Christianity 201

October 2, 2017

The Old Testament on Jewelry: Principles Behind the Rules

This is an excerpt from a book by Rachel Held Evans, an author who is accused of great theological liberalism, none of which manifested itself at least in this particular book. What I found instead, in the four paragraphs which follow my introduction, was a tremendous insight into the principles behind the rules.

I was greatly enlightened on this subject by a booklet published by InterVarsity Press (IVP) in 1981, What’s Right? What’s Wrong by Donald E. DeGraaf (sadly out of print, with no e-Book edition or Google Books file, nor can I find my copy.) In it he talks about the difference between rules and principles. A rule applies to one group of people, or people in one particular place, or at one particular time. A principle applies to all people in all places at all times. Rules derive from principles.

So when God gives his people rules — especially in Leviticus, but also in today’s text in Isaiah — God has His reasons. Sometimes we need to spend longer in the text to see what His intentions are. We’ll let Rachel pick it up from here…


In his list of God’s grievances against Israel and his warnings of Jerusalem’s imminent destruction, the prophet Isaiah wrote:

16 The LORD says, “The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, strutting along with swaying hips, with ornaments jingling on their ankles. 17 Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the LORD will make their scalps bald.” 18 In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, 19 the earrings and bracelets and veils, 20 the headdresses and anklets and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, 21 the signet rings and nose rings, 22 the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses 23 and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls. – Isaiah 3: 16-23

At first glance, this passage would suggest that Westboro Baptist Church has it wrong: what God really hates is accessories. But the larger context reveals that what so troubled Isaiah and his fellow prophets was the blatant materialism among Israel’s rich to the neglect and disenfranchisement of its poor.

In biblical times, gold jewelry signified wealth, and although several of the Bible’s heroines wore it (Genesis 24:22-31; Song of Songs 1:10-11), jewelry was far more commonly associated with excess and idol worship (Genesis 35:2-4; Exodus 32; 33:4; Jeremiah 4:30; Ezekiel 7:18-20; 16:9-15; Hosea 2:13). This sentiment carries over into the New Testament, where both Paul in his letter to Timothy and Peter in his letter to the churches of Asia Minor discouraged women from wearing gold jewelry and pearls in the context of a Christian community that prioritized simplicity and charity.

In fact, it seems that most of the Bible’s instructions regarding modesty find their context in warnings about materialism, not sexuality… a pattern that has gone largely unnoticed by the red-faced preacher population. I’ve heard dozens of sermons about keeping my legs and my cleavage out of sight, but not one about ensuring that my jewelry was not acquired through unjust or exploitive trade practices.

Some conservative religious communities, such as the Amish and Old Order Mennonites, continue to forbid women to wear any sort of jewelry at all. Others simply discourage excess. I’m a bit of a jewelry fanatic — not so much of the gold and pearl variety, but of the beads and hemp variety — so I figured it would be a healthy exercise in self-discipline to ditch my necklaces, bracelets, and rings for Lent. I wore only my wedding band, not my engagement ring, and I avoided the items in Isaiah’s list: bangles, headbands, earrings, bracelets, anklets, sashes, perfume, charms, rings, nose rings, fine robes, capes, shawls, and, of course, tiaras.

~A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson, 2012) pp 127-8

June 27, 2015

When Values Shift

SCOTUS - NYT

While we normally leave the topical subjects for the Thinking Out Loud blog, there is no denying that today (Saturday, June 27) the United States woke up having entered a whole new era. Something that was once illegal (and still is in many places) and was considered an abberation (according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM) is now the law of the land, mandated by a constitutional ruling by the Supreme Court.

Now, I don’t wish to discuss the particular issue here, but rather, I simply want to note that we’ve seen over the last few years leading to this decision has been a huge shift in values, and I couldn’t help but think of Isaiah 5:20:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

I know that among my readers are those who have different feelings on not only the issue of the day, but on many different areas where the sphere of spiritual concerns overlaps the sphere of civic or legal issues. Some are truly rejoicing in the events of yesterday, for many different reasons. My point is simply that through one Supreme Court decision we have witnessed a tectonic shift of huge proportions in the last 48-or-so hours, and many Christ-followers who don’t monitor news reports may be unaware of it.

