48. Women

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 48. Women

Gen 1:27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Introduction: Before we come to the end of this particular Part where we have sought to deal with particular issues that confront the modern church, I think we would do well to confront an issue that still, in some quarters at least, causes a lot of hot air – the role of women in the church. I think – but I may be wrong – that I have some things to say that are, I believe, the truth as seen in the Bible. Now don’t jump to conclusions. I am simply going to say what I see in the Bible and I hope I am going to put aside prejudice or partisanship, both of which have harmed the proper working of the body of Christ.

Equality? Often the water is muddied by talk of equality. Equality requires measurement using the same units of measurement. When it comes to gender that is decidedly difficult. If you do an identical job for an identical length of time, justice demands identical pay; no problem. An area of injustice that needs righting. Observe the verses that follow our header verse above: “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Gen 1:28) The ‘them’ indicates that this call to multiply is (obviously!) a joint thing, but so is the ruling over the earth part that follows. Man and woman are to share in this mandate but how they do it may differ. The curses of Gen 3 after the Fall clearly show that child-bearing would be the primary (but not only) role of the woman, while working the ground to provide food would be the primary (but not only) role of the man. The picture of an industrious woman in Prov 31:10-31 show her as potentially far more than a mere child-bearer. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul says, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) As far as the facts of salvation are concerned there are to be no distinctions.

In the Body of Christ: The concept of the ‘body of Christ’ is all about different gifts and ministries. Old and New Testaments make a number of statements that sometimes appear contradictory but in reality are not so, I believe. Let’s pick up some of the things the Bible shows us, by way of narrative and by way of specific teaching.

The twelve apostles: Twelve men, why not women?  Be real and imagine the homes of the people involved. It was bad enough, for the family, that Jesus called the ‘bread-winner’ away. To call away a mother and wife would have been twice as bad. (The wife is the key to nurture of the family). The culture of Israel permitted men to go off after a traveling rabbi but not women; that would have been scandalous – unless they were more elderly, no longer have family duties, were single or came from such dubious backgrounds that they just didn’t care. I suspect Jesus would have avoided adding further causes of opposition than he already had. In the culture – for the obvious reasons given in Gen 3 – women bore and raised the children, men were the breadwinners (although as Prov 31 shows her role was potentially much bigger, even overshadowing that of her husband.) Those who are wise and observant will know that often in such societies where ‘the men are men’ the power within the family is in reality often with the wife. There clearly were a number of women who traveled with Jesus (e.g. Lk 8:1-3) but the apostles (‘sent ones’) had to be men because it would be inconceivable for women to be sent out in pairs knocking on doors in the evangelistic task (see Mt 10:5- and Lk 10:1)

The later ‘body’: The case for ‘only men’ in ministry falls down when we observe the four daughters of Philip the evangelist who all had prophetic gifting (Acts 21:8,9) but the argument for female apostles in Rom 16:7 is uncertain and scholarship suggests these were men (but hold on for later). I tend to agree with those scholars if only for the reasons given above for men travelling on their own.  The gifts of the Spirit are given irrespective of gender, hence, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy.” (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17) There is no reason to suppose that prophecy is the only gift available to women and so, as moved by the Spirit, the implication must be that wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation are open to all. Indeed in 1 Cor 12:1 and 1 Cor 14:6,26 and very specifically with gift-encouragement in v.39, Paul does address “brothers and sisters” and makes no distinctions in the three chapters about gifts.

What about silence in church? When he has just encouraged women as well as men to prophesy in church, we need to be careful about his injunction: “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (1 Cor 14:34,25). The meaning of the text in addition suggests this is a matter of order rather than of ministry. Why should Paul single out women in this way? Have you never watched a congregation of God’s people? In the left brain versus right brain argument, the message is always the same, and is clearly observable in any group: women are better interpersonal communicators (they talk more!!). If a church leader has a problem, it is how to get the room to come to quiet to start a service… and why? Just watch. It is a simple matter of order, not ministry.

