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By John Piper — 2 months ago
http://rss.desiringgod.org/link/10732/15809928/how-we-quench-the-spiritPost Views: 42
By John Piper — 1 week ago
Many questions in our inbox are questions that I could never anticipate — like this one today, sent to us by a listener named Jessica. Here’s what she writes: “Hello, Pastor John, and thank you for this podcast. I was recently confronted by an abortion advocate about a chapter in the Bible. I was then, and remain now, quite perplexed about its meaning.
“We read that suspicion of infidelity in the Old Testament triggered a potentially dangerous ritual in which a woman was put on trial, made to drink a potion of sorts, and, if she was found guilty, the verdict was rendered in physical consequences. The verses are Numbers 5:22 and 27, texts that say the adulterous woman’s ‘thigh shall fall away’ (the ESV translation), which doesn’t make any sense to me. Other translations say the consequence is ‘miscarriage and untimely birth’ (according to the NEB and REB translations). Basically, a guilty verdict was rendered by an induced abortion.
“In fact, that’s the interpretation I found in Old Testament scholar Norman Henry Snaith’s commentary, Leviticus and Numbers. On linguistic grounds, he said, ‘cause an abortion’ is a possible interpretation here. I was surprised. How would you respond?”
My response is first to ask, Was this abortion advocate seriously willing to follow where the Scriptures lead? Or was this simply a superficial cheap shot because a text might picture God as aborting a child? Now, I don’t know the answer to that question, but it would make a difference personally in how I spoke to that person directly.
My second response is to say that I don’t think we can have any confidence that this text describes an abortion or a God-caused miscarriage. In fact, I think a good case can be made that this is not what’s happening. And I’ll come back to that.
And my third response is that even if God were pictured here as bringing about the miscarriage as part of the punishment for adultery, that would not give us any right at all to take the life of the unborn. All of life is in God’s hands. He owns it. He gives it and he takes it according to his own infinite wisdom. It’s his. And therefore, he gives it where we can’t, and he takes it where we shouldn’t, because we are not God. So, let me say a word about each of those three responses.
If a person comes to us with a biblical objection to our pro-life position, it may be that the most helpful and hopeful thing we could do is sincerely offer them to sit down and do a serious study together with them of what the whole Bible has to say about the unborn and the rights we have or don’t have to intrude upon God’s person-forming work in the womb (as it says in Psalm 139).
That might be the test of the sincerity of their objection.
Does God Cause Miscarriage?
Second, let’s look at what the text actually says in Numbers 5. The situation is that a husband has accused his wife of committing adultery against him, but he has no proof. He brings her to the priest, who sets up a test to determine her guilt or innocence. He mixes holy water with dust from the tabernacle floor and has her drink it.
Significantly, the test is designed so that her innocence is assumed and what has to be proved is her guilt, not her innocence. The ordeal is favorable for the defendant — namely, the woman. In other words, it’s not as though, if nothing happens, she’s guilty. No. Something extraordinary has to happen to prove her guilt — indeed, something supernatural. The assumption is that God will decide this case.
If she’s guilty, Numbers 5:22 describes what will happen. Here’s the wording: “May this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your womb swell and your thigh fall away.” If that does not happen, she’s innocent. Now, Jessica points out that some interpreters take this “falling away of the thigh” as a miscarriage or an induced abortion from God.
This is a pure guess. Nobody knows for sure what those words “falling away of the thigh” mean. That wording is not a common idiom. It’s not as though the writer used an idiom here that we all know from elsewhere means “miscarriage.” We don’t. We only have this context to go on.
More Likely Meaning
I think the text, the context here, points in a different direction. First of all, the Hebrew word for thigh can mean hip, as it does when Jacob’s hip is put out of joint (Genesis 32:25); or it can mean loins, including the sexual organs, as when Abraham’s servants swears by putting his hand in that sacred place of reproduction (Genesis 24:2–3).
“The focus of the punishment is not on miscarriage, but on the fact that the innocent will go on to have children.”
