By Hans Rasmussen
As a means to answer questions that come up in your study of scripture or through our corporate study of the book of Deuteronomy, we have an anonymous text question line that we have provided for our church body during our Sunday gatherings. The questions below have been submitted via that process. We hope that the answers provided help bring some clarification to those questions. Thank you Mission Fellowship for being a people that desire to know the word of God and back up that desire with action. Our prayer as your leadership team is that we can continue to guide you in the ways of Jesus and answer questions as they arise from your own personal study time in God’s Word.
Question: “In Psalm 147 it says the other nations did not know God's Law praise be to God! Why is it a good thing that the other nations did not know God's law?”
Answer: I believe that the section of Psalm 147 to which this question is referring is the last two verses: “He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 147:19–20, ESV)
Remember that when we read scripture, we must always read in context. That context includes the grammar of the exact text we are reading, the surrounding sentences and paragraphs, the book itself, and then the canonical context. This last context is that which carries with it the current text’s place within the overall narrative of redemption that the Bible puts forth. In reading this chapter within the Psalms, we realize the surrounding Psalms are speaking of the glory of YHWH, The LORD of Israel. They are speaking to the goodness, provision, and covenant commitment of YHWH to His people. For example, Psalm 146 has a non-inspired header in the ESV that says, “Put Not Your Trust in Princes.” This header is a commentary on the main point of Psalm 146 which is that the reader should put their trust in The LORD who is in covenant commitment and relationship with His people, Israel, and Praise Him because, as 146:10 says, He reigns over them.
Looking at the context within Psalm 147, we see that this is a psalm of praise to YHWH for His building up of Israel and their capital (verse 2), His redemptive nature over Israel (v3), and His steadfast love (verse 11), just to name a few items. Remember that “steadfast love” is a phrase that is a marker to remind the reader of God’s covenant relationship with Israel. The word in Hebrew is חֶ֫סֶד and it is transliterated into English as kheh´-sed. Verses 7-18 speak very much to the characteristic of YHWH to be provider for His covenant people. It carries with it echoes of Genesis 1 and God’s role as Provider.
With all this in mind then, we approach verses 19 and 20 with the understanding that the author is declaring that God is good because of His covenant commitment to Israel. So verse 19 reads like this: “He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules (just decrees) to Israel.” The word for “rules” is more literally “just decrees” which means God has a special relationship with Israel by God’s grace. In His grace, He has reached out to a people that didn’t deserve His steadfast love or covenant commitment. The Psalmist is declaring, “Isn’t this amazing? Isn’t YHWH good for this?” Why? Because look at the rest of the nations, they do not know His rules (just decrees). You see, mankind has turned its back on God and the nations have decided to no longer hear the LORD’s just decrees as King. And yet, in spite of that, God has reached out in gracious covenant to His people Israel to give them His steadfast love. Praise the LORD!
Now taking this and applying it to the New Covenant that is found in the blood of Jesus Christ, we see a similar statement, “Dear Christian, isn’t it amazing that the God of the universe, that you originally turned your back on and that you originally rebelled against, has reached out to you by His divine grace and saved you by giving you a knowledge of Himself and of His just decrees? The nations aside from His people, the Church, know nothing of His commands because of their hardened hearts. Praise the LORD for His graciousness!”
Hopefully you can see that the author’s intent was not to praise the LORD for the fact that the nations have turned their back on God and therefore do not know God’s just decrees. Rather, the psalmist is praising the LORD for His graciousness in reaching out in covenant relationship to Israel.
Question: In Deuteronomy 4:32-40 we see that Israel was "hand picked" by God to reveal Himself ultimately to those on Earth and elsewhere. Is there a significance in choosing Israel over any other people to accomplish this?
Answer: I hope that we have answered this in part through the continuing teachings in the midst of Deuteronomy. Nevertheless, I am thankful for this question because it allows me to re-emphasize such an important piece of the gospel message that is core to Deuteronomy. As Moses notes in two subsequent parts of his speech, there is in fact NOTHING significant about Israel that would cause God to choose them. It is this fact, in and of itself, that makes it significant.
