, before I went to bed, I locked my front door. That made me feel bad, since Jesus is the door, that maybe I misrepresented the kingdom of heaven, by locking people out of my house.

I guess that when I turned off my lights at night, I could possibly be communicating that I walk in darkness and not in the light. I should probably keep them on.

And I could go on, except now it is getting silly.

In case you wondered, these ridiculous examples show how important it is to interpret pictures and parables correctly.

Take, for example, our mystic union with Christ. It is so intense, so diverse and so deep that scripture uses picture after picture after picture to describe it.

He is the vine; we are the branches. He is the Good Shepherd, we are the sheep. He is the head; we are the body.

And this one: He is the husband; we are the bride.

And that brings me to my point. Ephesians 5 is about the union of one flesh that takes place in a marriage. The husband and the wife, through mutual love and submission, are to become more and more as one flesh – like Christ and the church.

And we have to be very careful about imagery. Don’t take it further than is intended. The common interpretation of Ephesians 5:22ff is this: Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Since Christ will never abandon his church, divorce is forbidden under all circumstances.

Hogwash. This is the same as saying that since Christ will never abandon his church, we also must never prune our vines. It’s silly on the face of it.

I have also heard that since Paul says that the husband is like Christ, he is to sanctify the wife with the word, and act as her prophet priest and king.

Piffle. It doesn’t say that at all.

The Husband isn’t Christ; Ephesians 5:22ff teaches only this: the husband is to love sacrificially like Christ did. This doesn’t say that the wife is not to be like Christ, nor does it say that the husband is a king, or a prophet or a priest in the home – like Christ. It merely says that the husband is to love sacrificially, like Christ loved the church.

The wife is to submit, which is beautifully explained by Barbara Roberts here. It doesn’t say she is made in the image of man, or that she is eternally subordinate, or that the husband is her savior, umbrella of protection, or any other nonsense. It simply says submit, like the church submits to Christ. She also is a Christian, and a partaker of Jesus’ anointing. She is also a human being, made in God’s image. She is a covenant creature, responsible to God alone. She also is given the Holy Spirit. But when she marries, she is to strive to be one flesh with her husband, like Christ and the church. That’s all that Ephesians 5 is teaching.

When you say that, it is best to then stop with the analogies, lest you make the husband a god and the wife an idolater.

This passage says nothing about whether divorce is permitted, whether marriage is to be a “living picture of the gospel” or anything else of that sort. It is simply an analogy that Paul uses pastorally to teach, first of all, about mystic union with Christ, and second, about husbands and wives.

It is true that God created a world so that he could reveal himself to men. He created lambs and fire and gold and bulls and trees so that when he spoke to us, we would know something about what he is talking about. So also with marriage. He gave us marriage so that when he speaks to us of love, tenderness, intimacy and union, we would know something of what he is talking about.

But we also must understand that we cannot ever know God exhaustively. Ultimately, his name is “wonderful”, that is, to be wondered at, not exhausted. He is “I Am that I Am”, self-referential. To bring more into the nature of God than scripture gives us warrant is to ultimately become an idolater.

So let’s be careful with our marriage counsel.  A husband and wife are not a living picture of the gospel any more than any Christian, whether married or single. Ephesians 5 says nothing about divorce or eternal covenants. It implies a LOT about abuse. If the husband abuses his wife, then he blasphemes the name of Christ, but that’s another blog for another time.

Let’s be Christians in all of our actions. This means that all of us- married, single, men, women, children- should strive to become more and more like Jesus. And at the same time, let’s cast aside all the nonsense in the marriage books that go so far beyond what the scripture actually says that they are beginning to sound like caricatures of themselves.

There’s a lot more in the book of Ephesians than Ephesians 5:22. I would recommend that you read the whole book in one sitting, and then read it again. Look at the whole message and see who Jesus is. That’s the point of it.

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Headship is not Hierarchy

In my recent post, I made the statement that the phrase “he shall rule over you” was something new that came into the world because of the curse. I wrote, “There was no hint of hierarchy before the fall.” Since this has generated some consternation, and great concern that I might be turning liberal, I thought it wise to clarify a bit here.

To see clearly, perhaps Augustine’s division of the states of man might be helpful. If you recall, Augustine delineated four states of man, which were later repeated by Thomas Boston, neither one of them liberal.  First, before the fall, in his created state, man was able to sin and able to not sin. After the fall, unregenerate man was able to sin and not able to not sin. Regenerated man is able to sin and able to not sin. And glorified man is able to not sin and unable to sin.

Before the fall, before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve served God perfectly. They did not live for themselves; their desires were not to have power over each other, but they both lived as they were created – as one flesh, in perfect unbroken harmony. We can have no idea what this was like, since our state now is far different. If by “hierarchy” you mean that Adam ruled his wife and she submitted to his desires, I reject that. It has no basis in scripture.  If by hierarchy you mean an order of creation, that I happily accept, as Paul wrote

For Adam was first formed, then Eve. (1Ti 2:13 KJV)

This I wholeheartedly confess, believing the Bible to be the inerrant, infallible word of God. I am hesitant to try to apply this beyond how Paul applies this, however, since I have no idea what it looked like practically before the fall. I think it is reading to much into the text to say that this means that Adam ruled over his wife. Did Adam sit on the couch and say “Woman, beer me and shut those kids up!” I think not. He did not rule his wife. They both served God and one another perfectly, being without sin.  This is the only thing that I meant when I said, “There was no hint of hierarchy before the fall.”

After the fall is a world I can relate to. Men and women became idolaters and rebels. They were covenant breakers, serving themselves and their own lusts. The curse that came upon the relationship was that the desire of the woman would be “toward the man”, which I still interpret to mean that she would retain the longing for the one flesh relationship that she would be unable to have, because he would instead rule over her. This is different than before, and part of the curse, and not good.  She, in her unregenerate state, would respond to this rule in a variety of ways, depending on her personality. Despair, hopelessness, manipulation, domination – but it would be a life of slavery and degradation after the fall, which she would resist in various ways, because she would still be human. And she would still long for her husband.

I do not believe you can read anymore into the phrase, “to your husband, your desire”, than that. Nor do I believe you can read anymore into Genesis 4:7 than what is there, but I will address that in another post in another time. There is nothing in Genesis 3:16 that is prescriptive. It is simply a description of what life will be like now that men and women have sold themselves into the slavery of sin and death. They will now be governed by the rules of the kingdom of the devil, rather than the law of God. And this will be the case until the Seed of the Woman comes and crushes the head of the oppressor, which happened when Christ gave himself to the death of the cross.

Christ came to take away the curse, he delivered us from the bondage of sin and the power of the devil. This means that we no longer are to live by the rules of the kingdom of the devil. This is what Ephesians 5 is all about. The wife, instead of seeking her own things and her own desires, is to submit to her husband, as described here.

