On Men and Women: Considering Mosaic Law

We have now seen manhood and womanhood from Genesis 1-3. The principles we saw in the narrative drive the distinctions we see between men and women in the remainder of Scripture. The most basic truth we have received is that men are the direct picture of God in relationship to His creation. Women are the direct picture of creation, especially humanity, in relationship to God. As a result, Women are exalted as the crown of creation and men as the laborers and providers from the beginning. Man and woman together are the singular image of God, creating a necessary co-dependance and equality between them. In Genesis 3, because the world is sinful and people are selfish, God begins clarifying what these distinctions mean in various contexts.

As we move forward in the first few books of the Bible, the Mosaic literature known as the Law, Torah, or Pentateuch. We could hit several moments in the narrative that draw descriptive distinctions between men and women, but we wouldn’t see distinctions much different than we saw in Genesis 1-3. When God clarifies about the distinctions between men and women, He does so concerning roles or functions on most occasions. He doesn’t have to clarify the differences in biology because those are obvious. Instead of looking at every single story that deals with a man and woman, I want to turn to specific laws in the Pentateuch. Now, the Law, especially the laws we are about to observe, are viewed a certain way by quite a few people in our society. Many of the laws don’t seem to have much relevance for society today. People will often say that since they don’t seem to have relevance they are unimportant. If they are the word of God, they are important. Our objective, then, is to read it and ask, “What is the intention of the author.” This question is key in understanding any writing, especially prescriptive writings. Asking this question solves many of the apparent problems we may see in the text, not actual problems but details that stagger us as we read. I will not exhaust the laws written concerning men and women respectively. I will cover what I believe to be a sufficient look at the divine Law.

Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin”  (Exodus 20:1-20).

When we read the Ten Commandments, we receive much information about the Law and how it is to be read, not only by Israel in Moses’s time but by everyone. When the Israelites came out of Egypt and received the Law, beginning with these ten basic line items and expanded in the rest of the Law, God told the people the bases for His Law and provided the reason for which He needed to give a Law to Israel. First, God begins by identifying Himself as Yahweh the God of Israel who ransomed them from Egypt out of slavery. The Law, then, finds its basis in the person of God. The Law says what it says because God is who He is. God, by definition, cannot change. Therefore, even if a law is ceremonial or civil rather than moral, it still means something for people because it is based on the person and character of God. So, the Christian ethic is not, because the bible says so, but rather, what is right and wrong is so because God is who God is. When we read the Bible, particularly the Law within the Bible, we read it primarily to know God. The more we know God, the more we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, the more we are able to test and approve God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will (cf. Romans 12:1-2). We will confirm this explicitly in Exodus 20:20. Second and in Genesis 20:11, we see that these laws are rooted in the order of creation. Because God ordered creation very specifically in Genesis 1-2, people are to act a certain way. God’s Law is based in His character and rooted in the order of creation. Finally, in Exodus 20:20, God reveals that He has come giving the Law so that the people will be tested. Through this testing, they may retain their fear of God and not sin. So, sin is explicitly something different than merely not obeying one command or another-which is why we don’t read the Bible legalistically. Rather, the Law is written to testify about God through commands, comprising moral, civil, and ceremonial laws written for national Israel. As people know and fear God through His Law, they are kept from actual sin. This text does not reveal what sin is. If we have read the narrative so far, we know that there was sin even without a written Law (cf. Genesis 3, 6; Romans 2:12; 1 John 5:17). This is why we can say that moral laws apply as they are written to all people at all times and that civil and ceremonial laws were for Israel only during the old government administration established through Moses. Yet, every law carries divine authority and no dot or stroke from the Law is abolished. God explicitly provided the justification and purpose of the Law from the start. As we look at the Law, then, we don’t look at it out of context. With each command we ask:

  1. What does this law reveal about God?
  2. How is this law rooted in the order of creation?
  3. How does the principle apply in my own context?
  4. How am I led, in response, to test and approve God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will?

As a result of reading the Law, we should come to learn more about God, fear Him, and sin less as we live. We need the Law in a sinful world to point us to God and cause us to dwell upon God, to teach us the fear of God. I find that, when people have a problem with the Law or take issue with the Law because they are already atheistic or agnostic, it is most often because they are reading legalistically rather than taking the Law as a perlocutionary testimony about the character of God. If we find ourselves reading the Law in order to find out what we must do, we are not reading it well. We read the Law to know about the One who wrote it. It is by knowing God that we have eternal life and eventually become sinless according to Moses, here, and the New Testament Authors (cf. John 17:3).