In Deuteronomy 7:7-9, Moses says this: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,” (Deuteronomy 7:7–9, ESV) Further, in Deuteronomy 9:6-7, Moses reminds them of their lack of character qualifications: “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 9:6–7, ESV)
In both of these verses, and a number of others throughout Deuteronomy that are not quite as pointed, the overall message is this: “Israel, there is nothing about you that would make the surrounding world choose you as the people God should use to spread the glory of His name. You were the smallest people, a people stuck in oppression and vulnerability in the midst of being enslaved. You were a people rebellious in heart and idolatrous, taking for yourselves the religions and idolatry of the surrounding nations.” The author’s point is, in fact, that Israel was the opposite of the best choice. And that, dear friends, is what makes His gracious choice to give His covenant love to them so amazing.
This is why many commentators have called Deuteronomy the gospel of the Old Testament. Paul uses the underlying principle of this discussion in his statement to the church at Corinth: “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31, ESV)
Dear brothers and sisters, none of us, not one of us, deserves the gracious New Covenant love that God the Father has given us through the blood of His Son by the power of His Holy Spirit. And yet, He has. Let us praise Him for His contra-conditional love. This is the good news.
Question: If Malachi says that God hates divorce then why does Ezra 10 say that the people were told to divorce their wives? What is the principle for us here?
Answer: This is a fantastic question and one that may take a moment to unpack, so please bear with me. It is also a very loaded topic with lots of opinions, experiences, and emotions, so please read through the entirety of the response before casting any judgment on the comments.
The first question I want to ask is, does Malachi actually say, “God hates divorce?” And if so, what is the surrounding context of that statement? Let’s take a look…The King James version of the English Bible states Malachi 2:16 like this: “For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: For one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: Therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.” (Malachi 2:16, KJV 1900) The New King James version makes it a bit more contemporary for us: ““For the Lord God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the Lord of hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.”” (Malachi 2:16, NKJV) The first question that a Bible Teacher must ask when teaching from a version that is not in the original language or from the earliest extant manuscripts is, “Has my English translation done an appropriate job capturing the literal translation of the original author’s intended meaning?” Now for the vast majority of Bible readers, they are not going to be able to dig into the original text to that level. This is why the role of educated Bible expositors and teachers is so important. We can, without meaning to, cause mass confusion if we do not understand the translation and textual criticism process. If you want to see what I mean, just perform a simple internet search on the phrase “Malachi 2:16 textual criticism.” You will most likely find scholarly technical discussion surrounding the ESV’s translation of this verse in comparison with many others and the use of either the 1st person or 3rd person to translate the verse. This does not mean we should stop reading the Bible and leave the work to scholars. What it does mean is that when we run into seemingly confusing items in the Bible, we should stop and take notice and ask those who have been provided to the church to help search out these items. Those people are educated Bible Scholars, Professors, Pastors, and Teachers within God’s body. Don’t fall into the trap of quickly discounting the necessity of pastors and teachers learning the original languages like so many in contemporary Christianity have done.
But back to the main point. If you are confused by the idea of the original language of Malachi saying something different than what is in the New King James, then join the club of anyone doing a deep study of scripture and just keep reading.
Here is how the ESV translates the verse: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”” (Malachi 2:16, ESV) Now many translators would state that this is an equivalent translation, not a literal one. But as students of the Bible, when there are textual variants like this, we need to pause and ask whether or not this affects us and/or the most important messages of Christianity. So the first thing with which we need to reassure ourselves is that while there is debate on this passage, it does not refute the truth or applicability of 99.9% of the rest of the Bible. It simply causes us to take a pause and ponder what scripture says around the topic of divorce.
So let’s ask the next question which is this: Was the prophet Malachi saying that “God hates the filing of paperwork that severs the state and church sanctioned partnership of two individuals in any and all cases?” If this is the case, then we have a dilemma. Is God saying that under no circumstances should divorce be pursued? Many might answer, using Jesus’ statements in Matthew 19:1-12 saying that only under the case of adultery is it possible, but that is not God’s heart. They might continue that this is a loophole for those that are not capable of reconciling. And there is validity in this argument. But think with me about the real scenario of a wife who has watched her husband walk through multiple adulterous affairs. Is the LORD really asking her to place herself in the way of a possible 5th or 6th affair and the hurt it would entail for her and her children? Is the LORD really asking the battered wife (or husband for that matter) to stay in a marriage in which she has had her rights removed and finds herself in the midst of verbal, emotional, mental, sexual, physical, and financial abuse? Perhaps a deeper look at the LORD’s heart surrounding Malachi 2:16 will help us with answers.