11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. (Pro 31:11-12 KJV)

She is not to chafe against him, work against him, or seek his harm, but to do him good. Remember that Christ’s work is to restore what we lost. The goal of marriage is the one flesh relationship, rather than the antagonistic and abusive relationship that characterized the kingdom of the devil. It isn’t about who makes the coffee, changes the diapers, or does the dishes. It’s about love and peace.

Paul also has in mind the marriage of believers. He is not at all talking about marriage to a wolf, who seeks to destroy and devour. He is talking about believers, united in faith to Jesus Christ, where there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism (chapter 4). The church is to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of love, and this is to be pictured most prominently in the home.

The husband’s job is not to rule over his wife, enforce the rules, or be the commander and king at home in his castle, for it is not his castle. The home belongs to Christ. He is not to usurp Christ’s role as the king of kings, but he is to emulate Christ in only one way, according to the text. He is to love her.

This fits beautifully with Jesus’ definition of authority in John 13:

John 13:1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him;
3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;
4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
(Joh 13:1-5 KJV)

We cannot claim the smallest amount of authority that Jesus has. All authority has been given into his hands. And yet, he took the lowest place and washed his disciples’ feet. Wow.

Then look what he says,

12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. (Joh 13:12-15 KJV)

So in answer to the question, “Do I believe that the husband has authority in the home?” My answer is “Yes. Certainly. There is no way around it. He is to wash his wife’s feet, serve her, do good to her, love her – even, as Paul says, give himself for her.

This is far different than the curse of Genesis 3:16. It turns it on its head. Instead of either the man or the woman serving themselves, their lusts, their goals and desires, both are to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and the husband is to take the lead in taking the lowest place in the home. That’s not me saying this. That’s Jesus Christ.

It is the husband ultimately responsible for the peace of the home. It is the husband that God will hold accountable for what has been entrusted to him. But he does not rule the home by power and control. He governs his home by service and love. You can see a woman controlled by power. She is downcast and the light is gone in her eyes. And you can see a woman who is loved by her husband. She is alive, fully human, confident, and joyfully doing whatever work God has called her to with spirit and life. Why do so many who claim the name of Christ believe that women are to be controlled by entitlement and power?

The husband isn’t the boss, the commander, the chief, the king. All of that belongs to Christ. Rather, the husband is the head, and she is the body. He is to nourish, cherish and love her as his body, because she is his body. That’s the point. To ask the question, “But isn’t he still in charge?” is to miss the point entirely. Do you think that she will turn into a harpy if you neglect to command her for a day? Whom did you marry? Is she not also an heir of eternal life and a firstborn son of God in Jesus Christ?

So for you husbands insisting that you are the head of your home, take it seriously. Go home, cook dinner, draw her a bath, do the dishes, put the kids to bed. Ask her what she is thinking. Talk about her dreams and fears. Assume she also is led by the Holy Spirit and trying to serve her Lord with a pure heart. Do all the modern equivalents of washing the feet.  This is what Jesus is talking about.

Remember that we are bought with a price, the precious blood of the lamb, and do not belong to ourselves. Husbands don’t belong to themselves, and wives don’t belong to themselves. All belong to Christ, and the husband is to take the lead in service and love.

Yes, I believe that the husband is the head of the home. But not like the president is head of the country. But like Jesus is the head of the church – flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. And he washes our feet, and took the lowest place. This is our example.

As for man in the glorified state, there will be no more sin. The last will be first and the first last. Those who served on earth will be served in heaven. Those who were served on earth will serve in heaven. The kingdom of heaven throws all that we think we know about power and authority on its head.

It’s time we took that seriously.

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Genesis 3:16

…And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee (Gen 3:16 KJV)

The publishers of the ESV recently announced that they have changed their translation of Genesis 3:16 to this:

…Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.

I believe this translation to be in error. In this brief post, I shall attempt to explain my reasons.

First, a confession. At one point not too long ago in the past, I also succumbed to the same faulty reasoning. In the paper “Promoting a Biblical Sexual Morality”, of which I was the primary author, I wrote the following:

Second, the curse was on her relationship with her husband. “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16). Her intense longing would be directed towards her husband. The preposition translated “to” primarily indicates motion towards or into. Metaphorically it is used for “against”. Her longing, instead of a covenantal opening herself completely to the love of her husband, would now be directed towards domineering, manipulating, and refusing to be truly loved. (Reformed Church in the United States: Promoting a Biblical Sexual Morality. 2013, page 41)

In this paragraph, I referenced Tremper Longman’s book on the Song of Songs (page 65). Longman, in turn,  referenced an article by Susan Foh, entitled “What is the woman’s desire” (WTJ 37 (1974-75) 376-83.

This article by Foh seems to have influenced quite a lot of thinking (including mine). And now its influence is felt even in the ESV translation of Genesis 3:16. The question is this: is this proper exegesis?

I have to admit that the section that I wrote is somewhat embarrassing. To say that the curse upon the woman involves her domineering, manipulating and refusing to truly be loved by her husband seems a bit much  to read into one preposition.

This exegesis makes much of the similarity between Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7. In Genesis 4:7, we read that God, speaking to Cain of sin, says,

And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. (Gen 4:7 KJV)

The connection is then made that sin seeks to have dominion over a man. Since the words and the grammar are identical to 3:16, the meaning of 3:16 is that the woman also seeks to have dominion over the man.

But both texts simply speak of “desire”. Why is the desire of the woman assumed to be the same as the desire of sin? This was an uncomfortable niggling that I buried deeply until I recently dug it up and thought about it.

My embarrassing admission is that I wanted to make an assumption, and I manipulated the grammar to do so.

It seems to me that using Genesis 4:7 to interpret Genesis 3:16 is rather sketchy exegesis. It would be similar to saying that God spoke against Baasha (1 Kings 16:12 – the preposition is ‘el) and God spoke unto Moses (Ex. 3:14 – the preposition is the same) therefore, God was against Moses just as he was against Baasha. It’s really bad exegesis. It seems to me that the meaning of the phrases must be determined in the context.

The fact is “sin” and women are not the same thing, and their desires are not the same thing. I wonder why we make the assumption that women’s desires are always for domination and manipulation even when the text doesn’t say so. Simply saying “Sin desires to manipulate and dominate and since the same preposition is used this applies to the woman as well” simply will not cut it. That’s not how language works.

The phrase in question is the one translated “and your desire shall be toward your husband.”

The second part, “And he shall rule over you” isn’t in dispute. Those words are simple and bear only one translation. The connecting copulative “and” is attached to a redundant personal pronoun “he” which indicates a disjunctive phrase. In other words, the second phrase is set in contrast to the first – BUT he shall rule over you.

So what does the first phrase mean? Looking at the words, it begins with a prepositional phrase introduced by the copulative vav (and). The prepositional phrase is simply two words: the preposition ‘el and the word for man, or husband, with the pronoun “your”.  After this prepositional phrase is the noun “your longing”. There is no verb. The complete phrase is this “And to your husband, your longing; but he shall rule over you.”

