Today, I read more in Deuteronomy. Frankly, it’s been a bit of a snooze. Not my favorite book of the Bible, at all, with rules, rules and more rules. But I noticed a few things.
Deuteronomy 22 continues with Moses telling the Israelites about behavioral expectations. Deuteronomy 22 outlines how to handle the delicate situation when a virgin, newly married and bedded, is accused of… well, being not so…virginal by her brand-new husband. We pick it up in verse 13: “Suppose a man marries a woman, but after sleeping with her, he turns against her and publicly accuses her of shameful conduct, saying, ‘When I married this woman, I discovered she was not a virgin.’ Then the woman’s father and mother must bring the proof of her virginity (!) to the elders as they hold court at the town gate. (v.13-15).
I’m already cringing, thinking about how much shame is attached to 1) the accusation, and 2) the public forum for the hearing. And how does one obtain such proof of virginity? I’m a little queasy thinking about it.
The narrative goes on to say that the father defends his daughter, bloody sheet spread wide. THe elders, provided there’s a bloody sheet to view, fine the accuser 100 pieces of silver, payable to dear old Dad. The woman, lucky lady, remains the man’s wife and he can *never* divorce her, as much as she might wish for such an occurrence.
What if there is no bloody sheet to exonerate the lass? Then, she’s taken to the doorway of her fathe’rs home, and the menfolk stone her to death, right on the threshold…”for she has committed a disgraceful crime in Israel by being promiscuous while living in her parents’ home. In this way, you will purge this evil from among you” (v. 20-21).
To us living in modern times, this seems exceptionally harsh, to say nothing of humiliating. I mean, if this occurred today, would there be any celebrities alive?! According to the Bible, sex was created for the context of marriage only. No temple prostitutes were permitted; even the money they earned was unacceptable for the Lord’s offering. The possibility of illegitimate children – and their subsequent curse for 10 generations (Deut. 23:2) – loomed large. It seems that in order to keep the chosen in line, God used a certain amount of enforcement. The community needed to be united.
It’s important to keep in mind what God asked of his people and how he thought of them. Back to Deuteronomy 22, verse 19: “They must also fine him [the husband] 100 pieces of silver, which he must pay to the woman’s father because he publicly accused a virgin of Israel of shameful conduct.”
A virgin of Israel. Sounds like what Yahweh calls Israel itself. Jeremiah 31:4: I will rebuild you, my virgin Israel. You will again be happy and dance merrily with your tambourines. Isaiah 62:5: Your children will commit themselves to you, O Jerusalem, just as a young man commits himself to his bride [virgin]. Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride [virgin].
And of course, Matthew 1:23:
“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’”
Why is this virginal quality so important? I believe there are two definitions, one as a noun and one as an adjective. The basic characteristics are:
The overlapping qualities of both are being chaste, i.e., no sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse “allies” our spirit with another. Look at Psalm 86:11: Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. The latter chapters of Ezekiel get pretty graphic, depicting Israel’s involvement with other nations. There is no secret about God’s disappointment in Israel, the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom, Judah. God, speaking through the prophet, laments Israel’s allying herself with Babylonia and other nations instead of trusting Him to protect her. As they do so, they embrace heathen gods. In His mind, it’s prostitution. They were asked to be set apart for God alone, a holy nation “married” to God.
Jonathon and I discussed this a bit. He reminded me that just because something is part of a culture, it doesn’t mean God approves of it. Look at what he says about divorce in Malachi and again in the New Testament when Jesus talks of it – “I hate divorce!”. The Old Testament culture seemed to be “might makes right”. The woman had no power. In fact, it seemed her only power lay in being beautiful and unsullied. She didn’t hold property except in rare instances. That God made provisions for woman’s defense at all is kind of wonderful.
And if Israel is a daughter, then she shares God’s characteristics. There’s a family resemblance. God sees her as pure and whole. The “virginal” quality is valuable because you’re allied with only one person: the true spouse. As the Lord continued to reveal Himself throughout the Bible, he declares Himself Israel’s husband. He loves her. The New Testament, through the writings of Paul, are rife with sexual prohibitions against fornication and adultery. Purity must be priority. And later in time, Jesus will marry the Church, returning for those who believe in Him and have received everlasting life. The virginal quality, the pure spotless bride, mirrors what God expects in his Church when the Second Coming occurs.
All of the Old Testament leads to the New Testament and Christ’s virgin birth through Mary. This was God’s “do-over”. No man could claim to have fathered Jesus. Mary epitomized physical and spiritual purity. No humans intervened to save themselves; it was all God, restoring relationship lost in the Garden of Eden. God longs to be our first love. His yearning is more and more apparent as the revelation poured through the writers of the Bible.
There is so much I could say on the value of purity. Others have written more eloquently on this topic. Suffice it to say 0ur world despises it, mocks it. God does not. If you are “full strength” , you’re 100% pure. There is power in purity.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. – Matthew 5:8