The book of Malachi is a set of what are called “disputations” between the people of Israel and The LORD. God is speaking through the Torah Lawyer (another way of thinking of prophets) known as Malachi and is letting Israel know they have not been faithful to the covenant relationship God established with them. They are then responding by disputing (thus the name “disputations”) God’s fairness and love. By 2:16, there have been a couple of disputations put forth but the overall theme is that Israel has not been reflecting His heart and character because of their idolatry and vain worship. Malachi 2:10-2:12 speaks clearly to give us a context for the next section. Verse 10 says that the men and women of Israel have not shown covenant love for one another in their actions and thus, they are profaning the very covenant they say they have with The LORD.
As a subsection of this general mistreatment of one another, Malachi delves down into the subset of relationships within God’s family to marriages. Malachi notes that the people are angry with God and disputing His love for them because He does not seem to hear their prayers and cries for help. He no longer seems to accept their offerings of sacrifice. God’s response through Malachi is to state clearly that He no longer engages in the acceptance of these offerings because they are not responding to Him with covenant faithfulness. And what is this activity that God sees as such rebellion against the covenant relationship? The men of Israel are “putting aside” the Israelite wives they stepped into covenant commitment with in their early life, so that they can then take on marriage with a younger woman from one of the foreign nations that does not serve YHWH. We get this context from verse 2:11.
Malachi then goes on to remind the people what the primary point of marriage was within the covenant people of God. “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.” (Malachi 2:15, ESV) Malachi’s point should spark a link in our mind’s with God’s first and foremost command to His people Adam and Eve, even before the command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. His first command was to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28) The narrative of scripture was that God’s people would be sub-regents of God’s creation. And their primary job was to act as priests on behalf of creation, conquering (subduing) the surrounding world so that the world would give praise and honor to its Creator and King, YHWH. The way in which they would accomplish this is by training up their children in proper devotion and allegiance to YHWH, along with the commission to then train up the next generation. They would then fill the earth and bring it into allegiance to YHWH.
This same idea is given to God’s people Israel in the Great Shema of Deuteronomy 6, and repeated in Deuteronomy 11. This same idea is repeated in the “household code” of Ephesians 6, and Colossians 3, when Paul uses a shorthand statement for children to obey their parents. This was not a requirement of blind obedience but a requirement that as parents attempt to train their children in allegiance and obedience toward God, they submit to that instruction. So what was the point of marriage? It was to raise up children allegiant to YHWH above all other false gods so they could accomplish the purpose of spreading the fame and glory of YHWH. The selfish actions of abusive husbands in divorcing their covenant Israelite wives so they could lust after younger, idolatrous women is in direct rebellion against God’s desire for raising children and training them in the ways and heart of the God of justice, YHWH.
This is not the only point of marriage but it is by far the primary one…to raise, disciple, and train godly offspring that would carry on the commission to make the name of YHWH great throughout His creation. The ironic point is that regardless of how well the Israelites thought they were obeying the Great Shema by teaching their children the Torah, they were undoing all of it through their actions and covenant unfaithfulness. You see, the God of the Bible, The LORD, is a God of covenant faithfulness AND justice. What He was stating was unjust was the use of that “putting away” of a spouse for selfish reasons. In my opinion, this is the majority of what divorce is used for today and therefore, from that perspective, God is against all divorce that comes from a similar selfish motivation.
Now, your follow-up question might be, when is divorce not selfish? Well remember that the words righteousness and justice throughout the Old Testament (tsedekah va mishpat in the Hebrew) indicate the goal of God’s redemptive story. The semantic range (or range of meanings) of these words very much has to do with the canonical and grammatical context in which they are used. However, in the broadest Old Testament sense, an easy way to remember what they mean is that righteousness is right relationship between God, one another, God’s creation, and self. Justice, again in the broadest sense, is the action that brings about that restoration of right relationship. God’s concern for righteousness and justice sat behind His proclamation in Malachi that the people of Israel were acting disobediently by divorcing their wives. They were “covering their garments with violence” because their unjust actions were bringing down God’s wrath upon them.
