Father’s Torah and Man’s Heart, by Angus and Batya Wootten

[Editor’s note: It is probably a human tendency to assume that others will understand things the same way we do if we just acquaint them with the same information. What we do not take into account is that people have diverse personalities, circumstances, learning styles, and ways of perceiving the world. That translates into diverse understandings of the same information. Which leads to another human tendency: to resist this diversity and compel others to accept our own understanding as the correct view.
Perhaps the saddest corollary to these tendencies is that spiritually minded people are not immune to them. In fact, some of the worst excesses in human history have come because of religious differences. The Torah Awakening is no exception. This is something Angus and Batya Wootten addressed in an article published in the House of David Herald in 1999.
Since Angus left us for his eternal reward earlier this year, BYNA has been republishing his articles in tribute to his memory and in honor of his contributions to the awakening of the House of Joseph in our generation. The article posted here is the first of many we will post that Angust co-authored with Batya. While both of them wrote well and persuasively, in their collaboration we see the melding of male and female perspective to present their complete heart as a couple. Angus’ legacy would not be complete without Batya, and her legacy is incomplete without him. As we approach Sukkot, the time our Heavenly Father has set apart for Messiah and His Bride to become one, we examine what Angus and Batya share as foundational to our forward progress. Their counsel? Rather than preach and argue, celebrate!]

Father’s Torah and Man’s Heart

By Angus and Batya Wootten – May 1999

As redeemed Israel, how does the Father want us to walk? In particular, how does He want us to handle the issue of “law versus grace”?

We must answer these questions because, as we labor to restore both “Judah and Ephraim” as brothers, we continually encounter two primary problems, both of which have to do with the “partial hardening” of “both the houses of Israel” (Romans 11:25; Isaiah 8:14; Genesis 48:19).

These problems are:

    1. Judah’s blindness to Messiah Yeshua as our “Divine Redeemer” (Psalm 49:7-9,15).[1]
    2. Ephraim’s blindness to the “wisdom of Torah” (Hosea 8: 12; Deuteronomy 4:6).[2]

Because Israel’s restoration primarily begins with Ephraim’s actions (Isaiah 11:13; Jeremiah 31:18-19; Romans 11), we focus on his problem with “Torah.” For, with this Issue, we wish to begin a series of “Torah Studies.” However, we want them to be of a different spirit than most Torah studies we have seen thus far.

So, in our attempt to rebuild “David’s fallen house,” we will first establish the “types of materials” we will use, and we will define a certain “framework.”

To begin, we see that in the parable of the prodigal, Yeshua tells of a father who has a younger “prodigal” son, who in turn has an older brother who is not happy about the wanderer’s return home (Luke 15:11-32).

This story well depicts Ephraim’s and Judah’s present state. For, in our day many of Believing Ephraim (Genesis 48:19) are coming to a place of repentance (Jeremiah 31:18-19), and they want to return “home” to their “roots.” However, in many cases, the older son, “Judah,” is not happy with Ephraim’s emersion from the pig sty.

Again, we seek to reunite the Father’s “two brothers.” And in our article “From Orphans to Heirs,” we explained that the “how do we reunite them” answer is for Ephraim to “celebrate.”[3]

To provoke the older brother [Judah] to jealousy, Ephraim must “make merry and be glad;” he must “celebrate and rejoice.” For our Heavenly Father wants Judah to “join the party.” He even wants those of Ephraim to make Judah “want” to join the celebration.

Yes, that is the job long ago assigned to Ephraim: Make Judah want what you have! To have Ephraim (they being the formerly “wild olive branches”) provoke Judah to “jealousy” was, and still is, the Father’s plan of salvation for “all Israel” (Jeremiah 11:10, 16; 2:18, 21; Romans 11).

The problem is, to accomplish this divine assignment, Ephraim, who has for so long seen himself as an orphan, needs to see that he too is an heir. For, then, he will cease to be “jealous” of Judah (Isaiah 11:13; Jeremiah 31:18-19). Then, he will see Judah as a “member of the family.” Then, the whole house of Israel will find total healing and restoration. And thus, Ephraim needs to see that the parable of the prodigal offers a solution to the reunion problem.

To Make Jealous – Make Merry!

