The Original Principle   1 comment

Above:  Nablus, Palestine, Ottoman Empire, 1918 (Built on the Site of Shechem)


Joshua 24:1-14 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem.  He summoned Israel’s elders and commanders, magistrates and officers; and they presented themselves before God.  Then Joshua said to all the people,

Thus said the LORD, the God of Israel:  In olden times, your forefathers–Terah, father of Abraham and father of Nahor–lived beyond the Euphrates and worshiped other gods.  But I took your father Abraham from beyond the Euphrates and led him through the whole land of Canaan and multiplied his offspring.  I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau.  I gave Esau the hill country of Seir as his possession, while Jacob and his children went down to Egypt.

Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with [the wonders] that I wrought in their midst, after which I freed you–I freed your fathers–from Egypt, and you came to the Sea.  But the Egyptians pursued your fathers to the Sea of Reeds with chariots and horsemen.  They cried out to the LORD, and He put darkness between you and the Egyptians; then He brought the Sea upon them, and it covered them.  Your own eyes saw what I did to the Egyptians.

“After you had lived a long time in the wilderness, I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived beyond the Jordan.  They gave battle to you, but I delivered them into your hands; I annihilated them for you, and you took possession of their land.  Thereupon Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, made ready to attack Israel.  He sent for Balaam son of Beor to curse you, but I refused to listen to Balaam; he had to bless you, and thus I saved you from him.

Then you crossed the Jordan and you came to Jericho.  The citizens of Jericho and the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites, and Jebusites fought you, but I delivered them into your hands.  I sent a plague ahead of you, and it drove them out before you–[just like] the two Amorite kings–not by your sword or by your bow.  I have given you a land for which you did not labor and towns which you did not build, and you have settled in them; you are enjoying vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.

Now, therefore, revere the LORD and serve Him with undivided loyalty; put away the gods that your forefathers served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt, and serve the LORD….

Psalm 136:1-3, 16-22 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

for his mercy endures for ever.

2 Give thanks to the God of gods,

for his mercy endures for ever.

3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,

for his mercy endures for ever.

16 Who led his people through the wilderness,

for his mercy endures for ever.

17 Who struck down great kings,

for his mercy endures for ever;

18 And slew mighty kings,

for his mercy endures for ever;

19 Sihon, king of the Amorites,

for his mercy endures for ever;

20 And Og, the king of Bashan,

for his mercy endures for ever;

21 And gave away their lands for an inheritance,

for his mercy endures for ever;

22 An inheritance for Israel his servant,

for his mercy endures for ever.

Matthew 19:3-12 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then the Pharisees arrived with a test-question.

Is it right,

they asked,

for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds whatever?

He answered,

Haven’t you read that the one who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said: “For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the twain shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two separate people but one.  No man therefore must separate what God has joined together.

They retorted,

Then why did Moses command us to give a written divorce notice and dismiss the woman?

He answered,

It was because you knew so little about the meaning of love that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives!  But that was not the original principle.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife on any grounds except her unfaithfulness and marries some other woman commits adultery.

His disciples said to him,

If that is a man’s position with his wife, it is not worth getting married!

Jesus replied,

It is not everybody who can accept this principle–only those who have a special gift.  For some are incapable of marriage from birth, some are made incapable by the action of men, and some have made themselves so for the kingdom of Heaven.  Let the man who can accept what I have said accept it.


The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Marriage is indeed a great gift, and not one for everybody.  I write as a never-married man who is content to remain unattached.  It is good that I am not a Mormon, for my single state would place me at a great spiritual disadvantage within that tradition.  But, as William Barclay wrote in Volume 2 of his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew:

…there are those who have taken upon themselves voluntarily vows of chastity, celibacy, purity, poverty, abstinence, continence.  That will not be the way for the ordinary man, but the world would be a poorer place were it not for those who accept the challenge to travel alone for the sake of the work of Christ.  (Page 208)

Here are links to other posts pertaining to divorce:



Now, for my main point…

The reading from Joshua is the first part of a speech which continues with the devotion for Saturday in the week of Proper 14, Year 1.  So, to help provide a hint of what verses 1-13 build up to, I have extended the reading by one verse:

Now, therefore, revere the LORD and serve Him with undivided loyalty; put away the gods that your forefathers served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.

That is the original purpose of the many laws of the covenant.  It is possible to become lost in the details of any elaborate law code, thereby reducing morality to a check list.  But that misses the point and evades the spirit of the law.  We human beings are as we think, for actions (excluding accidents) flow from attitudes.  And both the Old and New Testaments tell us to God fully and our neighbors as we love ourselves.  That is the big picture, the forest view.  So let us avoid becoming legalistic, lost amid the trees while deluding ourselves into thinking that we are practicing righteousness.

Let us consider the issue of divorce, for example.  The Law of Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife for almost any reason, but he had to issue a certificate of divorce.  And she had the right to remarry in such an event.  The assumed reason in the Mosaic Law was adultery, but the letter of the law did not specify this.  So, in a highly patriarchal age, a woman might find herself at great economic risk due to the whims of an uncaring man.  Jesus condemned this.

There was also a practice called Korban, by which a person gave property to the religious establishment, for the support of the professional religious.  This was often noble and well-intentioned, but not always.  Some used this as a way of depriving family members with whom they were at odds of financial support.  Jesus condemned this, too.

Many of us in the human species like to game any given system for own advantage, fulfilling the letter of a specified legal or religious system to appear good.  But we do not fool God when we act for selfish reasons.  God tells us to love each other, to care for each other, to support each other in our common life together.  That is the big picture, the forest view.  How is that for an original principle?






Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on February 1o, 2011

Adapted from this post:


Posted October 6, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Joshua 24, Matthew 19, Psalm 136

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One response to “The Original Principle

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  1. Pingback: Week of Proper 14: Friday, Year 1 « ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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