The falling of the woman’s loins would be a very odd way to describe a miscarriage, but it would not be an odd way to describe a vaginal prolapse. A prolapse, which my grandmother had to have surgery for while she was living with Noël and me — that’s why I know about this — is what happens when the pelvis muscles and tissues can no longer support the female sexual organs because the muscles and tissues are weak or damaged, which causes one or more of the pelvic organs to drop or press into or out of the vagina. Now, that’s an easily treatable situation today with surgery. In those days, that must have been horrible.
And then notice that Numbers 5:28 shows us what this punishment involves by contrasting it with the woman who proves innocent. Here’s what it says in verse 28: “But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be free and shall conceive children.” In other words, the focus of the punishment is not on miscarriage, but on the fact that the innocent will go on to have children, and the guilty woman won’t, because that’s the effect of the falling of the loins, I’m suggesting.
All Souls Are God’s
Now, suppose my interpretation is wrong, which it could be because none of us knows for sure what the “falling away of the thigh [or the loins]” means. And suppose this text really does say that God, the just judge, decreed that the child in the woman, supposing there was one (it doesn’t say), was aborted. Suppose that. What does that tell us about the life of the unborn and our right to take it or not? And the answer is nothing, because we are not God.
“God’s decision to take the life of an unborn child does not give us any permission to do the same.”
God says in Deuteronomy 32:39, “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” In other words, to be God is to have rights over life and death that others don’t have. Hannah speaks for God in the same way in 1 Samuel 2:6, when she says, “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” And Job, when he lost all ten of his children, said — and the verse following says he didn’t sin when he said this — “The Lord gave, and Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
In other words, one of the things it means to be God is to have absolute rights over human life. God made all life. All life belongs to him. Only God can say Ezekiel 18:4 in truth: “Behold, all souls are mine.” Therefore, God’s decision to take the life of an unborn child does not give us any permission to do the same, any more than God’s giving us his own Son in crucifixion gives us the right to kill Jesus. God ordains the death of his own Son, not to legitimate murder, but to make it possible for murderers to be saved, including those who take the life of the unborn.
By Sharon James — 8 months ago
In 2007, 14-year-old Yeonmi Park crossed a frozen river and three mountains in a desperate attempt to leave North Korea. Eventually, after suffering dreadful abuse in China, she made it safely to South Korea. In 2014, she received the opportunity to study in America, where she would be able to pursue an education in the “land of the free.”
Yeonmi entered a program at Columbia University. Founded in 1754, the school’s motto reads, “In Thy light shall we see light” (Psalm 36:9). The first universities were established on the basis that God’s creation is an objective reality that can be studied. Humans created in God’s image have the capacity to investigate and reason. The truth that ultimately comes from God is the only solid protection for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief. Earthly authorities can’t tell us what to believe and think (Mark 12:17). Sadly, Yeonmi’s experience didn’t remotely resemble the school’s founding vision.
Having escaped the tyrannical regime of North Korea, where criticism of “Dear Leader” can land you (and your family) in a concentration camp, she never anticipated the thought control she’d find at this elite American university. Her professors insisted that history and culture had to be seen through the lens of patriarchal, racist, heterosexist oppression. Belief in absolute truth and morality was regarded as dangerous and wrong. Transgression of the dominant orthodoxies resulted in social ostracism or lower grades. If she was to achieve the degree she wanted, she would have had to self-censor all she said and wrote.
The land of the free was not as free as she had anticipated. What was going on?
‘No Universal Truth’
By the end of the nineteenth century, increased acceptance of evolutionary theory had contributed to a widespread naturalistic worldview: “There is no Creator God, and there won’t be a judgment.”
Without a transcendent authority, who or what is left to judge between competing claims to truth? Radical doubt has now taken root in nearly all the major institutions of the West. Objective truth is challenged. What counts is the perception or “lived experience” of each individual, particularly those deemed to have suffered oppression. The new inquisition insists that the feelings of any perceived “victim” must never, ever, be hurt. It’s viewed as hateful to question their claims. And that means that an increasing number of academics have been “cancelled.”