I want to be a church leader?  You must be out of your mind! Yes, Paul did say to Timothy, “Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” (1 Tim 3:1) and we should observe his teaching about such overseers in the next verse, that they be husband of one wife, but that doesn’t mean to say the leadership is easy stuff; it is not. The leader is the first in line for attacks from the enemy and they can come thick and fast. Few of the many leaders I know in my area are unscathed. What is the balance here? I believe if you want to be a leader because you want to be seen to be out front, it is a wrong motive. If you feel an urgency to love, care for, and minister to God’s people, do it, and then be recognised for the gifting that God has obviously given you. My own understanding is that mostly God calls men into leadership, but where there is a dearth of men or He sees a particular heart and particular gifting in a woman, He goes for it. I have observed a number of women preaching and been much blessed by them. Having said that I have seen an equal number of women leading or preaching and have cringed at the lack of servant-heartedness (and yes, I’ve seen the same in men) and anointing. Anyone who does it like another job or vocation has got it wrong, male or female.  Leading (and preaching and teaching) is a calling and requires the anointing of God.

A Godly Example: I love the example of Deborah in Judges 4. She is a prophet (v.4a), she is married (v.4b), and she was leading Israel (v.4c), but when it comes to battle, unlike some of the other judge-leaders, she gets a word from God and calls for someone else, a man, to lead the army, Barak (v.6). He is half-hearted and wants her to go along with him (v.8) and her reply is, “because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” (v.9) She wanted the honor to go to a man, not her. What humility before God. Does God choose women leaders? Yes, clearly.

There is an issue of ‘authority’ and divine order here that is not understood by many. Authority comes from God. If He gives it to a woman, go with it. If it is absent (in man or woman) we’re in trouble. If men are not rising up to the task, He will use women. On average, men have certain characteristics that I believe make them better equipped to handle the opposition better. However some won’t, and some women will – but it is always God’s choice. If we try to be legalistic about it, we will get it wrong. Look at the character, look at the gifting, look at the grace, look at the anointing. What is the Holy Spirit doing? If we ignore Him and His calling and His equipping, we will be in trouble. Grace, humility, anointing and gifting. If they are absent, whoever you are, get out of the pulpit!

Redeeming this area?  Redemption, we have been saying is about God taking us out of a bad placed into a good place. Can we redeem leadership of the church, whether male or female, from human choice and career ambition and put it into the Spirit-led, Spirit-inspired, Spirit-anointed realm? May we honor our anointed and God-called men and women irrespective of gender. Can we look for and encourage servant-hearted humility that is devoid of human ambition and through it, may our men and women bring honor and glory to God through the church. And may we dare risk saying, where calling, anointing and grace are missing, may present leaders have the courage to seek God for something they have lost, or have the courage to step down and move into a more fruitful area of life where those things are missing and have never really been there.

28. Confusion

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 28. Confusion

Mt 28:5  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.

Today is Good Friday, the worst day in human history as mankind rejected the Son of God and put him to death on a wooden cross. When I was younger I found it a confusing day. It was a day of grief and mourning and yet I knew that in two days that would all be turned to praise and thanksgiving and worship. Forgive the analogy, but my wife used to say, “I don’t want to watch the film ‘Titanic’ because I know the ending – it sinks!” And that is a little bit what it is like, for me at least, with Good Friday. It is a horrible day, a day I would rather forget – and then I know the ending and would much rather focus on that!

So I have jumped forward on this day to the events on next Sunday morning, but what do I find? Still confusion! The two Mary’s have gone to the tomb. Face it, they were confused before they got there. They thought they could waltz into the tomb and embalm him properly, but the tomb had been sealed with a massive stone. They get there and an earthquake (angel) has rolled it away. The angel seeks to reassure them because Jesus isn’t there. They pass on a message – you’re to go to Galilee. They turn to go, and Jesus appears to them, and other records tell us they didn’t recognise him.

The truth of the matter is that all the events of this weekend are utterly confusing. Jesus had plainly told his disciples what was going to happen but when it did they fled in terror and hid behind locked doors. Saturday is a no-go day, nothing happens, they hide in misery. Sunday – he’s alive! But still they struggle to believe.

Now here is my main point and perhaps it hangs over this entire series: we as Christians with our Bibles and thousands of sermons have heard it again and again, but in so doing we lose a sense of the reality of it all; we romanticize it. No, the truth is that this weekend blows your mind away in every direction.

