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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Scripture on Marriage (Part 5)

In this series, we have talked about (and compared) what Torah, Christ, and Paul had to say about divorce. In modern times, many Christians have ignored all three and have instead practiced a kind of serial monogamy. However, the Gospel of John informs us that Christ once met a Samaritan woman at a well and offered her some "living water" (4:1-15). Continuing with the narrative about the encounter, we read: "Jesus said to her, 'Go, call your husband, and come here.' The woman answered him, 'I have no husband.' Jesus said to her, 'You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.'" (Verses 16-18) In other words, both Christ and the woman knew that serial monogamy is a human fiction - that it does NOT represent God's intention for marriage!

Why would we include this story? In addition to trying to write a comprehensive treatment of what Scripture has to say about marriage, this story underscores the extent to which many of us have completely ignored what the Bible has to say on the subject and have manufactured our own narrative about marriage (consistent with our own views about what is right or wrong in that regard). Does that sound familiar? It should - remember what we read back in the first post in this series about the first man and woman and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

In that first post, we also discussed how that first man and woman were deceived by Satan. We read about how God had assessed EVERYTHING which He had created as being VERY GOOD (Genesis 1:31), and how that assessment included human male and female bodies and how they were designed to function sexually. We noted in that post that, prior to the fall, "the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." (Genesis 2:25, ESV) However, after they ate the fruit of that tree, we also read that the man and the woman developed an awareness of their nakedness and a shame about their bodies (Genesis 3:1-13). Moreover, as this entire series has demonstrated, that sense of shame about our bodies and how they function has permeated humankind's consciousness ever since! Like our ancestors in the Garden of Eden, we have continued to decide for ourselves what constitutes good and evil - rejecting God's revelation of what is moral and what is not!

And this phenomenon is nowhere more apparent than in the realm of sexual attraction. Indeed, for many Christians, sexual attraction is synonymous with LUST! Moreover, this twisted and perverted human reasoning influenced by that old Serpent has informed our views on dating, premarital sex, marriage, and divorce. In other words, the foundation is rotten - which calls into question most of the stuff which we have constructed on that foundation! Indeed, this gives new meaning to that passage from Revelation which identifies Satan as "the deceiver of the whole world" (12:9)!

In this connection, more than any other single book in the Judeo-Christian canon, the "Song of Solomon" or "Song of Songs" underscores just how wrongheaded and unscriptural traditional Christian views about sexual attraction really are! In fact, for many Christians, this book is an embarrassment - something to be ignored. Indeed, if we could somehow elicit complete honesty from folks, I imagine that we would find a great many Christians who wish that this book had never been included in Scripture!

Now, ideally, everyone would read the entire book, "Song of Solomon." Nevertheless, for our purposes, I will supply a few excerpts to give my readers a sense of the book:

"My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts. My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi." (1:13-14, ESV)

"As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me!" (2:3-6)

"The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, looking through the lattice." (2:8-9)

"My beloved is mine, and I am his; he grazes among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on cleft mountains" (2:16-17)

"On my bed by night, I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not. I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him, but found him not. The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. 'Have you seen him whom my soul loves?' Scarcely had I passed them when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her who conceived me." (3:1-4)

"Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young. Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies." (4:1-5)

"You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon." (4:9-11)

"A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices— a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon. Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow. Let my beloved come to his garden and eat its choicest fruits." (4:12-16)

"I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk." (5:1)

"I slept, but my heart was awake. A sound! My beloved is knocking. 'Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.' I had put off my garment; how could I put it on? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them? My beloved put his hand to the latch, and my heart was thrilled within me. I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the bolt." (5:2-5)

"My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand. His head is the finest gold; his locks are wavy, black as a raven. His eyes are like doves beside streams of water, bathed in milk, sitting beside a full pool. His cheeks are like beds of spices, mounds of sweet-smelling herbs. His lips are lilies, dripping liquid myrrh. His arms are rods of gold, set with jewels. His body is polished ivory, bedecked with sapphires. His legs are alabaster columns, set on bases of gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars. His mouth is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem." (5:10-16)

"My beloved has gone down to his garden to the beds of spices, to graze in the gardens and to gather lilies. I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies." (6:2-3)

"There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins without number. My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother, pure to her who bore her. The young women saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines also, and they praised her." (6:8-9) - there's that polygamy thing again!

"How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O noble daughter! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle." (7:1-3)

"How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights! Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit. Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine." (7:6-9)

Is it getting warm in here? Somebody turn on the fan! "That stuff is in the Bible?" YES, yes it is!

The Enduring Word Bible Commentary's article on Song of Solomon informs us that Biblical scholars have offered a number of perspectives on how to interpret this book. We can summarize these approaches as: 1) Avoidance - Indeed, the article quotes Origen as having said: "I advise and counsel everyone who is not yet rid of vexations of the flesh and blood, and has not ceased to feel the passions of this bodily nature, to refrain from reading the book and the things that will be said about it." 2)  "an allegory describing the love relationship between God and His people, not between a husband and wife." 3) A dramatic story about Solomon, a simple shepherd, and a young maiden. 4) "a literal, powerful description of the romantic and sensual love between a man and a woman, observing both their courtship and their marriage." 5) An illustration of "the love, the intensity, and the beauty of relationship that should exist between God and the believer." (this one requires some reading between the lines) and 6) A "song of human love" or a writing of "mystical suggestiveness."

For the purposes of this post, I don't think that it is necessary to make a choice among these different interpretations. Whether the characters were married or not is irrelevant to the fact that the book clearly exalts human sexual attraction as something that is healthy, wholesome, and good (and, yes, this book is focused on heterosexual attraction). Thus, however we decide to interpret this book, it clearly supports the thesis of this series that human attitudes towards our bodies and their sexual functions were perverted in the Garden of Eden, and our attitudes towards sex, dating, marriage, and divorce have reflected those distortions ever since that event (including Christian attitudes in the present)! In short, marriage would NEVER happen in the first place if men and women weren't sexually attracted to each other!

So, we come, at long last, to the conclusion of the matter. In this study of what Scripture reveals about the institution of marriage, we have demonstrated that some of the statements of various churches on this subject are NOT consistent with what the Scriptures have to say about it! In summary, we have seen that: 1) biblical marriages were NOT always between one man and one woman, 2) marriage was viewed as a property transaction between a father and the prospective husband in the Hebrew Bible, 3) ALL of the commandments in Torah were focused on the male gender (with the female playing an ancillary role in fulfilling their demands), 4) marriage was originally intended to be a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, 5) marriage was NOT just for purposes of procreation - that it was also intended by God to provide companionship and love throughout this life's journey, 6) marriage was a natural and wholesome expression of sexual desire between two people, and 7) there is NO formal marriage ceremony or ritual outlined ANYWHERE in Scripture! Hence, although many Christians claim to hold the Bible up as their sole standard for doctrine and life, it is clear that many of them have ignored and/or intentionally twisted what the Bible has to say about human sexuality, marriage, and divorce! Hopefully, this series has served to undo some of that misinformation and reveal what Scripture really has to say about these issues. What do you think?

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