Love, Old Testament Style - An Excerpt from Prostitutes and Polygamists
Why doesn't the Church talk about sex? The topic is often uncomfortable for parents and children, but the Bible certainly doesn't avoid it. Yet, if the Church does not speak into it, what other voice will our children hear?
In today's excerpt, David Lamb explains why "Prostitutes and Polygamists" must be talked about.
Love, Old Testament style, was weird, bizarre, and often unholy. The book of Genesis makes it clear what the ideal was — one man, one woman, together, forever — but often for the people of God, the ideal was not the reality. The Old Testament doesn’t just talk about sex but includes many incidents of what would now be considered deviant sexual behavior. Love may be “a many splendored thing,” but in the Old Testament, it went beyond splendored to bizarre. And strangely, the authors didn’t have any qualms about reporting these weird sexual practices in a book that was meant to be read to children (Deut. 4:9–10; 6:7, 20; 11:19; 32:46; Josh. 8:35). For most readers, the “love” stories of the Old Testament raise a lot of questions.
Judah praised his daughter-in-law Tamar for being righteous after he realized she tricked him into having sex with her for money. In Judah’s day was it considered a good thing to have a daughter-in-law as a prostitute?
Jacob, who gave his new name, Israel, to the nation, had several wives. Solomon, who was considered the wisest man ever to live, had several hundred. Was it considered wise back then to be a polygamist?
While visiting the city of Gibeah, a Levite’s concubine was forced to have sex with the men of the town throughout the night until she was dead (Judges 19). What were the biblical authors thinking when they decided to include this horrific story? “Hey, the Bible needs a few more gruesome stories of gang rape”?
The book of 1 Kings seems to have forgotten that David had sex with Uriah’s wife Bathsheba — and then killed Uriah to cover it up — when it declared that David kept God’s commandments completely and did only what was right (1 Kings 14:8). Since when is it righteous to commit murder and adultery?
“Did Cain really marry his sister?” If you haven’t asked that question, you were probably embarrassed the first time a clever junior higher in the Sunday school class you were teaching did. Incest isn’t just for modern royal families; ancient biblical families also engaged in it.
In terms of sexual deviancy, the Old Testament is worse than an episode of Arrested Development. Why does the Bible talk so much about polygamy, prostitution, rape, adultery, and incest? Because the Bible talks about real humans, and often humans behave badly. The Bible doesn’t ignore bizarre sexual behavior, but parents and churches often do.
“What’s a Foreskin?”
My mother passed away in August 2012, so now I can write a book on sex. Seriously, I really miss my mom and have committed to tell stories about her as much as possible as I continue to grieve her death. But it would have been awkward for her to read a book I wrote about sex, even sex in the Bible. Not only were my parents uncomfortable with my brothers and I watching shows that talk about sex, but they were also uncomfortable talking to us about sex, which was fine with us.
We were not alone. When it comes to sex, parents and children have one thing in common: they desperately want to avoid the topic. My teenage sons are not excited that I’m working on this book right now. My friend Sharon posted this message on Facebook recently: “Well, my six-year-old came back from a long time of reading the Bible (the Lego Bible) in her room and said, ‘Mom, first of all, what’s a foreskin? And what does it mean to lay with someone?’ ” Awkward, yes, but clever of Sharon’s daughter to realize that Mom was the person she should ask what those confusing words mean.
Children’s Bibles are usually no help, because they conveniently skip over things like David’s adultery (or rape?) and murder. (The book of 1 Chronicles, curiously, does the same thing; 1 Chron. 20:1–2; 2 Sam. 11:1; 12:26.) I would like to see a children’s Bible that is a bit more true to the text in the area of sex and sexuality. (Despite using small plastic bricks to communicate its message, the Lego Bible doesn’t really fit into the genre of Kid Lit.)
The parental aversion to sexual discussions means there’s often a deafening silence on the subject. It’s not just six-year-olds asking about foreskins. In the Old Testament classes I teach, youths and adults frequently ask me about biblical attitudes toward polygamy, prostitution, rape, adultery, incest, and homosexuality. (Hopefully it’s not because they’re thinking, “Hey, this guy looks like he knows a lot about prostitution and incest.”) Who will speak into the silence and answer their questions? Unfortunately, often it’s not the church…
When the church does teach on sex and sexuality, it tends to focus exclusively on the ideal — one man, one woman, together, forever — which is good, but not sufficient, since the ideal is often not the reality. If someone in the church gets divorced or commits adultery, we don’t know how to react, because people rarely talk about these issues. Many times when someone is raped or sexually abused (even sometimes within church buildings), a tragic situation is made worse when the incident is ignored, avoided, or covered up. While parents and churches may avoid the subject of sex, our culture doesn’t. (Pgs 15-17)
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