“Meal during the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot),” anonymous, after Bernard Picart, ca. 1720-1725, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

In this parable, the older brother was provoked because – his younger brother was “celebrating and rejoicing,” or “making merry.” This is translated from euphraino, euphraino (yoo-frah ‘ee-no), which means, to be in a good frame of mind, to make glad, to be or to make merry, to rejoice.[4]

Thus we see that legalism and religion will not provoke Judah. Celebration will (which explains why so many non-Jews feel an unexplainable urge to “celebrate the Feasts of Israel”).[5]

So, as we seek to rebuild David’s fallen tent (Amos 9:11; Acts 15:16), we will not use any form of legalism. It will have no place in this project.

Under the Law?

As we build, we will categorically refuse to have anything to do with putting people “under the Law” (Romans 2: 12).

But . . . on the other hand, we do not want to subject anyone to a bad translation of Scripture.

And, we question whether most people understand what Paul actually meant when he spoke of people being “under the law.” Paul said, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law” (1 Corinthians 9:20).

Was Paul saying he was a two-faced chameleon who felt the end justified the means? Or, is Paul’s statement better translated in David Stern’s Jewish New Testament?

With Jews, what I did was put myself in the position of a Jew, in order to win Jews. With people in subjection to a legalistic perversion of the Torah, I put myself in the position of someone under such legalism, in order to win those under this legalism, even though I myself am not in subjection to a legalistic perversion of the Torah.

Paul is explaining that, when he encountered a Jew who was in bondage to legalism, he empathized with him. He identified with him. He tried to speak his language. But . . . Paul himself was not in such bondage.

Instead, Paul explains what he does identify with:

He says, “With those who live outside the framework of Torah, I put myself in the position of someone outside the Torah in order to win those outside the Torah – although I myself am not outside the framework of God’s Torah but within framework of Torah as upheld by the Messiah.” (1 Corinthians 9:21 JNT)

Messiah’s Torah Framework

The “framework” upon which Messiah hung the Torah is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Love” is the framework upon which all Torah instruction must hang. For if we “know all mysteries and all knowledge,” but “do not have love,” we are “nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).

All Torah teaching must first be based on a true love of God and neighbor (Leviticus 19:18).

But even that is not enough. . . .

Teachers of Torah must always point to and lift up Messiah Yeshua. For, all things are being “summed up” in Him. He “fills all,” is “in all,” and must always be our focus (Ephesians 1:10-11, 23; John 12:32).

Moreover, “if we are led by the Spirit, we will not be under the [perverted system that distorts the truth of the) Law.” (Galatians 5:18) Further, we will not subject ourselves, nor allow others to subject us to, the perversion of legalism. We will not submit to it for a minute (Galatians 2:5).

But on the other hand . . . It is not wise to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water – which is what Ephraim has done in the past.

The perfectly good “baby” we have thrown out is called “Wisdom.” For our Father says of His Torah Instructions: “Keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding.” (Deuteronomy 4:6)

Wisdom is translated from the Hebrew word chokmah (khok-maw). It speaks of good sense, of being skillful, of acting wisely.[6]

Surely we do not want to throw out good sense. And so in our restoration process we will honor good sense by looking to the Torah for answers (2 Timothy 3:16). However . . . we also must have the good sense to know that we cannot boast about being a “Torah keeper.” For, it is impossible for anyone to truly “keep” Torah because its sacrificial system has been abolished. We cannot keep all of Torah. Because, to “keep” Torah, we must keep all of Torah (Romans 2:25; Galatians 5:3; Jeremiah 9:25).

So, boasting about observing Torah principles is not something we can use in this rebuilding program.

Besides, we should have the “good sense” to realize that if our Father laid down certain laws, and then it became literally impossible for us to keep those laws (i.e., Deuteronomy 16:2; Exodus 30:19-20), then we can only conclude one of two things: Either He is impotent and asleep at the switch, or, He is trying to send us a message.

The answer is the latter, and the message is, by the power of His Ruach HaKodesh He will write His New Covenant Torah on the tablets of our formerly stony hearts. Thus, the work is done by the Holy Spirit – not by boasting about our keeping Torah (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Hebrews 8:10, 10:16).

Excesses

Returning to our question, “How does the Father want Israel to walk?” it appears the supposed “answers” are primarily divided into two camps:

    1. “Law” that leads to “legalism”
    2. “Grace” that leads to “licentiousness”

Legalism versus licentiousness. Self-righteousness versus self-indulgence. Both are excesses. Both lead to a pit. So, what is the answer?

