BENT, BROKEN, UNBOWED
The Ten Commandments for Today
Perhaps the most well-known and infamous Biblical story recorded for us around the themes of murder and adultery is that of David. The account is given to us in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. We begin with the background to the story.
“In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbath. But David remained in Jerusalem. One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the rood he saw a woman washing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, ‘She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’ Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, ‘I am pregnant.’”
The first thing we notice is that David wasn’t where he was supposed to be. The second thing we notice is that he allowed himself to go beyond admiring beauty to desiring to possess that beauty. The circumstances around why she was somewhere where someone could see her is not described. The third thing we notice is that the fact that David knew she was married (and so was he) didn’t make him stop what he was thinking or doing.
David got caught. Bathsheba got pregnant.
“So David sent this word to Joab, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite.’ And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, ‘Go down to your house and wash your feet.’ So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house. David was told, ‘Uriah did not do home.’ So he asked Uriah, ‘Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?’ Uriah said to David. ‘The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!’ Then David said to him, ‘Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.’ So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.”
The fourth thing we notice is that David tried, using lies and deceit to cover up what he and Bathsheba had done. When he couldn’t cover it up, David resorted to murder. “In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, ‘Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so that he will be struck down and die.” Uriah, faithful servant to David, carried his own death warrant to the commander of his army. The fifth thing we note, as seen in 2 Samuel 12, is that David did not confess his sin until he was confronted by the prophet, Nathan.
We mentioned in an earlier study that David is one of those exceptions to the capital punishment rule that God had laid down for murderers. But that did not mean that he got away unpunished. God took the child that David and Bathsheba had conceived instead of taking David. Someone paid in David’s place. There are two ideas here, a) sometimes the consequences of our sins are paid by others—something that should make us think before we act, and b) we have illustrated here for us how another child would come and, then as a man, pay for the sin of others with his own life.
Psalm 51 is the prayer that David prayed when he finally repented of what he had done. The prayer is interesting on many levels but particularly when it comes to David’s recognition of himself as a sinner, his acknowledgment that though he wronged Bathsheba, Uriah, his officials, his people, his greatest sin was in offending God, and his desire was for forgiveness and for a restoration of the relationship that he had broken between him and God when he sinned.
“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 you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge…Cleanse me…wash me…blot out my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God…Restore to me the joy of your salvation…a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”
THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT
There is no more predominant theme in the Scriptures, outside of the theme of redemption, than the theme of adultery. That may surprise you. But as we go through this study, I think you will see that marriage is much more than two people exchanging vows and starting a new life and a family together. I think you will see that breaking those marriage vows has much greater consequences than even those that the couple and their families suffer.
The 7th commandment is also one that Jesus put special emphasis on. In Deuteronomy 5:18, the text simply says: “You shall not commit adultery.” Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount expands that by saying in Matthew 27-30 (NIV): “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. 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 that 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.”
VERY strong words, but for the Lord adultery was a much bigger issue than simply that of marital unfaithfulness. First of all, let’s begin with several words in the Scriptures that need to be defined. Sexual immorality is probably one that isn’t hard for us to understand, but perhaps the words “adultery” and “fornication” are. All three of these, or words similar to them, are used in Scripture.
Adultery is defined as the sexual act committed between a married person and someone who is not that person’s spouse.
Fornication is defined as the sexual act committed between two people who are not married to each other, i.e. two single people and includes: 1) illicit sexual intercourse
a) adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc.
b) sexual intercourse with close relatives; Lev. 18
c) sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman; Mk. 10:11,12
2) metaph. the worship of idols
a) of the defilement of idolatry, as incurred by eating the sacrifices offered to idols
While the word used in the command is “adultery,” fornication, or sexual immorality, is equally sinful in God eyes. I Corinthians 6:9 (NIV) tells us: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Notice the past tense—this is what you were before Christ saved you. The inference is that you don’t do these things now because they belong to your life without Christ.
The New Testament is clear that the commandment not to commit adultery is still in force. We might consider that the sexual act is what makes it adultery, but Jesus indicates that looking to equal to doing. That covers a lot of territory including Penthouse, Playboy, pornography, sexually oriented chat rooms, and dial-up-a-sexual-encounter-on-the-phone. To me it also includes, if you will pardon my language, masturbation, which is basically you committing the sexual act with yourself.
