Selected Sunday Scriptures- #30

Today’s post will have several passages with a consistent theme. The first passage, a long one,  comes from the Book of Genesis:

While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep; for she kept them. 10 Now when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud. 12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father.

13 When Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister’s son, he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, 14 and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month.

15 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” 16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful and lovely. 18 Jacob loved Rachel; and he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” 22 So Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. 23 But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24 (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) 25 And in the morning, behold, it was Leah; and Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” 26 Laban said, “It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the first-born. 27 Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” 28 Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to wife. 29 (Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her maid.) 30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years.

(Genesis 29:9-30)

Our second passage is from the Book of Numbers:

And Moses commanded the people of Israel according to the word of the Lord, saying, “The tribe of the sons of Joseph is right. This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zeloph′ehad, ‘Let them marry whom they think best; only, they shall marry within the family of the tribe of their father. The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another; for every one of the people of Israel shall cleave to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel shall be wife to one of the family of the tribe of her father, so that every one of the people of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers. So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another; for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall cleave to its own inheritance.’”

(Numbers 36:5-9)

The next passage comes from the Book of Sirach:

23 Do you have children? Discipline them,
    and make them obedient from their youth.
24 Do you have daughters? Be concerned for their chastity,
    and do not show yourself too indulgent with them.
25 Give a daughter in marriage, and you complete a great task;
    but give her to a sensible man.

(Sirach 7:23-25)

I should note that in the above passage, verse 23 reads in some authorities as sons, not children, and says “choose wives for them while they are young.” Then we move to another passage from Sirach:

19 My child, keep sound the bloom of your youth,
    and do not give your strength to strangers.
20 Seek a fertile field within the whole plain,
    and sow it with your own seed, trusting in your fine stock.
21 So your offspring will prosper,
    and, having confidence in their good descent, will grow great.

(Sirach 26:19-21)

Now we move to the New Testament, specifically the First Letter to the Corinthians:

39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

(1 Corinthians 7:39)

As you might have noticed, they all bear a common theme: the matter of determining when and who to marry. These passages are just a sample of the passages and verses in Scripture which address the matter. I chose them because I think they provide a good sample of what Scripture has to say on the subject. What they make clear is the following:

  • In some circumstances parents chose whom their daughters, and their sons, would marry
  • In some circumstances men could choose whom they would marry
  • In some circumstances women could choose whom they would marry

Taken together, these passages explain that men and women, and parents, can be involved in the choice of spouses. With all of this in mind, I would go further and say that both children and parents should be involved in the process of spouse selection. Unfortunately, nearly all Christian parents today have abdicated this important role. In fact many go so far as to sabotage, through various means, their children when it comes to marriage. Not all mean to do ill, but that doesn’t change the fact that many Christian youth suffer unnecessarily, and risk their souls, because their parents aren’t as involved as they should be.

Consequently, I am a major supporter of The Courtship Pledge, run by Scott and Mychael. Scott has asked me to write guest posts there, and I hope to the have first (which will be cross-posted here) up by the end of the week. It will expand on the line of thought started with this post.


Filed under Selected Sunday Scriptures

6 responses to “Selected Sunday Scriptures- #30

  1. Another theme present in these passages is maintaining one’s tribal or national heritage through endogamy, that is, marriage within one’s own people group. Also see Tobit 4:12-13:
    “Beware, my son, of all immorality. First of all take a wife from among the descendants of your fathers and do not marry a foreign woman, who is not of your father’s tribe; for we are the sons of the prophets. Remember, my son, that Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our fathers of old, all took wives from among their brethren. They were blessed in their children, and their posterity will inherit the land. So now, my son, love your brethren, and in your heart do not disdain your brethren and the sons and daughters of your people by refusing to take a wife for yourself from among them. For in pride there is ruin and great confusion; and in shiftlessness there is loss and great want, because shiftlessness is the mother of famine.”

