It’s Not the Same

by Peter Eng

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“for a harlot may be hired for a loaf of bread,
but an adulteress stalks a man’s very life.”
(Proverbs 6:26, RSV)

The sun’s last rays are casting long shadows on houses and people alike. One person catches my attention as I look through the lattice of my window. I see this strong, healthy young man returning home from work as he would on other days. He crosses the street to the other side even though the last angry glare of the setting sun blazes on the other side. He is not unique for I see several young men prefer that side of the street as they approach this particular house. Word has gone round that she is a cougar. If you are young and strong, you may get lucky with her.

She steps out of her doorway and faces him as he makes his approach. Those piercing rays shine through her thin gown, showing him what she has to offer. I have seen this before. She is hunting her willing prey.

“Hey big boy,” she says coyly. He stops in his tracks.

“I’m looking for company tonight. Do you want to be my company?” she asks, dripping with honey.

The young man cannot believe his luck. If he is speaking I cannot hear him as he is turned away. But I think he is at a loss for words.

“You are a shy one,” she says, throwing her arms over his neck. But I see you cross the street to pass by here, so I know what you want.” That is when she must have noticed the crucifix around his neck.

Her bases are covered. “I went for confession today, and paid my penance. I donated to the church, and now I am ready for more,” she explains. “God is really quite ok with two people who love each other, and I love this big boy,” she says, placing her finger tips lightly on his heaving chest.

A smile spreads over her face. I can guess his answer.

“Come, my bed is ready! I’m ready. Are you?”

He peeks into her open window.

“Don’t worry! My husband is cool with this. We have an open marriage. He doesn’t mind what he doesn’t see. And he’s gone on a long business trip. Come, I will show you things every young man wants to know.”

My heart is screaming for this man as I see his back slip into the doorway of her house. He is like an ox not knowing that he is going to his slaughter, like a deer about to step into a trap, like a bird feeding into the snare.

(Proverbs 7:6-23, retold as a modern day story)

IamanAdulteress

This is the picture of the little dragon maiden in the Bible. She is called an “adulteress.” The word is used to refer to a thief of marriage. The adulterer is a man who steals another man’s wife. The adulteress is the woman who steals another woman’s husband.

The Bible tells us she is dangerous.

We have been too polite to talk about our sexuality as Christians, and as a result, we fail to understand what the Bible says. Not all extra-marital sex is the same. The adulteress tops the danger list. She is the xiao long nü to Singapore men.

Polygamy

Polygamy stands out as the most apparent marriage difference between Old Testament times and our times. We need to look at this subject squarely because it is the first justification for a man to have more than one woman in his life. Most of us can look back to the generation of our grandparents to see polygamy or concubinage. In our parents’ generation, polygamy or concubinage became uncommon. As a community, we have become more naïve about the xiao long nü, and have lost the Christian skill in handling what must be a common issue for Christians of our grandparents’ generation. I am not suggesting it was easy for them to handle it, but they were more aware of the issue than we are.

Let’s get the short answer about marriage, divorce, and polygamy by diving straight into the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 19, NLT).

3 Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?”

As in every age, there were stricter and more lenient views on divorce. We know of three views during the time of Jesus concerning how they read the OT statement on divorce

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house,” (Deuteronomy 24:1, NASB). 

This was a trap by the Pharisees because whatever position Jesus took, he would alienate people with the other two views. In a way, as God’s servant, I need to resist this temptation of not declaring the truth for fear of alienating some people.

The strictest Jewish view was that a man may divorce his wife if he finds some gross indecency in her (Greek: porneia, from which we get the word pornography). For instance, he discovers on his wedding night that she has been with others before him; or if she has an affair with another man. The second view was that he may divorce her if he discovers anything displeasing about her, like if she burns his dinner. The third view was that as long as the woman no longer has favor in the husband’s eye, even if he is the one who eyes on other women, he can divorce her (Mishnah Gittin 9.10).

The question of the Pharisees, “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?” suggests the most lenient position view for Jesus, perhaps thinking that Jesus’ willingness to forgive sinners means he has a lenient view on divorce.

4 “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’” 5 And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.  6 Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”

Jesus took a position that was stricter than the strictest view! What a shocker! Jesus says the whole point about the marriage relationship goes back to Genesis. At the creation, God made one man, and one woman. And God also made it clear that when a man marries a woman he is setting up his own family. He leaves his parents’ home physically and emotionally and joins to his wife to become one (as a principle, not to be used as an excuse for abandoning one’s parents). The physical union of husband and wife establishes the oneness of these two persons. So, let no one split these two persons now become one.

In this, as in other interpretation of the OT, Jesus returns us to God’s intention. That is our starting point. Before we ask, “Is polygamy allowed?” we need to get back to the more basic question, “What is God’s intention?” We need to return to God’s heart. That is the right starting point. And God’s heart for us in marriage is clearly expressed. God’s purpose for husband and wife is for them to remain together until death takes them apart.

7 “Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” they asked.

Jesus’ answer begs the question, “Why the provision for divorce if marriage is meant for life?” It is a fair question indeed!

