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Spiritual surgery



This is a true love story. Like all good love stories, it has an element of tragedy. But first. . .

One time many years ago, my father clipped out a news item that related how a young man had chopped off his right hand with an ax. He gave as his reason the words of Jesus: "If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell" (Matt. 5:30). Jesus also admonished plucking out the right eye if it offended one. These words are found in the "sermon on the mount" in a warning against the sins of adultery and divorce. Apparently, the young man was condemned over some immorality he had committed. 

Probably not many of us would take Jesus' words that literally, for common sense should tell us that surely he, who went about curing all manner of deformities, would not advise us to mutilate our body. And why would Jesus emphasize only the right hand? Wouldn't the left hand be just as much at fault? 

That this is a figure of speech seems obvious. The writings of Paul shed considerable light on Jesus' words. He writes, 

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5). 

And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24). 

"Mortify" means to kill, and we all know what "crucify" means. Paul is using essentially the same figure of speech as Jesus with the meaning that evil desires (lusts) of the flesh, which can lead us into transgression, are to be subdued or deadened. To "mortify" one's members is to be compared with amputating a hand or plucking out an eye or hanging on a cross. There is no question that it hurts. But it must be done if we are to inherit eternal life. 

Now Jesus used the same figure of speech--cutting off the hand--on at least one other occasion. In a discourse recorded in Matthew 18, he was concerned with the possibility that his disciples would be deceived. When they asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, he replied those who became as little children. Then he began to warn them of offences. To those who would offend one of "these little ones," meaning his disciples, he issued a grave warning: it were better for them that they be cast into the depth of the sea. To his "little ones," he repeats his advice about cutting off a hand or foot or plucking out an eye: 

Wherefore if thy hand, or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 

And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire (Matt. 18 8-9). 

Let us look at the word "offence." The word has an Old English meaning of "an act of stumbling; a cause or occasion of sin: stumbling block". Therefore, one who offends is one who places a stumbling block in the path of another. For example, Moses commanded, "Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind. . ." (Lev. 19:14). Though this edict of Moses was to be literally construed, Paul describes the law as a "tutor" to teach the Israelites spiritual values. Hence, one who offends is one who has caused another to sin or to abandon his faith by placing the spiritual equivalent of a stumbling block in his path. In Biblical usage, offend does not have the modern meaning of causing hurt feelings or deep resentment. 

Now if we know we are being led astray, it is our responsibility to extricate ourselves from that situation. Sometimes this may be a most unpleasant task, comparable to severing our hand or foot. A passage in Moses' writings illuminates the thought. 

In the 13th chapter of Deuteronomy, we find a warning against prophets who, by actually showing signs and wonders, would persuade Israel to go after other gods. They were to kill this man. 

I am more interested, however, in the next words of Moses: 

If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy father;. . . . Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: but thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God. . . .(Deut. 13: 6-10). 

Thus, if someone whom he dearly loved tried to lead him back into idolatry, or, in the language of the New Testament, to "offend" him, the Israelite must not spare that person. His hand must be the first to stone that person, and his eye must not pity him. 

Suppose that person was one's husband or wife who was cherished as their own soul. Wouldn't it have been as difficult to, with their own hand, actually pick up a stone to stone their spouse as to chop off their right hand with an ax? Wouldn't plucking out an eye be just as easy as watching one's spouse being executed? 

Of course, we as Christians do not go about literally killing false prophets or stoning one another for any reason whatsoever. Nevertheless, we must sever our fellowship from those who would offend us. This, too, is exactly what Jesus meant when he said, 