But let’s go back to the beginning, back to Genesis and the creation of man. After God had made the world and everything in it, He fashioned a man out of the dust of the ground and blew life into him (Genesis 2:7). Then God put the man into the garden He had made for him, and put this man to work tending the garden. He gave him instruction about what he was, and was not, to do (2:15-17). How much time passed we are not told but at some point, God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (2:18, NIV). Now God had made the animals and one of Adam’s tasks was to name all of these animals. But even the animals were not the companions that Adam needed. So the Scripture says: “But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (2:18, 20b-25, NIV).
Before we take a closer look at the 7th commandment, we have to look at marriage in general. God could have made woman from the same material as He had made man. There is a symbolism here that is interesting. These first two people were connected from the beginning, physically linked, rather than created independently of each other. (And both male and female have the same number of ribs). According to popular theology, God used a rib to indicate the equality of the sexes.
God brought the woman to the man. I might be stretching the application here but this really wasn’t necessary since she was the only female on the planet, but I think God was delivering a message here that when choosing a life companion, it’s a good move to let God do the choosing and the delivering.
Adam recognized that he and Eve were undeniably and eternally linked: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Then Moses’ statement adds yet another dimension to marriage: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
So we have this whole “oneness” thing: a oneness between the two people who married and then a separation from families from whom these two people come. Jesus said in Matthew 19:4-6: “‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female,’ and said ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
The symbolism here has a secondary meaning. Long before Adam and Eve sinned, God knew what He was going to do to fix the mess that their sin would cause. He decided that He would choose a group of people out of which He would form a nation. He determined to demonstrate relationship. He would make a contract, a “marriage” agreement with them. He would be their God and they would be His people. Through their covenant relationship God would show all the other people of the earth what kind of relationship God Almighty the Creator of the Universe, their Creator, wanted to have with them. And God warned them not to commit adultery, not to break their marriage vows: Exodus 34:15, 16 (NIV): “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their idols and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.”
All through the Old Testament the parallel between the relationship God had with His people and the marriage relationship was obvious—sometimes painfully.
That physical, earthly intimate relationship that marriage is becomes a mini-illustration of the covenant relationship between God and those who are “married” to Him through faith.
Matthew 22:30 is the answer to a question that the Sadducees, religious leaders of His day asked Jesus. They wanted to know whose wife a woman would be in heaven if she had been married several times. Jesus answer was: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (This does NOT mean that people will become angels, but that angels are celibate.) Have you ever wondered why there is no marriage in heaven? Because there is no need in heaven for the living illustration of Christ and His relationship to His people that marriage is supposed to be.
In God’s relationship with this nation, Israel, there existed a contract, a covenant, marriage vows. All through the Old Testament we read about the covenant relationship that existed between Israel and God—a contract between God and the people who had been chosen to represent him. One of the best places this “contract” is described is in Deuteronomy 27-30, made just as Moses is about to die and Israel is to cross into the Promised Land. This vow was renewed at the end of the book of Joshua after the Promised Land had been conquered and Joshua was about to die. Read the passage in its entirety with particular focus on Joshua 24:14-28.
“’Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshipped beyond the River Euphrates and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’ Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods!...We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.’ Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.’ But the people said to Joshua, ‘No! We will serve the Lord.’ Then Joshua said, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.’ ‘Yes, we are witnesses,’ they replied. ‘Now then,’ said Joshua, ‘throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.’…”
Notice what the key issue is here: faithfulness, not going after other gods. God will be faithful to His people and expects them to be faithful to Him. This takes us back to the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Or “Love the Lord your God with…” If we transfer this to the idea of marriage vows, as a husband promises to be faithful to his wife, so the wife promises to be faithful to her husband. Both promise that no one will take the place of the other.
During the times when Israel did not keep her vows of faithfulness to her God, she is described this way:
Judges 2:17 describes Israel forsaking her God as prostitution: “Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshipped them.” When they exchanged the Almighty for a false god it was considered by God to be adultery. Even Israel’s spiritual giants slipped up sometimes.
Judges 8:27 says: “Gideon made the gold into an ephod which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshipping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.”
Jeremiah 3:8, 9, 14, 20 (NIV): “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood…’Return, faithless people,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I am your husband…like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,’ declares the Lord.”
Jeremiah 5:7 (NIV): “Why should I forgive you? Your children have forsaken me and sworn by gods that are not gods, I supplied all their needs yet they committed adultery and thronged to houses of prostitutes.”
God even went to the extreme of commanding one of his prophets to marry an adulterous woman and then when the woman had been unfaithful to him he was to bring her back into his household, forgive her and restore her. This was to be a picture of how God’s people had acted and how He would bring them back after their punishment and restore them to favour again.