The question is whether the preposition ‘el ever has the meaning “contrary to”, as the ESV revision committee, following the lead of Susan Foh, claims.

The simple answer is no. If you wish to do a very technical study, you may look at Bruce Waltke and M. O’Conner, Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns) 1990. 11.2.2. A helpful summary of that massive work is the work by Bill T. Arnold and John H. Choi (A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. New York, Cambridge University Press, 2003). Hebrew prepositions generally have a primary spatial meaning, with metaphorical secondary meaning. The primary spatial meaning is terminative (to, unto, towards).

I know, very technical. Let me break it down. The preposition ‘el means to, unto, or towards. It is a preposition indicating the termination of movement. That is its primary meaning. If I leave my office and walk to my house, I would use the preposition ‘el. Towards. Most commonly, it is used with the verb “to say” to indicate to whom the words are said. In the phrase, “And God said unto Moses”, the preposition ‘el would be used. God designed his words to terminate in the ears of Moses. I hope this makes sense.

In the lexicon by Brown, Driver and Briggs (somewhat archaic and disputed by modern scholarship) they indicate that “against” is a valid translation, and give many quotations, primarily by the prophet Ezekiel. For example,

Son of man, set thy face against Gog (Eze 38:2 KJV)

I would assume that since ‘el here has the translation “against”, the ESV revisers took that as their cue to translate it “contrary to” in Genesis 3:16. But in Ezekiel, the meaning of “to, or towards” is still latent in the word “against”. When a man’s face is “set” towards someone, hostility can certainly be assumed from the context, without changing the meaning of the preposition.

Even Brown, Driver and Briggs add this caveat to the translation “against”:

Where the motion or direction implied appears from the context to be of a hostile character, ‘el = “against”

No such hostility is expressed or implied in Genesis 3:16.

In another standard reference, The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, by Laird Harris, Gleason Archer, and Bruce Waltke, we read

Finally, the preposition can also mean “against,” although motion toward is evident, as in Gen 4:8, where Cain “rose up against Abel.” Here °el no doubt retains something of the original sense of both physical and mental motion toward. J.B.S.

In none of these statements by the universally recognized resources can the word ‘el be made to mean “contrary to”. There is no enmity stated or implied. There is no hostility inherent in the context.

The most widely recognized lexicon does not even admit the metaphorical use of “against” (Koehler-Baumgartner, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament “HALOT”).

To summarize this rather complicated  survey, the basic meaning of the word is to, or towards. Sometimes, if the context and the verb used are hostile, “against” would be a proper meaning. But this does not mean that we can pick and choose whatever meaning we want. “Contrary to”, in the context of Genesis 3:16 or 4:7, cannot be justified. Only if we make the assumption that the word “longing” indicates hostility can we make this phrase mean “against her husband”.

The word “longing” only appears three times in all known Hebrew literature. In Genesis 3:16, Genesis 4:7, and Song of Songs 7:10:

I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me. (Sol 7:10 KJV)

In the Song of Songs, the preposition is ‘al, rather than ‘el. Formerly, I made much of this, but I was mistaken. the two prepositions have overlapping semantic fields and are used interchangeably, much like the English “to” and “towards”. The difference is not great enough to warrant new doctrines.

The word “longing” in all  three passages admits the same meaning: a great desire, a longing. It isn’t the same word as “covetousness”, and it isn’t the same word as “wanting something”. It is a rare word and “longing” is a good translation of it. I would be hesitant to go any deeper than that; that isn’t how language works.

So the simple reading of the text is this: “To your husband your longing”. In English, we would have to supply the verb “will be”. To your husband will be your longing. In other words, “your longing will terminate on your husband”, or, “your longing will be to your husband”.

So what does it mean? What is the longing of the woman? In the context, God is pronouncing the curse upon creation, the serpent, the man and the woman. He has already promised that one would come who would crush the head of the serpent (3:15), and he now moves on to the consequences of Eve’s sin.

How would she have heard those words? Let’s take it with the second part of the phrase, “But he shall rule over thee”, which is set in contrast to the first phrase. It’s a disjunctive clause. The word “rule” (mashal) can be good rule, benevolent rule, tyrannical rule or any other kind of rule. It’s a common word. It means to have dominion over. It is something that was not there in the relationship before the fall. It is something new. If it were there before the fall, then the curse on the woman would be that everything would be the same, which is ludicrous. The context implies that this is something new. The serpent will crawl on its belly; the ground will bring thistles, and your husband will rule over you.

Before, Adam and Eve were one flesh. There is no hint of hierarchy in the garden. (I explain this more fully here). It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the meaning of “help meet”, but suffice it to say that hierarchy, authority and submission are not inherent in the Hebrew word ‘ezer (help). It is the name most often given to God, Israel’s help.

Instead, the relationship of the man and the woman was a relationship of unity and love. They were one flesh, committed, loving, fleeing all others, cleaving to one another.

I believe in that context, 3:16 can only mean one thing. Eve will still long for that. Her longing will terminate on her husband. She will long for that which was lost in Eden. But instead, her husband will rule over her.

The one flesh relationship would be a broken and corrupted remnant of what it was supposed to be.

This fits the context, does no violence to the grammar, and opens up wonderful insights into the marriage relationship.

Remember that God had promised already to crush the head of the serpent. The curse would one day be overcome. This was foretold in the Song of Songs:

I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me. (Sol 7:10 KJV)

The Song is a picture of redeemed relationship. One that could not happen apart from the gospel of Christ. His longing to her and her longing to him are mutual. Instead of him ruling over her, he desires her. When the word is only used three times, it cannot be an accident that Solomon is referring to the curse on the woman and looking forward to the time when that is taken away.

Paul, in Ephesians 5 speaks of the same thing. Love your wife. Don’t rule over her.

Since we live in a cursed world and all are tainted by sin, the desire of the wife towards her husband can and does easily become an idolatrous desire. The husband can never give to the wife what only Christ can give.

But as Redeemed creatures, we can certainly live as pictures of the life-giving water of Christ. So the husband is not to be worshiped as Christ, nor is he a mediator between God and his wife. But he can imitate Christ in one area: Love. The marriage is to be a picture of what was lost in the fall. The problem with the woman under the curse is not that she manipulates and dominates. It’s that she longs for what was lost and that longing is to her husband.

How Leah longed for a husband! How Rachel longed for a husband! Look at the harems of David and Solomon, and these were God’s people! How much worse would it have been in Persia or Assyria! Look at Elkanah, Hannah and Penninah; Look at what happened to Esther.

The woman longs for the one flesh relationship that she was created to have. But men have ruled over her. Does she turn to manipulation and resistance? Perhaps. Every human resists domination and subjugation. But this is not what 3:16 says.

Now that Christ has come, we as men are called, not to rule over our wives (whether benevolently or not) but to love our wives, and thus reflect to the world the love of our great savior, who gave himself for us.

See my follow-up post here.

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Wedding Sermon

Towards the end of Jesus’ life, his enemies were looking for an excuse to arrest and execute him. At one point, they asked him about divorce.

