Growing up, my father had two oft-verbalized absolute rules about my appearance. He tolerated a number of peculiar styles I had in my teenage years, from ghetto hoodlum to preppy prig to a phase involving shiny plastic pants, but I knew I’d find myself homeless if I was discovered with a ponytail or an earring.
I was never certain why these two rules were arbitrarily selected when he never mentioned pencil skirts or LBDs, but I knew that getting an earring would cause him to disown me (perhaps without any exaggeration at all). So, naturally, the forbidden fruit just called to me all the more, and I still find myself wondering from time to time how I’d look with a stud in each ear. But my wife’s not into it, so the curiosity is strictly idle.
Socially Accepted, but Biblically Acceptable?
Culturally, the West has come a long way from the days of men in earrings raising eyebrows. Heck, we even see raised eyebrows themselves pierced these days. And we also see noses, lips, cartilage, tongues, belly buttons, nipples, and even an occasional clitoris, labium, or penis. Well, those last four aren’t seen as much, but they’re no less there for being out of sight.
Apart from keeping all those small kiosks in malls busy, are there serious consequences to wearing such jewelry? Don’t some people say the Bible says we’re not supposed to pierce our bodies?
Usually, the verse referenced is Leviticus 19:18 (or one of the other verses with a similar claim and context), which forbids the cutting of the body. This cutting was done as part of a pagan ritual surrounding death and mourning, making it completely unrelated to the decorative piercings we see today. This isn’t an absolute rule against puncturing the skin; it has a certain context.
Would God willingly contradict his own command so broadly, requiring sin of half his people? Certainly not!
If you think about it, it certainly should have a specific contextual application. After all, didn’t God require the ceremonial cutting of the foreskins of every man in Israel? Would God willingly contradict his own command so broadly, requiring sin of half his people? Certainly not! Clearly, the willing infliction of wounds isn’t the problem. This verse doesn’t forbid body piercings.
The Unfaithful Wife
This becomes even more apparent in light of the early section of Ezekiel 16. In this curious, insightful, deep passage, we see God using a metaphor to relate to His people through the prophet. This analogy depicts Israel as a wife who was completely unfaithful despite the great care He’d tendered to His bride.
Growth and Development
In verses 6 and 7, Israel is depicted as the would-be wife before the marriage.
God first notices her as a naked and newborn orphan and is immediately taken with her. He assumes her care and imbues her with the power to live and thrive. Over time, she grows up and matures yet she remains naked the whole time.
This, by the way, is another great indication of how nudity isn’t sinful. Even as her Guardian, God was content to let her remain “naked and bare” as she developed and even well into her development. And lest there be any doubt on that, He specifically says her body hair (‘sē’ār in Hebrew) had sprouted and grown (sāmah), her breasts had become fully developed or “made ready” (kûn), she’d become the most beautiful of jewels (as the NIV quite accurately translates it), and then He reiterates for good measure that she was in fact still “naked and bare”.
Unlike later in this metaphor, God showed no concern at all about her nudity here since it wasn’t marred by sexual unfaithfulness. It wasn’t until she was clearly marriageable and fully matured into womanhood (when He shifted from parental Caretaker to Husband-to-be) that he became concerned with covering her. And even then, if you look at the Hebrew language and culture referenced, this “covering” was more for adornment and ritual than anything resembling Victorian ideals of decency. He simply chose to decorate (kāsâ) her.
To be honest, I found myself shifting some preconceptions once I encountered these verses, dislodging some long-held cultural bias. I’m still working on letting it go, but I’m submitting to what I’m reading.
Anyway, in verses 8 through 11, the parable moves further along. Now that she’s fully mature, He symbolically marries her by covering her body in a ritual also seen with Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 3:9).
Then, He bathes her, oils her, and begins decorating her. First, He dresses her in the finest of garments. This attire includes expensive fabrics (mešî, believed by some to refer to silk) and the finest of linen or byssus (šēš) along with a necklace and bracelets made from silver and gold. He treated her like royalty and dressed her to look the part.
This, by the way, is another great indication of how modesty doesn’t mean nice clothing is sinful; it’s about context and audience.
God wanted her to look appropriate, or suitable for the situation and for the intended audience. As her Husband, He was the primary audience, and she should look worthy of Him. Furthermore, He wanted to show her off, to reflect His own goodness in her, so all the other nations would recognize how great God is. That required some finery. Even something like what the atomistic reader might see as forbidden in 1 Timothy 1:9-10.
God decorated her because it was proper to do so.
Then look what happens in verse 12. He adds more jewelry. Specifically: earrings (‘agîl), nose rings (nezem), and a crown.
Admittedly, this is God speaking in metaphor, so it would be improper for us to take great liberties and attempt to apply it as some sort of command. God’s addressing a specific issue in a specific context and using analogy to communicate.
Knowing God is representing ideal arrangements made by an infallible Deity, I believe it’s safe to draw some basic conclusions about the incidental stuff He mentions on His way to making His point. Like that it’s okay to have body piercings.
However, within the context of the metaphor, God is clearly portraying that up until Israel became adulterous in verse 15, He had tendered supremely optimal care to the young girl-become-bride.
In fact, that’s kinda the whole point of the metaphor: He gave the perfect love, freedom, care, and adornment, and she still turned away.
With this context in mind, knowing God is representing ideal arrangements made by an infallible Deity, I believe it’s safe to draw some basic conclusions about the incidental stuff He mentions on His way to making His point. Like that it’s okay to have body piercings.
After all, God finds them to be suitable gifts for His wife.
So just think about that the next time you see someone condemn someone with a nose ring. Tell yourself, Actually, God’s into nose rings.
Interestingly enough, the biblical usage of the word nezem, which is used for all manner of piercings including the ears, answers questions about gender lines. It’s used in several passages, and in fact many of those are in a male context. And none of those were used in a condemning light.
In fact, the only time nezem is used in a manner that speaks negatively about it being worn is when the wearer happens to be a pig (Proverbs 11:22), and even that is making a point about something completely different (beauty without wisdom is like a golden nose ring in a pig’s snout).
Clearly body piercings are a non-issue. Just make sure your spouse is into it.
Originally posted 2016-04-18 08:00:46.