Kathleen Stock, a professor at Sussex University, England, was effectively hounded out of her position in 2021 for affirming the biological reality that women are women:
The problems all started when I began making such controversial statements as: “there are only two sexes” and “it’s wrong to put male rapists in women’s prisons.” . . . It has been all too much for certain colleagues. My critics have produced an apparently unstoppable narrative, according to which I’m a bigot and a terrible danger to trans students. . . . Eventually any hopes I could lead a relatively normal life on campus were definitively extinguished.
End of Free Speech
In The Madness of Crowds, Douglas Murray (who is himself gay and an atheist) describes this worldview, which insists that society is made up of different hierarchies. If you don’t accept the claims of anyone in a “victim” group, you may be condemned as bigoted, sexist, racist, homophobic, or transphobic. This signals the end of free speech, as people become anxious about stumbling over hidden trip wires. One ill-judged comment could make someone a social pariah.
“When you repeat lies, it destroys your integrity. Eventually you may come to believe them.”
Many go along with this madness because they’re scared to speak out, but it’s demeaning and soul-destroying to go along with claims you don’t believe to be true. Abigail Shrier, the author of Irreversible Damage, was invited to speak at Princeton in 2021. An investigative journalist, Shrier has documented the social contagion leading large numbers of teen girls into gender transition — and the regret that often followed, sometimes after irreversible damage had already been done. The invitation caused a furor. She had to speak in a venue with limited capacity away from the campus. Shrier took the opportunity to urge the students not to tell lies, to speak the truth openly, to refuse to be “bought” with flattery and to “keep their integrity.”
Sadly, too many university students churn out what they know their professors want them to say, even when they know it’s patently untrue. They “put truth on hold.” It’s too costly to challenge the current orthodoxies. But when you repeat lies, it destroys your integrity. Eventually you may come to believe them.
When Truth Retreats
The late Francis Schaeffer (1912–1984) observed that whenever truth retreats, tyranny advances. The Creator God will hold all, including all rulers, to account (Romans 13:1–3). He has placed his moral law on the hearts of all (Romans 1:18–21). The blessings of freedom are found within the framework of order (Deuteronomy 30:19–20). The Lord Jesus is the ruler of kings on earth (Revelation 1:5).
When you deny that there is a God, and deny any transcendent truth or absolute morality, you are left with unfettered human freedom. That quickly degenerates into anarchy. And then, out of fear, people may respond by submitting to an all-powerful state. Totalitarianism arises when you look to human reason alone to create utopia. We need only look back at the twentieth century to see the price tag in blood and suffering.
“If the retreat of truth leads to tyranny, the reverse must be true as well. The advance of truth will turn back tyranny.”
But if the retreat of truth leads to tyranny, the reverse must be true as well. The advance of truth will turn back tyranny.
Only Firm Basis for Dignity
The biblical worldview is the only firm basis for human dignity. Every person has value because each one has been created in the image of God. The biblical worldview is the only solid foundation for real freedom: no government, academic institution, or employer has the authority to tell us what to think. We will each answer to God.
History has shown that when the gospel has influenced a society, freedoms have been extended to more people. Far from limiting human endeavor, Christians were the first champions of universal education, the founders of the first universities, and the pioneers of modern science and medicine.
We are living in times that have been poisoned with lies. We have an opportunity to hold out truth. If we learn to fear the Lord, we won’t need to fear anyone or anything else. As we grow in love for God and his word (Psalm 119:97; John 14:15), and as we daily sing joyful praises (Psalm 92:2), our courage will be renewed. We’ll love others, even those who hate what we believe, speaking truth with grace (1 Peter 3:8, 14–16), serving humbly, and showing by deed as well as word that our God is a God of compassion and grace (Matthew 5:44; Isaiah 58:6–8).
God calls us to stand for truth and seek to rescue those imprisoned by deceit. In John 8:32, our Lord Jesus Christ promises to all who come to him: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”