Friday, August 04, 2006

Spiritual adultery & the bitter waters' test of Nm 5

Nm 5.11-31 lays out a test -- a test of bitter waters -- for a wife's unfaithfulness. I've wondered whether Moses' response to Israel's idolatry with the golden calf in the wilderness forms the backdrop for the test.

Ex 32.19-20 provides: "It came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses' anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf which they had made and burned it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it over the surface of the water and made the sons of Israel drink it."

As in the bitter waters' test, "curses" (the law) are washed into the water, and the suspected adulteress (Israel) is made to drink the water. The Levites then attack faithless Israel in Ex 32 (at Moses' behest).

Linking the two passages is consistent with the notion that the regulation of sexual relations in the Bible is only secondarily concerned with human sexuality. It's main referent is the relationship between Yahweh and his bride/church.

I think that we often miss this message because we conflate which marriage is the type and which is the anti-type. When we read that Israel/the church is the Lord's bride, I suspect that we usually think that the author is analogizing the relationship of the Lord to his church with the human marriage relationship. Lord/church is the analogy while human marriage is the reality.

But I'd argue that this gets it exactly backward. The real marriage is that between God and his church; human marriage is only a type of that primary marriage.

Paul seems to argue that way in Eph 5.22-33. I.e., the teaching about human marriage is incidental to the lesson about Christ and his church. (That's not to say that the application of Paul's lesson to human marriage is unimportant, only that it's a secondary application of the lesson.)

So, too, Jesus seems to imply as much in Mt 22.30 when he says, "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven."

But why does human marriage pass away in the eschaton? Well, given that the anti-type has come in the marriage of the Lamb and his bride (Rev 19.7-10, Rev 21.2) -- that is, given that the marriage has come -- then the type naturally passes away.

So I would argue that all of the teaching dealing with sex in the Bible should be read Christologically: the immediate application is to the relationship between God and his bride. Human marriage is of course the type or picture of that relationship, and so must be governed by that teaching as well. Mutatis mutandis, God's relationship to his church is revealed in and through the human marriage relationship. Maintaining the clarity of that picture or revelation is what the laws dealing with sexual relations in the OT are concerned with.

Unlike human husbands, however, Jesus is the faithful and righteous husband who always serves and lays down his life for his bride. Because he does not keep anything from his bride -- even to the giving of his own life for her's -- his bride can trust him always, not seeking for happiness in the arms of another god. The law always directs the church back to the arms of her husband, which is the only place where she truly finds protection and life. In that sense the law directs us toward life, even while it does not (and cannot) provide it itself.


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