Listen to what Jesus answered them: (Matthew 19)

4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

He refers to the beginning, before sin and shame entered the world. God didn’t change his standard when men fell. He still expects us to live as we were created to live.

He answers a modern problem with reminding us of the very beginning. He gives the account of God’s creation of Adam.

God is one, and yet God exists eternally in three persons, and the persons of the trinity love one another, as Jesus taught us. And men and women were created to enter into the fellowship of love with the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

But it wasn’t good for man to be alone. So God brought a woman – flesh of Adam’s flesh and bone of Adam’s bone. They also were joined together in love, to image God’s perfect love to one another, to their children, and to the whole world.

But then they fell. They worshiped and served themselves, and became subject to the bondage of the devil, and hatred, reviling, murder and lust became the norm.

As the Heidelberg Catechism says, now we are prone by nature to hate God and our neighbor – and nowhere is this more apparent than in marriage. Where love was supposed to reign, hatred and bitterness entered. Where love and service were to rule, dominion and subjugation took over.

For the heart of every man is this: “I will be as god, knowing good and evil.”

And when two people come together, both saying in their hearts “I will be as god” only abuse, chaos, enmity and strife can result.

This is what Jesus warned us of. Don’t tear apart what God has joined together.

The standard for marriage is not marriage as it is now, according to Jesus, but marriage as God created it, before it was twisted and defiled by sin.

In the beginning, God told man to be fruitful and multiply and spread the kingdom of God throughout the whole world. But instead, man became a slave to the kingdom of the devil.

And so we are really talking about two kingdoms.

In one kingdom, the currency is power and control, lust, dominion, hatred – gaining the upper hand, winning at all cost.

This is what controlled the world before Jesus came to set up HIS kingdom. The few who were powerful crushed and enslaved everyone else. Husbands crushed and enslaved their wives. But from the beginning, it was not so. And Jesus came to restore to us the kingdom of God.

This is the very reason that He came into the world – to take away our sins. He came to deliver us from the bondage of the devil, to establish a new kingdom. And in the kingdom of God the currency is love, peace, joy, service, mutual respect, cherishing one another, learning to take the lower seat –

Jesus Himself is our example.

The conquering king came to defeat the greatest enemy the world can ever know. He came, though, not as a typical earthly general, but as a baby in a manger, he lived a life of poverty and homelessness, and was beaten, condemned, and executed – not just as a criminal, but as the lowest of the low, as the scum and off-scouring of the world. He took the form of a slave, the foreskin of the world.

If you had seen him, you also would  have despised him. You would have built walls to keep him out. “He’s not our kind of people.”

But in his moment of sinking to the lowest depth of powerlessness and weakness, when he died on that cross – something happened – the head of the serpent was crushed, the devil was cast out of heaven, and the war was finished. The devil received the death blow, for Jesus on the cross was not a victim; rather he was the victor. He was the conquering hero.

He was despised and rejected in our place, that we might be loved and accepted by God.

He was bruised for our iniquity and wounded for our transgressions, that we might be acceptable, without blemish and without spot before God and once again walk with our Maker.

And that day will come in perfection, when He will restore what WE threw away.

At the resurrection, the kingdom of God was inaugurated. Even now, Jesus is plundering the kingdom of the devil. Even now he is conquering and to conquer. And – here is the amazing thing – he has invited us to take part in his conquest!

He has united us to himself by the Holy Spirit and has promised us that the day will come when we also will crush the head of the serpent.

But now we still live between the two worlds– the world of the flesh and our sinful lusts, and the world of perfection when we have finally put off this body of sin.

We still are prone to use the currency of the kingdom of the devil – we still automatically think that our help and safety will come from power and control, domination and lust, conquest, winning at any cost.

But these things will never advance the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God comes only one way – the way that it did with our conquering king – through suffering, weakness, service, love – and humility.

3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.1

9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:

10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;

11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phi 2:3-11 KJV)

Our example is Christ, who won the victory not by domination and control, but by love and service. In obedience to God he suffered and died, and the serpent’s head was crushed. And now he calls us to that same obedience. Don’t exalt yourself. Remember what Christ has done for you.

Anything other than that will tear apart what God has joined together.

So Jesus says to us that God joined us together, which is a wonderful thing; but it includes a warning. Don’t tear apart what God joined.

Which kingdom will you serve? One promises the easy way – but will end up in death and hell. Which kingdom will be served in your home? Hatred and strife? Or love and service?

By faith in Jesus Christ we belong to Him. Your marriage will be as strong as your faith in Christ. Every failure in marriage is a failure of faith.

But by faith, by trusting in his promises and looking to his hand alone for every good thing, he will guard and keep your soul.

You never have to settle for normal. Normal is bad. The saddest thing to me is when people say, “How’s your marriage?”

And the answer is “normal. We have a normal marriage.”

That’s not a goal! Strive for redeemed marriage.

But this can only be done by faith in Christ, who has redeemed us from the bondage of the devil.

In a few moments you will both vow to love one another. How does one do this when our default setting is hatred? Only through the gospel – learning to love the Lord Jesus.

Only when you learn to love the Lord Jesus can you learn to love each other. I know that is perhaps shocking – but it is nonetheless true. Unbelievers can fall in love, they can be attracted, they can even love how someone makes them feel – but they cannot truly love a person  until they learn how to love Jesus.

Joe, you can love how Rachel makes you feel. You can love what you think she is like. But you cannot love HER until you learn how to love the Lord Jesus.

Rachel, you can love how Joe makes you feel inside. You can love what you think HE is like. But you cannot love Joe until you learn how to love the Lord Jesus.

Things aren’t the same as they were when they were created because now sin and shame are in the world, and those ugly things will start to creep in. And if you haven’t learned to love the Lord Jesus, you will find yourself saying – “That woman that YOU gave me…!”

But the more you love Jesus, the more you will love each other. The more you won’t fear knowing one another, and actually being known. Because you know that nothing can take you from the love of God, you don’t have to be afraid anymore.

God has given each of you a tremendous gift and you are now entering a new era of warfare. Remember, that in this life we are at war – we are crushing the head of the serpent. And now, instead of going at it alone, you are two warriors, joined together by God as one flesh. Two conquering heroes united as one. Do battle together.

What does that mean? Learn to love Jesus. And when you do, you will learn to take the lower place, you will learn to serve one another. You will learn more and more to die to yourselves.

A warrior ready to die is undefeatable. Take up your crosses and strike the blow on the kingdom of the devil!

And do not neglect the church. This is where Christ’s warriors are equipped. This is where you learn to love the Lord Jesus.

Count yourself as dead in Christ daily – that you might live in service to God and to one another as he has commanded. This is how to keep the vow. It isn’t drudgery; it isn’t hard work. It isn’t difficult. Jesus said, my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Learn to love him, and then you will love each other, for God has joined you together, and called it very good. Instead of tearing what God calls good apart, put on your combat boots together, and crush the serpent’s head together.

