“I slept but my heart was awake.
Listen! My lover is knocking:
“Open to me, my sister, my darling,
my dove, my flawless one.
My head is drenched with dew,
my hair with the dampness of the night.”
I have taken off my robe–
must I put it one again?
I have washed my feet–
must I soil them again?
My lover thrust his hand through the latch-
my heart began to pound for him.
I arose to open for my lover,
and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with flowing myrrh,
on the handles of the lock.
I opened for my lover…” (Song of Songs, 5:2-6)
Love is wonderful! And well it should be, for it is God’s gift to us, replete to overflowing with delight and wonder and enjoyment. In love, we are transported to Eden once again, with eyes only for our lover, intoxicated by her fragrance, desirous only for his strong embrace, giddy with the prospect of a sexual union that God gave to us as the ultimate pleasure between a man and a woman.
As the apostle Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians, “…a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Ephesians, 5:31) “One flesh.” Wow, as teenage boys (I am writing from my experience, remember!), that phrase alone was enough to ignite our over-hormoned imaginations.
And, if we bother to browse the Bible a bit for more on sex–like we did the dictionary, girlie magazines, and anything else we could fasten on to (now all available near instantaneously on the Internet)–we find passages like
“May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer–
May her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love.” (Proverbs 5:18.19)
The passage at the beginning of this chapter, taken from the Song of Solomons, is one of the most erotic ever written. Look through Scripture and it is filled with love, virgins, rape, incest, fidelity, harlots, and scenes and acts of seduction, betrayal, murder and faithfulness that leaves any modern soap opera pale and poor by comparison.
What’s this? Have we lost our bearings? We are supposed to be reading this book to learn the high road, and here we are down in the gutter. Ah, my friends, fellow Christians, and dear readers. This chapter is devoted to one of the most consuming aspects of our Christianity–our desire for love and, in a way, our carnal nature. And we are also going to explore briefly how the Bible teaches us to conduct ourselves sexually. For it is all there.
As Christians we sometimes tend to separate our “Sunday selves” from the rest of the week. We lower our heads in prayer, raise our voices in hymns, lift our souls in praise to Christ the Redeemer, confess our sins, and perhaps even decide to “start anew” if the preacher has been pricking our conscience with a good sermon. Some of us conduct our “Sunday selves” with great decorum, dutifully chanting old creeds, praying quietly from memory, following the published ritual ceremonially. Others of us may be speaking in tongues, praising the Lord loudly with hands held up and feet dancing, joyfully calling on the Holy Spirit to take us up and into His holy hands, throwing ourselves down before the altar to make confession and seek healing.
But after Sunday we go about our daily business. God kind of recedes into the background of the hurly burly of “real” life: getting the kids off to school, selecting an outfit to wear to work, wondering when we’re going to take the old clunker to have the muffler repaired, going through the clients we have to call on the next week, wondering where the stock market is taking us (and our future), and, if we’re students and young adults, getting ready to go to school and all that implies.
As I composed this chapter, the tragedy in Littleton, Colorado unfolded. Since this book probably won’t reach you until the year 2009, let me remind you that on April 20, 1999, two young gunmen massacred over a dozen fellow students at Columbine High School in Littleton. One teacher also died in the hail of bullets and mayhem and terror that filled the hallways and classrooms that Tuesday, around noon just as lunch was being served. I doubt if those kids thought much about sex in the succeeding weeks as they grieved, and we all cried watching the memorial services broadcast on national television. We’ll deal with that subject more directly in Chapter Six, “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People,” but I just mention the incident as a reminder that our days are taken up with many things other than God, although God and responsibility certainly came to the forefront in the agonizing days after the shootings.
Sex, like much violence, usually catches us off guard. It sure did King David. The story of David and Bathsheba starts off very simply. David was strolling on the roof of his palace when he saw a woman bathing not far off, probably through her window. She was very beautiful. David sent someone to find out about her.
So far so good. We’ve all been attracted to the opposite sex. If you’re young, the problem then is how to make the approach without embarrassing yourself. If you’re older, you have developed a number of tactics. Which one do I adopt? And, if you’re the target, you know or learn how to either accept a “come on” or brush one off. If you’re already going with someone, engaged, living together, or married, this complicates the scenario, especially, of course, if you are attracted to someone else.
