Sex stories in the Bible
God is not nearly as prudish as some of His followers are and He doesn’t avoid metaphors and imagery that make us uncomfortable. The Bible uses plenty of stories, polite and impolite, to get a point across. English translators tidied up some of the scatological and sexual terms, but the situations are still there. (My Grandma once said if you read the whole Bible to a kid there wouldn’t be much left to tell them about sex, but a whole lot of ‘xplaining to do about why it’s not meant to be a manual.)
Some of the prophets were way out there when it came to being politically and socially correct. Jeremiah didn’t exactly hold back on his descriptions of Israel as a whore. God had his sold-out guys with eyes and ears use some pretty provocative performance art in their attempt to get His message across. Ezekiel’s mother must have rolled her eyes sometimes. I don’t imagine it was easy to parent Isaiah or John the Baptist either. (What do you do with a son who prefers grasshoppers to your brisket and wears that stinky camel skin when your friends drop by for tea?)
Sometimes a prophet’s whole life became the metaphor. I feel sorry for Hosea who was told to love a hooker who didn’t love him back. And I do believe he had a true love for her, sent from the Father and placed in his heart, that drove his life-as-metaphor.
One day, while waiting for my kids, I picked up a Bible someone left lying on the car seat. For years I found the Bible had been about as exciting as a phone book to read, but this time the words I saw on the random page stood out as if they were in neon lights. That hadn’t happened much before that day, but that time there was no doubt in my mind Himself was talking. I read:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness
And speak kindly to her.
“Then I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the valley of Achor as a door of hope.”
It made such an impression that later I looked up ‘Achor’. It meant ‘trouble’. Great.
I read more of that second chapter in Hosea:
“And she will sing there as in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.
‘It will come about in that day,’ declares the Lord,
‘That you will call Me Ishi [husband]
And will no longer call Me Baali [master].”
I’ve written before about my years in that valley of trouble. They were long dark years of depression and anger at a God I grudgingly acknowledged as a master –a cruel master. I missed the ‘allure’ part when I read those verses. I didn’t know he was taking me to a desolate place to remove distractions so I could hear his love song. I didn’t know he wanted to be like a lover. I never really understood the verse about singing to him other than as a job description.
The phrase translated as “she will sing there” in the version I first read is from the Hebrew word “anah”. It’s translated differently in other versions. Some use the word answer, or respond –as to a lover and not a master/owner. Elsewhere it is frequently used in the context of ,”Oh God, hear our cries! Please answer us! Take us seriously and come to us!”
I don’t know how to love him.
I used to teach this song from Jesus Christ Superstar to musical theater students because of the challenges of interpreting its emotional complexity.
In Lloyd-Webber and Andrew Rice’s own fictional version of the story of the life of Jesus, Mary Magdalene is another prostitute who is used to having a power over the men she has both needed and held in contempt. She has used and been used. She has been the object of desire and the object of loathing. She, like Hosea’s wife, can go through the motions without giving her heart. Jesus is someone who is wholly different to all her previous experience. He is “Holy Other.”
She sings, “I don’t know how to love him” because she has no idea what love is. She can’t tell love from manipulation, or fantasy, or the need to scratch an ego itch -or a physical itch, or from something to trade for a bauble that might distract from the pain for a while. Her “lovers” have always let her down. Now she faces the frightening prospect that if this man, who is more than a man, offers her his kind of pure, unselfish, un-needy love that cannot be manipulated or exploited, it would demand an authentic response –an “anah.”
This kind of love is terrifying.
“But if he said he loved me, I’d be lost, I’d be frightened. I couldn’t cope. Just couldn’t cope. I’d turn my head. I’d back away. I wouldn’t want to know.”
That’s the response of most people to the pure love and goodness of Jesus. Love like that requires a response –and we know we can’t love back like that. We are entirely inadequate. We feel like we have to clean ourselves up, to earn his attention somehow. We don’t know how to love him. Yet we know deep inside we cry out for union with perfect love.
“He scares me so. I want him so. I love him so.”
When is sex not about sex?
In Christian dream interpretation people are embarrassed and often reluctant to talk about dreams with sexual content, not realizing that intercourse in a dream is usually symbolic of union or being in a covenant with whatever the other participant represents. God will use powerful, evocative imagery that we understand on a personal level to speak deeper truths. He will give us upsetting or embarrassing dreams to make a point. This symbolic response, this “anah” to God is no mere one-way intellectual nod to his sovereignty. This is a total giving of oneself. This is a promise to remain in permanent union. This is a marriage. This is an unbreakable covenant we are making when we sing to him. It’s our “anah” moment.
But look what He says further down in that passage in Hosea.
“It will come about in that day that I will respond,” declares the Lord.
“I will respond to the heavens, and they will respond to the earth,
And the earth will respond to the grain, to the new wine and to the oil,
And they will respond to Jezreel.
“I will sow her for Myself in the land.
I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion,
And I will say to those who were not My people,
‘You are My people!’
And they will say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hosea 2:21-23) NASB
Again he uses the sexual imagery of a husband who makes his wife a part of his people, who sees her as a rich fertile land full of possibilities, as someone who will partner with him in creation. He uses the same word “anah” when he says, “I will respond.” I will hear! I will answer! I will sing to her! I will be moved in my whole being by her response to me! I will purify her and make her the perfect bride.
It was easier for me to spend hours in intellectual debate about the attributes of God and His legal requirements than it was to hear his voice as he knocked at the door. When I began to wake to his relentless love I was terrified. A theoretical God, a master, did not require my entire self –my body, my mind, my emotion, my will, my heart; that god required only that I obey his instructions. This God, revealed in a man who has experienced everything I have, and still loves purely, is not satisfied with that. He is not be satisfied until I know the laser heat of his pure love that penetrates right to the center of my being.
Jesus has a beautiful voice
I hear Him sing to me sometimes. In the night -and in the day- I have heard him sing love songs. Don’t get me wrong; Jesus is not my boyfriend. I married mine. Jesus is not my sex partner; I have one of those – the same one I’ve been married to for over forty years, bless his beautiful heart. Jesus is the Lover of my soul. His love is far, far greater than any human can imagine and the longer I know him, the more he loves to demonstrate that no matter how wide, how high, and how deep I understand his love to be, it is much greater still.
God is good.