Within the Ten Commandments, we see a couple commands directed specifically toward men and women respectively. Generally, they are for all of Israel coming out of Egypt. Man and woman are equally instructed to:

  1. have no other gods
  2. reject idolatry
  3. refuse to use the Lord’s name without meaning
  4. remember the sabbath day
  5. honor father and mother
  6. not murder
  7. not commit adultery
  8. not steal
  9. not bear false witness against a neighbor
  10. not covet a neighbor’s belongings, wife, servants, or animals.

The two commands with explicit directives to men and women respectively are the second and the fifth. God identifies Himself as a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers, not mothers, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Him- and showing lovingkindness to the thousandth generation of those, an inclusive term (men and women together), who love Him. If the people honor their fathers and mothers, they will live long in the land that was given to them- a promise for national Israel and not every single individual in every single society.

The statement God makes about Himself is not bound in the confines of the Law. He is a jealous God. He does visit the iniquities of the fathers upon their children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Him. These are statements of God’s character that He provides as a basis by which to tell His people not to worship other supposed gods. His Law based on His character. Consider Genesis 3. Adam acted against God’s instruction. He failed to be the picture of God in relation to His creation. As a result of this original sin, the ground was cursed and all men were then responsible to eat of the earth’s produce by the sweat of their brows. The effects of Adam’s sin are generational and lasting. As a descendant of Adam, I am not responsible for Adam’s transgression. Yet, I am affected by it. When fathers particularly live in sin, worship what is not of God, they affect their children and grandchildren. My biological father is a drunk and meth addict. He cheated on my mom and left our family. He does not love God. His iniquities are visited upon me; Even as an adult I am deeply affected by his sin. The instruction to reject idolatry is not only based in God’s character but rooted in the order of creation. From this, we can identify the underlying principle of the command. God alone is to be worshipped. When we worship other things, we hurt the world. In response, how do we live lives in our own context? We worship God and reject idolatry. In this case, the application today is the same as the command to national Israel. This is what we refer to as a moral law based not on a cultural or identity or virtue ethics but based in a divine character ethic. Who God is necessitates a moral law- worship only the one, true God.

Look at the place of men in the equation. God honors His own order of creation. Men represent who God is in relation to His creation. It is the responsibility primarily of the man to reject idols and keep the family from rejecting God. When the fathers hate God, which is apparent when they give themselves over to idolatry, God visits their iniquities on the third and fourth generations following them. When God does this, it may serve to cause revival in those generations because they see the blatant effects of sin–something young generation get to see in abundance today. They get to see the damage being done to society when the nation’s fathers forsake God. So, in a fallen world, we say that men have the primary responsibility to lead their families in the nurture of God- to disciple their families. When men do not disciple their families under God, the next generations suffer the ill effects of not loving God. I don’t think we have to look very intently to see this truth play out in our own contexts. When fathers fail to disciple their families, generations leave God’s covenant community in our societies until God causes a revival. The cure, then, for a derogating society is a return of the men to God and a resolve in men to disciple their families. Men need to learn to be men again. I personally believe that God visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children is an act of grace in order that the following generations see the consequences of sin and choose to turn from it despite the failures of the previous generation. While I can’t prove that from the text, it seems to me that God works in such a way.

Where does that leave women? Remember, the woman is intentionally the picture of creation in relation to God. She is the crown of creation and the object of redemption. She is the mother of the living. Her iniquities are symbolically redeemed in the man’s sacrificial life for her. It is not normative in God’s design to have women leading their families in discipleship. I understand that, in an imperfect world many women have to be both fathers and mothers for their children. This command does not prohibit a woman from discipling her children. It does place the blame for a crippled society on men who fail to be men of God. If men knew how to be men of God, there would be no broken families, no divorce, no hurting children, and no young people trying to redefine their identities because they don’t have masculine leadership in the home. I have no interest in emasculating men like society does. I have no interest in masculating women like society does. It is not wrong for women to raise their children well. It is, however, the fault of men when their hatred for God is visited upon their children and grandchildren. It is the fault of men when their descendants grow up and reject God because they hated God, a hatred signified simply by the worship of idols. It’s worth repeating. In a society where the men love and fear God, all of society prospers. This is the cure. God is providing a very real cause and effect that applies to all nations throughout time. Those who love Him will experience His lovingkindness to the thousandth generation. His lovingkindness far outweighs His response to iniquity. Even when we cripple society, God offers much grace, which we also witness today. There are no promises that every single child of a good, manly father will love God. They will choose and are accountable for that before God. God’s promise is sure. His lovingkindness upon the succeeding generations will prevail when the fathers love God. Why? That is who God is, and He does not change.