To begin, we try to define “Law and Grace.” And, grace is simply, unmerited favor. However, the Hebrew word Torah – usually translated law – means a precept or statute, especially the Decalogue or Pentateuch, and it comes from yarah, a root word meaning, to flow as water (i.e. to rain); to throw, especially an arrow (see 2 Chronicles 26: 15), to shoot; to point out, to teach, to direct, inform, instruct, show, teach.[7]

However, the English word law primarily means, “a rule of conduct or procedure established by custom, agreement, or authority . . . rules and principles governing the affairs of a community . . . a legal system . . . justice . . . legislation; legal action, proceedings, litigation . . . absolute authority. . . .” (The American Heritage Dictionary).

What we miss through our use of the word law is the Hebrew root of Torah, meaning the emphasis of, to flow as water, to be like an arrow, to point out, to direct, to inform, instruct, to show, to teach.

Yahveh says of His Instructions: “Keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” And, “You shall therefore keep every commandment which I am commanding you today, so that you may be strong and go in and possess the land.” (Deuteronomy 4:6; 11:8)

If with a right heart attitude, we seek to walk in these commands, then, we will be made strong – courageous, able to conquer, of good courage, mighty, able to prevail, to behave valiantly.[8]

However, if we are legalistic and self-righteous about our being so “mature” that we are now “keeping” Torah, we will be used by the evil one to blind others to the strength and wisdom that flows forth from Torah. We will cause our Father’s people to miss the benefit of truths that teach His finer ways – truths that help them flow in the right direction, and to overcome life’s adversities.

Thus, in our studies we will seek to destroy every destructive implement of the evil one that we can find. And, we will seek to build up by using every wise Torah tool available to us.\

Laying Down the Law of Grace

Concerning “Grace only” teachings, we find that, if we lay down a “law” that “gives the answer,” then we have created yet another “law.” This is so even if we say there is “no law, but only grace.” For then, “grace only” becomes our “law.”

While we are saved only by “grace” (Ephesians 2:8), still, the fact remains that our Messiah has eternal laws (John 12:48-50). Moreover, it also is a fact that He shows mercy to lawbreakers.

Law and Grace. Both are true. Both are depicted in their true harmony in the life of Messiah Yeshua. For, He kept all the Father’s law, and yet was and still is, the personification of Grace.

Does grace have to necessarily do away with Torah? Can we not use the truths of both law and grace to rebuild David’s fallen booth?

Yes, we can and we will. However, to settle this ancient dispute, we must realize that, it is not really an argument about law “versus” grace. Instead, it is an issue of the “attitudes” of the proponents of either side. For, transgression first proceeds from the heart: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false Witness, slanders.” (Matthew 15:19)

Thus Hebrews 4:12 explains, “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Our Father’s Word is an ever-acting critic of the thought-life, motivations, and purposes of our human hearts. It reveals the hidden things. Thus, “all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4: 13)

This is true even if we are ignorant of the Father’s teachings. For, “The requirements of the law are written in our hearts, our consciences also bearing witness, and our thoughts now accusing, now even defending us.” (Romans 2: 15)

The Ruach HaKodesh is always at work in us, either bearing witness in our hearts that what we are thinking or doing is correct, or attempting to convict us of our error.

Thus, the argument is not one of “law versus grace.” Instead, heart attitude is the issue. And, the “heart” of the New Covenant promised to Israel is that, Yahveh will put His “laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.”

Our Father promised to “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. Not like the covenant . . . made with their fathers . . . which they broke.” Instead, He says, He will make a new covenant only with “the house of Israel.” Of it, He says, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)

Our Father found “fault” with both houses: Israel (Ephraim) and Judah (Hebrews 8:8-10). And, when they fully enter into His new covenant, they are “Israel.” He no longer accepts their divided state. Instead, He makes a new covenant only with a reunited “Israel.” (Ephesians 2: 14)

Further, this covenant will not be totally fulfilled until the millennial age – for, at that time, “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:11)

Until that time, the Father is still attempting to write His Torah truths on the hard hearts of His scattered Israelite children.

