So far we have seen that the Hebrew word that is used for “lust” has many different meanings, some of which are based on the context. We also got into the Old Testament usage of the word, and saw that lust had more meaning than just sexual desire: God often used the term lust to describe what God’s people in rebellion did toward false gods.
We looked specifically at Isaiah 57:5-8 to see how God describes Israel in rebellion. At the very end of verse 8, God hits the high note of the escalatory accusation by saying “…you have looked on nakedness.”
God compares Israel’s “lusting” after false gods with an immoral sexual union. The nation of Israel is an unfaithful wife who has shared the bed of many lovers, and places her bed in the home of the adulterer. Then in the same vein of accusation of sinfulness, God concludes that Israel has looked on nakedness.
What does it mean to look on nakedness? At the very least, we can look at its literal meaning. Nakedness is being without covering, and the body is exposed to the elements. If we “look on nakedness” we are looking at the body of someone who is not covered.
Along with this definition, it would also be helpful to look at other passages that discuss nakedness.
The first and most obvious passages would be Genesis 2 and 3. Pre-fall, at the end of Genesis 2 says “and the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Without sin, Adam and Eve were not ashamed to be naked. However, in Genesis 3, after they had fallen, it says “and they knew that they were naked…and made themselves loincloths.” And again, Adam said to God “I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
Sin has made us ashamed to be exposed. The guilt that Adam and Eve first experienced manifested itself to God as shame in nakedness. Even in their marriage, with sin introduced into their relationship, they were ashamed to be naked. The perfect marriage was now a broken one, and their sinless intimacy was shattered.
Again in Genesis, chapter 9, Ham had walked in on his father Noah naked and passed out from drinking, and looked on his nakedness in scorn and derision. He went out to his brothers Shem and Japheth and told them. They responded by turning backwards with a blanket and covering Noah, without looking at him.
So great was this sin that Noah responded to Ham’s actions by cursing Ham’s son Canaan. This was especially bad because he did not curse Ham directly, but the entire line of his youngest son’s descendants. From the Canaanites came many of Israel’s enemies.
Many other passages address the idea of nakedness. The law itself in Leviticus and Deuteronomy goes into great detail about consequences for uncovering the nakedness of various people groups. Especially grievous is looking on the nakedness of parents (as we have seen previously with Ham, only clarified by the law). We cannot go into all of these passages, but general themes in these passages show that nakedness is accompanied by weakness, humiliation, and shame.
So back to the Isaiah 57 passage. All of this means that, along with God’s accusations against Israel for adultery, profaning the marriage bed and looking on nakedness go hand in hand. There was no sense in this passage (or others) that looking at the nakedness of another could be in any way acceptable or allowable.
The lawful sexual relationship is only permitted within the bounds of marriage. God had made an exclusive Covenant with Israel, and in their rebellion and “lust” after other gods, they were compared to a whore, living in adultery with another man. In addition, merely the act of looking on the nakedness of someone with whom they were not in a marriage Covenant was seen as sinful. Israel was exclusively set apart by God as His people, and they profaned their Covenant.
Much more could be said about this, especially as God’s people relate to God, and how it is often compared to the marriage relationship. Ephesians 5: 31-32 says “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
We can conclude that looking on the nakedness of another (outside of the bounds of marriage) is shameful and wrong at the very least. To say that it is permissible to look at a naked woman as long as we are not envisioning ourselves sleeping with her is absolutely wrong. While this still doesn’t completely answer the question, this is one part of the problem.
Continuing from Ephesians 5 above, next I’ll take a look at the Covenant of marriage, and how it relates to the Covenant between God and His people.