Take the text in Deuteronomy 24: “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 24:1–4, ESV)
The underlying principle for this text is not a judgment on the question of divorce. It is instead the problem of men using women as if they were slaves or objects and not humans made in the image of God. A man who divorces his wife because he finds indecency in her cannot then just decide to take her back when he wants to. It is unjust and gives the woman no rights nor voice in her own marital status. It removes the personhood of the woman. It also completely destroys the picture of God’s covenant faithfulness to His wife, Israel, not to mention the relational, emotional, and psychological distress in which it puts any children that are involved.
We can also look at Christ’s statements on divorce in Matthew 5. His words in Matthew 5:31-32 have more to do with the mistreatment of the woman in an unjust manner than they do about a judgment of divorce as either empirically right or wrong. in Matthew 19:8, Jesus clarifies that the reason God gave any loophole of divorce (for adultery) is because the hardness of mankind’s hearts. This is both a statement on the fact that we as mankind will not fully submit to Christ and when we do not, there have to be ways in which those affected by the injustice can be taken care of.
This brings us to the section of Ezra 10. Why on earth would the leaders call for the divorce of many of their people? Well, the first thing to note is that it never specifically says that God ordered them to complete this action. So we are not 100% sure if God was totally behind the action. What we do know, however, is that God did not condemn the action.
The second thing to understand is that Ezra and Malachi were contemporaries. Malachi was preaching at the same time that Ezra was making reforms. Ezra’s reforms were most likely a decade or two before Malachi but what this tells us is that the issue Malachi is addressing (Israelite men divorcing Israelite women to marry younger pagan women) was occurring. This was partially what was happening in Ezra. So to a very great degree, the leadership could have been trying to repent in the way that Malachi would speak to just a few years later.
Third, this goes against the Torah’s command to not join yourself in covenant marriage to anyone outside of the people of Israel. For example: Deuteronomy 7:2-5. This was not, as has wrongly been promoted in times past, because God was against marriages of different ethnicities. It was because God knew the power of who one marries and who one is physically intimate with. In the majority of cases, marrying someone of a different faith will draw your heart towards them and their false god. This is why Solomon is describes in 1 Kings 11:1-2 as one whose heart was drawn away after other gods that were not YHWH. God was still operating off of the desire for right relationship between Him, His people, one another, and His creation. To restore right relationship, the leaders were saying that they needed to do something difficult and prioritize obedience to YHWH over who they wanted to marry.
In the case of the Corinthians, this small local church of somewhat new converts were asking Paul what to do in cases where people were married and one or both parties became Christian. Reading the context of the book, the understanding was that Jesus was coming back quickly and so they need to not get married or, if they were married, behave as though they were not because that was what the resurrection would be like. This hyper-sensitive and errant view was based off of a wrong view that the resurrection had already occurred. Paul was trying to set their hearts more at ease. Here is basically what Paul was saying, “If you are married, stay married, don’t leave one another, practice covenant faithfulness. If you are married to an unbeliever, you have already chosen Christ over them so I am not worried about them converting you, so stay with them as long as they stay with you. If they depart, then be at peace, you have done nothing wrong.” Paul’s goal was not to judge divorce as right or wrong in all cases, but rather to give specific guidance to a church struggling with their new faith and its relationship to their marriages.
So then, you might be asking, when is divorce ok? Well, how about in the case of unrepentant spousal abuse? It is our stance as a leadership group that even in abusive marriages, there are usually dysfunctional attributes on both sides. We want to help remove the abuse and help both the abused party and the abuser come to a healthy understanding of relationship. If that cannot be accomplished due to the unwillingness of the abuser or there is an immediate safety concern for an abused party, we will do what we can to assist in removing the abused party from the situation. This is not the goal, nor is it the desired outcome, but in cases of hardness of heart, it often is the most just solution. The reason that I bring this up is because the unfortunate rigid statement of “God hates divorce!” is often used by abusers to hold their abused spouse in a dysfunctional relationship. If the church is unwilling to know their congregation at a deep level, is unwilling to be trained in the warning signs of spousal or child abuse, and is unwilling enter in to some of those hard conversations, we are then, by our omission, leaving those abused parties in the midst of unjust situations. This, in my estimation, does not represent the heart of the God that was speaking through Malachi. A wise elder, pastor, or church leader will approach every situation with a listening ear, a caring heart, and a heavy reliance upon the discernment of the Holy Spirit. From that point, we need to give wise counsel about God’s view of the individual’s marriage. We should be neither too quick to make the marriage covenant of low value, nor should we be too quick to invalidate the potential abuse that is occurring. And above all, we should be willing to set aside time if pastoral care is needed and we should be willing to set aside our ego if a referral to professional therapeutic assistance is needed. That is why, when people now ask me, “What does God say about divorce?” my response usually begins with, “Let’s have a conversation about the state of your marriage first.”