It is God bringing about the salvation of the world. It involves the glorious Son of God putting aside all of his glory, all of his power and all of his authority and submitting himself totally to the evil of mankind and dying on a cross as a common criminal. And then, when we have given up all hope because he is dead, the power of God is manifest in a way beyond our comprehension and Jesus is alive again. But then we start thinking back – water into wine, walking on water, raising the dead?

Why are we surprised, this is God? “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” (Isa 55:8).  This is the truth; I am not in the same league as Him. I just need to shut up, bow down, and worship Him. Make this a day of worship.

14, Teach Young Women

Meditations in Titus: 14:  Teach younger women

Titus 2:4,5   Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

We now come to the third group who need specific teaching in the local church, the younger women, but there is a difference here. It is not Titus who should be teaching them but the older women. Why not Titus? Because he’s not a woman, not a wife and not a mother. The best he could hope to do would be to speak theory, but the older ladies come with a wealth of knowledge and experience from having been homemakers, from having been wives, and from having been mothers, and having gone through the trials and tribulations that such roles entail. I am saddened whenever I come across a couple who have chosen not to have children because they will come to the end of their lives having missed out on so much, and so much of that will be the things that change and sanctify us.

Now when you start looking in detail at this teaching from Paul, he says the older women should ‘train’ the younger women. That is not merely passing on information, it is being alongside to bring about change in behaviour. When you ‘train’ someone you teach them to do something practically and you cannot be any more practical than when you are raising a family. There are six things these younger women are to be trained to do.

  1. To love their husbands and children. The basis of a marriage is love and we may think that is natural but why is it that we have so many divorces today? The answer has got to be because the couple allowed love to grow cold. To hold a marriage together and to create an environment in which to raise children requires effort to maintain love because love has a sacrificial element to it and also a practical element to it. When children are having a tantrum it is the mother’s love that hangs in there and sees past it and is still just there for them. In older people if someone threw a tantrum you would walk away and leave them to it and possibly the relationship might end, but when you are committed to someone, as the mother is, as the wife has said she will be, then you hang in there and are not deterred by glitches along the way.
  1. To be self-controlled. The mother carries all the daily pressures of the marriage and of bringing up the children. Traditionally the man was the breadwinner and she was the homemaker. He could escape the drudgery of being there with the children all the time, being up in the night with the latest baby, and so on, by going out to work. She is there performing what can be the most fulfilling vocation in the world – but which can at times be hard and stressful. Self wants to rise up and scream out, ‘”Let me out of here!” but if she is to be there for them all, then she needs self-control to hang in there and be a rock for her young family. How tragic many modern families are who have not learned this.
  1. And (to be) pure. We have already said that the wife-mother is the creator of the home environment to which the husband returns at the end of the day and the children live in. It is an environment where they should experience love and feel secure, where they are cared for and provided for. Observe the difference in two people, one who has had a loving family life and the other who had either a hostile family life or none at all. They are different people and so much of the difference is because of their experience of life in (or out of) a family. We often think purity is only in respect of sexual matters but I suggest that it should include anything that might pollute life, bad attitudes, poor moral standards, playing with the occult, so many things that can pollute the little minds she cares for and disturbs the environment she is creating.
  1. To be busy at home. I suspect that many of these words must be alien to many modern young women who have been deceived into believing that fulfilment can only come through a career. No wonder we have so many shallow or fragmented family situations. Our materialism has lead us to believe we can only live off two incomes. Perhaps the greatest picture of an industrious women is that amazing chapter 31 of Proverbs (or at least verses 10-31) This woman makes most career women look mere beginners when it comes to achievement. She is amazing! And her family is blessed – because of her! The call to be busy challenges idleness. We may think we have labour saving devices and need to do less but that misses the point. She is industrious and she is fulfilled and her family is blessed. How many children just get the dregs or leftovers of their tired mother’s life today?
  1. To be kind. Look ‘kind’ up in a dictionary and you find such words as ‘sympathetic, friendly, gentle, tenderhearted, generous, cordial, loving; affectionate.’ It’s not a word we use much today but it covers who whole spectrum of good attitudes and good behaviour and speaks of the nature of the wife-mother and of the environment at home that she creates.
  1. Subject to their husbands. Don’t confuse this with being servile. I have encountered wives in Jewish culture and in Indian culture, wives who are indeed subject to their husbands but who rule their home. They are the power house of the home and although they respect and honour the husband and give him pride of place in the family (which builds and changes him for good), they all know who is the power in the home! The woman of wisdom recognizes her husband’s need of esteem and recognizes she can be the prime provider of that for him but her wisdom also makes her a queen in this place.

