Sunday, June 4, 2017

Genesis 47:27-31 comments: cultural practices in the Bible

27 ¶  And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions therein, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly. 28  And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years: so the whole age of Jacob was an hundred forty and seven years. 29  And the time drew nigh that Israel must die: and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt: 30  But I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their buryingplace. And he said, I will do as thou hast said. 31  And he said, Swear unto me. And he sware unto him. And Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head.

We find another reference to the cultural practice of putting a hand under someone’s thigh to declare an oath. Abraham made his servant swear an oath that he would get Isaac a voluntary bride from his own people.

Ge 24:2  And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh…9  And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and sware to him concerning that matter.

Now, I daresay that none of you who are of a sound mind regard this as a requirement for you to be holy that you place your hand under someone’s thigh to make a promise. If it is not in your cultural frame of reference you pass over this like you would a verse number or a word you don’t know and are too lazy to cross-reference or look up elsewhere. So, for cultural practices that we know have an historical reason, we are not required, as a matter of holiness, to practice. For instance, in 1Corinthians 11 Paul tells them to follow the instructions he has given them and adds a but to include a practice of their own. He agrees with them that their women should have long hair while at the end of the brief argument he admits that it is not required practice in churches elsewhere.

1Corinthians 11:1 ¶  Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. 2  Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. 3  But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. 4  Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 5  But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 6  For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 7  For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 8  For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. 9  Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. 10  For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. 11  Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. 12  For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. 13  Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 14  Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? 15  But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. 16  But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God. (Neither means roughly ‘not even’ in Paul’s letters.)

From history we know that at Acrocorinth, the acropolis of ancient Corinth, called Upper Corinth, stood the Temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual love, among other related things. There were a thousand short-haired prostitutes working there that men would enjoy sexually being the devoutly religious people they were. That was sarcasm, by the way. It would not do, obviously, for a woman of Corinth’s church to be mistaken for a prostitute, a priestess of Aphrodite. So, you have a conviction that you should have long hair as I have a conviction that I should wear a suit when I teach Sunday School. Don’t impose it on others. Remember that the time you are honoring with your long hair, when you feel Christians were just and right, the late 1800s, they believed that not wearing it up, letting your hair hang down around your shoulders was sexually suggestive and scandalous just as my business suit bought off the rack at a department store would have had a whole different meaning in the early church. They were laborers and slaves and would have worn their shabby work clothes to a meeting of the church and then gone off to work. We must be careful about cultural practices becoming dogma.

In the same regard the letters of Paul call for the members of the church to give each other a holy kiss. That is not something we do in our culture in America typically. Nor do we feel less close to God because we don’t. It is not our cultural practice and Paul commanding it of the Roman church, the Corinthian church, and the Thessalonian church and we not doing it doesn’t bother us one bit.

Be careful about standards that other people set for you or as a Christian recently lamented on Facebook, “Don’t judge me for not believing something the Bible did not say.” Cultural practices in the Bible are not moral requirements, funnymentalist insistence aside.

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