Questions From Readers
● Some try to justify their divorce and remarriage by saying their former marriage partner committed adultery with another in his heart, even if he did not do so literally. They cite Matthew 5:27, 28. What about such reasoning?—F. R., United States.
Such reasoning is a desperate but futile effort at self-justification. The words of Jesus that they twist to serve their selfish ends are as follows: “You heard that it was said, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:27, 28, NW) The argument that such an inward, unexpressed passion constitutes adultery and justifies divorce and remarriage falls into the same category of tricky, jesuitical reasoning practiced by the Pharisees when by their traditions they watered down and evaded and voided the commandments of God.—Matt. 15:3-9.
Christ Jesus, by these words, was showing what was required of a heart that was really clean, that it would not entertain improper thoughts and desires. It is not just a matter of refraining from wrongdoing out of fear of punishments or consequences, but rather a matter of loving righteousness so much that there is no room in the mind and heart for nourishing improper yearnings. There will be no room for considering evil acts if we obey Philippians 4:8 (NW): “Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.” Immoral acts should not be a topic of conversation among Christians, except as their discussion may become necessary for some theocratic reason. (Eph. 5:3) The mind is to be made over with righteousness in view, the old personality with its lustful thoughts and practices is to be stripped off to make way for the new personality created according to God’s will and righteousness.—Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:5-10, NW.
If we do not uproot evil thoughts from our minds they will grow there and finally break through into our actions. As James warned: “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin; in turn, sin, when it has been accomplished, brings forth death.” (Jas. 1:14, 15, NW) Nevertheless note that it is the sin that brings forth death, not just the desire. The improper desire will lead to the death-dealing sin if it is nourished and meditated upon rather than being expelled from mind and heart; but until it gives birth to the actual sin the penalty of death is not applied. Jesus said: “That which issues forth out of a man is what defiles a man; for from inside, out of the heart of men, injurious reasonings issue forth: fornications, thieveries, murders, adulteries, covetings, acts of wickedness, treachery, loose conduct, an envious eye, blasphemy, haughtiness, foolish action. All these wicked things issue forth from within and defile a man.” (Mark 7:20-23, NW) The mere thought of such things would not bring on one the penalty. A flare of murderous anger that does not come out in the actual act of murder but is held within does not result in the man’s execution as a murderer. Neither would a passionate thought to commit adultery but which is never acted upon render him guilty of the actual sin. It would never, therefore, be grounds for divorce. But it is all such evil thoughts that the Christian must beat down and stamp out of mind and heart so that they will never be strengthened to the point of breaking out into sinful action that would bring down upon his head the deadly penalties. Our minds must be pure. That is what Jesus was emphasizing at Matthew 5:27, 28.
● Why did Rachel steal the household gods of her father? Was this not akin to idolatry on her part?—E. T., United States.
The Hebrew word for these little family idols is teraphim. When Jacob departed for home with his wives and children and possessions, without notifying his father-in-law Laban, “Rachel stole the teraphim that belonged to her father.” The third day thereafter Laban learned of the departure, and after a seven-day pursuit his company overtook Jacob’s party. Among other complaints, Laban said to Jacob: “While you have actually gone now because you have been yearning intensely for the house of your father, why, though, have you stolen my gods?” Jacob was unaware of the theft and said: “Whoever it is with whom you may find your gods, let him not live.” Laban’s search was fruitless, for Rachel concealed them in a saddle basket and sat on it, and did not rise when her father searched her tent, asking to be excused because of sickness. In parting, Laban and Jacob made a covenant, set up a stone pillar and a heap of stones, and Laban said: “This heap is a witness and the pillar is something that bears witness that I will not pass this heap against you and that you will not pass this heap and this pillar against me for harm.” Thereafter they parted.—Gen. 31:17-55, NW.
Why was Laban so concerned about the teraphim, even to the point of making an expensive pursuit with a large company to recover them? In times past some have suggested that the teraphim were made of gold or possessed great superstitious value to Laban. However, it remained for archaeology to uncover the real reason. On page 71 of Archaeology and Bible History we read: “The answer was found in the Nuzi tablets, which showed that possession of the father’s household gods played an important role in inheritance. One of the Nuzi tablets indicated that in the region where Laban lived, a son-in-law who possessed the family images could appear in court and make claim to the estate of his father-in-law.” That Rachel may have reasoned that she was justified in taking the teraphim because of her father’s deceptive dealings with her husband is shown by the words uttered jointly by her and Leah, at Genesis 31:14-16. At any rate, the following paragraph taken from pages 227 and 228 of Modern Science and Christian Faith is enlightening:
“Beginning in 1925 discoveries were made at the ancient town of Nuzi in northeastern Mesopotamia. Here were found a great many legal contracts from a period a little later than the time of Jacob. These threw much light upon the life of the people there. A legal document from the area gave evidence that among the ethnic group which was dominant at Harran, the region where Laban lived, possession of the household gods gave a son-in-law the right to appear in court and claim the estate of his deceased father-in-law. Now it becomes perfectly clear to us why Laban was so tremendously aroused about the loss of these household gods! Jacob had already taken a great part of his possessions. He feared that after his death Jacob would take all the rest from his sons. It would seem very likely that this was Rachel’s actual purpose in taking the household gods. It makes clear and understandable why Jacob and Laban put up a pile of stones and said over it the Mizpah declaration: ‘The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another’ (Gen. 31:49). They called upon God to watch that neither of them should cross over this boundary line in order to injure the other; that Laban should not come in order to bring physical injury to Jacob, and that Jacob should not go back with the household gods after Laban’s death in order to defraud his brothers-in-law of the property which should belong to them.”
Jacob was innocent of any such scheming. He did not know the teraphim were in his camp. Neither would he have anything to do with idols, nor would he allow any in his household to resort to them. Later when Jehovah told Jacob to go dwell at Bethel Jacob said to his household: “Put away the foreign gods that are in the midst of you.” The account continues: “So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods that were in their hands and the earrings that were in their ears and Jacob hid them under the big tree that was close by Shechem.” (Gen. 35:1-4, NW) At the latest, the teraphim would be disposed of on this occasion. At least, Jacob never used them to gain the inheritance from Laban’s sons, even though Laban had dealt deceitfully with Jacob on numerous occasions. The teraphim were appurtenances of idol worship, and had no place in a household devoted to Jehovah God. Centuries later Samuel told rebellious King Saul: “Stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” (1 Sam. 15:23) The original Hebrew word here translated “idolatry” is teraphim. Hence the American Standard Version reads: “Stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim.”
The November 1, 1953, Watchtower, on page 655, said: “The last signal defeat suffered by Islam’s armies took place before the gates of Vienna in 1863.” It should have given the year as 1683, which is the correct date.