Pieter Niemeyer, with thanks to John MH
“The bible is very Clear”
I can hardly count the numerous times I have heard this phrase being used as a tool to counter and shut down conversation regarding difficult matters of faith and life, particularly in relation to LGBTQ people.
As soon as someone says it to me, then I know in all probability, it’s not worth to proceed with the conversation. Either the person has not really read the bible or they are simply hiding behind ignorance, and pull out this “gem” to shut down conversation. Either out of fear… or to assert dominance.
Recently, at one of my LGBTQ Christian gatherings, someone led an interesting discussion regarding the law pertaining to Israel’s prohibition of intermarriage, particularly with Moabites and Ammonites. You see the latter are distant relations to Israel. They were the descendants of the decision made by Lot’s daughters to get Lot drunk and have their father… father their children… post destruction of Sodom, and the entire world for all they knew. (Genesis 19:30-38)
Now the prohibition to marry Moabites was not due to this indiscretion, but rather to the Moabites not assisting the Israelites on their journey out of Egypt and into Canaan. They even hired the prophet Balaam to curse Israel, but every time he spoke it was a blessing for Israel. They were not getting their money’s worth for sure.
So Moses, married to a Midianite, declares prohibitions against Israel marrying ‘them foreign women’. In Deuteronomy 23:3 the law states, “No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation…” Sounds pretty straightforward.
But, like a lot of things in the Bible, it wasn’t as clear as that. Because people married foreign wives and husbands anyway, and the evidence is recorded even in the genealogy of Jesus, several times over. One of the most treasured stories of Jesus’ ancestral heritage is that of Ruth and Boaz.
You see, Ruth was a Moabite. Her husband had been an Israelite seeking refuge in the land of Moab during a famine. They married. Ruth’s mother in-law, Naomi, had two other sons who did the same. Has fate would have it, Naomi’s husband and sons all die in Moab and Naomi decides to return to Israel. Ruth refuses to remain behind, and boldly states her love and loyalty, “wherever you go I will go with you.” To make an intriguing story short, Ruth ends up marrying the Israelite, Boaz. Ruth was the great grandmother of the celebrated King David. Just barely two generations out from this mixed marriage, forget about ten.
David, remember, ends up marrying the woman he raped, Bathsheba. In case you forgot, She had been married at the time to David’s military officer Uriah, the Hittite. And just to deepen the intrigue, David had arranged for this man’s murder to clear his own way forward. Again, to make a long story of intrigue short, David and Bathsheba end up giving birth to Solomon, the King who built the temple of the Lord. All of this, according to the law, required the death of David, yet the bible calls him, “a man after God’s own heart.” Yes, David confessed, but the law was clear as to his judgement- death.
Now, getting back to Ruth. The story of Ruth was recorded and told during a time of Israel’s history in which Ezra extended the intermarriage prohibition even beyond the nations listed in Deut 7:1. After praying and confronting the people, there was a renewal of covenant with God and the people supposedly separated themselves from their foreign wives (Ezra 9-10). The story of Ruth however, is an interruption to Ezra’s call. It stands as a testament over and against Ezra.
Ruth, and her inclusion into the genealogy of Jesus, along with Bathsheba, and Rahab the sex worker, all give evidence that the bible is not at all clear regarding rules and who keeps them, including God.
The world is not a clear place, nor is the bible in its reflection of us, yet God seems comfortable to work with it, even if we are not. The genealogy of Jesus introduces us to the strangest story of them all. We might even call it a queer story. God gets Mary, a young unmarried woman pregnant. God then encourages Joseph to step up and take the heat of the situation. Jesus grows up with one mother and two fathers. Jesus himself, is part and parcel of the Godhood, three in one! Say what!?
Talk about blended family and queer identity!
If you’re offended by my telling, it’s simply because you have become used to a sanitized, domesticated telling of the story.
It’s a story that tears open great possibilities in a messy world that isn’t anything remotely clear.
So, the next time I hear “The bible is very clear” I will take it as a cue to offer God a quiet prayer of gratitude.