So how do we then apply what we have learned thus far? I can think of a couple of items of application:
First, understanding God’s view and goal of marriage, we need to be introspective about whether or not this is our view of marriage as well. Does our view align with the Word’s? Do we value God’s commands to his people regarding marriages to the point that we are willing to step into church discipline for a member who is moving towards marriage with a non-believer? Do we even have church discipline or the church membership structure to back it? Do we love them enough to say the hard truth that the Word all but guarantees that they, and especially their children, will most likely walk away from being disciples of Jesus? While there have been a few cases that I have seen of “missionary dating” where someone came to a saving knowledge of Jesus by way of their dating relationship or marriage relationship, I have seen an exponentially greater number step away from the faith or maintain their faith but then wonder why their children never were baptized into faith. My experience of the view of marriage within the church thus far has been that the church values existing marriages far too highly in the case of abused spouses and the church values marriage much too little in the case of those stepping into marriage to half-hearted or non-existent discipleship. In my opinion, that needs to be reversed.
Secondly, Malachi made a brilliant point in his statements quoted above: How we treat the rest of God’s people is seen in how we treat our covenant commitments of marriage. In other words, as covenant relationships between God’s people go, so go the covenant marriages within our churches. Over the last year, as our church polity has changed to emphasize congregational love and responsibility and a covenant commitment to one another, we have seen that many in the Christian community balk at the idea that the New Covenant with Christ has anything to do with the way we treat one another within the church. I think that Malachi 2:10-16 directly challenges this view. It is in fact, directly within our love for one another that we show whether or not we are in covenant love with our King and Savior Jesus. This is why Jesus was so quick to join love of The LORD with love of one another. Far too many Christians think they can express love for Christ while existing in shallow, consumeristic, self-centered relationships within the church. This is all in direct rebellion of the apostle John’s statement: “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:20–21, ESV) With this in mind, I believe each local church that is part of the worldwide body of Christ needs to ask itself, what are we teaching our congregants about the sanctity of covenant relationship? Are we teaching them that when things get tough to avoid conflict, be a consumer, and go shop for a new group of people to be a part of? Or are we teaching them that true covenant faithfulness requires commitment, devotion, and a willingness to work through the hard times with, and in the midst of, God’s people? When this is applied to marriages, it can only help us get healthier and more effective as disciples of Jesus. I pray that we at Mission Fellowship would only be built up and that our marriages would only be made more holy and sanctified by the working out of our covenant love within the body of Christ’s people.
Question: I am wondering if my idea of "leave and cleave" is cultural rather than biblical. When I read about relationships between father and son in the OT, 40 year old men called their fathers Lord and would do what they said. I am wondering what the biblical picture of leave and cleave is.
Answer: Yes, our cultural view of marriage does play into this to a large degree. In many cases, this has made us poorer as a nation in regards to our values and character. For example, in most cultures throughout the world, there is a far greater understanding of honoring and caring for the elderly. In other words, acting justly towards those who are made in the image of God. Our culture that exists upon the idolization of youth and one’s ability to contribute to the capitalistic output of our country has relegated anyone past middle age into a place of disregard and disrespect, to put it mildly. We are definitely poorer for this and should repent as individuals and as a nation. In the case of adult children who have older parents who are passionately pursuing Christ and giving guidance that is wise, based off scripture, and in line with their own actions, we need to relish the treasure trove of advice and wisdom that they give us. In those cases, I fully agree with the fact that adult children should obey their parents until the day they move into glory.