But then Paul finishes with a reason for all this: “so that no one will malign the word of God.”   In the community the family is so often identified through the wife. She (traditionally at least) is the one who is around and she is the one the other wives, and therefore other members of the community, will speak about. She is the one who so often, in the eyes of the community at least, conveys the integrity of the family. The way she lives, the way she is a wife, and the way she is a mother will either add to her testimony as a believer or detract from it. Paul says these things so that she will not detract from her testimony.

As I have said, I have a feeling that of any meditation, this particular one will feel alien to the modern young women, which is sad because it indicates that we have lost something of the wonder of God’s design for families, in the name of freedom and fulfilment. We are realising more and more that so called freedom in respect of sex is destroying the realities of having real relationships and experiencing real love. One of these days we will wake up to the poverty of modern family life in comparison to the possibilities of God’s design for it. We have often said in respect of Christian leaders that the order needs to be God, first, family second and the ministry third. For wives we might slightly change that to God first, family second and career third. To abandon that order means poverty of ‘life’. Please ponder on that.

4. Childless

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 4. Childless

Gen 11:30    Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.

Now I know we have touched on this in one of the earliest meditations in this series as we observed the nature of this family and its various hurts, but I feel we need to pause up and consider this particular issue in more detail. Our verse above stands there is terrible starkness; eight horrible words.

Now if you are a husband or wife who has no desire for children you might like to move on to the next meditation for you are an unusual person. Most women desire to have children. In today’s work-orientated culture they may leave it until later in life, but it is still there, this desire to let your body do what it was designed to do – to procreate. Women who do not want children are relatively few and, from personal experience, at least one of the reasons they do not is fear. When we were first married, my wife will not mind me telling you that she did not want children. The Cold War was still a reality and it was a time when there was a lot of talk about persecution of Christians behind the Iron Curtain, and my wife feared bringing children into that sort of world. It took the Lord four years to bring her to a place of security where she felt she could trust any children into His care in such an environment. She is now a wonderful mother of three and a wonderful grandmother of five.

If we had shared our testimony with Sarai she would have been hurt because it wasn’t a case of what she wanted, it was a case of what she was able or not able to do. For those of you who are walking the same path as Sarai, I understand that it is an incredibly sensitive and hurtful subject, and there are many like you. From all I have observed I conclude that desperately wanting children when none come is one of the most heart rending experiences in human life.  You see people around you breeding like rabbits and your greatest longing is to hold a little bundle of your own, but month after month just brings yet further loss of hope and you begin to wonder if, for the rest of your life you are going to be destined to be childless, and a knife seems to pierce your heart. This is at the heart of this story of this couple, Abram and Sarai. One could almost say that their story is all about this – and about God, of course.

Yes, it is so easy to leave God out of this. I don’t know about you but after you have prayed and prayed and prayed, and still there is no answer, you begin to wonder if God is still in this universe, and so you just get on with life without Him. But this is a story, not of a man who persevered believing in God, but of a God who kept on breaking in to his childless life with promises of a child. In fact it may have been this that was the driving force that got Abram and his family moving, because when we start chapter 12 of Genesis, which is where most of us start Abram’s story, we read, “The LORD had said to Abram.” (v.1a) which signifies that previously, before they started their traveling the Lord had spoken to Abram. But not only had the Lord spoken about leaving that land and going to another land, He had also promised, “I will make you into a great nation.” (v.2). Now for a nation to arise, there needs to be at the very least one son! In other words God’s instruction that seem to intrude in Abram’s thinking could be summarized as, “Go to the land I will show you and I will enable you to have children.”

As I said, was this THE motivation that got Abram to move? And when his father settled in Haran, which was NOT the land of their destiny, was Abram torn in two between his loyalty to his father and his desire for his wife to have a child. Eventually, as we saw previously, he moved on and left his father there. The desire for a child was greater than the desire for the family to stay together.