In the next promise for national Israel, God tells the people that they are to honor their fathers and mothers. This command is related to the prohibition of idolatry, which contained a promise for the children. Now, we see a command for those children. They are to honor their fathers and mothers, not only their fathers. The father and mother have an equal place of honor in the home. The role of the man in leading his household does not devalue the woman. Look at the promise for the children. If they honor their fathers, who are to raise them well in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and mothers, who are a picture to them in the marriage of what it means to be people of God, their (as a people, not necessarily individuals) days will be prolonged in the promised land- Canaan. Children are not told that they have to agree with their parents. They are not told that they must obey ungodly parents. They are instructed to honor both their fathers and mothers equally. The marriage relationship is not about the children. It is centered on the father and mother as the image of God. The children are to watch their fathers and mothers, not try to lead their parents or manipulate them. Society is to value the role of the father and mother, not elevate children above their fathers and mothers. No successful society has ever revolved around the wants and ambitions of the children. Fathers and mothers are the focal point of the family. The children’s schedule is to revolve around the parents’, not vice-verse. In honor of the fathers and mothers, the children watch and see what the relationship is like between God and His people–as the husband loves his wife, and as the wife submits to her godly husband. This is the first method of discipleship. If children honor their parents, they will be blessed. We see how this command is based in the character of God. His schedule does not revolve around us. Even if we don’t agree with Him, He alone is to be worshipped and honored. We see how this command is rooted in the creation account, presenting man and woman as equal and favoring the mandate to multiply and fill the earth. When a child honors his or her parents, it is a picture of our rejection of idolatry. We worship God alone. So, we raise our families as the right picture of God. Children, honor your parents. This law also applies today as it was written for Israel. It is a moral law. Children, honor your parents. With applications so far ranging, we could easily talk about the need to reprioritize our schedules around the parents instead of children’s sports or state schools. We could easily talk about the benefits of homeschooling verses state schooling. We could get into the need for more family integrated ministries or the importance of fathers taking their children to gather with believers on Sunday–having their children sit with them instead of in another classroom not observing how their parents worship God. But, in applying these principles, all I really need to say at this point is that Fathers need to lead their families like men of God. Children, honor your parents. Choose to homeschool or not based on your convictions in Christ. Create your schedules to honor Christ as Lord. Men, do not abandon your role as the lords (little “L”), disciplers, and self-sacrificers of your households. Women, please do not emasculate your husbands or fail to nurture your children. The promise for a prolonged number of days in the land of Canaan was for Israel. The principle remains because God does not change. There are blessings of fulfillment and longevity of society when children honor their fathers and mothers–God’s representatives to them. Learn from them. Don’t reject their beliefs just because an ungodly society makes some assertions. Listen to them. Consider their teaching. Honor them. If you don’t have godly parents or both a mother and a father, please know that the world is imperfect. I am not interested in condemning any family because it is not traditional or nuclear. I do hope that you have both godly men and women you can look to as you grow up. I did not have a godly father. I had to figure biblical manhood out without him. Luckily, I had men like Jerry Rich, Mark Stottman, Steve Holt, and Butch Bradley to live it out before me.

God is good. He has a very real, purposeful, and distinct place for men and women as He created them–even in a sinful world. He does not make mistakes or take misteps. You were made with purpose the way you were created. You don’t have to change according to your own whims or those of society. Men, don’t fear or shun your natural masculinity. Women, please don’t be ashamed of your natural femininity. Both are very good. They are good for us to embrace personally and good for the world we were created to rule over together as equals (cf. Genesis 1:28, 31).

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