is a true love story. Like all good love stories, it has an
element of tragedy. But first. . .
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.
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
this is a figure of speech seems obvious. The writings of Paul
shed considerable light on Jesus' words. He writes,
therefore your members which are upon the earth;
fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil
concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Col.
they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the
affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24).
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.
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
I am more interested, however, in the next words of
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.
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?
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
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
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,
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
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.
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.
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
was better that Jacob, "halt and maimed," enter into
life than to be lost "with a whole body."
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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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.
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3.It is entirely possible God was attempting to discourage Jacob from marrying Rachel by permitting him to be tricked into marrying Leah.
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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.
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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.
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