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D'varim/Deuteronomy 24:5 When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out in the army ...
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The first verb in this verse, , the 3ms Qal prefix form of the root , to take - forms part of a common biblical Hebrew idiom for marriage. Literally, "to take a woman", means to marry; the noun simply means "a woman" and she becomes a wife - as far as the text is concerned - when she is taken or belongs to someone. Here, asRashi points out, for the army exemption to apply, she must be , a new wife; new to him, although she may be a widow or a divorcee from another man. The word 'new' prevents a man from divorcing his wife then remarrying her in order to get a year off army duty.
The whole verse reads, "When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army, nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken" (NASB). Drawing upon the words of the Sages - "He shall not go out in the army - and it is possible to think that he does not go out in the host, but he supplies water and food and repairs the roads [for the army]; therefore the text states, 'Nor be charged with any duty'" (b. Sotah 44a) - Rashi emphasises that the newly married man is not obligated "in any matter of the army, neither to supply water and food, not to repair the roads." TheRamban confirms this and adds, "neither to be a captain of the men of the army, nor to muster the people of the land for whatever is needed, such as the provision of water. He is to pay no attention to these matters but only to his rejoicing."
Samson RaphaelHirsch points to the underlying principle of marital harmony and comments: "The Torah looks on this duty of the husband for the happiness of the marriage as being such a high one, and lays such importance to it, not only for its individual happiness but also for national well-being that, for a whole year after marrying a wife, it frees him from all public services and duties, yea actually forbids him to undertake any of them so that he can give himself up entirely to his home life and to laying the foundation of his wife's happiness."
Tigay explains that this command complements the instructions concerned with soldiers in D'varim 20:6-8, but its primary concern is for the bride. There, a man is released from military service during the draft process if he has just built a house, planted a vineyard or betrothed a wife; here the focus is on making the bride happy and fulfilled. From the order of the phrases, the Sages taught that "The Torah has taught a rule of conduct: that a man should build a house, plant a vineyard and then marry a wife. Similarly Solomon declared in his wisdom, 'Prepare your work outside, and make it ready for yourself in the field; afterwards, then, build your house' (Proverbs 24:27, NASB): 'prepare your work outside', i.e. a dwelling. place; 'and make it ready for yourself in the field', i.e. a vineyard; 'then afterwards build your house', i.e. a wife" (b. Sotah 44a). The wife should come into a situation that is already prepared for her, with the majority of the hardest work already done, so that she and her husband can rejoice together, be happy and start on the commandment to have a family. A year from the date of the marriage should most often see the first child born!
In this text, then, society is told to value marriage and to provide a nurturing and supportive framework for it. The future of society depended on the continuity of the next generations; if too many soldiers were killed in battle without producing offspring then the next generation would be much smaller and the childless widows would find it difficult to find other husbands as they would be competing with the unmarried girls for a smaller pool of available men. Society, therefore, is to carry newly-wed couples by allowing them a year's grace to start their families before placing the husbands at risk in combat situations. In 1960, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, "Whether we like it or not, a breakdown in home-life will eventually lead to a breakdown everywhere. This is, surely, the most menacing and dangerous aspect of the state of society at this present time." 1
Extending the principle into our time and society, perhaps we should take this as an instruction that newly married couples ought not be allowed to take on new ministry commitments for a year after their marriage. More, perhaps they should temporarily suspend significant commitments that they already have. Do one or both of a couple lead a youth group? Do one or both teach in a house-group or childrens' work? Then they should consider taking a year out from that commitment to develop their relationship together as a married couple. The church should give them time to let their marriage settle down and mature without the added stress of a leadership or teaching responsibility. Then, secure in their own relationship, they can engage with new ministry opportunities together, fully understanding each other's strengths and needs and able to balance the demands of ministry against their desires for - or even the first arrivals of - a family of their own.
Going a step further, perhaps this is also one of the thoughts behind Rav Sha'ul's instructions to Timothy that a congregational leader must "manage his own household well, having children who obey him with all proper respect" (1 Timothy 3:4, CJB). The focus here might be on having a household and children; that the life experience of caring for a wife, leading a household and bringing up children, is an essential pre-requisite for coming alongside others in the same position, as well as using the skills gained at home within the church family. Two verses later, Sha'ul adds that "He must not be a new believer" (v. 6, CJB), as if to align a couple getting married with someone becoming a believer - both relationships need time to adjust and grow so that they become secure. Many congregations don't allow either new believers or believers who are new to the congregation - see the parallel here with a new wife, even if a widow or divorcee - to take on any position of ministry until they have been stable for a period of six months to a year.
As a final development on this theme, consider the way that G-d Himself seems to call people into positions of service within the Kingdom. He usually provides a "honeymoon" season after someone picks up a new call to allow them to settle down in that role, performing that task, before allowing that person to move on or be over-burdened with a further responsibility. Yeshua spoke of His yoke being easy and His burden light (Matthew 11:30). This is a valuable part of discerning G-d's calling in many situations; if this doesn't seem to be the case, then another move or a further extension of responsibility may well not be G-d's best choice at this time!
1 - Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home and Work: an Exposition of Ephesians:18-6:9, Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Banner of Truth 1973, 0-85151-194-5, page 245
Further Study: Matthew 19:4-6; Galatians 5:11; 1 John 5:3
Application: Have you recently made a change in your status, relationships or ministry position? Have you taken the time before G-d to consolidate that change, or are you struggling to absorb many changes at the same time? Why not consider stepping back from something in order to catch your breath and be sure of what G-d is saying!
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
Comment - 29Aug09 19:41 Logan: Great drash. We recently watched the documentary "Demographic Winter" and its sequel "Demographic Bomb" which document the global decline in birthrate which is stunningly catastrophic, especially for the judeo/christian countries. How foolishly have we neglected Ha Shem"s instructions! Thank you for addressing this issue that is far greater than we realize!
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