Accepting the Yoke of the Holy One

In the past, Ephraim had a bad attitude toward Torah, and, the Father said of him, “Though I wrote for him ten thousand precepts of My law, they are regarded as a strange thing.” (Hosea 8:12) And, “Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh, but I will come over her fair neck with a yoke; I will harness Ephraim.” (Hosea 10:1 1)

So, He sent Messiah, and He told us to, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)

Once the veil is lifted from Ephraim‘s heretofore blinded eyes, once he is properly “instructed” (Jeremiah 31:18), then in Messiah Yeshua, Ephraim will accept the “yoke” of a Torah that is based on love. For, Messiah’s Torah yoke is a gentle yoke that brings rest to the weary soul.

Thus, in our rebuilding program we will not use tools of pagan trade, nor build with “traditions of men,” be they from Rome or Babylon. Instead, we will seek to destroy all deviant teachings – Christian and/or Jewish (Isaiah 27:9).

With our Torah study we issue a call to all Israel to, “Come up higher.” For, if we will respond to this call and begin to build in true righteousness, we will soon see David’s glorious, fully restored tent!

So . . . Let the building program begin!


[1] See Batya Ruth Wootten, “Forsaking Our First Love,” “Is the ‘Greek’ New Covenant Inspired? Is Yeshua Divine,” and “The I Am, His Son, and The ‘Trinity,’” House of David Herald 8-10 (October 1996), 8-6 (June 1996), and 8-7 (July 1996).
[2] See Batya Ruth Wootten, “Good Laws – Bad Attitudes,” “Torah and The Two Witnesses,” and, Yahveh’s Calendar versus Compromise With Babylon and Rome,” House of David Herald 6-10 (October 1994), 6-11 (November 1994), and 6-8 (August 1994).
[3] Batya Ruth Wootten, “From Orphans to Heirs,” House of David Herald 9-12 (December 1997).
[4] Strong’s word #G2165.
[5] For celebration suggestions see Batya Ruth Wootten, “Celebrating Passover As Never Before!” “Shavuot and Two Leavened Loaves,” “Yahveh‘s Calendar versus Compromise with Babylon and Rome,” “Restoring The Fallen Booth of David: A Tabernacles Celebration,” House of David Herald 9-3 (March 1997), 9-5 (May 1997), 6-10 (October 1994), 5-9 (September 1993); and Angus and Batya Wootten, “The Way of the Gentiles,” House of David Herald 5-12 (December 1993).
[6] Strong’s Concordance word #H2451.
[7] Strong’s Concordance words # 8451 and 3384 respectively.
[8] 7 Strong’s Concordance word # H2388.

Read Through the Bible with the Barking Fox – Reading Plan for 5781 (2020-2021)

A Statenbijbel (States Bible), Paulus Aertsz. van Ravesteyn, Leiden, 1637. The Word of God – the Bible – is at the heart of the Dutch Reformed faith. In 1619 the States General, the Netherlands’ highest governing body, commissioned a new, ‘pure’ translation, which for use in every church. That is why this Bible is called the “States Bible.” The translation took eighteen years, with every word is subject to lengthy debate, before publication in in 1637. (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, item NG-536.)

What is the longest running and largest Bible study in human history? That is one way to describe the Torah reading cycle that Jews around the world have followed for many centuries. Every year, Jewish families and congregations read through the five books of Moses (Torah), along with selected portions from other books of the Hebrew scriptures (the Tanakh, or Old Testament).

There are many advantages to this way of studying the Bible, such as creating the identity of a “global Jewish congregation” that transcends national, doctrinal, cultural, and ethnic barriers. Any Jew from any country can enter a synagogue in any other country on any Shabbat and know what Torah portion they are studying. Imagine what that has done to preserve Jewish identity during the centuries of exile to every corner of the earth – and how it has strengthened the nations as the scattered Jewish people have returned to the Promised Land of Israel!

Why can’t Christians, Messianic, and Hebrew Roots believers do the same? Why not adopt the Jewish Torah reading cycle, and add to it all the Apostolic Writings (New Testament) and other portions of the Tanakh not included in the cycle? What would it do to our unity as followers of Messiah Yeshua, and to our shared spiritual heritage with our Jewish brethren?

That is the motivation behind this reading plan. Starting with the Torah and Haftarah annual cycle, this plan for the Hebrew year 5781 (2020-2021) incorporates readings from  the rest of the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings into a daily plan that covers the entire Bible over the course of the year. If you are in search of an organized approach to the Word of God, maybe this can help.  Whatever you do, please do get into the Word so that it can get into you!