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26). 1

We must "hate" even our spouse, the wife or husband of our bosom, if we must choose between that person and Jesus Christ. As Adam said, and Jesus confirmed, a husband and wife are no longer two, but one flesh. She is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Paul said that husbands ought to love their wives even as their own bodies, for he that loves his wife loves himself. If our dearly beloved should attempt to offend us, to persuade us to violate the commandments of God or perhaps even to abandon Him altogether, for example, it is as if our own hand or our own eye offended us. Our eye must not pity that one, nor should we even try to conceal that person's wrongdoing. Our right hand of fellowship must be withdrawn from her (or him). We must "hate" that one. This does not necessarily mean getting a divorce, for Jesus was adamantly opposed to divorce except for the sole grounds of infidelity.2 But it does mean that we cannot let a loved one who is as our own soul or our own right hand or our own eye lead us away from God. A spouse may threaten divorce and withhold love. We must not let that influence us. Some years ago, I was acquainted with a man who was saved while fighting the Germans in the Sahara desert during World War II. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and "spoke in tongues." When he came home, his wife offered him the choice of herself or his religion: he stood fast in his faith and she divorced him. Even if a divorce is not carried out, sometimes the separation between the husband and wife is just as real as though it was, when there is a break in communion and fellowship. This is what is meant by the statement of Jesus to "cut off our right hand and cast it from us" for it is better to go to heaven without our spouse than into hell with our loved one. 

There is the example of King Ahab who permitted his pernicious wife Jezebel to talk him into yielding to the covetousness of his heart by murdering Naboth. There is the tragic example of King Solomon who allowed his many Gentile wives whom he "clave to in love" to seduce him into worshiping the abominations of the Canaanites and introducing idolatry into the kingdom. In both cases, these men failed to cut off their hand or pluck out their eye. In the foregoing discussion, the emphasis is on our own responsibility for keeping ourselves from potentially dangerous situations. We must be willing to resort to drastic surgery, if need be, to cut off from our life those offensive traits--members of our flesh upon the earth, in Paul's speech--or offensive people--who may also be like members of our flesh. 

However, there are circumstances in which either our intellect is too limited to guide us, or our emotional attachments for someone are too strong to break, so that in spite of our best intentions, we could be deceived into transgressing God's commandments or into forsaking him altogether. We are convinced that, in such cases, God will not permit his "little ones" who have placed their trust in him to be overcome by a cunning deceiver or to be led astray by a cherished friend or spouse. If we love the truth and put our whole trust in the Lord, he will protect us even from ourselves. 

Sometimes this means that if we lack the will or the courage to cut off our "right hand," God will perform the surgery himself. 

And now, the promised love story. This story, which illustrates the foregoing points, is about Jacob and Rachel, found in Genesis 28-35. 

Jacob had tricked his twin brother Esau out of both the birthright and the paternal blessing. He fled for his life several hundred miles distant to his Uncle Laban. His uncle put him to work, herding the sheep and cattle. 

Laban had two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Jacob fell hopelessly in love with Rachel. He proposed to work seven years for her--"And they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her." But Laban gave him Leah instead, which Jacob did not realize until the morning after the wedding. (Apparently, she wore a veil, a common practice in those days.) Laban took advantage of Jacob's love for Rachel and agreed to give her to him for another seven years of labor. And so Jacob worked 14 years for Rachel. Could anything be more convincing of his love for her? 

He worked another six years to acquire his own herd of livestock; then he took all that was his, his two wives and their handmaids, his children, his servants, and his livestock, and slipped out one day bound for home. His children included 11 sons, one of whom was Rachel's firstborn, Joseph. 

On the journey home, Jacob had a strange experience. A man came to him one night and wrestled with him till dawn. When he asked Jacob to let him go, "for the day breaketh," Jacob would not comply until he received a blessing. The man (or angel, see Hos. 12:4) then gave Jacob the new name of "Israel," saying he had prevailed with God and with men. After dislocating Jacob's thigh as a sign unto him, the angel departed. 

That same day, Jacob was reunited with his brother Esau. Though he greatly feared the meeting, knowing how he had tricked Esau, and prepared for it by sending ahead a large peace offering of livestock, all went well. They embraced and rejoiced over each other. 

Afterwards, Jacob continued his journey homewards. Eventually, he came to Ephrath, otherwise known as Bethlehem. There, Rachel died in childbirth as her second son was born. 

