Preaching Hard Stories

In all of my adult years in the church, I have never heard a pastor volunteer up a Sunday sermon on The Trial by Ordeal God gave Moses in Numbers 5 for a jealous husband who suspects his wife has been unfaithful. I can't remember hearing a sermon on the instructions in Deuteronomy 21 on the process for a Jew who wants to marry a female slave captured in war or those in Deuteronomy 22 requiring a man to marry the woman he raped. I've also never heard a sermon on the topic of the rape of Dinah in Genesis 34.

Of course, there are obvious reasons pastors don't want to touch these passages with a ten-foot pole. They seem ripe with pitfalls and potholes. How can you exposit these passages without hurting someone who has been forced to do something sexually against their will? How can you preach on them when they seem to tolerate oppression against women? Honestly, you probably can't preach them without criticism. Someone will find fault because these hit vulnerable, painful places in the lives of many. Nevertheless, I submit that, if all of Scripture is profitable for teaching (2 Tim. 3:16), then we are missing some profit for the church by neglecting these passages. It will benefit churches to look at these hard passages, for they too are useful for teaching, correction, and training in righteousness.

Here are some things to think through as you look for the profit and benefits these passages can bring to your church. First, acknowledge head on that these passages, by themselves, are hard and oppressive. It's good and right to sit in them with your congregation and lament the oppression they represent, in this case, sins against vulnerable women and girls in a culture in which they had little say over their affairs. I can't emphasize this enough. These passages present teaching moments and training in righteousness that will benefit your church. Before taking a step further in understanding the passages, stop first to lament the brutality against women accepted across cultures for thousands of generations, both inside and outside the household of God. Without honest lament over all that is wrong in the world, including among those who claim belief in the God of the Bible, the grace and hope we have through Jesus Christ loses its meaning and power.

Second, these passages do not stand alone. Teach them in their larger context of the Creation/Fall/Redemption story from Genesis to Revelation. Oppressive stories of women in Scripture are linked from Eve, to Dinah, to the women affected by Numbers 5, Deuteronomy 21, and Deuteronomy 22, to Mary the mother of Jesus, the woman caught in adultery in John 8, instructions on women in I Corinthians 11, and the final moments of Revelation when God walks up to each of us to wipe the tears from our eyes. God predicted the oppression of women in Genesis 3. But, though Satan thought he had ruined God's plan by targeting Eve, God cursed Satan in part with the knowledge that He will use another woman to bring the Savior of humanity into the world. The conflict of the ages began, and women have been targeted with particular venom by the prince of this world. Jealous husbands, conquerors who sexually desired their slaves, and a society that punished rape victims followed. God spoke into these situations with temporary protections that pointed to the Savior coming who will correct all injustice and overturn all oppression, who will wipe away every one of our tears. 

These passages aren't easy to teach. But they are worth the work to handle them well. There is profit to be found in them, buried treasure that points us to Christ, who was born of woman to save women and men, from the sins committed against them and the sins committed by them. Steward them well.