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  • Writer's pictureRev. Izzy Harbin

7th Commandment - You Shall Not Commit Adultery

Exodus 20:14


“You shall not commit adultery.”

Matthew 25:1-13


25 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten young women took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those young women got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. 11 Later the other young women came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

I knew that this commandment was coming, but I had no idea I’d feel so much trepidation at preaching on this commandment once it arrived. One of the most important things that I need to say before I launch into the body of my blog is that there is no condemnation here. Based on Jesus’ words regarding adultery, we all have been unfaithful at some point because this is one of those commandments that he takes further than what the actual commandment states; “even if you look at a woman with lust, you have already committed adultery…” my goodness, what hope do any of us have?

Thankfully, I am not going that route at all. Just know that I live by Jesus’ words to the prostitute, “No one condemns you, and neither do I.”

In working with this passage, I needed to imagine why God would include it in the 10 Commandments. It certainly did not mean then what it means now. Men often were in polygamous marriages that also included slaves and concubines. There was no shortage of sexual partners for men. However, the rules were different for women in the ancient world. Not to linger too long here, but suffice it to say, how we understand the concept of adultery in the 21st century is different. And even though there are clear proscriptions for adulterous behavior in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, there is no evidence that men and women were actually put to death for the sin of adultery. Still, it makes me wonder why this particular commandment was important to include with all the other commandments.

The passage from Isaiah that I am using Sunday for our Invocation provided some context for where I really wanted to take worship. It says:

5 For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

What this passage is referring to is God’s fidelity to Jerusalem, God’s relationship to Jerusalem, bridegroom to bride. This context changes everything for me. When God tells Moses on the mountain, “You shall not commit adultery,” I believe God was telling Moses, “the people of Israel are mine, do not let them stray from me.” Consistently throughout the Hebrew text we find God imploring the people of Israel to maintain their fidelity. God asks them to not worship other God’s; to not behave like other nations; to remain God’s people, even in the diaspora; and to celebrate their homecoming, back to the city and land that God had given them via the covenant God made with Abraham.

This is all very serious stuff to God. And the history of the Israelite people, much like the history of all people, is we are prone to wander after other gods, lesser gods, or even no god at all.

The New Testament passage that I have chosen for this week is the story of the Bridegroom and the 10 young women with lamps. At first glance, I thought to myself, “This passage is all wrong,” but then I kept drilling down and realized it was perfect. As you can see from the passage above, there are 10 young women who come out for the wedding feast who are there to greet the bridegroom as he travels the last distance to the wedding itself. There are several things that are striking about this passage that have nothing to do with the young women, especially those who failed to bring enough oil for their lamps.

First, the bridegroom is delayed until midnight. In modern culture, if the groom arrived at midnight, there would be no wedding, at least not that night. Second, the bride is absent from the story. We have no idea where she is or what she is doing. The text doesn’t provide any information. Third, what we know of ancient wedding feasts is that they typically lasted seven days. This means that the wedding may have already taken place and that the family and friends of the bride and groom were waiting for the groom to arrive so the party could start. Fourth, we also don’t know what delayed the bridegroom. It could have been any number of things. Fifth, we must ask, was there really a shop keeper open at midnight where the young women could buy additional oil? So, this is what we don’t know. What do we know?

We know that the bridegroom was late – very late – and that arriving at midnight did not seem to be a problem for those that were waiting. We know that there were 10 young women who fulfilled the role of lamp carriers. We know that 5 of the young women failed to bring enough oil in preparation for the bridegroom’s arrival. We also know that not long after they left, the bridegroom arrived and the 5 who left were locked out of the feast.

If we think of God as the bridegroom, it is true that we do not know when we will encounter the divine; it could happen when we least expect it. There is this sense that we should always be prepared, but just like the people of Israel, we fail to prepare for what is coming, and will often miss out because of our lack of planning. Even more than that, if the five young women had stayed, there is nothing here to indicate that they would have been turned away. Yes, they should have been more prepared for the likelihood that the bridegroom might be late, but if they had stayed at their post, the bridegroom may not have cared that they ran out of oil but would have been more impressed that they did not leave.

Let’s go a little deeper. God was faithful to the whole process in that God showed up, even if it was later rather than sooner. This is true for the people of Israel as well. God always showed up, but in God’s time. Those who stayed, those who were faithful, were kept in right relationship with God and allowed to feast with God. Those who wandered off, who sought after other gods or who engaged in religious practices that were outside what God had prescribed for them, were cut off, if only for a short time. God continued to be faithful to the people, continued to invite them to the wedding feast, even though the people continued to rebel.

The necessity of planning by the young women is also indicative of our attitudes toward God. We are chronic in our failure to plan – at least for this kind of eventuality. When I worked as the director of a substance abuse program, I would often have clients beg for assistance at the very last minute in order to get a ride to a meeting that was scheduled three months prior. We offered transportation, but we needed a minimum of 24 hours notification so that we could schedule one of the counselors to provide transportation. What we would say to those who did not schedule in time, “Your failure to plan does not constitute an emergency on my part.” When I find myself in a bind, I always remember this. It isn’t up to others to get me out of a jam because of a failure on my part to plan.

God makes it really simple. His commandment is to remain faithful; don’t stray from what is good, and right, and holy. This challenge is especially poignant in the U.S. where every shiny new thing becomes the object of our affection. This kind of infidelity may not register as a betrayal, but to God, it is. When we are locked out of the feast, we feel betrayed by God, but it isn’t God’s betrayal, it is our own. Our failure to trust that God will always be faithful, even when it feels like God is a million miles away, is not God’s problem, it is ours. God always shows up and is always on time.

When we open ourselves to God living at the center of our lives, what we discover is a life filled with possibility. We must be active participants in our relationship with God, it can’t be a one-way street. We must show up and meet God just as God meets us. Our lives are linked to God’s because God made us, but God gave us the ability to reject or receive what God is offering. When we receive what God is offering, we consistently work at moving closer and closer to God, being more and more prepared for what God has to offer, and in doing so, will most likely not miss out on the wedding feast.

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