Read Through the Bible with the Barking Fox – Reading Plan for 5780 (2019-2020)

Pekka Halonen, Children Reading (EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Espoo, Finland, via Wikimedia Commons)

When Messiah establishes His kingdom on the throne of His father David, everyone will be surprised.  One reason is the thoughts and ways of infinite God are incomprehensible to mortal humans (Isaiah 55:8-9).  That is not necessarily a bad thing since our Heavenly Parent, YHVH delights in surprising His children.  Those who study the Word of God will always have an incomplete understanding of it, but their hearts will develop a readiness for the instruction of His Holy Spirit.  It is this teachable heart that will help these people adjust quickly to life in the Kingdom – just as the Scripture says:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  (II Timothy 2:15 KJV)

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (II Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV)

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”  (Matthew 4:4 NKJV, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3)

In the interest of helping the people of YHVH study to show themselves approved unto God, The Barking Fox humbly presents the Bible Reading Plan for the Hebrew year 5780 (2019-2020).  This is the sixth year for our reading plan. Thanks to everyone who pointed out typos, omissions, and other errors in previous editions. Every year brings improvement because of you!

This plan takes the Torah and Haftarah cycle as the foundation for reading entire Bible. Torah and Haftarah readings follow the one-year Jewish and Messianic divisions, with Torah readings divided into daily portions and Haftarah readings occurring on Shabbat. (Note that chapter and verse designations are according to the Christian rather than Jewish numbering.)

Torah and Haftarah readings for the Moedim (Feasts of the Lord) appear in italics. Readings for the rest of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and Apostolic Writings (New Testament) proceed through a daily plan that covers all of the Scriptures over the course of the year. In a new feature this year, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon are presented in daily readings rather than sequentially with the rest of the Tanakh.

The first weekly readings for the year 5780 correspond to the final readings of the previous cycle, which is why this plan begins with the last chapters of both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. This year is also a leap year on the Hebrew (Jewish) calendar, which means there is a thirteenth month, called Adar II, added in the winter, just before the month of Nisan.

Finally, this is likely to be the last year The Barking Fox will publish this Bible Reading Plan. That’s because, after six years, it’s time to bring an end to this blog. But don’t worry! This Bible Reading Plan, as well as other material on this blog, is being made available to B’ney Yosef North America for revision and republication on their website and in their newsletter. Look for further details here and on the BYNA site in the coming weeks, but if all goes as planned, this time next year The Barking Fox Bible Reading Plan will become the BYNA Bible Reading Plan!

If you are in search of an organized approach to the Word of God, maybe this can help.  Whatever you do, please do get into the Word so that it can get into you!

Please click here to download the Bible reading plan: TBF Bible Readings 5780 (PDF)


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2014-2020.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Read Through the Bible with the Barking Fox – Reading Plan for 5779 (2018-2019)

Jean-Baptists Greuze, A Father Reading the Bible to His Family (Ferens Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-father-reading-the-bible-to-his-family-78569)

When Messiah establishes His kingdom on the throne of His father David, everyone will be surprised.  One reason is the thoughts and ways of infinite God are incomprehensible to mortal humans (Isaiah 55:8-9).  That is not necessarily a bad thing since our Heavenly Father delights in surprising His children.  Those who study the Word of God will always have an incomplete understanding of it, but their hearts will develop a readiness for the instruction of His Holy Spirit.  It is this teachable heart that will help these people adjust quickly to life in the Kingdom – just as the Scripture says:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  (II Timothy 2:15 KJV)

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (II Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV)

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”  (Matthew 4:4 NKJV, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3)

In the interest of helping people study to show themselves approved unto God, The Barking Fox humbly presents the Bible Reading Plan for the Hebrew year 5779 (2018-2019).  This is the fifth year for our reading plan. Special credit goes to Hein Zentgraf for his outstanding work in proofreading and editing this edition. Thanks to his help, this is the most complete and error-free reading plan we have yet produced!

This is a Bible reading plan that goes through the entire Bible in one year through a combination of the Jewish and Christian approaches toward the Scriptures.

The Jewish approach is to read through the Torah (the five books of Moses) in weekly portions, combined with selections from the Haftarah, which are selected readings from the Prophets and other books of the Tanakh (Old Testament).  The Torah cycle begins after the Fall Feasts (Rosh Hashanah/Trumpets, Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, and Sukkot/Tabernacles), and goes through the entire year to the next occurrence of the Fall Feasts.  This year the cycle begins the week of September 30-October 6.  The Torah cycle is presented in daily portions as one would find in a Jewish or Messianic reading plan.  The Haftarah readings occur each Shabbat (Sabbath), with additional Haftarah selections for the Feasts appearing at those times during the year.