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To the Newly Married

There is a fascinating verse in Deuteronomy. It isn’t marriage advice; it is a marriage command.

When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.1 (Deu 24:5 KJV)

The command is for a newly married husband to refrain from anything that takes him away from his home for a year. And the purpose of this command is so that he can “cheer up” his wife.

That’s an unfortunate translation. It means something in English that it doesn’t mean in Hebrew. In Hebrew the basic meaning of the word is to rejoice, to exult. In the form that the word is in, it means to cause that state in someone. In other words, the husband is to “make his wife rejoice.”

This is where it gets endlessly wonderful. Women are fascinating creatures; each one created just a little different. They are almost like a puzzle to be solved. God created men and women in such a way that you can’t really learn about your spouse through a how-to book or even a class. Of course, everyone wants a shortcut, especially since we now live in a cursed world. But God didn’t change his creation because we became short-sighted, self-absorbed narcissists. The rule still applies. If you want a blessed and beneficial marriage, learn how to make your wife exult. What makes her tick? What does she fear? What does she dream of?

Do you know?

Peter wrote that we are to live with our wives with understanding (1 Peter 3:7), which is also what Moses is saying. Learn about your wife. Understand her. Think of it: God made marriage in such a way that you can only truly be blessed and happy if you learn to get to know someone other that yourself, and there are no shortcuts. You actually have to take the time to do it.

But, contrary to millions of self-appointed marriage gurus, it isn’t “hard work”, any more than sanctification is hard work. Rather, it is growth, joy, love, pressing toward the mark with uplifted head. We aren’t slaves drudging through mines, but children on our way to glory! What better way to picture this great truth than the marriage of two lovers, learning to exult in one another.

Oscar Wilde wrote, “Women aren’t meant to be understood; they are meant to be loved.” But this is the raving of a narcissist who thinks very highly of himself. Guys, do away with the jokes about not understanding women. You are commanded to do just that. But to do that you have to put off your own self-absorption, and figure out how to listen. Listen with your ears, with your eyes, even with your finger-tips. She’ll let you know what causes her to exult, but you have to tune in.

The Bible says that you have a year. I always counsel newly-weds to turn the TV off and hole up together as much as possible for the first year. Don’t try to learn about your wife from stereotypes, books (especially of the “women’s place is in the home” variety) or locker room gossip. This is your wife you are learning about and she is the only one who can show you what causes her to exult. You are on a wonderful journey of discovery together.

In this day, one of the most prevalent ways to destroy the mystery and delight of loving a woman is pornography. If you cannot tell the difference between the sexual assault that is pornography and a loving relationship that is marriage, then please do not get married. Instead, repent and deal with your own abuse issues before you inflict yourself upon an unsuspecting wife. Marriage won’t cure your pornography issues. Only repentance will. You cannot learn how to cause a woman to rejoice by watching pornography. God did not create either you or her that way. There is no shortcut. you must put off yourself and your own lusts and actually learn to care about another person, namely, your wife.

The fascinating thing about marriage is that the learning never ends. Love and friendship and even romance blooms and grows more intense each year – once you learn how to listen.

If you have been married for a while and find your love growing stagnant, it is probably because you didn’t heed God’s command. Repent and ask your wife’s forgiveness for failing to understand her. Then start your year now. Turn the TV off. Give up boys’ nights out, and learn how to cause your wife to rejoice. It may not be too late.

Isn’t Hebrew fascinating?

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Things that God Hates

Here’s an incomplete list of things that God hates:

Reviling.

Drunkenness

Taking his name in vain.

Idolatry

Brawling

Oppression

Hatred

Oppression

Abuse.

Being delivered from that? God loves that. In fact, he sent his Son to die that we might be delivered from the kingdom of the devil, both the bondage in our own hearts as well as the bondage inflicted upon us from others.

Again, “God hates divorce” is nowhere in the Bible.

Another thought on that:

Capital punishment and other criminal penalties are also not part of God’s perfect plan of creation. But to say then that they are forbidden by God and hated by God is a stretch of rather sketchy exegesis. They are necessary because we live in a world of treachery and oppression.

So also divorce. Sure, God didn’t create the world with divorce as a part of his perfect plan of creation. But that isn’t the world we live in now.

“Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses wrote that.”

As long as men’s hearts are still full of evil – reviling, drunkenness, brawling, idolatry – divorce is still necessary, just like capital punishment will still be necessary as long as there are murderers.

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Does the cross glorify passive acquiescence to violence?

From Donald MacLeod, Christ Crucified.

But if the cross does not quite glorify violence, does it not glorify passive acquiescence in violence? This is a serious issue, particularly if it can be shown that part of the message of Calvary is that victims of abuse should endure it silently, soak up the pain, offer no resistance and demand no justice.  The charge gains plausibility from the fact that too many Christian men have seen meekness as a distinctive feminine virtue and quiet submission as the crowning glory of womanhood, and too many Christian women have accepted this role definition. Even where they have not been abused and violated, they have taken it for granted that they exist to serve their husbands and children, and should sacrifice their own personal fulfillment to those objects.

The cross certainly commends non-violence and non-resistance to the extent that it portrays Christ as one who went like a lamb to the slaughter and who suffered without any threat of retaliation (Isa. 53:7; 1 Pet. 2:23). This fits in with the great kenotic perspective which Paul describes in Philippians 2:6-11. Far from insisting on divine rights, Christ made himself a no-person, devoid of rights, and there can be no doubt that the apostle lays this down as the paradigm for all believers. But that is precisely the point. It is the paradigm for ALL believers, above all for the powerful, who must renounce their own rights and strive for the rights of others. No man who takes the cross as his paradigm can make it an excuse for demanding that women acquiesce under his authority and submit to servility and abuse. Christ has exactly the same destiny in mind for the woman as for the man, and in the meantime, each of us, male and female, is called to do everything in our power to encourage the other in his or her journey towards that destiny. At the foot of the cross, the husband is bound to subordinate his own interests to those of the wife no less than she is bound to subordinate hers to those of her husband. It is patriarchy, not the doctrine of atonement, that needs to be redeemed. (Page 192-193)

When asked for the secret of a happy marriage, the answer is the same as the secret to a blessed and happy life. “Take up your cross, and follow Jesus.” I would add that the responsibility to put to death our old nature belongs to every Christian, as MacLeod so admirably teaches. But it is doubly laid upon the husband when Paul also writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.”

Perhaps it is because God knows our pride and our demands and our desire to be kings in our homes that He commands us twice: first as Christians, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus;” and second as husbands, “Love your wives, as Christ loved the church.”

It is time to put to death our lusts for power, and put on the love of Jesus in service to our families.

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God Hates Divorce, part 2

In my previous post, I showed how the Hebrew of Malachi 2:16 has only one possible translation that takes into account the grammar and pronunciation of the Hebrew words:

“Because he hates, send away,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and violence covers his garment.”

The question now is how that translation fits with the immediate context of Malachi.  The pericope is 2:10-16:

 10 Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?