But few of us have the prerogatives of ancient Hebrew kings such as David. He saw Bathsheba and sent someone to inquire about her. “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” (2Samuel 11:4) David sloughed off the implicit warning. This woman was married. “So what” the lusty King thought? He sent messengers to get her.
Scripture doesn’t tell us what Bathsheba thought or said but simply that she came to him and he slept with her. Satisfied, his lust slaked by the love-making, David sent her back home and in due time Bathsheba sent word to David, “I am pregnant.”
It is clear she was pregnant with David’s child. The King didn’t deny it; he didn’t ask for a DNA test to prove his innocence. He was, after all, the King. And he was immensely fruitful and full of himself. He saw a woman and he took her.
But something was wrong here. Let’s begin with Bathsheba. Did she cooperate? And, if she did, was she just as guilty as the King of lust and pride?
She no doubt felt flattered to be singled out by the King. He, after all, had many wives and concubines to choose from, and he asked for her. Could she have denied him? Certainly. But, in doing so, would she have put her life in jeopardy, her husband’s life, their livelihood, their very lives within the Hebrew community? Was she just as attracted to David as he was inflamed by the sight of her?
What is important here is that both David and Bathsheba had a simple choice here, and they chose wrong. The story is worth recounting, for once a bad decision is made, the complications will multiply in a disastrous spiral for offending God. And let’s be clear here. This was an act of adultery. The seventh Commandment is very specific: You shall not commit adultery. In one act, David also managed to violate the tenth Commandment and prepared to violate the sixth Commandment as well.
The tenth reads “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” We’ll get to the sixth Commandment in a moment.
David sent for Bathsheba’s husband Uriah the Hittite who was serving in David’s army then commanded by Joab. They were beseiging the city of Rabbah. Uriah returned to Jerusalem as ordered. David treated him with graceful (treacherous?) cordiality at the palace and sent him home with a gift.
But Uriah chose not to go home and instead slept outside the palace with other of the King’s servants.
What’s this? exclaimed David. You’ve been out in the field in combat. I call you back to Jerusalem and send you home to your (very fetching!) wife and you chose to sleep outside with my other servants!?
King, David was, but Uriah was a warrior and also a man and he spoke to the King frankly.
“The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents,” Uriah responded, “and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
David thought on this a bit. An idea quickly developed to get rid of this proud warrior, married to the lovely Bathsheba. Her presence, her body, her fragrance, they filled David’s senses. He had to have her.
David wined and dined Uriah one more night, got him drunk in fact, but the tough warrior did not let his desire for his wife overcome his sense of duty. He slept again with the other servants. How could David and Bathsheba cover her pregnancy if her husband refused to sleep with her?
The next day David crossed his Rubicon. He wrote Joab a letter and sent it with Uriah. The temerity of the king knew no bounds. He sent Uriah’s death sentence in the very hands of the man he was about to kill.
“Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”
And so it came to pass. Joab followed orders. Uriah was killed in a sharp engagement close to the walls of Rabbah.
Bathsheba mourned for the death of her husband. Soon after the time of mourning was over, David followed his plan. He married Bathsheba and in due time a son was born.
But the thing David had done displeased the LORD. Indeed! Adultery, lust, and murder. David had committed a trilogy of sins and the harvest for his lust and pride were soon revealed through the prophet Nathan.
I can’t improve upon the story, nor retell it with any greater passion or clarity than it reads in Scripture. Here is what happened, as told in 2 Samuel 12:1-12.
“The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.”
“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
“David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
“Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
“This is what the LORD says: `Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ ” (2 Samuel 12:1-12)
What’s our natural reaction when confronted with something we did wrong? Let’s be honest here. Denial is one. Pointing the finger at others is another. Obfuscation (“to darken, muddle, obscure” in my dictionary) is a time-honored tactic. I am a teacher and I have heard an array of excuses in my thirty-eight years of teaching that range from the dumbest to the very clever, usually pitched with all the sincerity one can muster at the moment. It would take a Solomon (a son of David actually) to discriminate between all the lies and truths and half truths and then make judgments on the plaintive pleas for mercy and understanding.