At the same time, I think the manner in which we need to leave and cleave the most is the very way in which few Americans Christians do. This is in the case of children blindly obeying and following after apathetic parents whose lives speak nothing of a response to the gospel, let alone submission to the Word of God and God’s people. Let me help you understand my meaning by unpacking some scripture:
In Genesis 2:24, after the first covenant marriage ceremony, officiated by God Himself, there is this odd statement: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24, ESV) The reason I call this odd is that Adam and Eve did not have earthly parents. This, then, is a statement that is setting up a new precedent that all future marriages needed to leave the connections of the past and be joined or cleave (the old english word) to his wife. This would create a new family unit with the responsibility that was to eventually be noted as the Great Shema in Deuteronomy 6. At its core, this is the command to disciple children in the ways of YHWH, point them to loving Him above all else, and point them to loving His people in a similar fashion. (See Jesus’ take on this in Matthew 22:37-40.)
The 5th commandment of the 10 Commandments then reads like this: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12, ESV) Notice that it has a promise of living long in the land. This is the wording that is used across the latter portion of the Torah, especially Deuteronomy, to describe the outcome of obedience and allegiance to YHWH above all other false gods. In other words, honoring your mother and father should lead you to be obedient to YHWH. So then, would an Israelite child have been expected to revere, listen to, and honor a parent who was seeking after Ba’al and sacrificing children upon the altar of Molech? Of course not. So the 5th commandment has to be taken in the context of the greater law that children are to follow and learn from their parents who are likewise following after YHWH, and in our New Testament context, following after Jesus Christ who is God with us and reconciles us to YHWH.
Many, many Christian children are raised by honest, sincere, repentant, humble, and transforming parents. In those cases, their children should be honoring them with everything they have. Unfortunately, the 5th commandment has found its way into our culture, interwoven with the rest of a very American view of moral virtue to such a degree that children are honoring parents whose faith is meager if it is even existent at all. It is to such a point that I have heard on numerous occasions, complete atheists use the 5th commandment to guilt their children into caring for them and obeying them. But in many of those cases, for the children to not “leave” their parents ideology and worldview would be to turn their back on Christ. In this case, many of us need to “leave and cleave” more than we know.
From a psychological and sociological standpoint, this is also very true. For our sanctification to grow, we often need to “leave” the dysfunctional family systems and relational styles that we were trained in within our families of origin. On many occasions, I have heard young believers in their late teens and early twenties talk about how much they want to be like their parents because their parents are such strong believers in Christ. Upon further inquiry though, I often find that these parents forced their children to go to youth group, a parachurch group, or a Christian private school and yet did not read their own bible, never participated in the local church, lived a life based on materialism, occupational success, and striving for retirement above all else rather than practicing acts of righteousness and justice. My question to these individuals is usually, “Do you want to follow in their footsteps and become Christians in the same mold as they are?” Over and over the response is, “Of course not.” The next immediate comment usually goes something like this, “But I feel disrespectful by even saying that.” In these situations, the highest law that has been placed into the hearts and minds of these young adults is that they need to “honor their parents” and yet, in doing so, they might just be slowly but surely turning their hearts on a zealous pursuit of the One True God who calls us to a passionate response to His gospel.
This reminds me of Deuteronomy 13. Here, Moses is calling the Israelites to not give into idolatry and worship of false gods. He then details multiple groups that might draw you away from a zealous allegiance and obedience to God. He says this in Deuteronomy 13:6: “If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known,” (Deuteronomy 13:6, ESV) In many self-proclaimed “Christian” homes across America, parents are not guiding their children towards pagan religions, but they are also unknowingly modeling for their children a version of God and a lifestyle of discipleship that does not line up with scripture in any capacity. It is from these homes that I believe it is most important for children to “leave” in the sense that they need to be able to pursue Christ in a passionate response and not be stuck following after their parents apathetic view of Christ. This does not mean that they cut off relationship or bear ill will towards their parents, they simply need to identify the unhealthy patterns in their family so that they do not carry them forward. They need to leave their parent’s view of Christ and pursue a biblical view of Christ. In that way, they might also be able to properly identify a potential spouse who is actually zealous for following Christ. Unfortunately, what I think happens most often is that young adults have a low bar for a potential spouse’s walk with Christ because they have come from these apathetic homes. If they can instead identify the apathy or complete lack of active walk, then they might be able to pursue healthy, constructive relationships. The faulty view of what it means to “respect your parents” without the biblical context creates a situation where young people become immunized against the truth of the gospel by dysfunctional, apathetic, and in some cases, even abusive parents.
