This is long and it’s going to be hard for some of you to understand. If you are too deeply pickled in the Western mythology of romance, you may be revolted by some of this. If you are able to see past that mythology, you should be able to understand that what it was like in the Bible is not necessarily a recommendation of how we do things today. But it should help you understand why it’s simply impossible for Western society to ever get it right.
The underlying assumption of the Old Testament was always the focus on the Covenant. The Covenant was utterly consistent with God’s design of Creation. Not in the rules, but in the call to commune with God in your heart. It is fundamentally a mystical religion. The rules were rather like what any parents would set for their children. Once you live with this for a while and grow up, you realize how valuable it all is, and you pass it on to your kids in turn. The boundaries were to keep you from hurting yourself, to condition you to see through the lies your flesh tells you.
So the Bible takes sex for granted as a human necessity. There was no artificial distinction between procreation and pleasure. All of it together was viewed as a critical element in human existence. To separate out the simple pleasure aspect was seen as deeply perverted. This is the root of moral failure in Western society, a society that denies the existence of the heart-mind. In the Hebrew mind, that was a repulsive perversion. If you didn’t engage your heart to lead your soul, you were already a threat to everything God promised.
In that ancient covenant society, they knew that men could easily grasp the necessity of keeping it at home. The way the various laws are structured, you can see that they considered women were more likely to wander than men. There was no insinuation that women were eager to spread it around, but that simply women were more likely to make a mistake about some things. It goes back to Eden where Eve was simply less able to see the moral implications of something that seemed okay. It was Adam’s job to think strategically about such things, but his sin was being lazy about it. This is echoed in the New Testament, where Paul warns that Eve was deceived, but Adam wasn’t (1 Timothy 2:14).
So for men the question is simply persuading them to be more proactive in warding off any threats to shalom. That’s because his wife is not equipped for that; God designed her to focus on other things. The covenant made lavish promises if you could keep people engaged in what they were designed for.
Thus, spreading it around on any terms was a threat to shalom. Humans are wired to be possessive about sexual favors. That’s not a moral flaw; that’s not part of the Curse of the Fall. That is God’s design. And if a man feels possessive about his wife, then he can learn to respect the possessive reactions of his brothers and cousins — this was a tribal society, the way God intended for us to live. Unlike most other Ancient Near Eastern cultures, Hebrew Scripture recognized that women were supposed to be possessive, too. They were granted ownership of their husband’s sexual energy, not merely his ownership of hers.
And we note in passing that, while limited polygamy was permitted along with divorce, Jesus pointed out that was not what God really wanted (Matthew 19). He was granting covenant men a little extra room because Israeli people were more difficult than other nations (Ezekiel 2:4; Matthew 11:16-24). And Jesus also pointed out that the Talmudic traditions that arose from Hellenized legalism were not at all a reflection of the ancient Hebrew mysticism. So Talmudic guidelines are not biblical; Jewish law is not Mosaic Law. We have to dig deeper into ancient Hebrew tradition to understand things.
In general, Hebrew men were considered too immature to start a family until they were nearly thirty. It also took that long to become financially responsible for taking care of a family and not being such a burden on the rest of the clan. But women were ready for marriage much younger. Thus, marrying your age peer was impossible. A man who was ten or twenty years older than his wife was quite normal. And there was no lower age limit for girls; it was simply a matter of the girl’s family saying she was ready. There was nothing lecherous about an older man picking out a younger wife.
Don’t get lost in the economics here; the issue was social stability as the fundamental element of shalom. Just so you’ll know, Hebrews had no custom of dowry. Instead, there was the “bride price” divided between the girl’s family and the girl herself. It was seen as a gift, not an obligatory payment. But the common assumption was that the man and wife became a team in building their part of shalom for the whole community. The rules and laws were aimed at this one thing.
Nowhere in all of this do we have the crass materialism and idolization of youth that burdens Western society. It’s not that Hebrew men were so reverent and holy; there are plenty of examples in the Bible showing otherwise. But you are obliged to read those stories and understand how wrong it was for them to lust after something that wasn’t theirs by grant under the covenant (same as women). Tenth Commandment, anyone? Prostitution was sometimes tolerated, but it was never accepted as a good answer to a tough problem. It was always immoral and destructive, and it was often idolatrous.
But the Bible does not separate out lust for children as a separate issue. It’s wrong to lust for sex outside of marriage — period. If a child was seduced or raped, there was no presumed trauma for the child, unlike the frantic hysteria in Western societies. That is, unless it was homosexual abuse — that was always wrong regardless of who was involved. But if the man was willing to take the girl into his household and treat her with the obligatory love and respect due a wife, that was the end of the matter.
Let’s make this clear: It’s not the desire, nor the sex act that was wrong. It’s the context that makes it wrong. Little girls are not traumatized by sex if the man cares about her and intends to keep the relationship going for life. Of course, he’s obliged to elevate her to partnership in his household. The problem is sex that isn’t based on shalom as the ultimate goal. The biblical definition of “rape” is sex with no intention of following through;* force wasn’t the issue (although needless injury was a sin). Whether adult or child, or any other creature on this earth, sex was always wrong unless it was with your chosen covenant lifelong spouse. The whole idea was to let God choose your sex partner. To ignore His wishes is the definition of sin.
Silly notions of how a romantic girl’s dreams might be dashed by marriage to someone she didn’t choose simply did not exist in Hebrew society. The Bible rightly assumes that two people living together would normally grow together in love. It might not be a match made in Heaven, but it would work out well enough within a tight-knit tribal society. They didn’t reverence a young girl’s finicky tastes in men any more than they respected a wife’s lust after other men.
That may seem harsh, but the feminist arguments are an abomination to God, and they are wholly inconsistent with reality. The reflexive reverence for female sexual prerogative is right out of heathen fertility cults (as are most traditional Western notions about manhood). The profligate sexual behavior of modern America is the result of feminist mythology wallowing in the Fall, not simply human nature. Feminism asserts the doctrine that men are rapists by nature; that’s a lie against God. Our society is so perverted because it rejects revelation a priori. You cannot possibly end child sex abuse until you end American society. Pedophilia is built into the West.
Our teaching never demands that we go back to ancient Hebrew society, but we darned sure could learn a lot from it. One thing’s for sure: Our American society with all the mythology and false expectations is damned. God’s wrath is falling on our sins right now, and it’s just getting started. If we continue ignoring the Fall and what God says is our reality today, we cannot hope to find any part of His blessings in shalom.
*(More precisely: Rape is sex with no covenant path to follow through.)