 11 Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.

 12 The LORD will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the LORD of hosts.

 13 And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.

 14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.

 15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.

 16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

 (Mal 2:10-16 KJV)

The theme that Malachi is expounding is found in verse 10, “Why do we deal treacherously?”  The word “treacherously” is found 5 times in these verses. It means to deal faithlessly, with deceit.

We were created to relate to God and to one another. There are rules for living together in a society. The Bible calls these relationships “covenants”. Some are simple and not spelled out explicitly. I have an expectation to not be insulted and abused by strangers. I expect to be treated fairly.  Other expectations are spelled out explicitly. The marriage relationship is marked by solemn vows before God. We join churches, take oaths in courts, and sign contracts. All of these are covenants.

To deal treacherously is to break these covenant relationships. The word is bagad. This word is the theme of our text. Judah was dealing treacherously. They were abusing their relationships. The first example that Malachi gives is the example of Judah dealing treacherously with God by marrying the “daughter of a foreign god.” A man who marries outside of the covenant with God is either saying that his covenant with God is irrelevant, or that his covenant with his wife is irrelevant. How can one be “one flesh” with a wife who is not in fellowship with the one true God? The only way that a man can marry an unbeliever is by reducing marriage to simply a sexual relationship, OR by reducing his covenant with God to a matter of tradition and convenience. Either way, the man is guilty of bagad – treachery.

But that isn’t all. The next accusation, for the rest of the sons of Judah, is this one: The altar of God was covered with tears.

When one is weeping on the altar, one has no other remedy, no help and no strength. She has no where else to turn except to pour out her complaint to God. And why was she pouring out her grief on the altar? Because her husband was dealing treacherously with her. She entered into a marriage covenant – which meant he promised to love and honor and cherish her. He promised to cling to her and forsake all others.

His WIFE! She was the wife of his youth, his “companion”. The word “companion” is a word that is only used once in this form in the whole Old Testament. The only other time that a form of it appears is in describing the curtains of the tabernacle and how they were “tied” together in knots. A companion is one who is tied to you with knots. She’s your knot. God joined you to her. She’s the wife of your covenant. There is no closer relationship.

THIS woman, whom you vowed to love and cherish – you’ve dealt treacherously with her. You have treated her so badly that she is covering the altar of the Lord with tears so that God doesn’t accept your offerings anymore. God has heard your vows. And God has watched how you have treated your wife when you think no one else is watching. He is a witness.

Verse 15 is difficult to translate, but the meaning seems clear. God made Adam and Eve to be fruitful and to fill the earth and have dominion over the earth. They were created in God’s image and were called to spread this kingdom of God – the dominion of God’s image-bearers – throughout all of creation, just like it was in Eden. For this to happen, God didn’t create another species and bring that species to Adam. Rather, he took Eve from Adam’s rib. One flesh, one blood – the man and woman, husband and perfect suitable helper – and made them one flesh. He sought the “seed of God”.

But instead of that, sin entered the world and men became treacherous, violating that harmony, hating their wives and oppressing them, rather than loving them. This should not be, especially among God’s people.

And now we get to verse 16 and see that it makes perfect sense. If you hate her that much, set her free! Be open with it. You put on one front but behind closed doors you are something else entirely. Clothe yourself with the violence that defines your life and set your wife free!

So is God condoning divorce? No. That isn’t really the point of the passage. The point is the last part of the verse:  “therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.”

The point is that there are things in this world that God hates far, far more than divorce. He hates treachery. He hates bagad. It is a violation of his nature, of his faithfulness, of our calling as creatures in his image. He hates all forms of it. He hates oppression. He hates persecution. He hates lying and deceit. He hates the proud, treacherous heart. He hates the entitlement mentality that says “I am; and there is none like me!” God hates the hatred that a man has for his wife, causing him to rail at her, to oppress her, to take a mistress or another wife. He hates the disharmony that wicked men cause in their home.

If you insist on treating your wife like this, set her free. It will be the only decent thing you’ve ever done.

What would be far better, though, is if you took heed to your spirit and quit treating her this way. If you refuse to do that, don’t think that God doesn’t hear the voice of your wife pouring out her tears on the altar. God hears that, and will not allow those tears to go unanswered.

Why isn’t God hearing your prayers? Why doesn’t he accept your sacrifices? Because of how you treat your wife.

If you hate her that much, set her free.

But then, you say, how will we keep our wives from leaving us? First, I have to say to you that if force and intimidation are the only tools in your arsenal to keep your marriage, then you need to reevaluate your existence as a human being.

Instead of asking that question, ask instead, “How can I make my wife WANT to stay married to me?”

Paul answers this in Ephesians 5. Love your wives, as Christ loved the church.

Or, as Malachi puts it – take heed to your spirit. Remember the wife of your youth. Build relationship with her. Quit the angry bitter thoughts. Think of her as the wife of your youth – the first blooming of love in the heart of the passionate teenager. Those blossoms can only grow when tended, each year more and more beautiful, until when you are 100 and she is 90, and she is calling you lord in her heart, as Sarah did to Abraham.

You may snort and say, “Well, she’s no Sarah.”

And you’re no Abraham. Tend your garden. Love your wives. don’t you dare deal treacherously with the one that God tied to your soul – your wife by covenant.

 

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God hates divorce?

Does Malachi 2:16 teach that God hates divorce?

The King James: For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

The New King James: “For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the LORD of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.”

The New American Standard: “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

The English Standard: Malachi 2:16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

The New International Version: “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.

One can certainly tell that there is  no unanimity in the translation of this rather difficult text.

The current interpretation of the text by conservative Christians is close to the New American Standard translation. “I hate divorce”, says the Lord, the God of Israel…”

I have an incessantly curious nature when it comes to God’s word. Why are there so many different translations? Why are there so many interpretations? Why, if God hates divorce, does God divorce his people Israel? Why does God permit divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4? God never permits that which he hates. What does it mean?

Another problem that arises is that anyone who strays from the “God hates divorce” camp is immediately accused of being tainted by the world. “50% divorce rate because of liberal thinking like this. God hates divorce!” You will be called worldly, or worse, a feminist!

But I am a Christian who believes in the infallible and inerrant word of God as our only guide to eternal life. Our faith and our practice is driven ONLY by the inspired word.

So with that understanding, I delved into Malachi 2:16. I could not simply allow the “professionals” to translate it and pick which version I liked best. I am accountable to God to use whatever gifts He has given me to discern what the text actually says.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what the world says. It doesn’t matter what accusations are thrown around. It doesn’t matter the opinion of the latest celebrity preacher. All that matter is what God says.

This article is a little more technical than I usually write. There is a reason for it. I am fully aware that the views expressed here will leave me open to accusations of being “soft on divorce”. I assure you that is not the case. My only concern is to rightly discern God’s word and go where it leads. This article is for the purpose of making it clear what my view is; how I arrived at it; and perhaps open up some very closed minds to the truth of God’s word.