We must all ask ourselves if we see the reality, both good and bad, of the homes we grew up in and the homes we currently exist within. Dear brothers and sisters, if there was verbal abuse or emotional abuse or neglect in your home, God wants to free you of that so that you have a more distinct and correct view of His heart. But the first step is to admit your own dysfunction and sin and see the sin within your home for what it was and is. That is a hard first step and unfortunately, most American families have learned to simply shove these hard things under the rug of a passive-aggressive false gospel. The true gospel, empowered by the Holy Spirit creates a people that will “speak the truth in love” and call out sin when they see it so it can be stopped. It creates a people, both parents and children, that will receive critical constructive feedback and in fact desire it. This is why Paul paired the covenant ideals of “speak the truth in love” with “be angry and do not sin” in Ephesians 4. God’s Spirit desires to find out the brokenness and sin in each of us, the effects of sin in our family, and the effects of sin in our local church bodies, and deal with it so that His gospel truth and Kingdom reign can take effect in our lives to a greater and greater degree. So, dear brother or sister, I want to ask you, is there a heart of humility, repentance, and willingness to have the hard discussions between parent and child in your family of origin? Are you able to hear each other or are conversations around hard things filled with defensiveness, passive aggressiveness, anger, hostility, and hurt? What is the heart of your current family? If you are single, have you started to identify the dysfunctional aspects of your family of origin and work on the dysfunctional aspects of yourself so that you do not bring them into a future family?
These all speak to the importance of understanding that to “leave” and “cleave” carries with it both an honor of our parents with regards to caring for them as they age, but also a willingness to understand that our first and foremost authority is God and His Word. We will never achieve complete perfection and holiness in this life, but that does not mean that we cannot identify and largely put an end to the ongoing cycles of generational dysfunction that occur in our families. Just think of what would have happened if Isaac would have been able to put a stop to some of the dysfunctional patterns of Abraham instead of repeating them? In one way, that is a large side effect of the justification that Christ purchased for us on the cross and the sanctification that He is working out in us through His Spirit. Jesus came to put a stop to the generational cycles of sinful dysfunction that mankind has been reliving since our first Father Adam. I wonder if we might join Him in this struggle.
Question: Were idols worthless and dead or were they backed by living evil spirits?
Answer: The short answer is that they were both. They were noted as worthless, dead, mute, and deaf in the Old Testament because the idols that people worshipped could never actually act on the behalf of those that worshipped them. For examples, see the story of the false Canaanite god Dagon in 1 Samuel 5 or the story of the inactivity of Ba’al and Asherah against Elijah in 1 Kings 18. From this perspective, they were dead and worthless.
In the perspective of inciting the people to leave the exclusive allegiance and worship of YHWH, the idols were and are very much living and backed by rebellious angelic beings that incited the original revolt against YHWH. Our current nomenclature for these beings is “demons.” Moses speaks to this in Deuteronomy 32:16-17 and Paul speaks to this in 1 Corinthians 10:20. This is in no way saying that these demonic beings are as high as the One Creator God YHWH who then came incarnate as Jesus, the Son, and poured out His Spirit in the person of His Holy Spirit. These demons are, however, spoken of in the way of Ancient Near-East literature as “gods.” These “gods” (false gods) operate in this world over geographic regions attempting to thwart the spread of the truth that YHWH is Creator and God and that He has been victorious over the adversary (this is what the name “Satan” means) and the slanderer (this is what the name “Devil” means) who is also a fallen angelic being. So today, any form of worship that is directed at a god other than the God of the Bible, YHWH, by way of His Son, Jesus Christ, through the grace and faith given by His Holy Spirit is in fact backed by demonic entities that are intent on removing or at least disrupting the truth of the gospel.
I hope that through these questions and answers, you have been edified and grown deeper in a knowledge of God’s Word. If you have any further questions about these, please feel free to follow up with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or in person. I am again so thankful to be part of a body of believers that seek to search the scriptures so that they might understand the truth of God to a greater and greater degree. May the grace and peace of the LORD fill your minds and hearts.