Though Jacob lived many years after Rachel's death, this is the end of the love story. Though Jacob still had Leah, we are told that he loved Rachel more than her, a fact supported by many details in the story. For example, Leah complained that Rachel had taken her husband from her. On one occasion she even had to buy his love: her son Reuben had found some mandrakes in the field which he gave his mother. Rachel found out about it and offered to let Jacob spend a night with Leah for the mandrakes. Mandrakes were supposed to be an aphrodisiac, and I gather that Rachel, who was childless up to this time, thought that the mandrakes would heal her barrenness. Leah bore Jacob six sons and a daughter, and with each she expressed the thought that surely Jacob would now treat her as his beloved wife. In spite of this, Jacob preferred Rachel. For example, as he approached Esau, he divided up his family into two groups on the supposition that in case Esau attacked, at least one group would escape. Rachel was given the safest position in the caravan while Leah was given the most exposed position. 

When I used to read the story of Jacob, I would get quite upset with God and wonder why He took Rachel's life, the one whom Jacob loved with all his heart, rather than Leah. It is often thus; the very thing or person we cherish the most is that which is taken from us. We are tempted to accuse God of deliberately trying to make our lives miserable. But this is the sin of presumption and reveals our unbelief. We show that we do not really believe that God is totally good or that he means only the best for us. 

It was many years before the truth of this narrative was revealed to me. There is one detail I have omitted that, when properly understood, will change our view of the situation. When Jacob left his uncle, Rachel stole her father's idols (called teraphim). Laban came looking for them but Rachel lied to him and retained possession of them. At the time, Jacob was ignorant of Rachel's deed. When he finally found out, he ordered everyone of his company to rid themselves of their strange gods, which he collected and buried under a tree. After this incident, "the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob" (Gen. 35:5). 

Though Rachel did acknowledge the God of Jacob (she prayed to him to give her children), her faith was obviously not as strong as Jacob's. She was attracted to the idolatry of her family. Had she continued to live, there is the distinct possibility that sooner or later she would have forsaken God altogether. For, we must remember, the incident of Joseph, her firstborn, being sold by Leah's sons into Egypt lay in the future. It might have been more than Rachel could have endured, given the intense rivalry and jealousy between her and her sister. 

And given Jacob's intense love for Rachel, it is entirely credible that he could have yielded to her pleadings, forsaking the God of his fathers and becoming an idolater. (From the way the narrative reads--Gen. 35:2-4--Rachel had already influenced several of Jacob's household to adopt her little gods. Like leaven working, it was only a matter of time till the whole lump was leavened, to use Paul's metaphor.) Thus, Jacob might have been "offended" by his right hand. 

But God, seeing the innocence of Jacob and his great trust in him, delivered Jacob from the temptation. Jacob had shown his great faith the night he wrestled with the angel; he "prevailed with God and with men." Though I freely admit that this incident is most puzzling nor do I claim to completely understand it, it probably corresponds to what we twentieth century Christians call a "conversion" experience, perhaps even a new birth. This can be seen from the fact that he received a new name from the Lord as a sign of his new character. At the very least, this incident was a turning point in Jacob's spiritual growth. His character began to take on the attributes of a true son of God. That very day, for example, he sought his brother's forgiveness by sending him a great peace offering. While he was undoubtedly motivated partly by fear, there is no gainsaying that by this act of restitution he sincerely tried to rectify the wrong he had done to his brother. We see evidence of that in the fact that Esau would have refused the offering, saying he had enough already, but Jacob insisted that he take it anyway. 

As I suggested, it was precisely Jacob's great love for Rachel that could have been his undoing. She was as his right hand and it is possible that he could not have found the strength to "cut off his right hand." So God, who saw Jacob's contriteness and faith, and realizing his weakness, performed the surgery himself.3 It was better that Jacob, "halt and maimed," enter into life than to be lost "with a whole body." 

Please note that I am not saying that Rachel was lost. Apparently she did believe in God; the Bible honors her as one of the mothers of the children of Israel in words that seem to imply she is one of the elect. We must also remember that she lived several hundred years before the law of Moses and the commandments against idolatry were given. Nevertheless, the fact remains that she did have a predilection for idolatry that could have been her downfall later on. Her early death could have been her own salvation as well as Jacob's. 