If we believe that the bible is the word of God; if we believe that it is sufficient, necessary, clear and authoritative; then we must go to the text itself and let it speak for itself.

There are certain principles of interpretation that every student of the Bible, especially those of the Reformed and Presbyterian persuasion, should recognize.

First, the primary author of Scripture is God Himself. There is only one author, and He is perfectly wise and His lips speak knowledge and understanding. For this reason, there are no contradictions in Scripture. God doesn’t change His mind. God doesn’t grow in His knowledge and understanding. Jesus doesn’t contradict Moses and Malachi doesn’t contradict Hosea. To apply this simply, those texts that are clear must interpret those texts that are rather difficult. If an interpretation on a text flatout contradicts a clear text elsewhere in scripture, great care must be taken. God is not foolish. He is not “yes” and “no”.

Second, God used human language and human authors. This means that ordinary rules of grammar were used to communicate eternal truths about God. These human authors lived in cultures and eras of history and their language was the language of the time. Of course, this can be and has been greatly abused – mostly by those who do not keep the unchanging Divine Author clear in their thoughts. But the truth of the matter is that the words that were used were intended to be read and understood by a contemporary audience. There was no “secret” language with secret numbers and hidden codes. Just ordinary words used in an ordinary way following the ordinary rules of communication.

Third, the Hebrew language posits some challenges all its own. It is well known that the Hebrew text is a consonantal text. This means that in the original there were only consonants. Vowels were passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition. In the early Middle Ages after Christ, (around 800AD or so) a group of Hebrew scholars known as the Masoretes invented a system of dots and lines to indicate the vowels and the proper pronunciation. After several centuries, this system was modified, edited and corrected until it was received by all, and by the 10th century there was a received text of the Hebrew Bible with the vowel points added.

The vowel points are crucial to the interpretation of the words. If the pronunciation of a word changed, the meaning and the grammar of that word would change. If the vowel points are not reliable, then the text is not reliable.

I hold to the general inerrancy of the Hebrew vowel points. I believe that God has providentially preserved even the pronunciation of the Hebrew Bible. I am aware that this means that at times there will be difficulties, but I am far more comfortable saying that I don’t understand something than I am saying that the text is corrupted somehow.

This is important. Current scholarship generally denies the inerrancy of the points. Whenever a passage is difficult to interpret, they tend to try to make sense of the words by attempting different vowels here and there until they think that they have a solution. I believe that this is bad exegesis. It tends to lend itself to endless variation of translation based upon the presuppositions of the translator.

This also explains why there are so many different translations of Malachi 2:16, especially as the “fluidity” of the vowel points became more and more an acceptable interpretation technique. Change a vowel here and there, and “he hates” becomes “I hate”; and the verb “to send away” becomes the noun “divorce”.

So to summarize: God’s word does not contradict itself; God used ordinary language and grammar to communicate His word; The Hebrew text has been passed down to us accurately – let’s begin to look at the words themselves.

With that in mind, lets look at Malachi 2:16

As it happens, the entire difficulty in this passage is in the interpretation of the first three words of the text:  כִּי־שָׂנֵא שַׁלַּח ki-sane shallach

        The first word is ki. It is a common Hebrew conjunction that can be translated many different ways depending on the context. It can mean “because” or “for” or “that”, or it can be used similar to our quotation marks to mark off a direct quotation. Other possibilities are “When, if, although,” and so on.

        The second word, sane,  is “he hates”. The third word, shallach is “send away, set free, let go.”

        After these three words, the text says, “Says the LORD, the God of Israel”.

        So what does it mean? We will take the conjunction last, since its interpretation depends upon the other two words. Here are the possibilities from the English translations:

First, “For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away” (King James Version). In this version, the conjunction is tied to the second phrase, not the first one. The assumption is that the subject of the verb “to hate” is God and that the object of God’s hatred is “the sending away”. This scheme is generally followed by the NKJ and the NAS. But there are some problems:

First, the third phrase, completing the quote is this: “and violence covers his garments”. If “he” in the first phrase refers to God (as the one hating) then why would the antecedent suddenly change in the rest of the quote? Is it God’s garments that are covered with violence? If “he” is God in the first, it must be God also in the rest of the quote. Then we would have “God hates divorce and violence covers his garments.”

You could make some sense of it in English, but not without mangling the Hebrew.

If you took the stance of the New American Standard, and changed the subject of “hates” to the first person singular pronoun, (I hate), then the rest of the phrase could justify a change in the pronoun (as the NAS does) but the problem is that the vowel points do not fit. In fact, there is only one translation that matches the pointing of the text: “He hates”. That’s the only thing that it can mean without twisting the pronunciation. So who is the subject of the sentence? It can’t be God, because that doesn’t fit the rules of grammar. Since the subject is not given expressly, I would take the subject as a hypothetical man, an indeterminate “he”.

The next word shallach (to send away) is a little more difficult.  The first problem is the assumption that “to send away” is the exact equivalent of “to divorce”. It is not. The primary meaning is to send. The form that it is in (the vowel points and double consonant “L”) is what is called the piel  form, which slightly changes the meaning. The most common translations are “set free”, “let go”, “dismiss”, “send away”. Divorce, as it is understood today, is the legal procedure of acknowledging the broken marriage covenant. One can certainly “send away” a wife without divorcing her.

If the meaning of this text is as it is commonly presented, “God hates divorce”, then even the translation of the word itself is problematic. Usually those who hold this view say that if a woman is in an abusive relationship, she can separate, but not divorce. However, the word shallach means to send away, not to obtain a bill of divorcement. If divorce is forbidden here, then certainly separation is.

Instead of ascribing a rather obscure and perhaps unknown meaning to the word shallach let’s take it in its most common and highly attested use, “send away”, and see where that leads us.

The next issue are the vowel points. As they stand, there are only two forms of the Hebrew verb that use these vowel points. One is called the infinitive construct. It is similar to an English infinitive. If it was an infinitive construct, the two words together would be translated, “He hates to send away;” Since this doesn’t make a lot of sense, it is generally understood as a participle: “He hates the sending away”, or “he hates divorce”.  But there are a lot of assumptions that need to happen for this to be valid. first, one would have to assume that an infinitive construct is the equivalent of a participle, which it is not. The second assumption is that “he” refers to God, and then switches to the treacherous man in the second half of the quote. That is a big leap. If the only translation of these vowel points is an infinitive construct, we might have to make some leaps like this.

But there is a far easier way that fits the grammar, the historical context, and the analogy of scripture perfectly. The word shallach is actually a command. It is an imperative, 2nd person, masculine singular. That is the only form it CAN be without twisting the natural use of language. The use of shallach as a command is extremely well-attested in the Old Testament. The exact spelling – points and all – is found throughout the book of Exodus and translated, “let go”.  As in, “Let my people go.”

