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Christian talking points: two by two

Esther being prepared for a night with the king
Esther being prepared for a night with the king
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In recent years, Christians have adopted the idea that marriage should be based on traditional, Biblical examples which they claim means one man – one woman. Many people have written about the fact that this model is faulty since many Biblical heroes had more than one wife.

Following closely on the this idea of marriage, Pastor Warren Hoffman of the First Baptist Church in Sioux Falls writes that God’s work is best accomplished by two people acting together.

In the January 18, 2014 Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Pastor Hoffman, wrote a religious column, “From The Pulpit” on the Argus Leader’s Saturday Religion Page. You can read all of Pastor Hoffman’s article here.

Hoffman starts by stating that he and his wife chose a quote from the Book of Ecclesiastes (4:9-12) to be used in their wedding ceremony.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Although Ecclesiastes is a book of the Hebrew Testament, it is unlike the rest. It may have been included in the Christian Canon, determined about the third century CE, because Solomon supposedly wrote it.

While the concept of a partner or help-mate is a good idea, Hoffman undermines his point by using this quote. The quote stresses ways that two people are better than one, but ends with a reference to a three stranded cord.

In praising the idea of two, why should a three stranded cord be used as the example of strength? The reason is simple. Two stands can be twisted together to make a cord, but that cord untwists as soon as stress is applied. Three stands, on the other hand, can be braided and will not unbraid when stress is applied. This implies that a group of three people would be better than a group of two people.

As an example, Hoffman references Moses and his brother Aaron in the battle of Amalek in Exodus 17. In this story, the Israelites prevail as long as Moses keeps his hands upraised, but lose when he lowers his hands. Hoffman says Aaron helps hold Moses’s hands up so the Israelites win the day.

Hoffman gets it wrong. This is the text from Exodus 17:10-12: “So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’s hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up — one on one side, one on the other — so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” NIV

Moses needs help from Aaron and a man called Hur. Three people were working together to perform the miracle, not two.

By the way, Moses is not a good example for the one man – one woman marriage model, either. Moses had two wives. His first wife was his half-sister, and his second wife was his cousin. A fine example – multiple wives and incest.

Next, Hoffman cites Esther and Mordecai, from the Book of Esther, to support his two by two model. Esther is a strange book as it does not mention God, there are no miracles, and people behave badly.

As a bit of background and also to reflect on the model for marriage based on the Bible, the Persian king Xerxes was seeking a new queen. To test the candidates, the king would spend the each night with a different woman, selected from the most beautiful virgins in the kingdom.

Esther, a Jew, was one of these women selected to be pampered and to spend the night with the king. In current terms, Esther slept with the king to get her job. Most Christians stress purity and virginity before marriage, so Esther and the king may not be the best couple to use as a role model.

Esther pleased the king more than the other women and she was made queen. Meanwhile, Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, stumbled upon the plot by a pair of the king’s guards to kill the king. Mordecai told Esther about the plot, the plot was thwarted, and Mordecai was given credit for his help.

Later, Mordecai refused to bow to Haman, a man held in high esteem by the king. Because of this slight, Haman plotted to kill all the Jews but his plot was undone by Esther appearing, unannounced before the king and requesting a banquet for the king, Haman and herself. At a second banquet, in response to the king’s offer to fulfill any petition, Esther asked that she and her people be spared. It was at this point that she revealed the fact that she was a Jew.

The king left the banquet and Haman tried to convince Esther to plead his case to the king by lying with her on her couch. The king returned to see this and had Haman impaled on the pole Haman had set up for Mordecai.

Esther went on to request that the Jews could be armed and could kill not only their enemies but also their enemy’s wives and children. About 75,000 people were killed as a result of Esther’s lies about her background and her sleeping her way to the top.

Admittedly, it could be argued that the story of Esther and Mordecai is a story of two people working together, but the details show that Mordecai was an accomplice in Esther’s deception and her bloody revenge on those who opposed the Jews.

Perhaps, Pastor Hoffman needs to take a closer look at what he is offering as shining examples of two by two.

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