Category Archives: Sex

Food in the Bible: Exodus 22

There is a lot of material in this passage, but I would like to look overall at the connections between the disparate topics. Here is a sampling of the variety of commands in this chapter.

When someone steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, the thief shall pay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. The thief shall make restitution, but if unable to do so, shall be sold for the theft. (22:1)

When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. (22:16)

If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. (22:25)

This chapter combines rules about agriculture, sex and economics, three things we usually don’t talk about in the same sentence. For us these are distinct areas of life that we keep very separate. In the world of the Ancient Near East these things were understood to be inextricably linked, bound together.

Wendell Berry has also made the connection between our misuse and misunderstanding of sexuality and our similar misuse of the land.

Sexual love is the force that in our bodily life connects us most intimately to the Creation, to the fertility of the world, to farming and the care of animals. It brings us into the dance that holds the community together and joins it to its place (Sex, Economy, Community and Freedom, 133).

There is an uncanny resemblance between our behavior toward each other and our behavior toward the earth. Between our relation to our own sexuality and our relation to the reproductivity of the earth, for instance, the resemblance is plain and strong and apparently inescapable. By some connection that we do not recognize, the willingness to exploit one becomes the willingness to exploit the other. The conditions and the means of exploitation are likewise similar (Unsettling of America, 120).

(both quotes taken from Scripture, Culture and And Agriculture)

In other words, sexuality is not something separate and apart from the natural world. Rightly understood it is part of the continuing creation. Our relationship to each other is connected to our understanding of our connection to creation. If our view of others makes it possible for us to exploit them sexually or view them as objects, we will naturally objectify creation as something to be used and exploited. This passage also makes the connection between abuse of sex, abuse of the land and abuse of the poor. As said above, a willingness to exploit the land is connected to a willingness to exploit people. These things are inextricably linked.

Each of these areas involve breaches in relationships. The first area is a breach in relationship between neighbors and the animals and fields that constitute their livelihood and survival. The second area is a breach in appropriate sexual relationships in which one party is being exploited by another. The last are is a breach between those who have opportunity and means of sustenance and those who live on the margins of society. It is easy to see in the Ancient Near East how these areas overlap and interrelate. Social constructs gave women, aliens and the poor precarious positions in society. Their fate rested in the hands of others. These social constructs were connected to the agrarian “land-as-life” culture.

It is difficult for us in the modern world to see that these areas continue to be interrelated. There is no other way for us to survive than to live off the land. We have outsourced this task to foreign lands and foreign people in our own land. Therefore our relationship to the poor and to the land continues to be interconnected. We have most succeeded in divorcing sexuality from a “land-as-life” worldview.

Pornography, as one example, commodifies sexuality and turns it into a pleasure-producing product with no emotional or relational attachments. The lie is that pornography is not exploitative and does not hurt anyone. I think Berry delineates the way that misuse of sexuality creates the possibility for exploitation by objectifying others. It is not enough to simply be against exploitative forms of sexuality. In order to deal with the damaged relationship that this produces we must regain a positive understanding of sexuality that incorporates it into a holistic understanding of creation.