Marriage and the language of marriage is symbolic of, and parallel to, the relationship of God with His people. This marriage relationship is something of huge value to God on both the human and divine levels. The breaking of the vows, the covenant, the contract, between the parties is also something He takes very seriously.
Every culture has its own way of celebrating a marriage. For example, in Venezuela and Colombia, the church wedding doesn’t mean anything legally. You have to appear before the justice of the peace with all your paperwork in order and a couple of witnesses and he is one who declares you husband and wife. There is nothing sacred about the dress, the attendants, the best man, the guests, the church, the dinner, the gifts, the music. But what is sacred are the vows. In Israel’s day the vows between God and His people were taken publicly so that everyone could hear. There was often a memorial of some kind that would serve as an eternal reminder of the vows that were taken, as was true with Joshua. The contract is the key. The keeping of the contract is the door that leads to fulfillment. Albert Mohler writes: “When a husband and wife establish a covenant together in marriage, only to have the commitment violated by sexual adultery, the covenant breaker violates the precious and sacred covenant by inviting within the marriage one who doesn’t belong. The adulterer forsakes the one to whom all is due and all must be given, and gives it instead to the one who has no rights to what the adulterer would give.” (Words From the Fire, page 135-6).
What Jesus was talking about in Matthew is the marriage bond between two people. Because of what it modeled to the world—the spiritual relationship between God and His people—He expanded the application of the rule. If you think it, you’ve done it.
Pre-nuptial agreement are fairly common in this modern era. But they indicate a fatal flaw in the contact made between two people. If you are already working on an escape clause because you aren’t sure the marriage will make it, then chances are it won’t. Right from the beginning there is no trust or loyalty, and a relationship that isn’t based on trust and loyalty is not a relationship that should be pursued.
If you can think of committing adultery, and “enjoy” even a virtual relationship with another person besides your spouse, then the trust is tainted and the loyalty is gone. And that is not loving your spouse.
If you can carry on a relationship with someone other than your spouse outside of the bonds of marriage, you are degrading that person and treating them with disrespect, using them for your own personal pleasure and hurting both them and their family. Neither is that loving your neighbor. And it certainly isn’t loving God who told you not to do it.
One of the most powerful stories in Scripture comes from John 8:1-11. Even in New Testament times, the consequences for committing adultery were harsh. The religious leaders bring a woman caught in an adulterous act to Jesus. They expect a judgment on her for what she has done. According to Jewish law, the penalty for adultery was death. The Palestine of the New Testament was under Roman rule and only the Romans were allowed to carry out the death penalty. Her accusers quoted the Old Testament law to Jesus. What would he do? If He said He agreed with the Old Testament law then he should be the first to pick up a stone and throw it at her. If He said He didn’t agree, or wouldn’t stone her, then they could accuse Him of breaking the Old Testament command. If He did stone her, He would be breaking Roman law and they could turn Him into the Romans.
I’d give a lot to know what Jesus wrote in the sand. But it was what He said that turned the tables. “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” My own best guess here is that Jesus, who knows every man’s heart might have written the 7th commandment on the ground and then, the second time, written this from Deuteronomy 22:22 on the ground: “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.” If they caught this woman in the act, there had to be another party involved. If they hadn’t brought him they were maintaining a double standard. Without the man there was no proof, and therefore no justice. It’s quite possible that all of these men had, at one time or another, committed the sin, so that when Jesus challenged them to stone her if they were without the same sin in their lives, they couldn’t do it without perjuring themselves.
The point of the lesson here is clear. Jesus considers adultery a sin, but it is forgivable. Just as He forgave the woman, with or without the presence of the guilty man, He knew what she had done. He sent her on her way and gave her a second chance: “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).
The guidelines are clear. Sexual immorality is wrong—whatever form it takes. Paul practically spelled things out in 1 Corinthians 7. Hardly anyone ever preaches on this passage because Paul’s first advice is not to marry at all! I suspect that Paul was one of those particular people to whom God had given the gift of being single (Matthew 19:12) so his view might be slightly slanted even if his advice is good advice. But he does say that to prevent sexual immorality it is better to marry than commit the sin. And he concedes in verse 7 that many people did not have the gift of singleness as he had—or the gift to be able to live happily without sex!
He gives the same advice to other singles and to those who are single again—don’t marry unless it is impossible for you to live without falling to the temptation to have sex.
DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE—IS IT ADULTERY?
In past studies I have quoted these verses: Jeremiah 3:8, 9, 14, 20 (NIV): “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood…’Return, faithless people,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I am your husband…like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,’ declares the Lord.”
This introduces a very sticky subject in today’s church. The divorce rate in Canada goes like this: “First marriages have about a 50% chance of ending in divorce, that risk becomes greater with each successive marriage (about 72% for second, and about 85% for third marriages).” Barna researchers calculate that among evangelicals the divorce rate is about 33%. Our task is not to discuss why this is true—that’s another subject—but simply to point out that believers have also forgotten what marriage is all about.
Obviously God knows about divorce—it’s not something some more modern generation invented. From the passage in Jeremiah we see that God talks about “divorcing” Israel because she broke her vows to be faithful to Him and put other gods in the place that belonged to Him. Malachi 2:16 says: “I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel.” Why? Because it was inevitably a sign of failure. God’s relationship with His people was to be an example of this wonderful eternal relationship that everyone else could enjoy, and Israel’s faithlessness, her “adultery” and the broken vows, destroyed the message God wanted to deliver.
When we transfer that picture to the relationship between a man and woman, the same thing happens. Divorce between believers is a sign of a failed relationship and it no longer shows the world what it was meant to show the world—the relationship God wants with His children.
Does God allow divorce? Yes, but not because it’s what He wants but because He knows the stubbornness of the human heart. Jesus said in Matthew 19:8 after the Pharisees had asked Him if it was okay to divorce a wife for any and every reason (vs. 3): “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
David B. Curtis, pastor the Berean Church writes this about Matthew 19:8: “In Matthew 5:32, our Lord shows that the man who divorces his wife for any cause except fornication causes her to commit adultery in re-marriage. The Lord assumed that the woman would remarry. The reason she commits adultery is that she becomes involved in sexual sin with another man while still the wife of the man who divorced her. The divorce did not dissolve the marriage. She was still his wife and he was still her husband. The woman did not have the right to re-marriage, neither did her husband. Both sin if they remarry or enter into sexual relations with another. In this case, an undissolved marriage is clearly in view. The divorce leaves the couple still married. The question of dissolution is at the heart of the matter. If the husband put away his wife for fornication, the case is different. The marriage is dissolved and the man is not involved in the sin that the woman commits.”
It seems that only adultery is a reason for divorce and remarriage is only permitted for the innocent party. [This seems in keeping with the Old Testament picture of God and His relationship with His covenant people. He “divorced” them because of their unfaithfulness, and then he opened the door into relationship with Him to the Gentiles. He’s the innocent party. It’s not a perfect illustration but then again, no illustration is!]
You can see why adultery is such a serious matter because of what marriage symbolizes. And then Jesus adds that, to even think about it is as bad as doing it, makes it even harder. But let’s connect the dots between the seventh and the sixth commandment. Jesus says that just as anger needs to be dealt with before it turns into murder, so do sexually immoral thoughts need to be dealt with before they become acts of sexual immorality.
If we love God we will try very hard by His grace not to break our promises to Him. If we love our spouses we will try very hard with His grace not to break our promises to them. If we love our neighbor we will try very hard to not cause that person to stumble into sexual immorality and sin because of our actions.
One important point here: God hates divorce because of what it represents. But God doesn’t hate people who are divorced for whatever reason—justified or not. We always need to separate the sin from the sinner. There is forgiveness and reconciliation according to Psalm 51 and 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION…
How does someone keep himself, or herself, from sexual immorality? The second part of Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament mentions eyes and hands specifically. Do you think there might be a significance to His use of those two words in particular? Of course, we know He isn’t being literal, but He is being illustrative. We need to be careful what we see and what we touch when it comes to resisting sexual sin.
a. what we read (books)
b. what we watch (TV, movies, ads)
c. what we look at (people)
d. what we admire (physical qualities or character)
e. reviewing and renewing the commitment
f. working harder at the relationship
g. no pre-nups or wiggle-room
h. marrying well
i. no compromising situations
j. work on your spiritual self
And again we need to look at Christ, our example, who, according to Hebrews 4:15, 16 was tempted in every way that we are tempted but who never sinned.
If we understand the link between marriage and the relationship of God to His people, then we have to also consider what we need to do to keep ourselves from spiritual adultery. There is a connection between the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not commit adultery.” Loving God and loving our neighbor walk hand-in-hand.