David was caught, and he knew it. To his honor, he admitted his guilt.
“I have sinned against the Lord,” David said simply to Nathan.
Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.”
There it was. The judgment. The son born to Bathsheba and David would die for their sin. Can there be a more devastating judgment befall parents? I think not. The child became ill.
David pleaded with God for his life. David fasted. He wept. He slept on the ground in his palace. He refused to respond to his servants. On the seventh day of his illness, the child died. It was over.
David then cleaned himself up and went into the house of the Lord and worshipped.
When asked by his servants why he was now eating and talking again after the child died, David told them with remarkable candor, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, `Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
David comforted Bathsheba and they once again lay together and conceived. The son born was named Solomon, who eventually ruled Israel after his father and whose wisdom has come down to us through the ages in books such as Proverbs. The Lord loved Solomon and he told David through the prophet Nathan to name the child Jedidiah, meaning “loved by the Lord.”
The rest of David’s tale carries us away from this initial act of lust and passion between David and Bathsheba. However, the stain of David’s sin covered many of his children. Incest, rape, and murder followed his children like a shadow. His son Amnon lusted after and raped his sister Tamar. Her brother Absolom took revenge on Amnon, and then Absolom plotted against his father David to take his place as king. In the civil war that ensured, Absolom is finally caught (by his long hair snarled on an oak tree as he rode underneath!) and run through by Joab, David’s general. David is distraught over the death of Absolom. It is a sad and convoluted story whose travails often startle us with their familiarity. Revenge and envy, cowardice and greed, the ingredients set loose by illicit sexual passion are the stuff of any modern television soap opera.
Before we leave David, I want us to underscore something that David did soon after his baby died. We mentioned it a few paragraphs above. He cleaned himself up and went into the House of the Lord and worshipped.
How did David worship God in the face of his sin and the death of his baby son? He publicly repented and asked for God’s forgiveness. He spoke to God and to his people in Psalms 51: 1-19, a beautiful expression of a contrite heart asking for forgiveness and a restoration of his relationship with God. Again, I can’t improve on David’s prose. Here it is.
“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.”
“Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.”
“For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.”
“Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.”
“Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”
“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”
“Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.”
“Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.”
“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
“Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.”
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
“Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.”
“Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.”
“O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.”
“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.”
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.”
“In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
build up the walls of Jerusalem.”
“Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings to delight you;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.” (Psalms 51:1-19)
Not many leaders throughout the history of man could have borne the brunt of such a humbling confession of sin before God and the whole nation. David’s strength was in his devotion to God, and when he failed God, he turned to him for forgiveness, with a contrite heart, looking for restoration.
I wanted us to consider David’s response to his sin of lust and adultery because it is a model for us. We are all going to fail God now and then. Anyone in a perfect relationship with God can now shut this book and send away to the publisher for a refund. I will pay you out of my pocket.
Before continuing on to other Scripture related to our sexual lives, I just wanted us to know that no matter how far away you put yourself from God, there is forgiveness and a new life in Christ Jesus. I realize this sounds “preachy” but what-the-hey, this is a “preachy-teachy” kind of book! Humor aside, this is serious business. David asked for the restoration of the joy of salvation and a willing spirit to sustain him. God forgave him. Jesus will do the same for you.
But just because we have a “spiritual safety net” of sorts does not excuse bad choices that lead us over the precipice. There is a price to be paid. David saw his infant son, an innocent babe, taken from his arms and cast into death.
David’s son Solomon perhaps realized more than most the penalties of iniquity and sexual sin. I was tempted to write “sexual impropriety” since it sounds more contemporary. But “impropriety” simply means the “quality of being improper.” Then I thought of sexual “error.” That means “a wrong belief or incorrect opinion,” although the fourth meaning, “transgression or wrongdoing” is getting closer to the significance I want to attach to this category.
We have tended to water down sin in our contemporary age, or, to put it into slightly more eggheady language, to “relativize” absolutes. This is not the chapter to take this subject on at length. We do that below in Chapter Seven, “The Super Christian; Or, How Can We Mere Mortals Be Expected to Live Up To Jesus’s Impossibly High Standards.” But I did want to introduce the challenge in the context of our sexual lives.