Interestingly, BibleHub posted a link to Habakkuk 1:14 (NLT)

The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.

There are some who would argue that the only thing that changed yesterday is that another court, the court of popular opinion, grew vocal enough to tip the scales of justice.

Unfortunately, there are also a few who have a misunderstanding that if something is legal it is no longer sin. It is important to recognize that there is not a one-to-one correlation between the two. Many things that are legal are still sinful, and many things that the law says are illegal have little to do with the spiritual condition of the heart.*

It’s more to the point to refine our understanding of what sin is and isn’t. The word means ‘missing the mark.’ It connotes an archery image of firing our arrows but not quite hitting the bulls-eye, or worse, not even hitting the target sheet at all.

I believe that knowing God’s best exists means we can’t settle for anything less; we can’t be content with the good or the better knowing there is a best.

When we fail to be concerned with aiming for the best we grieve Father, Son and Spirit.

The ultimate question of the day therefore is the question that should guide the everyday actions of all believers: Can God be trusted?



*If we take a simple Ten Commandments approach, the 1:1 correspondence will hold more often, since many of our laws derive from Judeo-Christian teaching. But society accepts many other things which would go against Bible teaching. To the contrary, if where you live it is against the law to make a left turn at the corner of Central Blvd. and Main St. during the evening rush hour, that does not derive from scripture. Still we should note that in the second case, the left turn, it can also be argued that the principles of Romans 13 apply:

1Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

The problem is trying to read this in the reverse, and saying that what the law permits, God also is okay with; the logic of that does not hold. The “governing authorities” of verse one are not the ones to whom we hold ultimate accountability.

August 17, 2011

I’m Behind You

Today’s devotional from Janette Levellie is from CBN.com’s devotional page…

When I made my living as a waitress I quickly learned the value of three words spoken to fellow servers: “I’m behind you.”

No one wants to turn around and cannon into a tray brimming with hot coffee, Denver omelets, and oatmeal with raisins. Fifteen Cub Scouts and their troop leader get impatient when you have to re-scoop their ice cream because you dropped the original bowls on the floor after forgetting to tell the busboy, “I’m behind you.” It’s wise to let people know of a potential mess, so you both can avoid it.

As my husband was getting a pizza out of the oven recently, I walked behind him, carrying our salad bowls. Although 35 years have passed since I served food professionally, I still said, “I’m behind you.” When those three words hit the air, they gripped my heart in a new way. I was not simply telling Kevin to “watch out;” I was helping him succeed at his task of the moment. I was supporting him. And I was saving both of us a trip to the floor to clean up tomato sauce, mozzarella, and Thousand Island dressing.

We all need support, especially in the Church, where we operate as a body, and “should have equal concern for each other (I Corinthians 12:25).” As we serve the Lord and those around us, our individual loads become lighter when we help each other carry them.

The second-wisest man who ever lived said it this way,

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NIV)”

The list of ways to get behind a brother or sister is endless:

Are you struggling to make ends meet on a stingy budget? If I slip a ten in your pocket, I’m behind you.

Do you doubt if your marriage can last one more night, or one more fight? If I listen and pray for strength for you, I’m behind you.

Is your kid making choices that break your heart? If I hug you and say “Don’t give up,” I’m behind you.

Are you afraid of what the doctor might find on the next test? If I pray for your healing and tell you “I love you,” I’m behind you.

Do you wonder where your dream got lost? If I encourage you to keep hoping, I’m behind you.

Rebuking and finding fault rarely motivate anyone to succeed. Most of us avoid critical, sour individuals. But we enjoy the company of people who bring out the best in us, helping us believe in ourselves and our dreams. We achieve things we thought impossible by having one or two caring friends say, “I’m behind you.”

You can be that friend to someone today. Instead of turning your back on a need or mocking a dream, be wise enough to say, “I’m behind you. Let me help you succeed.”

For us fellow servers, it will make the difference between messes to clean up or miracles to celebrate.

~Jeanette Levellie