16 But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, 17 then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. (Dt. 15:16-17)
In the Eighties and early Nineties, guys wearing one earring was a thing. It showed you were living on the edge. You were a rebel. It was cool. And all the guys on MTV had one.
It was important, though, that you pierced the correct ear. “Left is right; right is wrong” was the way to tell the world that, while you were going out of your way to imitate Duran Duran, you still liked girls.
So, of course, I wanted to get my left ear pierced. But I was also a seminary student and a part time youth minister, which meant that looking like one of the guys in Duran Duran wasn’t going to be a good reason to get an earring.
So I spiritualized it. I found this verse in Deuteronomy, which describes the process for an indentured servant binding himself to his master’s household. I said, “This will show that I’m so devoted to the Lord that I want to be His servant forever!”
I strengthened my argument even further when I found Psalm 40:6, which, in the 1984 version of the NIV, read,
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced ; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, "Here I am, I have come-- it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."
(Note: the 1984 NIV was an outlier in translating this “My ears you have pierced.” Every other English translation understood David’s intention to be that God had opened his ears to understand God’s Word, not pierced them. When the NIV was revised in 2001, it changed Psalm 40:6 to bring it more in line with the consensus of biblical scholarship, so that now, it reads, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—but my ears you have opened.”)
The earring lasted, oh, about a year. And for what it’s worth, not a single person ever came up to me and said, “Wow– you’ve got an earring. I can tell you really love the Lord!” Not even once.
Mercifully, the earring went away before I met my wife’s father for the first time, which turned out to be my one moment of exercising good judgment of the whole episode.
I’m thankful that my wife (girlfriend at the time) didn’t break up with me. I’m thankful that the church didn’t fire me. I’m thankful that God loves me, no matter how much I misuse His Word.
And I’m thankful that, thirty years later, I’ve maybe learned a little more about not taking God’s word out of context or cherry-picking verses to justify what I want to do. Lord knows, we all have an amazing capacity to twist God’s Word for our own ends. Just in today’s passage alone, I could excuse binge drinking with Deuteronomy 14:26 (“Look– the Bible says I can spend my money on strong drink!”); ignoring the poor (“Deuteronomy 15:11 says there will always be poor people in the land, so there’s nothing we can do about it!”); and even slavery, with the same passage I used to justify my earring.
God will use God’s Word to accomplish God’s purposes. We don’t use God’s Word to justify our purposes.
And I’m sure there’s a verse for that, somewhere.