  2. @ Lazarusnorth

    Good mention of Tobit there. Taken together, what I think all of these show (especially Corinthians) is that the People of God should only marry other believers. Missionary dating/marriage is not only unwise, but sinful. Now, if only the Church would take a stronger stand against it….

  3. With respect, Donal, I have a different take on this.

    The interpretative matrix of modern, “progressive” ethics is one that filters out and denies the importance physical and social distinctions. The world hates the idea of a class divide between rich and poor, a social hierarchy of noble, yeoman, and peasant, the physical and emotional difference between men and women, and very especially it hates any suggestion of meaningful differences between the races.

    This hatred of order even goes so far as to reduce gender roles to a merely “social construct”, to the point that one’s genitalia are not seen as determinative of a person’s sexual identity. It is this same progressive ideology which has fought tooth and nail against the racial integrity of the western world. Sex equalism and race equalism are cut from the same cloth.

    In such an environment as this, Christians have been absorbed more and more into the progressive zeitgeist. As a result we tend to be overly spiritualizing in our interpretation of scripture. This tendency is not without precedents, however — radical theologies have arisen throughout history which opposed themselves to proper social orders. Not least of these were the early anabaptists.

    Actually, the debate over infant baptism provides a key analogy here. Under the Old Testament administration, those who were of Abraham’s seed were to receive the sign of the Covenant (circumcision) in infancy. Now we know that Abraham’s seed typifies those created in Christ, and so baptists reason that the new Covenant sign (baptism) should only be given to the true spiritual seed of Abraham, and not to infants who haven’t yet demonstrated their spiritual paternity. Those of us who would defend the baptism of infants would maintain that there is still an earthly, familial aspect of God’s covenant, and therefore our children should receive the sign by virtue of the their parents’ faith.

    Unfortunately, the anabaptist way of interpreting the bible has been making inroads into more conservative branches of Christianity. This shows itself in the commonly made assumption that inter-marriage in the Old Testament represented spiritually mixed marriages between believers and unbelievers. Now I readily concede that there is some truth in this. The problem comes when we say that was the only thing at stake. God is the one who brought about the divisions within mankind, and even in the New Covenant age, His physical order is still important. As Scripture says:

    “When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the sons of God.” (Deuteronomy 32:8)

    The examples of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob actually provide a strong counter-argument to the spiritual reductionism of the popular view. We know that Abraham’s father worshipped other gods, and that God called Abraham to leave his family for the new land He would give to his descendants. Even so, father Abraham was adamant that Isaac have a wife from among his own kindred. Jacob likewise got his wives from among his own, and Laban’s family does not appear to have been what we would call pious. Rachel even stole her father’s household gods!

    Now I am not suggesting that we should get un-Christian wives – far from it. I am, however, saying that a spiritualized interpretation of this story lacks explanatory power – I believe it is a retrospective reductionism.

    Numbers 36 is an important passage as well. Each tribe is given a separate portion, and those special portions are not to be transferred to any other tribe – even the other Israelite tribes. Notice that the daughters’ choice of husband was restricted in the interests of maintaining the integrity of the tribe’s heritage.

    I think we can say that Isreal in the Old Testament, with its tribal divisions, stands as a picture of the Kingdom, with Christ enthroned in the New Jerusalem, the Church in the midst of the nations. If anything, the tribal divisions within the “unity” of Israel show the legitimacy of distinctions of heritage within the Kingdom of God. Numbers 36 gives us a case law proving that amalgamation or transfer of ancestral inheritance is not a sound application of biblical law-order. It gives freedom to families and peoples to restrict marriages which would result in loss of inheritance. If a people believes (rightly) that racial identity is part-and-parcel of their God-given inheritance, then they have the right to ban radical admixture. Common citizenship in God’s Kingdom does not abrogate this right.

    Now to the Sirach passage you quoted:

    “My child, keep sound the bloom of your youth,
    and do not give your strength to strangers.
    Seek a fertile field within the whole plain,
    and sow it with your own seed, trusting in your fine stock.
    So your offspring will prosper,
    and, having confidence in their good descent, will grow great.”