This plan also follows a popular Christian method of reading through all 66 books of the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings (New Testament) every year.  All of the Tanakh, from Joshua to Malachi, as well as the Apostolic Writings from Matthew to Revelation, appear as daily portions along with the Torah and Haftarah readings.  There is no intentional connection of these readings with the Torah portions, just a straightforward presentation of each book in the order they appear in the Christian canon.

If you are in search of an organized approach to the Word of God, maybe this can help.  Whatever you do, please do get into the Word so that it can get into you!

If you are in search of an organized approach to the Word of God, maybe this can help.  Whatever you do, please do get into the Word so that it can get into you!

Please click here to download the Bible reading plan: TBF Bible Readings 5779 (PDF)


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2014-2019.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Best Decision I Ever Made: Delighting in the Wife of My Youth

Charlayne and me on our wedding day, August 15, 1987.

The last thing I thought I needed in the fall of 1986 was a girlfriend. When the Army had assigned me to Germany three years earlier, I half expected that I might find the woman of my dreams there. A few fun-but-fruitless relationships later, I realized that this process was more complicated that I thought, and far more difficult. And so, when I made my way to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, at the beginning of November for the next phase of my military career, I determined that it would be better to get a dog than find a girlfriend. Oddly enough (seeing that God has quite the sense of humor), it was nearly thirty more years before I would get a dog, but the woman of my dreams was only days away from walking into my life.

It happened on Sunday, November 9, 1986, at the First Baptist Church of Sierra Vista, Arizona. Charlayne was among the single young adults in the Sunday School class that morning, but her presence didn’t register with me until that evening, when I joined the church at the evening worship service. That’s when this vision of loveliness came bounding down the aisle to give me a hug and welcome me into the congregation. She also invited me to go out with all the singles to the Village Inn for pie. It was an unexpected, but very agreeable, invitation. What was more unexpected, and even more agreeable, was how quickly we became good friends. Within days we were dating, and within six weeks we were engaged.

I tell people that we were engaged by decree of my mother-in-law, and it’s true. Both of us had plans for our lives that a serious relationship would disrupt. As we grew closer and closer, the thought of those disruptions caused us no end of distress, until one Sunday afternoon they brought us to the brink of panic. We asked her parents to come over and talk with us. They sat in her apartment listening to us talk things out for about an hour and a half, and then her mother said the last thing I expected: “Well, it seems to me you kids need to get married.”

Many times in my life, a sense of peace has settled over me, indicating that God’s answer in the present predicament had been revealed. That moment in Charlayne’s apartment was one of the first, and is still one of the most profound, of those occasions. When her mother said the one thing we had dared not consider, we knew it was right, and it was holy. We were married some months later, and after 31 years we remain true to the covenant that established our household when we were young.

I do not recall whether any woman other than Char has ever captured my attention in any way that might cause her to be a rival to the wife of my youth. I have had many female friends and coworkers, some of whom have been quite attractive, but in all those years, I cannot remember a time when any of them attracted me in any inappropriate way. Perhaps I am peculiar in that regard; I have known many situations when such attractions severely damaged and even ended the marriages of people I knew. In our culture, we do not look favorably on unfaithfulness to the marriage covenant. For reasons grounded in Scripture, we in the West have, since time immemorial, taken seriously and literally the words of Moses and Yeshua (Jesus) that a man must leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife as one flesh. Even King Henry VIII of England could not get around those words. When his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, could not produce a male heir, he annulled the marriage and took Anne Boleyn. When she produced no male heir, he found a reason to have her executed (one can do that if one is a king), and replaced her with Jane Seymour. She became mother to his only son, but died only days later. Henry’s next wife, Anne of Cleves, was so young and innocent that he chose to annul the marriage rather than consummate it. In her place, he married Catherine Howard, a young-but-not-so-innocent woman whose flirtatious behavior eventually cost her her head. That left Catherine Parr, the wife who outlived the old king.

