Given for a Covering

And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water: And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and uncover the woman’s head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse: And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman….

– Numbers 5:17-19

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. …Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
– 1 Corinthians 11

 

When the law is given for a jealous husband, how he can have God judge his wife, it specifies an interesting thing. The priest brings her into the presence of God and uncovers her head (v. 18). This assumes, of course, that her head would be covered. That assumption, in turn, rests on one of two scenarios: 1) that women in public were assumed to have their head covered or 2) that women entering the presence of God would have their heads covered.

To my mind, this presents pretty good supporting evidence that the practice of the churches of God was to have women’s heads covered.

The symbolism even seems to match. In 1 Co 11, a woman has a covering upon her head because she is under authority. In Numbers 5, her authority is stepping aside, removing his protection of her, exposing her to be judged directly by God. He is not interceding for her. She has no covering between her and God.

But there is something else interesting about this passage. The KJV, ISV, NET, and Young’s Literal render this as some form of “uncover the woman’s head,” but ESV, NASB, and HCSB have some form of “let down her hair.” If those ideas are one and the same, it gives a new reason why a woman is given long hair for a covering: if it isn’t long, it can’t be done up on top of one’s head.

Perhaps in 1 Corinthians 11 the question wasn’t whether women needed something upon their head other than hair, but rather about how they did their hair. Those who wanted women to pray and prophesy with their head uncovered wanted them to do so with their hair let down. If this is the scenario, then Paul would have been saying, “No, women have long hair for a reason. They should be using it to cover their head, not letting it down when they pray. If they don’t want to use it how it’s meant to be used, then they should just go ahead and cut it off.” That makes a lot of sense to me. It gives his argument force.

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For the Mouth of the Lord has Spoken

And it will come about in the last days
That the mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be established as the chief of the mountains.
It will be raised above the hills,
And the peoples will stream to it.

Many nations will come and say,
“Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord
And to the house of the God of Jacob,
That He may teach us about His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For from Zion will go forth the law,
Even the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

And He will judge between many peoples
And render decisions for mighty, distant nations.
Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they train for war.

Each of them will sit under his vine
And under his fig tree,
With no one to make them afraid,
For the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
– Micah 4:1-4

My wife pointed this out to me this morning.

In this prophecy, the nations do not disband their armies because they have all learned to forgive offenses or because they have been overcome with some spirit of love. What precipitates their disarmament is that the Lord is judging between them. “And he will judge between many people and render decisions for mighty, distant nations.” It isn’t because the nations have stopped having disputes with one another, but because God is judging between them when disputes arise.

And so they turn their weapons into more economically profitable things and stop making contingency plans. They sit under their vine or fig tree, enjoying the fruits of their own labor, in security and safety. Why? Because the mouth of the Lord has spoken, rendering a judgment and a verdict, and so the matter is settled.

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Because of the Angels

That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
– 1 Corinthians 11:10

 

In the first part of 1 Corinthians 11, the question is whether women should have their head covered when praying or prophesying. In chapters 12-14, Paul has a lot to say about prophesying and speaking in church in general. He notes at the end that women are to be silent in church, which means in context that they are forbidden from prophesying in the assembly. So this question about women and head coverings and prophesying is not about corporate worship. In the assembly, women keep silent, they don’t prophesy.

Yet this is not a hypothetical question about head coverings. Prophetesses were very much a thing and women did prophesy. Just not in assembly. When did they do it? I don’t know. (When did Miriam prophesy? Yet she was a prophetess.) If we hazard a guess that they did not prophesy in mixed company, then that suggests a reading of verse ten that makes some sense.

Perhaps the situation was that everyone in Corinth agreed that women should generally have their heads covered, but some were saying that when women were praying or prophesying they should uncover their heads, since there weren’t any men around. Paul’s counter-argument would be that there is a created order and women have their place in it and should always reflect that. There may not be any men around, but there are angels present, so women should still have a symbol of authority on their heads.

It’s speculative, but it is an idea. It is the only thing I have been able to come up with for what angels have to do with anything.

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Judge for Yourselves

Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.

But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.

Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
– 1 Corinthians 11:2-19

 

I used to read verses 11 & 12 as being Paul’s refutation of the argument he had just presented about the created order. I no longer think that makes sense, because the closing argument is clearly for head coverings of some kind and reiterates the idea of verse six.

The difficult thing in the passage is that verses eleven and twelve seem to be set against the arguments that came before. It could be that Paul is just mollifying his stance, reminding people not to run away with the idea of male headship, but that doesn’t make much sense to me. An easier way to do that would be to remind men that they are responsible to God for their behavior and that a man’s wife is his own flesh and no man has ever hated his own flesh, etc. What he actually says just sounds like it is undermining his earlier argument.

