Tough Passages #15: Provided For (Mark 12:19)

In “Tough Passages,” we’re looking at the difficult verses in the Bible that are often brought up by secular people as reasons the Bible doesn’t make sense, and discovering how they actually reveal the character, love, and glory of God in a beautiful way.  Last time, we looked at people who look a little different.  But this time, it’s all about widows.

The Verse

Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.

Mark 12:19, ESV

The Secular Response

If this rule has been allowed to become obsolete, why not others that ruin people’s lives?

Ivana Wynn, ranker.com

Our Reply

What an interesting choice of passages.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: she’s ignored some context here.  In this verse, Jesus is actually being questioned by the Sadducees, a religious sect who are referencing Deuteronomy 25.  That passage makes it a little more clear, but I’ll just make it explicit: this was good for women.

This law didn’t bind widows.  It bound their brothers-in-law.

Back in the place and time that Deuteronomy was written (the Middle East, around the 8th Century BC), women were largely treated as second-class citizens.  And no, that’s not God’s fault.  One thing we know for sure about the paternalistic societies of the ancient middle east is that women weren’t treated well, and women without an associated man were treated even worse.  This part of the Mosaic Law provided for those women by giving the responsibility for their care to a brother-in-law, and publicly shamed him if he shirked that responsibility.  This law didn’t bind widows.  It bound their brothers-in-law.  And it’s obsolete now because women are treated as their own people now.

But let’s dig a little deeper into this interaction between Jesus and the Sadducees.

The Sadducees were a religious sect in first century Israel who, among other things, denied the existence of an afterlife or of any form of resurrection or eternal life.  As you might imagine, they didn’t like Jesus.

In this passage, Jesus has already been asked a “trick question” by the Pharisees about taxes, and next he’ll be asked another “trick question” by the scribes about the most important commandment.  The Sadducees here are seeking to trick him with a question about whose wife in heaven a widow would be if her brother-in-law kept this law.

They’re seeking to throw Gods’ own words back in His face, hoping to discredit him by claiming that they’re ridiculous.

Sound familiar?

They’re seeking to throw Gods’ own words back in His face, hoping to discredit him by showing that they’re ridiculous.

The Sadducees were attacking Jesus because they didn’t like what He said.  Same with the Pharisees and the Scribes.  When faced with a promise in God’s word that makes God too sovereign, too holy, too other, humans rebel against it.  In our sinful hearts, we can’t cope with that reality.  We did it in first century Jerusalem, and we do it online today.

The word of God has been attacked and derided by person after person since God began to hand it down.  Ivana is far from the first person to do so.  It’s not attacked because it’s contradictory, or because it’s archaic and useless; the Word is attacked because people don’t like the One who says it.  People don’t want to be subject to a holy and sovereign Ruler, and they don’t want to be told about their sin.  Put bluntly, people oppose God’s word because they think they know better than God.

The sin of thinking we know better than God is truly our greatest danger.

But He has proven Himself to be up to the challenge every time.  He has proven that the sin of thinking we know better than God is truly our greatest danger.  And He has proven that He can heal us from that evil by the sacrifice of Jesus; by the One who was humiliated so that we could be protected.

• • •

Next month, we’ll debate the finer points of self-dismemberment.

Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture; we hope you stick with us. If this isn’t a satisfying answer to you, please comment below. I’d love to talk it out.

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