The Bible seems to be almost littered with couples who could not have children. Hannah (1 Sam 1) anguished over not being able to have a child, but Samuel was the result of her surrender to the Lord. Isaac, the eventual son of Abraham and Sarah, had to pray for twenty years before the Lord gave he and his wife Rebekah twins (Gen 25:21). An elderly childless couple are at the start of the Gospel story and eventually become the parents of John the Baptist (Lk 1).

Twice in my life I have prophesied over childless couples, you will have a baby within a year. Those words make me tremble for I hate giving false hope, especially in this so sensitive area, yet God fulfilled His word on both occasions. Don’t every pray, “Lord, if it is your will, please let us conceive.”  Assume it is God’s will because Scripture testifies to the goodness of having children and of a God who steps in and enables it to happen. Assume it is God’s will until He tells you clearly otherwise, and merely because doctors say it is not possible, don’t give up. God can change genetic imperfections in one or other of your family histories and He can do what men declare is impossible. This is what this story of Abram and Sarai is all about. While you pray, read this story again and see if the Lord will speak words of life through it. Be blessed!

22. Social Responsibility

Lessons from the Law: No.22 : Laws of Social Responsibility

Ex 22:16,17 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.

The remaining verses in this chapter we’re going to call laws of social responsibility although they also cover their relationship with the Lord. Caring for others seems to have been a high priority in these laws of the Covenant. This was to be a caring people. We first see it in respect of young women being taken advantage of as seen in our verses above. Wow! How this would revolutionise modern Western societies! If you have intercourse with a virgin, you are to marry her! That is all about taking responsibility. Only today I heard a man saying, “Oh no, I don’t believe in marriage. Yes I’ve got a partner and she has a kid. My previous partner had two kids, but I don’t believe in marriage!” Here was a man procreating and walking away from responsibility. The virgin is the first of the vulnerable people who the Law protects.

But that caring was also extended to foreigners living within Israel: Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (v.21) Racial prejudice had no place in the people of God. The foreigner is the second of the vulnerable groups who the Law protects.

That caring attitude also extended to those who were vulnerable because they are alone, although part of Israel, widows and orphans: Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” (v.22-24) That was a serious word! That indicates how concerned God is for the weak and the vulnerable in society. Widows and orphans are the third vulnerable group that the Law protects.

That caring attitude was extended to cover not taking advantage of those who needed to borrow from you: If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” (v.25-27). It recognises that the person who has to borrow because they are poor and needy, are particularly vulnerable and as such they should be treated with compassion, for the Lord is a compassionate God and you will be answerable to Him if you do not care for those who are less well off and vulnerable.

Yes, this was to be a distinct people and part of that distinctiveness meant that clear boundaries were drawn as to what was considered acceptable. To emphasise the seriousness of this, the death penalty was applied to those who blurred the distinction between light and darkness by dabbling in the occult: Do not allow a sorceress to live.” (v.18). Now although it is not stated here, this and the following prohibitions are in respect of things that not only show a disdain for God, but they also show a disdain for the holy nature of Israel. This was supposed to be a holy nation, a nation that was distinct and different and which shone as a light or an example to the rest of the world, to show the world how God had designed mankind and how a good society in relationship with God was possible. These subjects we are now considering demeaned people, and demeaned the nation and stopped them being that light to the nation. It is for that reason that they are considered so serious that the death penalty is there to act as a severe deterrent. The first of these prohibitions was thus in respect of those who blurred the distinction between God and what is, in fact, demonic powers.

The second prohibition in this group is in respect of those who blurred the distinction between human and animal: Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death.” (v.19) The third prohibition was in respect of those who blurred the distinction between real and false in the spirit realm: Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed.” (v.20) Each of these prohibitions demeans the people, demeans society and demeans God!

But the height of that distinctiveness was to be in respect of the way they related to the Lord Himself. Thus they were always to honour Him and respect His authority: Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.” (v.28)

Similarly they were to express that honour in giving a token offering of their produce, as an expression of thankfulness: Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats.” (v.29a) and their first born son, cattle and sheep as token offerings to remember the Exodus deliverance: You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day.” (v.29b,30) This holiness was to extend even into their eating, probably to maintain health, by not eating savaged meat: You are to be my holy people. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs.” (v.31). A truly distinctive people!