I learned the tale of Henry VIII as a boy, thanks to a classic BBC miniseries about his life. It struck me as odd that Martin Luther himself had stated his preference that the king commit bigamy and marry Anne Boleyn rather than divorce the first Catherine. Henry did not adopt Luther’s prescription as far as I can tell, but chose annulment instead. It helped that Catherine was Spanish and Catholic; in one stroke, he ended a cumbersome political entanglement and its attendant religious fetters. When the Roman Church refused to grant the annulment (perhaps because the reigning pope was at that time a prisoner of Catherine’s nephew, Emperor Charles V), Henry simply declared England separate from Rome and established the Anglican Church.

It is the stuff of soap operas, but it is our history. So also are the tales of the patriarchs and many great men of the Bible. Abraham, Jacob, Elkanah, David, Solomon, and the kings of Judah and Israel seemed to have no trouble taking multiple wives. After all, there is no Scriptural prohibition against polygamy. The closest thing to a prohibition that appears in the Bible is Paul’s advice to Titus and Timothy that congregational elders should have but one wife. I surmise that Paul’s wise counsel came not merely from his extensive knowledge of the Torah and the traditions of the elders, but his experience in guiding the many congregations forming in the Mediterranean world of his day. Perhaps that experience is what motivated him to write what I believe is the best word on this matter:

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 NASB)

Lawful, but not profitable. Is that not the lesson of the Patriarchs? King Henry VIII may have been thinking about the woeful consequences in the households of those men – consequences that included incest, murder, extreme sibling rivalry, jealousy, and all manner of dysfunction. I saw the same phenomenon when I studied the Ottoman Empire. No prince who attained the sultanate was safe as long as his half brothers from his father’s other wives were still alive. King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia understood this quite well, which is why he arranged for his sons from his many wives to rule sequentially so that none of them would be the father of a new dynasty. The last of those sons is on the throne in Riyadh today, sixty-five years after his father’s death.

I do not know much about the wives of these polygamous kings, whether of ancient Israel, Ottoman Turkey, or modern Saudi Arabia. The best commentary I heard came from a Saudi amir whose hospitality I enjoyed in 1990, while I served with the army deployed there to defend his country from Iraqi aggression. Over the course of our conversation, the question of Muslim views on marriage came up. Multiple wives entered into the religious culture of Islam because it was already a cultural institution in Arabia. Muhammad seems to have endeavored to regulate the practice, which is why the custom is to limit a man to four wives. What the life of those wives is like, I do not know, but I have heard some terrible things. What I do know is that this kindly amir who had invited us into his home told us that, for some reason which he confessed he did not understand, his sons wanted to depart from the precedent of his household. They believed, he said, that it would be better to marry only one wife, and that only for love.

This is an interesting perspective when compared with something I heard from an American friend of mine. He lives in close proximity to polygamous families of the Mormon faith. They are nice people, he says, but the practice of polygamy has served only to oppress the women and disrupt the families. Is that a consistent result of multiple wives in one family? Or is it the result of imposing such a model on a culture that is accustomed to one man marrying one woman for life? This I cannot say.

What I can say is that many cultures do have marriage practices that differ from my own. This came to my attention in an unusual way in 2009 upon the election of former president Jacob Zuma of South Africa. Another friend of mine, founder of an influential prayer ministry, sent out a notice asking prayer for Mr. Zuma and his wives (four at the time). She did not issue that notice in a judgmental way, but rather in the same way as she had done when asking prayer for other heads of state. It just so happened that this one was polygamous. It was merely a statement of fact: this particular president of this particular country needed prayer for himself in his new role, and for his family, which happened to include several wives and children by them.

I think my friend did well in asking for such prayer in the usual way. Another friend of mine tells me that we will encounter many followers of Yeshua in Africa and other places who genuinely love God and love their many wives. It is their culture. He, himself, comes from a native culture in America that is matrilineal, and whose marriage norms are different from those of my Scottish, Irish, and English ancestors. I do not understand such a culture, nor do I desire to adopt it, nor is there a need to do so. At the same time, there is no need to impose my culture on his. Such a thing would be unhealthy at best, and genocidal at worst (another sad fact I cannot ignore from our history).

Where, then, does this leave me? It leaves me with the wife of my youth. Charlayne has satisfied me in every way. Why would I seek another to take her place, or to share me with her? It is not my culture. It is not right to her, to our children, and to the many people whom we have enriched through our example as man and wife. Neither is it consistent with the vows we both took to establish our marriage covenant. When I married her, my father said to me, “We McCarns marry for keeps.” Now, over 30 years later, I know the great wisdom of his words.


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2018.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.