The problem with the translation given by the ESV (For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her) is that the word “divorce” is translated as if it is a simple action verb. But the vowel pointing does not allow that. In order for this to mean “he divorces her”, the verb would have to be spelled differently.  The points don’t fit. The only form where the points and the grammar fit is an imperative, (command).

Taking the whole phrase in it’s most natural sense, without any assumptions and without changing any of the pronunciation, we have this:

“Because he hates, set free,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “for violence covers his garment.”

This translation not only is the only one that does full justice to the inspired text, including the vowel points and the simply, ordinary use of language, but it is also well attested in the history of the church. It is the translation of the Aramaic Targums, the Vulgate, most of the church fathers, Luther and Calvin. In fact, Calvin wrote,

“This then is the reason why the Prophet now says, If thou hatest, dismiss; not that he grants indulgence to divorce, as we have said, but that he might by this circumstance enhance the crime; and hence he adds, For he covers by a cloak his violence.”

This may seem a bit strange to those who have been steeped in the teaching of the church for the past 30 years. Does the Bible really say that if a man hates his wife, he should set her free? This can’t be so! Does that fit the context of Malachi?

That will be the subject of my next article.

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Whom Will You Serve?

8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
(Matt. 4:8-10)

When Jesus was born, the angels told Mary that God would give Him the kingdom of His father David.  Jesus came to do the will of His Father in Heaven and He knew that this will would lead Him to the cross.  Only by suffering the death of the cross would He inherit the kingdom through the resurrection from the dead.

The kingdoms of the world had been given into the hand of Satan as a just punishment for sin.  When Adam fell, mankind became slaves of sin and misery and under the bondage of the devil.

If Jesus was to “plunder the kingdom of Satan”, Satan must first be bound (Matt. 12:29-30).  In order for Satan’s kingdom to be plundered, Jesus must deal with sin.  The only way to deal with sin was to go to the cross and suffer the pangs and torments of hell in the place of His people.

But when Jesus was in the wilderness, Satan offered Him another way.  “I will concede every kingdom to you.  You can usher in peace, prosperity, long life and endless joy – just fall down and worship me, and all this will be yours. No cross.  No wrathful God to deal with.  Just me.”

And so it always is.  He offered the same thing to Adam.  He offers the same thing to every believer.  “Just fall down, serve me, and I will give you your heart’s desire.”

“Are you lonely?  Just one night with that girl in the bar”.

“That man that you have your eyes on can make all of your dreams come true.  God is not good.  He won’t bless you.  Reach out.  Serve me.  Everything will be better.”

“Perhaps if you just work a bit harder; submit a bit more; make sure dinner is on time – then you can have the home of your dreams.  Your husband is angry and stressed.  Make things easier on him and you can have all you want.  Serve a little harder.  Try a little more.  Work a little longer.”

And how often do we forget that God alone is the fountain of all good.

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (Jam 1:17 KJV)

We reach out to people or to things or to ideas in order to ease the pain of a cursed world, and forget that Jesus already paid it all.  He alone can salve this broken and contrite heart.  He alone can take away the curse.

But the devil and his children will always offer another way.  “Just serve me a bit better, a bit more; just work harder, and you can have whatever you dream of.”

But whatever you do, and whatever you say, and however hard you work, you will never attain it.  It’s a lie.  It’s a lie because the devil is a murderer and a liar and his children follow in his footsteps.

They can’t give you eternal life.  They can’t give you peace.  They can’t even give you food and drink.  They can never ease the loneliness and the heartache of living in a sinful world.  But they can enslave you to a life of “work harder; do better; submit more; don’t make me mad – you know how my temper is!”

If this sounds like your life,  please remember what Jesus said to the tempter.  “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”

Wow.  Astounding words! He will do good to all men.  He will willingly wash feet.  He will take the lowest form and die the death of a criminal.  He will do good deeds of love and mercy and truth.  He will become servant to all and call us to do the same thing.

But He will never, ever worship anything or anyone other than the One True God who has revealed Himself in His word.

As redeemed men and women, we have the glorious calling of reflecting Christ’s glory – of being transformed into His glorious image.  We have the Holy Spirit.  God calls us the apple of His eye!

When the devil and his children give this promise, “I will give you what you want if you will only serve me,” remember where it comes from.  That which comes from God is pure and peaceable, brings joy and reconciliation, and gladdens the heart.  the promise of the devil brings shame and guilt and bondage.  There are always strings attached to every promise of an evil man.

You shall worship the Lord Your God, and Him alone shall you serve.

But there’s more.  Jesus commanded Satan to depart.  Satan and his children will never settle for anything less than worship. They will continue to hound, berate, revile and reproach you until you are finally grovelling at their feet – but even then, they will not be satisfied.

There is only one thing to do with this:  Cast him out.  Get out!  I will worship God alone.

I will serve God in my marriage by seeking my spouse’s good; by taking the lower place and joyfully doing what God has called me to.  I will joyfully give up my rights and even my life if that is what God calls me to.  But I will never, ever, worship and serve the creature.  I will worship and serve God alone and expect good only from His hand.  If my marriage has been irretrievably broken by the wicked actions of my spouse, I will pursue divorce; but I will no longer submit to the demands of the wicked one to bow and serve and worship the creature rather than the Creator.

I will not grovel at the feet of a scoffer and reviler hoping for some crumbs of peace to fall.

I will not serve a son of Belial in the desperate hope for a smile from the sneering face.

I will not seek from the creature what only the Creator can give.  I will seek reconciliation; I will seek forgiveness; I will seek peace, but if they are for war, I will withdraw and plead my case to the Almighty.  But I will never worship the creature.

Only the Creator can give me peace.  It will never come from the lies of the devil.  Jesus has freed me from the bondage of sin and misery.  He has made me an heir to eternal life!

I can’t earn it.  I can’t work harder and get it.  It’s the devil that tells me to work more, be better, grovel more, abuse my body more.  Jesus’ love is sanctifying, cleansing, unearned, complete and infinite.

Husbands, if you are withholding love and tenderness and honor from your wife until she works harder, submits more and learns her place, ask yourself who you most resemble.  Is this the picture of Christ, who loved the church and gave Himself for her?  Or is it the picture of Satan who said, “All this I will give you, if you only fall down and worship me.”

Perhaps this is why Paul said that a reviler (one who uses abusive and vicious speech to belittle and intimidate others) will never inherit the kingdom of heaven (I Cor. 6:9).  Nothing can be further from the beauty and love of Jesus than a reviler.  A reviler says, “Worship me, and I will give you rest.”  But the reviler is the one causing the unrest!  So not only is he a reviler, he is also an extortioner.  How can he inherit the kingdom of heaven unless he repents and becomes something else?

But Jesus actually gives rest.  He takes away sin and shame, doesn’t use it to control and manipulate.  He covers our ugliness and bitterness with His perfect righteousness.  He gives us a new heart and a new spirit so that we can become more and more like him.

So we can say with confidence, “I will do good to all whom God has placed in my path.  But I will worship and serve God alone.”

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Filed under Abuse, Gospel, Hope, Marriage