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We live in a hypersexualised culture. In the last century, we have seen a seismic shift in attitudes around sex, sexuality and interpersonal relationships which sociologists have dubbed the sexual revolution. With the discovery of penicillin in 1950’s by which sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis were no longer a death sentence, the development of the contraceptive pill in the 1960’s, and the normalisation of sex in the media, the sexual revolution spread across the Western world and has not shown signs of stopping. But sexual immorality is not a modern phenomenon – far from it.

Let us consider how some biblical figures encountered sexual immorality and how they dealt with it.

Samson

Samson was a judge over Israel and delivered the people from the Philistines. He was blessed from his mother’s womb and was called to be a Nazirite (Judges 13:5). When Samson was moved by the Spirit of the Lord, he exuded incredible strength (Judges 14:6,19 & 15:14). But Samson had a weakness – lust. Against the word of God and to his parents’ disapproval, he married a Philistine woman for her beauty pleased him (Judges 14:3). This marriage did not last (Judges 14:20) and scripture tells us that Samson engaged in sexual immortality with at least two other women (Judges 16:1&4). One of these women was Delilah who persistently petitioned him for the secret behind his strength. She leaked this information the Philistines who made several attempts to take Samson’s life (Judges 16:5,9,14). Despite Samson being fully aware of Delilah’s betrayal, he did not forsake his lust but continued in his relationship with her – sharing all that was in his heart – which eventually led to his humiliation, torture and eventual death (Judges 16:18-30).

King David

King David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14 & Acts 13:22). He was ‘skilful in playing [the harp], a mighty man of valour, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the LORD is with him’ (1 Sam 16:18). Through his great faith in the Lord and his love towards His people, King David beat Goliath and went on to rule over Israel.

Despite King David’s many virtues, even he fell into the sin of sexual immorality. During the spring time when kings were meant to be out at battle, King David remained in Jerusalem. From his rooftop, he saw Bathsheba bathing. He lusted after her and committed adultery with her (2 Samuel 11:1-4). This sin was not an isolated incident but it opened the gateway to other sins including the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah (2 Samuel 11:1417). This displeased the Lord and similarly to Samson, King David experienced great tragedy as a result of his sin (2 Samuel 11:27 & 12:9-14) – his and Bathsheba’s son who was conceived from their adulterous affair died, and his son, Amnon, raped his half-sister, Tamar, and Amnon was subsequently murdered by Absalom in revenge.

Through the help of the prophet Nathan, King David came to himself, realised his sin and wrote several powerful psalms of repentance, including psalm 51 which we recite at the beginning of every hour in the Agpeya [1].

King Solomon

King David’s son, King Solomon, was the wisest man that ever lived. He was given the mighty task of building the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem and Israel enjoyed peace during his reign (1 Kings 6:1). King Solomon understood the weight of his responsibility over God’s people. He asked God for wisdom to fulfil this role and was granted wisdom greater than all men on earth, both past and future (1 Kings 3:5-12).

Despite his great wisdom, King Solomon fell into the sin of sexual immorality. Scripture tells us that he had relationships with 1000 women, many of whom he married for political reasons (1 Kings 11: 1- 6). Through these relationships, Solomon began to adopt his wives’ and concubines’ beliefs and turned his heart away from the Lord. Again, these sins angered the Lord and there were ramifications for the Kingdom of Israel which, after Solomon’s death, became torn in two (1 Kings 11:7-39).

Considering the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, it is believed that Solomon reflected on his life and, with humility and repentance, concluded that all is vanity. He urged his sons to refrain from sin and lust which he warned them would cost them their lives (Proverbs 7:23): for the lips of an immoral woman drip honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil, but in the end she is better as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of hell’ (Proverbs 5:3-5).

Concerning Solomon’s writings, Bishop Youssef comments,

Solomon reflected on how most of his life was meaningless because he did not rely on God, as he should have. He wrote about the world as he experienced it, hoping to spare future generations the bitterness of learning through trial and error. He stressed the fact that everything in life apart from God is empty, hollow and meaningless.[2]

Joseph the Righteous

Joseph was sold as a slave by his brothers and ended up in the land of Egypt (Genesis 37:27&36). Separated from his people, his language and his culture, Joseph lived seemingly without moral instruction. However, when his Potiphar’s wife accosted him, he refused and asked, ‘How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ (Genesis 39:6-9). Indeed, even without the Bible (which hadn’t been written in Joseph’s time) and without a community of believers, Joseph was able to recognise sexual immortality as a wicked deed and ultimately a transgression against God.

From then on, Joseph remained vigilant of Potipher’s wife and ensured that he was not alone with her (Genesis 39:11). Regardless, Potiphar’s wife was insistent and propositioned Joseph daily and so, daily, Joseph endured temptation and refused it. When it so happened that one day, the other men were outside of the house, Potiphar’s wife seized the opportunity and caught Joseph by his clothes. Grasped by temptation, Joseph immediately fled from her, leaving his garment in her hand (Genesis 39:10-12). Joseph did not flirt with temptation, he did not attempt to reason with it or to bargain with it – he escaped in such haste that he left without even the shirt on his back [3].

Reflecting on Joseph’s flight, Caesarius of Aries writes,

Therefore by removing his garments he shook of all accusation; leaving the clothes with which he was held he fled, robbed indeed but not naked, for he was covered still more with the clothing of purity. No one is naked except the man whom guilt has been exposed. [4]

Conclusion

Samson had great strength, David was a man after God’s own heart and Solomon had wisdom. And yet, despite these men’s great virtues and talents, they all fell into the sin of sexual immorality. When we face the temptation of sexual immorality, we must ask ourselves – are we stronger than Samson, purer than David or wiser than Solomon to think that we can test, reason or argue with this temptation and not fall into it? Certainly not – for ‘can man take a fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?’ (Proverbs 6:27) Let us learn from Joseph the Righteous who despite his young age and difficult circumstances, prevailed against this sin. In the face of temptation, Joseph: (1) remembered his loyalty to God and the consequence of sin, (2) was alert and actively avoided opportunities for temptation, (3) continually persevered in his chastity despite daily provocation and (4) when temptation became tangible, he ran for the purity of his soul. Accordingly, St Paul warns up to ‘flee sexual immoralityfor the ‘body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body (1 Corinthians 6:18 &13).

If you’ve fallen into sexual immorality, do not lose hope. Our Coptic Church has a beautiful array of great saints who repented of sexual immorality and lived a virtuous life with Christ, including Saint Moses the Black, St Mary of Egypt and St Baeissa (to name but a few).

‘“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool”’ (Isaiah 1:18)

References:

This article was based on the words of Bishop Youssef – H.G. Bishop Youssef, 2011. Heroes of Faith – St.Baeissa. Christian Youth Channel [Online Video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5N-KtxKCFM&t=376s [Accessed 13 February 2020].

[1] Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty , 2004. The Second Book of Samuel: A Patristic Commentary. California: Coptic Orthodox Christian Center.

[2] H.G. Bishop Youssef, 2021. Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States [Website] Available at: https://www.suscopts.org/q&a/index.php?qid=144&catid=127 [Accessed 14 February 2020]

[3] C.O.P.T., 2020. Joseph the Righteous: Fasting and Prayer Programme: The Holy Great Fast 2020. Sydney: Coptic Orthodox Publication & Translation.

[4] Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 92.3, cited by Oden T & Sheridan M (2002) Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament II: Genesis 12-50. Illinois: InterVarsity Press p.254

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