    In the interest of honesty, I ought to say that I am not Catholic and am only familiar with portions of the Apocrypha. Nonetheless, at face value this text appears to be speaking of racial integrity. “Your own seed, “fine stock”, “good descent”, “do not give your strength to strangers” – think about what’s being said here. The reference to seed is relevant, for in Leviticus 19:19 we have:

    “…thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed.” (Also see Deuteronomy 22:9)

    We find the idea of mingled seed mentioned in Daniel 2:43, with explicit application to the mixture of human seed:

    “And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.”

    This is speaking of the fourth great empire of Daniel’s vision, and we see that mixture causes weakness and division. The fact that this practice is mentioned as a characteristic of the world’s kingdom should give us pause. God’s people should be different. According to the classic bible commentary by Keil and Delitzch on Deuteronomy 22:9:

    “[Here is a] series of commandments, which make it a duty on the part of the people of God to keep the physical and moral order of the world sacred. This series began in v. 19 with the commandment not to mix the things which are separated in the creation of God… By these laws the observance of the natural order and separation of things is made a duty binding upon the Israelites, the people of Jehovah, as a divine ordinance founded in creation itself (Gen. 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25).”

  4. femininebutnotfeminist

    @ Lazarusnorth,

    What about Ruth?

    A jewish man married a woman from Moab. A stranger to the House of Israel (Ruth 2:10). Her later marriage to Boaz (also a jewish man) was blessed by God. She even got her own little spot in the Word of God, and in the ancestry of Jesus.

    I’m not sure how to reconcile this to the verses about the Tribes not having mixed marriages, but there it is.

  5. @ femininebutnotfeminist,

    Good observation. I find there are many things within the biblical narratives which are hard to reconcile with biblical principles. Sometimes it just takes little imagination, or a little research, but other times it is much harder.

    Deciding what is or isn’t a “mixed” marriage requires a measure of practical, empirical knowledge in addition to the general principle. For example, an Englishman might marry a foreigner from the continent — let’s say he marries a woman from Denmark. By the strictest standard, this might be considered a mixed marriage. But the English and the Danes are relatives, and so such a marriage, as a rare occurrence, poses little danger to the English identity. Not so if he marries a woman from Africa. The genetic distance between an Englishman and an African is something like 100 times as great as the distance between an Englishman and a Dane. The children resulting from such a union would very obviously not “fit” — they won’t breed true to type, or “after their kind”, to use the biblical idiom.

    In Israel of old, inter-tribal marriages were permitted in cases where inheritance would not be jeopardized. Israelite were even, upon certain occasions, allowed to marry virgins of the people they fought against in war. While in general they were instructed to put the Canaanites to the sword, leaving no survivors, they were allowed to keep some of the women of Midian. If we do a little digging, we find that the Midianites were related to Israel – Midian was a son of Abraham, born to his wife Keturah.

    Likewise, Moab and Ammon were the sons of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. As descendants of the same ancestors, they most likely shared the same general racial characteristics. The Moabites were indeed banned from the assembly of Jehovah’s people, but I don’t believe it was for any racial reason. Rather, we are told in Deuteronomy 23:

    “No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the LORD, because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.…”

    As relatives of Israel, they should have treated them more kindly.

    You may find this link interesting: it is a map of the relative genetic distance between various people groups. Notice how closely related the European peoples are in comparison with everyone else.

  6. mdavid

    FBNF, What about Ruth?

    I think you’ve brilliantly shown the danger of personal biblical interpretation done apart from the Church in three words. I’m still chuckling.

    On this particular issue: the Church has always, in every age, over 2,000 years, been (cautiously) tolerant of intermarriage between groups. Even with non-Christians if conversion is a possibility. That’s how these passages have always been interpreted. Paul’s warning was to a particular people and place and time, and hence the danger of personal interpretation.

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