For the week of June 7, 2008 / 4 Sivan 5768
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 4:21 - 7:89
Haftarah: Shoftim / Judges 13:2-25
You Began at Conception
And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, "Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines." (Shoftim / Judges 13:3-5; ESV)
Ever since I came to believe in Yeshua, I have considered myself pro-life, or more specifically anti-abortion. Up until then I had accepted what I had been taught in 1973 while attending high school in the United States: that a fetus doesn't become a true human being until the fifth month.
I can't remember the process I went through regarding this issue a few years later after I had become a follower of the Messiah. Somehow believing that abortion was wrong went along with believing in the God of the Bible. I don't remember reading about it, having discussions about it, or hearing sermons about it. I just thought it was wrong.
To be totally honest, while I believed abortion was wrong and that human life began at conception, I was not convinced that we are called by God to protect preborn human life in the same way as we are to protect people who have been born. My thoughts were along the line that a baby breathing on its own was so considerably different from one who was still attached to his mother that abortion - wrong as it might be - should not be regarded as equivalent to murder.
Don't misunderstand me, whatever the differences may be between the preborn and the born, I still regarded abortion as a crime against humanity. That human beings would willfully terminate our preborn offspring is a sign of great depravity and should be considered a crime. Whatever differences there may be between the preborn and born children, the preborn must be protected from the misguided desires of those who wish to destroy it.
Whatever my views were on the subject, I had never really thought too deeply about it until recently. I am only now beginning to understand this evil for what it really is and have been looking to God to help me understand what should be done about it.
With regard to when human life begins - or more to the point - when does an individual's life begin - a life that should be protected by law and deserves to be viewed as precious and valued by all?
This week's Haftarah gives us some insight into God's perspective on this. It is the story of the foretelling of the birth of Samson. The angel that appeared to Samson's parents before he was born informed them that he would be a "Nazirite to God from the womb." A Nazirite was someone who took a special vow of consecration to God, usually for a limited time set by the person taking the vow. This is explained in this week's Torah portion, which is most likely the reason for the choosing of this particular Haftarah.
Normally being a Nazirite was completely voluntary on the part of the person taking the vow. In Samson's case, however, God predetermined that he would be such for his whole life even prior to birth. There are other biblical references to God having determined something about someone "from the womb." In these cases, it might simply be a way of saying "before he was born," without implying anything about the nature of the preborn. But in Samson's case, he actually was set apart as a Nazirite while still in the womb, implying individuality while in his preborn state. This is also made clear by the angel's instructions regarding his mother. While pregnant she was not to consume anything forbidden to a Nazirite. Samson was personally and individually a Nazirite while still in his preborn state.
This understanding of the nature of the preborn is also found in at least two other occasions in the Bible. Before Jacob and Esau were born, the Torah reads, "The children struggled together within her" (Bereshit / Genesis 25:22). Jacob and Esau were not non-person fetuses who would eventually become children. They were already children with personalities while still in their mother's womb. In the case of Yochanan HaMatbil (John the Baptist), when Miryam (Mary) greeted Yochanan's mother, Elisheva (Elizabeth), the preborn Yochanan leapt in his mother's womb (Luke 1:41). Elisheva described what happened as "the baby in my womb leaped for joy" (Luke 1:44).
To consider the preborn as anything less than a true human person is contrary to the biblical perspective. You began at conception. From that point the only significant changes you experienced were development and birth. Terminating a pregnancy is the murder of an individual person in their preborn state. Just as Samson's parents needed to adjust their lives for the sake of their preborn child, so we need to make whatever adjustments are necessary to protect the lives of our preborn children.
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