Contrast Jacob's plight with that of Adam. According to Paul, Adam was not deceived; Eve was (1 Tim. 2:14). Why, then, did Adam sin? There are those who believe he sinned deliberately because he did not want to lose his beloved wife but chose rather to follow her into exile. It would have been far better for Adam if he had "cut off his right hand" and remained in Paradise halt and maimed rather than be lost in the wilderness with a whole body. 

I conclude that we should destroy out of our life every hindrance that would prevent us from obtaining eternal life. Our passions and fleshly desires are at war with the spirit. We must be ruthless and cut off those members that would offend, heedless of the pain. At times this will involve someone whom we cherish, someone who "is as our own soul," or as a "right hand" or a "right eye." It is still better to go to heaven without that wife or husband or intimate friend than to go to hell fire with them, if it comes to that.4 There are occasions when this may be beyond our capabilities, when our emotional attachments to someone or some thing are too strong for us to break, or our intellect is too weak to see through the lie. In all such cases, if we have put our whole trust in God, he will deliver us from the overpowering temptation or the strong delusion. God will not permit us to be tempted more than we are able to bear, but with each temptation provide a way to escape (1 Cor. 10:13). False prophets will not be able to deceive us, not because of our superior intellect, but because God will prevent us from falling into their traps. (For Jesus said false christs and false prophets would arise that could deceive the very elect, if it were possible--Matt. 24:24.) This may mean someone's death. It may mean grief. It may seem to us as if he severed our right hand or plucked out an eye. We should at such times remember the beloved Apostle Paul's words: 

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17). 

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).

We would not hesitate to subject one of our little children to the surgeon's knife to amputate an infected leg or arm, if need be, to save its life. God is not any less of a loving father. He, who spared not his only begotten Son, loves us so much, paradoxically, that neither will he spare our feelings. He wants us to share the true riches of eternal life and is quite willing to sacrifice our immediate welfare to help us obtain that greater goal. 5

As I said, this is a love story, not only about Jacob and Rachel, but about the God of Jacob and mankind. Beset as it is with moments of the profoundest tragedy and deepest grief, we can only console ourselves with David's song: "For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psa. 30:5). 

As Rachel lay dying, she named her son "Benoni," which means "son of my sorrow." But Jacob renamed him "Benjamin," which means, "son of the right hand." Which he was, for Rachel was Jacob's beloved right hand.

1.This verse has an especial significance for the Jew. To accept Christ is for the Jew tantamount to abandoning his family. I personally know of one who made some steps in that direction, but because of family pressures, he publicly denied Jesus. He is now a "closet Christian," and publicly, an orthodox Jew.  (back to text)

2.One could claim that, since idolatry is spiritual adultery, we would be justified in obtaining a divorce. I don't know, so I will not hazard a guess. (back the text)

3.It is entirely possible God was attempting to discourage Jacob from marrying Rachel by permitting him to be tricked into marrying Leah. (back to text)

4.Mark Twain, in one of his lectures, made the point that if all the boorish and uninteresting people he knew went to heaven who said they were, and all the interesting, stimulating friends of his went to hell, as he frankly supposed they would, he knew which way he would go. He would go to hell with his friends. This is precisely the point Jesus was trying to make: better by far is it to abandon such "friends," and, like Moses, choose rather the afflictions of the people of God than the pleasures of sin for a season. As much as I admire Mark Twain's writings, I cannot agree with him on this point. (back to text)

5.I do not wish to convey the impression that I have hereby explained all the tragic losses of our life. By no means are all the deaths of our loved ones to be attributed to the "cutting off our right hand" because of possible offences. All I am saying is, on occasion it may indeed be the reason which will explain some otherwise unfathomable loss. (back to text)

Brief Overview

Christopher Leo Jordan
June 11 1925 to
July 30 2000 

He was my father. I am here to finish his work.

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