Relativism, defined in the dictionary, is “any theory of ethics or knowledge based on the idea that all values or judgments are relative, differing according to circumstances, persons, etc.” Contrary to relativism is something “absolute.” It has many definitions, but the one most appropriate is “without reference to anything else.” God’s commandments, for example, are absolute. They cannot be changed to accommodate our views or lifestyles. The Ten Commandments stand as absolutes. Many of Jesus’s teachings are also absolute. The are not relative to our circumstances, our culture, other people’s prevailing opinions, or to anything else. They stand alone. They are uncompromising. They are unchanging.
For example, Jesus did not mince words on adultery. In fact, he took the Old Testament commandment and added to it!
“You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mathew 5:27-29)
Ex-President Jimmy Carter gave this command much publicity when he publicly admitted to having committed adultery; not in fact, but in his heart. He repented, but his example brought a refreshing Christian perspective into high places not often seen in this country in the recent past. Another high profile political figure at the end of the last century was Pope John Paul II. He was looked upon by many as an unbending, uncompromising figure who simply didn’t understand the “modern” world and its value systems. But you knew where the Pope stood on Christian life, where he stood ten years ago, where he stood twenty years ago, and where he would always stand. You may not have agreed with him on the issue of birth control and abortion for example, but he did stand in God’s will as he saw it.
Pope John Paul II’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI, is pretty much cut out of the same bolt of cloth. Benedict XVI is perhaps even firmer in his conservative convictions, but, if he wasn’t firmly rooted in his faith and Scripture, he would not be able to withstand the pressures of relativism and modernism that tend to undermine the basic truths of the Bible. He has had to face not only the divisive issues of birth control and abortion, but also others knocking at the doors of the Roman Catholic Church, including priestly celibacy (to keep to tradition or allow priests to marry for example), sexual molestation of minors by priests, and other “hot button” issues such as the proper relationship between Christianity and Islam.
None of these issues–birth control, abortion, homosexuality, Islam and terrorism–are easy to face. I bring them up precisely because of they are difficult, and because some are so intimately related to the subject of this chapter, sex and the Christian. Or “gender” if you prefer to spread the net slightly wider and include many other ramifications of the sexual differences between man and woman, between male and female.
Walking the Christian walk is not easy. I never claimed that. I cannot provide you with an answer that might, for example, somehow reconcile the Pope’s stand on birth control (he doesn’t approve of any artificial methods of birth control such as contraceptives, the pill, etc.) and the need for population control. Nor can I determine for you the exact moment when “life” of a fetus physiologically and spiritually begins: at conception? two weeks after conception?; at three months? Does a woman have a right to choose the termination of a pregnancy? Or does the fetus have a right to live, no matter what the circumstances?
Let me suggest a path to follow, however, that IS in keeping with your Christian walk. ALWAYS turn to Scripture for answers to basic questions, no matter how arcane, how modern, how apparently unrelated to a source–the Bible–produced so long ago, by a culture and civilization so apparently different from ours. The governing word, or adjective if you will, is “apparently.”
What do we have in common with the Jews of Jesus’ times?; with desert nomads and prophets such as John the Baptist, scarfing up locusts and honey for a meal, dressed in rags, sleeping in caves and open spaces, calling down doom and gloom on their leaders? ; with a time and place where there was no electricity, no cars, no planes, no fast foods, no television, almost nothing we associate with modern life? How advanced we are! What can we possibly have in common with those barbaric people sacrificing animals on bloody temple podiums, marching around the deserts and mountains for years, blowing on rams’ horns to tumble battlements into dust, brutally crucifying their criminals in a transparently cruel and inhumane way of executing justice?
I would suggest to you that we have everything in common with them, and that Scripture instructs us on all the strengths and weaknesses of man. I have yet to read a modern novel, see a modern soap opera, watch a modern movie, or witness just about anything in our contemporary world without seeing the shadow of a Scriptural story. I know I am stepping on toes here, suggesting that emotionally and spiritually we haven’t progressed very much, if at all, since Biblical times, but there it is, ladies and gents: we haven’t. We may have grown a bit taller, and live a bit longer, and have with great ingenuity invented ways to make our lives better, from penicillin to personal computers, but we still are captives of our emotions, our fears, our very selfish and self-centered selves.
