While it's a little early still for Christmas, our journey through the Bible this year brings us now into the New Testament, which puts us into the Gospels and the life of Christ. And it is while Christ is teaching on the mountain that something new about the old law jumps out at me.
In His most famous sermon, Jesus talks about adultery and divorce. See, the law of Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife in the case of sexual immorality (unfaithfulness), and we say, well, yes. If she cheated on him, he ought to be able to divorce her. Jesus even seems to affirm this when He says that any man who divorces his wife, except in the case of sexual immorality, commits adultery.
Except that later in the life of Jesus, we will see a woman caught in adultery - caught in sexual immorality - and the price is not divorce; it's death. That's what the law said. Any woman caught in the act of sexual immorality should be stoned to death. In fact, if you read the Old Testament, there are ways to figure out if the woman has been unfaithful or sexually immoral, and if she has, to stone her.
If the price of sexual immorality for a woman is death, then is it the man's sexual immorality that justifies his divorcing her?
It raises all kinds of tricky questions, especially for those of us who grew up interpreting the Bible in a gender equality society. Our Scriptures have been re-interpreted for us to insert women into the mix as often as possible and to make things seem equal when in the reality of the culture that we're reading about, they weren't.
We think the sexual immorality thing goes both ways, but does it? In a society where women were considered property, where they were sold into marriages arranged by their fathers, where there were often multiple wives and concubines involved - even for a people to whom God said a man and a woman would leave their fathers and mothers and be cleaved together - are we really going to say that women were given this one fair and equal right, to divorce their husbands based on marital infidelity? What even is marital infidelity to a woman who is one of many wives?
But what we do know is that when we actually see an unfaithful woman in Scripture, nobody wants to divorce her; they want to stone her. When we see woman caught in adultery, the crowds don't encourage the man to sign papers; they pick up rocks. Maybe death was more honorable than divorce.
The implications go even beyond this, but this is just a starter point to get you thinking about this idea. If the law permits divorce in the case of an unfaithful woman, why wasn't that provision actually used for unfaithful women? If, on the other hand, the law permits a man to divorce his wife if he is maritally unfaithful....
Stay tuned tomorrow. This gets interesting.