Monday, September 5, 2016

Review: Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love Old Testament Style

I just finished reading "Prostitutes and Polygamists" by David Lamb. It is certainly a provocative title and perhaps not the book you want lying on your desk without explanation. Whether you keep it tucked away out of sight or not, it is most certainly worth reading. Though we often gloss over or sanitize some of the more difficult parts of the Old Testament, there are some tough things that it deals with. In this book Lamb addresses the difficult sexual issues we find in the Old Testament including prostitution, polygamy, incest, rape and homosexuality. Lamb addresses all of these issues with a balance of humour and sensitivity.

Lamb begins by acknowledging that we as humans behave badly (a play on words on the title of Lamb's previous book "God Behaving Badly") and that we see all kinds of bad behaviour in both the Bible and the world around us. He then has a chapter looking at God's ideal for sex within marriage, which is all too often as far as we go in the church. What Lamb does is acknowledge that many of us stray from God's ideal but that there is hope because the Bible is full of people that fell short and yet were used by God. 

The issues covered in the chapters that follow are difficult to work through but Lamb deals with them well. An important point that he draws out is that the Bible is highly concerned with the welfare of the marginalized. When we see God's concern for the marginalized and read the Bible in its ancient context we see how radical some of the laws that we find repulsive really were. For example, the Bible specifically prohibits the rape of prisoners of war, further if an Israelite did capture a foreign woman he had to give her time to mourn and if he tired of her, he couldn't sell her, she had to be set free. This was a far greater level of protection and concern than found in other culture at the time, and frankly in parts of our world today.

Another passage Lamb looks at that we struggle with is Deut 22:28-29 where if a man seizes a young woman in the country and "lays with her" he is to pay the bride price to her father and he can never divorce her. Requiring a woman to marry her rapist is an abhorrent thought to us today but when viewed in its ancient context this law is actually pretty radical. First, in this verse the testimony of the woman is taken without a witness, second her rapist is required to marry this now un-marriable woman and third, he can never divorce her giving her more security than other women. In a culture where women were viewed as property, could not provide testimony in court and had no security apart from a man, this is pretty radical. Lamb observes that this and the other laws he looks at, actually provided women a greater level of protection than many find in our culture today. When we look at the trajectory scripture sets towards an ideal, we see that it moves us closer to the goal. (For more on this check out William Webb's "Slaves, Woman & Homosexuals" from IVP)

I think this is a book pastors should definately read. The reality it both the Bible and our culture have a lot to say about sex, though what they have to say is awfully different. God knew we'd fall short of His ideal and He gave us a whole Bible full of examples of others who fell short in all sorts of ways.  We encounter these people every day who have fallen short of God's ideal for sex, either by their own actions or by the violation of others. The Bible shows us that God cares for all people, regardless of how we've fallen, and He can and will redeem us. 

I don't think I'd every preach a sermon series on this book but I believe it can inform the direction we take with some of these more difficult topics as we preach through the Bible. That said, our church once did an exercise where everyone filled out a card with the one issue they wish God could deal with in their lives. As the cards were sorted over half of them were relationship issues. Also the stats are clear, there are people in the pew every week who struggle with what they have done or has been done to them and need to hear what the Bible has to say. I believe that showing people these kinds of issues aren't new and many are addressed in the Bible can provide both hope and a deeper appreciation for scripture.

I think this book can provide a good bridge between the Biblical Theology and Practical Theology sides of pastoral ministry, in the area of relationships, especially broken ones. Another book worth reading in a similar vein is "Flawed Families of the Bible" by Garland & Garland. This is another hidden gem of a book (that I found in a clearance bin of all places) that can help one touch on these very difficult, yet prevalent issues.

(I was not provided this book by the publisher, I bought it with my own money and thus was free say whatever I wished about it. If anyone from Zondervan is reading this feel free to send me review copies at any time)

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