And this is the area, precisely, which produces most of our problems. But, thanks be to God, to quote a favorite invocation of the Apostle Paul, we, as Christians, also have access to the answers. You may not like them. They may be awfully “old fashioned” and unbending, but they are there, with the promise inherent in following God’s word.
Let’s get back to sex. If I were writing this fifty years ago, I probably couldn’t have even contemplated that word without a great rush of excitement and giddiness! It was THE forbidden fruit in my life, always just out of my reach, a subject (girls, girls, girls, and, of course, the women, women, women of the “adult” magazines) never far from my consciousness. Indeed, the sexual drive may be the most powerful drive in all our lives. And, as in the story of David and Bathsheba, it can plunge us into despair and even death, and separate us from God.
So, how you must be asking, do I have a good sexual life and still be in God’s word? Before going on to one of the most difficult passages in the Bible, let me suggest the only way to deal with temptation. Turn away from it.
I know this sounds, to many of you, as hopelessly simplistic, the way one President and his wife suggested we deal with drugs: “Just say no.” Easy for you to say; hard for us to do, given our circumstances, our background, our poverty, our deprivation, our “you-fill-in-the-blank” excuse. But there it is. You have free will. You can do what David did when he saw Bathsheba through the open window, or you can turn away, as David should have. It is an immensely SIMPLE act of your will, your free volition.
Now, before you say, “ah, easy for you to say Mr. Goody Two Shoes,” let me tell you that I have been too often on the wrong side of sins associated with sexuality–including adultery, abortion, and plain old promiscuity–to qualify for simon purity. I had a fine and justifiable set of excuses for just about each and every fall and failing. But none really were valid. And, if had read or been aware of Scripture much, I would have been acquainted with the verse I just mentioned above on adultery.
Jesus’ adultery commandment is followed by a passage (see below), that, if taken literally, commands us to mutilate ourselves. If taken as a metaphor, it looses its hard, absolute edge. It follows his definition of adultery, so there can be no doubt as to its reference.
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)
You can read the many versions of the Bible for commentary. I have the Zondervan New International Version on my computer. Its comment on the passage follows: “Jesus is not teaching self-mutilation, for even a blind man can lust. The point is that we should deal as drastically with sin as necessary.”What is instructive for us is Jesus’ unequivocal presentation of the consequences of breaking God’s commandments. You will be separated from God. What does that mean, you might legitimately ask?
Jesus stated the issue clearly. “He who is not with me is against me.” (Matthew 12:30) There is nothing complicated there.
Basically it means that if you are not with God, then you are consigned to hell. I know that sounds so old fashioned as to be laughable for us “moderns.” But think about it for a moment. You will pass from this natural life. And you do have a soul, or spiritual body, that will continue on for eternity. It–your soul–will either live with God, or not. And the “not” is well described in Scripture, although this is not the chapter to consider the many depictions of hell. That message is usually bleak enough to get the attention of most of us!
But, where there is repentance there is forgiveness, so we don’t have to despair if we fall short of God’s sexual commandments. What IS important is made clear in Jesus’ instructions to the prostitute who asked for his forgiveness.
If you don’t remember the story, let me summarize it for you. It is told in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus was teaching in the courtyards around the temple when a woman caught in adultery was brought to him by the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. The law said she should be stoned. “What say you teacher?” they queried Jesus.
Jesus answered “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, they melted away until there was only Jesus and the woman still standing there.
Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” The King James’ version is slightly different, but it easily scrolls up in my memory, “go and sin no more.”
But the message is the same. You are forgiven. Go, and sin no more.
Adultery really comes off badly in the Bible. Not only is it the subject of one of the Ten Commandments, but it reverberates throughout Scripture with terrible admonitions leveled against the adulteress and the prostitute. Metaphorically, the label is attached to people, to cities, to just about anything where betrayal is the central element of sin.
When the Old Testament Israelites strayed from the Lord, they were blasted by the old prophets in language that thunders in the ears. There may be other passages equally bold and graphic, but the following one from Ezekiel (16:15-42), aimed at the Israelites who had strayed from the one true God and substituted idols, struck me almost physically with its power of condemnation and imagery.