Thus in this group of laws we see that Israel were called to be distinctive in the way they cared for the weak and vulnerable among them, and in the way their whole lives were impacted by their relationship with the Lord, which meant them living differently in very practical ways from neighbouring countries. The intention was that the goodness of life in Israel, and they way they put the Lord first, would point others to the Lord.

Today, similarly, to those of us who are Christians, Jesus says, You are the light of the world…. let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:14,16) May we be so!

16. Women Servants

Lessons from the Law: No.16 : Women in Service

Ex 21:7,8 If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her.

Living in the enlightened times that we do, we probably have a tendency to look with askance on times such as these covered by these laws, when women appeared to be mere chattels – but perhaps that is just how it seems and the truth may be quite different. Without any doubt, in an under-developed country, most of us would agree that women are more vulnerable than men. They are vulnerable because mostly they are physically weaker than men, and also because sexually they could be preyed upon by stronger men. It is that recognition, I suggest, that is the cause for the distinction in verse 7:  “she is not to go free as menservants do.” What follows is the explanation of that. In Laws that seem so far from modern life we need to remember that God is providing protection in a world very different and in some ways less civilised than our own.

In verses 7 to 11 which cover the female servant (and we have explained previously why this applies to servants and not slaves) the word ‘If” occurs five times, indicating five possibilities that are being covered by this law. The first one refers to a Hebrew father who has fallen into abject poverty (for that’s only when this was allowed) and who is seeking to care for his children, as well as income for the family: “If a man sells his daughter as a servant.” (v.7) Arranged marriages, although alien to most of us today, often work better than the short term relationships we so often see in modern Western life. Here the father, in exchange for money, puts his daughter into the family of another to work “in service”.

This is so that she can prove herself, and it acts as a prelude to becoming the wife of the master, or even of his son. It was a practice of the Middle East and so the laws here are to protect her: If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her.” (v.8) In other words, after he has taken her as a wife, if that relationship does not work out because for some reason she is unable to live up to the role of wife, then she is not to be sold off but must be redeemed by her family (implied). It is probable that this really means that this occurs if the Master decides not to marry her because she turns out not to be a virgin.  Even within this practice, as alien as it is to us, there is care for the women and protection against her being sold.

In the third option the law covers the possibility that the master chose her for his son: “If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter.” (v.9) If she is taken on as the wife of the son, she is not to be considered a servant but is to have all the rights and privileges of a member of the family.

In the fourth option, it is unclear whether it applies to the master of the house or his son, but the same applies whichever it is: “If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.” (v.10) In other words, if the man took a second (or even third wife) which was not uncommon, the first girl must not lose out in any way and must still be cared for and provided for.

If that does not happen, then the fifth and final option comes into play: “If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.” (v.11) i.e. the contract is annulled on both sides.

We need to remember what may appear almost too obvious here, that these are simply possibilities. In a loving family context it would only happen if the family fell into hard times and could not cope, and the father’s intentions are likely to include the welfare of his daughter. Yes, in every situation within the compass of the law, there would always be abuses, but wherever possible the law sought to provide for the care and welfare of everyone covered by it. The law, of course, cannot legislate attitudes which is why Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, goes behind the act and DOES cover the attitude or thought behind it. In establishing a new nation, the best any legislators can do, is seek to provide for any eventuality – at least in terms of behaviour, and that is what we have been observing here in these verses today.

Although Israel was a sinful nation – in that all men and women are sinners – at this point in time when the Law was given, it had not fallen into many of the human abuses that came later, and which we tolerate in our modern society. It is obvious from the regular media reports, that many of our children are far more vulnerable than those in Israel at that time. The Law was necessary to legislate against sin, to curb its unrestrained working. Family life was far more highly respected and honoured than in much of the West today, but even so laws were still necessary to protect the weak and limit the potential abuser. As the apostle Paul was later to point out, there were distinct shortcomings in the Law, but in the absence of anything else, it was necessary until the Son of God came along and showed a better way.