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. 9 And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful.”

Herein lies the rub. Divorce is a concession. The focus on permission for divorce is incorrect. Instead, Jesus gives a ruling that astounded his disciples. Jesus explains that Deuteronomy is talking about a man discovering his wife’s unfaithfulness with another man. Not some frivolous reason like a man’s own lust for another woman, or his wife becoming displeasing because of a burnt dinner, or just any indecency which a culture might impose (like showing her face in public). It is strictly limited to marital unfaithfulness.

The only justifiable reason for a man to divorce a woman is when she is unfaithful to him. The looseness of the Law of Moses was a concession because of “the hardness of your hearts.”

divorce-spells

We need to recall that while the nation of Israel was supposed to be a nation of faith, the reality is that there were as many rascals there as anywhere else. If the national legislation insists on God’s ideal without any concession for the evil in man, there would be worse consequences for the wife. We still see this in some parts of the world. When a woman does not bring the promised dowry, she could be killed by the man. In those days, when a woman may have to leave her village to go to her husband’s, she has to place herself under her husband’s care and protection. If her husband is evil and wants to put her away, but the law does not allow it, what would happen? She would clearly be in grave danger because of “the hardness of your hearts.”

Jesus makes it clear that God’s children live by a different standard. We do not impose an ideal on everyone. We need to recognize that national laws promote good by limiting evil. Laws are notoriously ineffective in enforcing good directly. We need to want to do good; we cannot legislate people to moral good.

10 Jesus’ disciples then said to him, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!”

We are like Jesus’ first disciples. We rarely focus on the crux of Jesus’ teaching – God’s intention for two people when they get married. We focus on the dos and don’ts. Shocked by the strictness of Jesus, they responded by saying, “In that case, once you are married you are committed for life! That is terrible! It is better not to get married in the first place!”

Even the disciples of Jesus found it hard to embrace God’s intention of marriage. They were children of their culture. They were influenced by existing interpretations of the Law of Moses. And we like them are children of our age. Our idea of marriage, or of sexual morality, is more deeply affected by our culture than we care to admit. The polygamous native finds it hard to understand monogamy. The easy divorce of our day looks at Jesus’ view as too restrictive – just as his own disciples did. But truth is truth. Jesus comes to reveal God’s heart to us – even if it is not what we like to hear.

11 “Not everyone can accept this statement,” Jesus said. “Only those whom God helps. 12 Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

Accept which statement? Jesus’ statement or the disciples’ statement? I believe Jesus is responding to his disciples’ statement. The disciples were saying, “If marriage is such a permanent arrangement, it is better for a person not to get married.” The content of Jesus’ reply is to “not marrying.”

Jesus affirms singlehood, or not marrying, or celibacy is a valid option. But singlehood is not for everyone. Not marrying is a grace that is granted to some with God’s help. We must understand that in our loud and crude world, we can miss out the polite euphemisms in older writings. The discussion about eunuchs is about celibacy.

There are three classes of people. Some are born eunuchs, meaning they find celibacy quite natural in their life and don’t feel the need for sexual intimacy. So not marrying is fine with them. Some are made eunuchs by others. Celibacy or singlehood is imposed on them. These are people who may feel the natural desires for intimacy or companionship, but choose to place such desires under control and remain single for the sake of the Kingdom of God. While Catholics overemphasize this last point and turn it into a requirement for their clergy, Protestants ignore it, and sometimes contradict it by requiring their clergy to be married.

Jesus closes the discussion on singlehood by saying, “If you are able to accept singlehood, go ahead.”

Now we return to the immediate subject at hand – polygamy. Christians live under the inaugurated Kingdom of God. We have a set of principles that are different from the world’s. To the extent that the world embraces God’s best, they find blessings. But as a rule of thumb, we mind our own house before minding the house of others. And the household of God is patterned according to God’s purpose in marriage: one man, one woman, as long as they both shall live.

If our conversation on marriage dwells on God’s concessions, we miss the point; and we miss the blessing because we ignore God’s best. Polygamy was a concession for an ancient people who did not have a social framework like ours.

On polygamy itself, we need to see that certain protocols apply in the Old Testament, and these protocols are shared with other cultures that practice polygamy. The global culture of polygamy retains a certain order that we modern people may not understand. That is to say, in polygamy, the first wife never loses her place. This is essential for the family unit to remain. In the case of Jacob who had Leah as first wife by mistake, her position was not changed even when he also took on Rachel, and then the slave girls of Leah and Rachel.

The adulteress is not the second wife or the surrogate child-bearing slave girls. The adulteress is not the desperate, destitute slave girl who subjects her body to the wishes of her mistress or master. She is an independently minded woman who seeks to conquer.

Even when polygamy was practiced, there was a breed of women called the adulteress. She was not the second or third wife. She was not a concubine (a slave bought for sexual gratification). She was not a surrogate child-bearer. She was a special breed of women who preyed on men to get something from them. And eventually, she preyed on their soul.