” `But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. Such things should not happen, nor should they ever occur. You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them. And you took your embroidered clothes to put on them, and you offered my oil and incense before them. Also the food I provided for you–the fine flour, olive oil and honey I gave you to eat–you offered as fragrant incense before them. That is what happened, declares the Sovereign LORD.
” `And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols. In all your detestable practices and your prostitution you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, kicking about in your blood.
” `Woe! Woe to you, declares the Sovereign LORD. In addition to all your other wickedness, you built a mound for yourself and made a lofty shrine in every public square. At the head of every street you built your lofty shrines and degraded your beauty, offering your body with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by You engaged in prostitution with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, and provoked me to anger with your increasing promiscuity. So I stretched out my hand against you and reduced your territory; I gave you over to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were shocked by your lewd conduct. You engaged in prostitution with the Assyrians too, because you were insatiable; and even after that, you still were not satisfied. Then you increased your promiscuity to include Babylonia, a land of merchants, but even with this you were not satisfied.
” `How weak-willed you are, declares the Sovereign LORD, when you do all these things, acting like a brazen prostitute! When you built your mounds at the head of every street and made your lofty shrines in every public square, you were unlike a prostitute, because you scorned payment.
” `You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! Every prostitute receives a fee, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. So in your prostitution you are the opposite of others; no one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you.
” `Therefore, you prostitute, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because you poured out your wealth and exposed your nakedness in your promiscuity with your lovers, and because of all your detestable idols, and because you gave them your children’s blood, therefore I am going to gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see all your nakedness. I will sentence you to the punishment of women who commit adultery and who shed blood; I will bring upon you the blood vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger. Then I will hand you over to your lovers, and they will tear down your mounds and destroy your lofty shrines. They will strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewelry and leave you naked and bare. They will bring a mob against you, who will stone you and hack you to pieces with their swords. They will burn down your houses and inflict punishment on you in the sight of many women. I will put a stop to your prostitution, and you will no longer pay your lovers. Then my wrath against you will subside and my jealous anger will turn away from you; I will be calm and no longer angry.”
Such powerful words of condemnation hardly need commentary. They were written in the context of Israel’s long fall from favor with the Lord, which ended in their defeat at the hands of first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians. Jerusalem was sacked and the Israelites were marched off into exile in shame and dishonor. We need not tarry here, except to comment that while we are writing this book about individual behavior and actions, collectively we too bear–like the Israelites–a responsibility to live as a Christian people. And collectively, or as a community, we can either be edified by our behavior, or condemned by it.
We also probably need to make something clear about the above passage that perhaps could be misinterpreted. When Israel is labeled a prostitute and harlot, and her practices are described and condemned, it is not women who are being damned for their promiscuity that seduces and drags down man into sin. The sin of idolatry is gender neutral. Prostitution is simply the vehicle that God choses to describe and illustrate, through his prophet Ezekiel, the sin.
Idolatry has two meanings: one, the worship of idols; and two, excessive devotion or reverence. We often substitute other “gods” in our lives, and this constitutes idolatry in its larger, or second meaning. We worship riches, wealth, power, fame, and other substitutes for God. These erode and sometimes destroy our focus on God, which should always be central and foremost in our minds and hearts. I point it out to illustrate the nearly always direct relationship of sin to a falling or turning away from the Word, or Scripture.
A wonderful passage from Proverbs (3:5-6) summarizes the above so clearly:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
As we conclude this chapter, let’s move up the scale from the degradation of harlotry and adultery to the joy of a loving marriage. Again, we turn to Scripture, and this time to Proverbs (5:15-20)
Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets,
your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer–
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love.
Now, take a moment and reread the beginning of this chapter, from Solomon’s Song of Songs. And, if you want a break from this book, open any Bible to the Song of Songs and read this entire hymn to love, written by Solomon perhaps, but also from the view of the beloved, the woman. It is sensuous and joyful, filled with anticipation for the embrace of her man, a paean to love.
And now, after a nice break with Solomon and his beloved, return to this chapter, to temptation, and to the eternal question: “How do I deal with it?!”
The answer—in great part—lies in the next chapter. Turn with me as we go in search of that answer.