So now I return to my previous reflections on the symbolism of marriage and gender. Once again, I need to say unequivocally that these are merely my personal reflections on things that have helped me better understand my own struggles with gender identity. As I understand what gender means and how the sexes interact with one another, I find a better understanding of myself and am better able to cope with my gender issues. This is not a doctrinal exposition on the subject, and it certainly is not official doctrine of the Church. It is how I understand the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets. If it contradicts on any point with the Word of God as revealed through His prophets, and especially His living prophets, the Word of God is always right.
I would also like to point you again to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s masterful discourse, “Of Souls, Symbols and Sacraments” This post is merely a murky reflection of that masterpiece, and one skewed towards understanding a particular issue. Though Elder Holland was not a General Authority when he gave it, I can at least say that it is much closer to doctrine than my own poor ramblings. And so I can understand one of Moroni’s sentiments. He was able to write only a few short pages in the Book of Mormon, but seeing the calamities facing his brethren in the last days, he admonished them, “Search the prophecies of Isaiah. Behold I cannot write them.” There was much he wanted to say, but he was inadequate to say it. So he pointed us to one who had already said enough, and better than he thought he could. So I say again, read what Elder Holland wrote. And then turn to my meager reflections on the subject when you are properly innoculated against false doctrines.
I left off my last post speaking of the way that a wife and mother symbolizes Jehovah in one of the symbols of the marriage covenant. The Sunday after I made that post was Easter Sunday, and one of the speakers gave a tremendous talk in which she related an Old Testament story I had completely forgotten (I will admit that, although I love studying the Old Testament, my study of it is usually topical, and so I spend more time in the places like Isaiah and Ezekiel than I do in the many stories found in places like Judges, Kings and Chronicles). It was the story of Abigail, wife of Nabal, recorded in 1 Sam. 25. In short, David, while he wandered in the wilderness avoiding the jealous Saul, had come upon the territory of a man named Nabal. David treated Nabal’s servants well, and then went to Nabal asking for provisions for himself and his men. Nabal could easily have done what was asked. He was wealthy, but he was uncouth, and he spurned David. David became angry at this, and swore a rash oath that he and his small army would take by force what Nabal had denied them by courtesy, and that they would cut down every male of Nabal’s household in the process. So we have here one man who has offended by his poor character, and another who has been moved to wrath, and so feels justified in perpetrating a senseless slaughter.
In the meantime, Nabal’s wife, Abigail, a woman of great character, heard what had happened. She gathered the needed provisions, and went unarmed and prostrated herself before the vengeful David. She said to David, “Upon me, my Lord, upon me let this iniquity be. … Forgive the tresspass of thy handmaid.” She then remitted to David all that he had asked and more.
Abigail’s plea “upon me let this iniquity be” was no vain recitation. The ancient Jews took oaths very seriously and understood the prinicple of proxy responsibility. Abigail was very literally taking responsibility for Nabaal’s actions, placing herself as a proxy for her erring husband. She was saying to David, whatever debt that Nabaal owes you, exact it of my hand. David could no longer justify seeking “justice.”
The result is remarkable. For at this point, it is quite likely that even if Nabaal himself had offered fourfold what David had requested earlier, David still would not have repented of his rash oath. David was not looking for justice—he was looking for revenge. I think many of us often feel this way. We are not interested in having that which is sufficient restored to us. It is often a great barrier to forgiving others. We worry that the other may not have been adequately punished for the transgression, as if the blood of the very Savior, freely spilt for our benefit as well as our adversary’s, is somehow a niggardly remittance for a real or imagined slight.
But when Abigail, a kind and even Christ-like woman, took the transgression on herself, David could no longer justify his wrath. He was softened, I suspect, as much or more by a woman’s tender beauty and delicacy as by an understanding of the deep symbolism of the gesture. But in any case, he no longer had a colorable excuse for carrying out his murderous intent. His heart was softened by this encounter, he accepted Abigail’s offering, and departed in peace.
The fairy tale ending to the story is that shortly thereafter, Nabal was stricken with illness and died. And so David took Abigail to wife—she who had saved him from committing a grievous sin. (The less than fairy tale post-ending, of course, is that Abigail’s charm eventually waned in the face of familiarity and David committed even greater sin than he had contemplated with Nabal by forcibly taking Bath-sheba, wife of Uriah the hittite, and then murdering Uriah to cover his sins, for which sin he lost the Priesthood blessings that would have bound the lovely Abigail to him for eternity).
Now this story is not exactly parallel with the symbol I was speaking of in my last post. The proper symbol that likens the wife to Jehovah also likens the husband to Elohim, and in this case, Nabal certainly was not filling that role. But it is a wonderful example of a how a woman’s innate compassion and selflessness saved two lives: One from the demands of unbending justice and the other from his own vengefulness.
The second symbol I spoke of is the symbol in which Christ represents the Bridegroom and the Church represents His bride. This symbol, as I said, is wellvknown throughout Christendom. It is used extensively, especially in the Old Testament, but perhaps by none more than Isaiah. The symbol is poignant and touching, for in this case, the bride has not been faithful to her Lord. Rather, she has whored herself out to other gods. Here we get a very meaningful symbol, for a parallel is drawn between sexual intimacy and worship. When we worship God (or a god), it is an act of unity that binds us to God (or a false god). So this symbol makes sense on that level. Israel ought to have faithfully bound herself only to God Jehovah, but in her folly, chased after other gods—false gods of gold and silver—and gave herself to them. And yet her Lord Jehovah calls her back and comforts her. He admonishes her for her sins, as He must, but He then assures her that He will yet own her; that if she will yet willingly bind herself to Him, and be faithful to Him, He will yet be her Lord and her God.
This symbol is supported by the epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. Like Gen. 3:16, this scripture has been twisted and perverted by wicked men to justify their abuse of women. But it takes barely a complete—not even a terribly careful—reading to see the real symbolism:
21 aSubmitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his awife loveth himself.