The One-Night Stand

There is the once-off foolishness of both men and women. This is the one-night stand type of marital unfaithfulness. It is wrong, but it is not in the same class as the adulteress, the little dragon maiden.

Sex before Marriage

This is so common today even though it is not acceptable Christian conduct. I will not dwell on this except to say that so many Christians today go for their honeymoon before marriage. I refer to those vacations together sharing the same room. What happens behind closed doors between two persons should not become a public spectacle. Yet there is a natural assumption of intimacy when that happens. It is like when a court hears a case of a charge of adultery against a spouse. If there is evidence that two persons are alone in a darkened or private place for an extended period of time, especially if it is repeated, that is adequate proof of adultery. Vacations before marriage surely falls under this same assumption.

The sex before marriage phenomenon is something single Christians can take a stand in obedience to God’s intention that intimacy is to be engaged in a marriage relationship.

We need to remember that the love nest the little dragon maiden makes is not the love nest of two young people who allow their passion to get ahead of their commitment.

The Prostitute

The Bible compares the man who visits a prostitute to the victim of the adulteress (the little dragon maiden):

“for a harlot may be hired for a loaf of bread,
but an adulteress stalks a man’s very life. (Proverbs 6:26, RSV).

The one who says “Yes” to a harlot is poorer by the cost of a meal. The prostitute wants you to pay her the cost of a meal. But the adulteress is not after that cost of a meal, she is after your very life.

We must not imagine that this verse gives permission to engage prostitutes. It is addressing the cost factor, not the moral factor. There is no justification for patronizing prostitutes. When we compare the two events, the grave danger of the little dragon maiden becomes clear. A prostitute will make you poorer by the cost of a meal. But the little dragon maiden is after your very life.

She will hook you, reel you in, take all you have, destroy your family, and reduce you to nothing. You will have no home, no family, no career, no dignity, no friends.

There is a huntress out there. She is looking for Singapore men. She is your lucky break xiao long nü. Can you recognize her? In reality, they exist in every culture.

In Greek mythology, the Sirens of the Sea are beautiful but dangerous creatures. They sing to sailors and lure them towards a shipwreck against the rocks. Some modern people think that all ancient folks believe in a literal breed of women called the Sirens. But we forget that cultural myths are not there for you to believe them literally. They are created for the community so they have a moral reference point. And the moral teaching of the Siren of the Seas is the danger of the beautiful woman who says things you find irresistible only to shipwreck your life.

Fables serve the same purpose. Chinese fables have a fox spirit (huli jing), with a Korean counterpart (kumiho). This fox (huli is gender neutral in Chinese) is always portrayed as a female, a vixen. She transforms herself into a beautiful woman. She offers him all the delights of the flesh, flattery, exquisite food, and anything a man of appetite may desire. She works very hard at getting her man. The point of these fables, which grew out of the social context of polygamy, is that there is a woman who seeks to ensnare men to take their very life. This is no indulgence in peccadillos. It only looks that way. There is a type of peccadillos that will claim your soul.

I want to make another appeal to you that we commit a grave injustice if we regard women from China as such vixens. The real men and women of China are as much victims of the vixen as men and women in Singapore. In addition, Singapore is very capable of producing our own vixens. The vixen of our day, our little dragon maiden, is enjoying great success and feasting on the souls of fallen men because our men choose to be victims.

If we see the threat the little dragon maiden in sex alone, we miss the point. “Free” sex is only the appetizer. The little dragon maiden allows herself to be conquered. This feeds the ego. She allows herself to love you for a time, but her objective remains clear, so if you test her love, you will not find it wanting. She strokes your ego while your wife points out your faults. She bears her own burdens while your wife asks you to share hers. And it is also quite common for her to “accidentally” get pregnant. Now it becomes the right thing for you to be with her. She ties you down morally and emotionally. Your child with her is a reality you have to deal with the rest of your life.

Conclusion

The little dragon maiden is not the second wife in polygamy, not the sex object in concubinage, not the one-night stand, not sex before marriage, and not the prostitute. She is the “adulteress” in the Bible. Not the regular use of the word adulterer or adulteress, but a special reference to the woman who seeks the soul of her victims.

In the material realm, she wants your money, your security, your achievements. She is not really out to destroy you, she is out for herself. She goes for the older men who have already accumulated wealth. But in the process of getting what she wants, she will not hesitate to destroy the rival first wife or your life. In the spiritual realm, she has become a tool of the devil. Don’t hate her. She needs redemption just as we need redemption. She is not the real enemy. She is the agent of our true enemy, the devil.

This does not suggest that men are any better. Men become what women want of them, and women become what men want of them. Men are often willing victims of sexual temptations. And when his appetite demands attention, he is more than happy to satisfy his craving. Men’s lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life created the xiao long nü.

24 Now then, my sons, listen to me;
pay attention to what I say.
25 Do not let your heart turn to her ways
or stray into her paths.
26 Many are the victims she has brought down;
her slain are a mighty throng.
27 Her house is a highway to the grave,
leading down to the chambers of death.
(Proverbs 7, NIV)


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