But perhaps I had it backward. I had thought that verses three through ten was Paul’s recap of his opponent’s argument and verses twelve and thirteen were his refutation. But it could be the other way around. Verses three through ten can be Paul’s own argument and verses eleven and twelve his summation of his opponent’s argument. That would help explain why it seems such a muddled argument without any clear point, and why it is so much shorter than what came before. Further, it explains why he then immediately says, “Judge for yourselves” and asks a rhetorical argument. That kind of verbiage can be used as a way of dismissing an argument that was just put forth.

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Thigh Rot

In Numbers 5, a process is given for trial by ordeal of a woman who is suspected of unfaithfulness by her husband. She gives an offering, takes an oath, and drinks a potion. If she is guilty of adultery, her abdomen will swell and her thigh rot. (‘Thigh’ here is, presumably, a euphemism.) If she is innocent, then nothing will happen and she can bear children.

Now, if a woman has committed adultery, then she has run the risk of getting pregnant. I would think, even, that the major trigger of suspicion for a man would be his wife turning up pregnant when he didn’t think she would. At any rate, I think we can expect some of these women to be pregnant. The guilty women would lose the ability to reproduce. It might be possible for them to come to term first and deliver the child, and then have their womb shrivel up and become unfruitful, but it seems unlikely that the effects of the curse would delay like that. There isn’t any indication in the text that they should. It seems more likely that the curse is expected to act as an abortifacient if the woman is guilty and pregnant.

And if that is the case, then we have a class of divinely sanctioned and effected abortions.

On the other hand, the second most likely grounds for suspicion that comes to my mind is finding that one’s wife has had a baby and a year or two later it doesn’t resemble one’s self. Maybe that is what is meant when it talks about the infidelity having been hidden: her infidelity went undetected all the way through to term and beyond. In that scenario, the potion would not act as an abortifacient, only as a prevention against any future conception. This reading seems to assume a lot, though.

As for fruit from a forbidden union being killed, there is clear precedent for that in David and Bathsheba. God forgives David, but the child conceived in adultery must die.

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Righteous Lot

And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)
– 2 Peter 2

Peter says of Lot that he is righteous. But when we read the story of Lot, we come away with the opposite conclusion. What gives?
I have theory on how to read Lot in a way that makes sense with Peter’s judgement.
The angels come into Sodom and set up in the town square. Lot invites them to stay the night with him. They demur. He insists. What is going on here? Perhaps Lot knows what will happen to them if they stay in the town square. Perhaps he is not just offering them a more comfortable place to stay, but he is giving them a safe place to stay. And if so, he is defending the stranger. There are very few things in the bible, if any, that are more noble than defending the vulnerable.
But at any rate, the angels stay the night in Lot’s house. The men of the town surround the house and demand to have their way with the strangers. Lot refuses. But he is facing a mob. He knows a fight is going to follow and that he cannot win it. So he offers his daughters. What is he doing? He is so set on defending the stranger that he is giving of his own to do so.
This is, of course, the part of the story that we find despicable. How can he offer to let them violate his daughters? It disgusts us. It looks cravenly. It looks like he isn’t willing to stand up for his own. It looks as if he considers his daughters worthless. But if you think of it instead as him giving of his own, it changes things. He is willing even to send his own valuable daughters to suffer on their behalf. It would be much easier to give in and just let the townspeople take the men. They are strangers. What do they mean to him? But he will defend them with everything he has.
We lack the covenantal mindset that would see this as a sacrifice that Lot is making of himself. But giving up one’s offspring to save others is about the greatest gift one can give. God sent his beloved son to suffer abuse and shame and even die that we might live. Does that make him selfish or generous? Is he being craven or is he sacrificing of himself? “For God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son…” He is sacrificing of himself. I suggest that Lot did the same.

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For the Joy Set before Him

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
– James 1:2

Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.

And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.

And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.
– Matthew 26:36-44

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
– Hebrews 12:2

 

We are to count it all joy when trials come upon us. But Jesus, in Gethsemane, was not thanking God and praising him with smiles. He was so upset he wanted to just die. He pleaded that if there were any other way, that things be done that way instead. He did not want to suffer at the hands of his enemies. He was not happy about it. He was not joyful.

But he did count it all joy, and so endured the shame and suffering of the cross, became obedient unto death, and is now enthroned at the right hand of the Majesty on High.

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