Sunday, February 08, 2015

Seducers and Sorceresses -- Exodus 22:16-18

Seducers and Sorceresses

Exodus 22:16-18: “And if a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife.  If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins.  You shall not allow a sorceress to live.”
We come next to three short but very pungent verses describing God’s laws with respect to seducers and sorceresses.
To begin with if a man takes away a young unengaged woman’s virginity, he must pay the appropriate dowry (payment given to the family of the woman one is to marry) and then take her as his wife.  Notice there is no reference to the need to get her pregnant to have to marry her, just to sleep with her.  Getting a woman pregnant when she should not be is just a potential outcome of the wrongdoing of sleeping with her.  It is simply the means by which the matter becomes public.  But God is getting at the private sinful acts we undertake.  There is also no reference here to the case in which the woman is already engaged or even married.  Not sure why except perhaps that such behavior was even more rare in those days.  God does in fact address this situation in even stronger ways later in Deuteronomy 22:23-27 where we read:
“If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.
“But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.”
Secondly, we note that the woman’s father can refuse to allow the man, who slept with her, to marry his daughter.  So there was no pointing using that as a surefire method of getting the girl you wanted.  The man involved still had to pay for the injury and disgrace he had caused to the single woman.
Matthew Henry suggests that This law puts an honor upon marriage and shows likewise how improper a thing it is that children should marry without their parents' consent: even here, where the divine law appointed the marriage, both as a punishment to him that had done wrong and a recompense to her that had suffered wrong, yet there was an express reservation for the father's power; if he denied his consent, [there] must be no marriage.”  Not sure how far too many fathers would get with that kind of power today.
Two things come to mind as I study this passage.  First, God has never made provision for what so many today call “casual sex”.  Sorry, it may be fun, but do not for a moment think you are in the will of God when you participate in it or any sex outside of marriage.  Pre-marital sex is still a form of immorality even if it may not always be specifically adultery.  I was recently reading Max Lucado’s book entitled Grace:More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine. In it, there is a paragraph in which Lucado so potently describes the feelings that David must have had after admitting his sin with Bathsheba.
“Sin’s reality replaced sin’s euphoria.  David began to see in Bathsheba not a picture of beauty but a symbol of his own weakness.  Could he see her face without imagining the face of her husband, whom he had betrayed?  Most of all, could he look at her and not sense the gaze of God upon himself?”

Lucado goes on to explain how even in that situation, God’ Grace flows just as strong to those that approach Him in a sincere prayer of confession.  Confessors,” Lucado writes, “find a freedom that deniers don’t.”

The second thing that comes to mind as I study this and note the refusal rights of the father to allow his daughter to marry someone we could today call a “cad” [a person whose behavior is unprincipled or dishonorable], is the so-called felt-right of Muslim fathers to force their younger daughters to marry someone they are not in love with, perhaps a much older man, or a man who already has one or more wives, or a real ‘cad’.  You don’t have to look long on the Internet to find pictures of young women who have been doused with acid for refusing to marry the person their father, sometimes with the support of their mother, was forcing upon them.  Much more loving the right to forbid a marriage based on one’s faith, experience, and sheer love for one’s daughter, than to force that same daughter to marry someone she is not in love with for your own selfish reasons, be it money or injudicious honor.

Thirdly this passage lays out the law for the Israelites not to allow a sorceress in their midst to live.  She is to be killed.  Those were pretty strong words and orders.  Until of course we realize what a sorceress was and is.

Here’s what another portion of Deuteronomy says about sorcery and sorcerers:

"Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or [spiritualist] who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to The Lord, and because of these detestable practices The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before The Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 18:10-13 NIV)

What we have here is God saying to the Israelites – “These things, these practices, have no room in the lives of my people.  They belong to heathen nations.  I detest those practices.  You are to live purely before me without them.”  The best way for the Israelites to have done that was to eliminate anyone who so practiced among them.

Matthew Henry gives us this insight:

“Witchcraft not only gives . . . honor to the devil which is due to God alone, but bids defiance to the divine Providence, wages war with God's government, and puts his work into the devil's hand, expecting him to do good and evil, and so making him indeed the god of this world; justly therefore was it punished with death, especially among a people that were blessed with a divine revelation, and cared for by divine Providence above any people under the sun.”

David Guzik adds:

The practice of sorcery was almost always associated with "medicinal arts" (the taking of drugs) in the ancient world, and was therefore a connection between drug taking and occultist practices . . . Not permit[ing] a sorceress to live: This was considered a severe enough threat that sorcery was considered a capital crime. The link between drugs and the occult was rightly seen as deadly.

The question remaining for us is twofold: First, why specific reference to a female who is involved in sorcery and second, why introduce this practice in a portion of scripture tied to pre-marital sex?  Good questions, perhaps with no absolute satisfactory answers.

Here is a list of all the references in Scripture to 'witches'.  Well worth looking up.  And here’s the much shorter list of all the references in Scripture to 'wizards'.  Both existed in Bible times as they do today.  So why then do we just have a reference to females here in Exodus 22?  Perhaps Guzik is correct when he talks about sorcery being almost always associated with ‘medicinal arts’ – something perhaps (and I say this at great risk of offending some today), was more associated with females at the time.  After all, we more often refer to a ‘witch’s brew’ than we do to one concocted by a wizard.  Also, one such witch or sorceress that was actually described in Scripture did become known as the Witch of Endor (see I Samuel 28).  She is depicted in the painting pictured above The Witch of Endor painted in 1857 by Dimitri Martynov.  An earlier painting entitled The Shade of Samuel Invoked by Saul painted by Bernardo Cavallino about 1650-1656 can be seen here.

And finally why was this law introduced here as part of the passage on pre-marital sex?  I do not know the actual answer.  But I can only imagine that the writer (Moses) was thousands of years ahead of his time because as we search the Internet for images of sorceresses today, we are presented with pictures and drawings of extremely seductive (in some people’s minds) women – the kind that deep down only have one’s spiritual and moral demise in mind and all through his desire for sexual pleasure.
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