The Christian Right touts the need for biblical family values in modern society, but when the lives of famous biblical characters are examined, as was done in previous articles in this series, we quickly see that they were not the kind of role models that most parents today would like for their children to emulate. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob were all listed in Hebrews 11 as great "heroes of faith," but their individual stories in the Old Testament depict them as people who lied and practiced various other types of deception, who granted sexual favors for personal gain and sometimes engaged in polygamous relationships, who showed favoritism to their children, and did many other things that no decent family today would consider morality worthy of emulation.
This series would have to be continued indefinitely in order to examine the personal lives of all of the biblical characters whom Christians consider great servants of their god, so this final installment in the series will summarize only the "family values" of other notables whom the writer of Hebrews also listed as heroes of faith.
"By faith, Noah, being warned of God concerning things not seen as yet, prepared an ark to the saving of his house" (Heb. 11:7). In Genesis 6:9, Noah was described as a "righteous man," who was "perfect in his generation," so one would think that if any biblical character was worthy of imitation, certainly this man who was chosen of God to save human life from extinction would be the one. But one of Noah's first activities recorded after the flood was the planting of a vineyard, whose produce was used to make wine. Noah consumed so much of the wine that he became drunk and lay naked in a drunken stupor in his tent. When he later learned that his son Ham had seen him naked, he pronounced a curse upon Ham's descendants (Gen. 9:20-27). There just wasn't very much in the character of this man to admire.
"And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me if I tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword..." (Heb. 11:32-34). The Bible may attribute such deeds as these to some of these men, but it also attributes to them some deeds that are not quite so admirable.
To consider Jephthah a man who practiced "family values," new meaning would have to be given to the term. His mother was a harlot (Judges 11:1), which, of course, was no fault of his, but his treatment of the only child he had has to be one of the most despicable stories in the Bible. As he was preparing to battle the Ammonites, he vowed to Yahweh that if he were successful against them, whatever he first saw upon returning home, he would offer it as a burnt offering to Yahweh. After defeating the Ammonites, his daughter (his only child) came out to greet him when he returned to his house. He was kind enough to allow her two months to "bewail her virginity," after which he "did with her according to his vow" (Judges 11:29-40). What father today would consider this man's family values the kind to imitate?
According to a quaint little story in Judges 6-8, Gideon delivered the Israelites from Midianite bondage with an army of only 300 men, who lapped water like a dog (7:6-7), and then Gideon judged Israel for 40 years, during which time he sired 70 sons with his "many wives" and a concubine named Shechem (8:29-30). He hardly seemed the type of father the Christian Right would urge men to emulate.
Samson was the famous strong man of Israel, who killed a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass (Judges 15:15). Another feat of his was the "plucking up" of the gate and gateposts of Gaza, which he then carried away to the top of a mountain, but Sunday school lessons don't mention the fact that he did this after having visited a harlot in Gaza (16:1). After this, he developed a relationship with a beautiful Philistine woman named Delilah with whom he spent a lot of time in her "chamber." Although sexual activities between Samson and Delilah were never explicitly stated, they were certainly implied. Bribed by an offer of 1100 pieces of silver from each Philistine lord to betray him, Delilah twice begged Samson to reveal the secret of his strength, and both times he lied to her about its source. Each time, Delilah then betrayed her intentions by binding him in the manner Samson had described in his lies. If stupidity were a family value, then Samson would easily qualify as the all time hero of family values, because after twice seeing Delilah's real intentions, he foolishly succumbed to her wiles on a third attempt and told her that the real secret of his strength was in his hair. Delilah used this information to subdue him and deliver him to the Philistines for the money she had been promised. So Samson was a liar who consorted with harlots. If this is the Hebrew writer's idea of a "hero of faith," so be it, and if the Christians want him as an example of family values, they're welcome to him.
David was a man after Yahweh's own heart (1 Sam. 13:14: Acts 13:22), so what better way to conclude this discussion of biblical family values than with the legacy that David left? Like many other heroes of faith, David practiced polygamy but apparently wasn't satisfied with the sexual diversity to be found in having at least six wives (2 Sam. 3:2-5), for after becoming undisputed king over a united Israel, he demanded that Saul's daughter Michal be given to him as another wife. Before the rift developed between Saul and David, Saul had promised Michal to David for the foreskins of 200 Philistines, whom David then went out and killed in order to pay the dowry Saul had demanded (1 Sam. 18:27). By the time David had become king, Michal had married a man named Paltiel, but this didn't deter David from claiming her as another wife. Michal was taken by force from her husband, who followed along behind her weeping, until Abner (David's agent) turned and ordered him to return home (2 Sam. 3:12-16). How's that as an example of how to hold a family together with good old-fashioned biblical moral values? But such a display of petty vanity should only be expected from a man after Yahweh's own heart? Surely, when Christian men today are looking for role models in family values, David has to be far down on their list.
David, who now had at least seven wives, still wasn't satisfied, for one day when he saw from the roof of his house Bathsheba, the wife of a soldier in his army, bathing, he sent messengers to take her and bring her to his house. The result was an embarrassing pregnancy, which David tried to pin on Bathsheba's husband Uriah by calling him home on furlough to spend some time with his wife, but when Uriah refused to enjoy the pleasures of a conjugal visit while his unit was fighting a war, David sent him back with a letter to his commanding officer to put Uriah in a dangerous battle position and then withdraw from him so that he would be killed. When these orders were executed and Uriah was dead, David then took Bathsheba to be his eighth wife.
David ruled Israel for 40 years (2
Sam. 5:4) as did also Saul (Acts
13:21), since 40 seemed to be a good round number in those days.
When he was "old and stricken in years," he was covered with clothes
but could not be warmed (1
Kings 1:1), and so his servants suggested that a "young virgin" be
brought to the king so that she could "cherish him" and "lie in [his]
bosom" to keep him warm. They then searched for "a fair damsel
throughout all the borders of Israel and found Abishag the
Shunammite and brought her to David" (1:3).
No explanation was given for why the servants were so picky-picky and
why the damsel had to be a fair one if her duty was just going to be
keeping the king warm, but, anyway, Abishag was selected; she was
"fair," and she cherished the king and ministered to him, but the
king knew her not (1:4).
Nothing is said about whether the king wanted to know her but was
prevented from doing so by reason of his age and health. At any rate,
this is how David, the man after Yahweh's own heart, spent his final
days. It's enough to make skeptics also yearn for a return to the
family values of biblical times.
Go to Part Five of this