Elaine Storkey unpacks what the Bible says about the significance of our homes
Study passages: Deuteronomy 6:7, 24:5 and Proverbs 3:33
Have you noticed how significant home becomes in times of difficulty? When crises happen, or even when things get unsettled, yearnings for home often swell up. Sometimes, it’s obvious why. “We’re just longing to get home,” said those stuck on a cruise ship in quarantine because of COVID-19. Similarly, the nurse on WhatsApp, who had done a 14-hour shift on the emergency ward, when asked how she felt, expressed simply: “I just want to go home.” Exactly the same sentiment was echoed across the world by people stranded in distant countries, self-isolating in hotels or recovering in hospitals.
But feelings for home are more widespread too. Just listening to songs from a wide span of years reveals that. The song ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ expressed the longing of soldiers in the First World War, ‘Home Is Where the Heart Is’ was immortalised by Elvis Presley in the 1960s (though first said, apparently by Pliny the Elder in around AD50). Motley Clue’s version of ‘Home Sweet Home’ hit the charts in the 1980s and there can be few sounds as reverberating as the 1925 song ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home’ when sung by 20,000 football fans in a stadium! Even the Last Night of the Proms wouldn’t be the same without the huge audience in the Royal Albert Hall nostalgically sobbing their way through ‘There’s No Place Like Home’. We can smile at the song’s sentimentality precisely because we know how central home is to all our lives.
So what is it about home that has had such lasting impact on popular culture through the ages?
Filled with the peace and presence of God
The Bible reveals that ‘home’ is something very deep, personal and significant. The term is different from ‘house’ or simply ‘building’. These two words do denote something important and functional in people’s lives, but without the same emotional depth. In the Bible, ‘home’ is linked with identity and belonging. It is where life events take place that help to shape who we are, where we put down roots with people we love and who nurture us. A good home is where we learn wisdom and truth, develop self-confidence and values, and form strong relationships. The short passages I have chosen illustrate some of this.
Deuteronomy 6:5-9 (which is repeated in Deuteronomy 11) identifies home as crucial in carrying the values God gives us. The passage tells the Israelites to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (v5) and then shows them how to incorporate this love of God into the whole of their lives. “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates” (vv6–9).
The writer was conveying to the people that their home was to be imbued with God’s presence. It was to be a constant reminder of how God wanted them to live. Today, as we talk at home and nurture our children, as we go to bed and get up, we are to be conscious of who we are and whose we are. For when we write God’s command to worship even on the doorposts and the gates of our home, we carry God’s truth into the very heart of our identity and relationships. My husband took this as his pattern when he built a brick and stone studio in our garden. He incorporated a tree of life in stone on the front wall, with pebbled leaves for the healing of the nation. The words over the doorway remind us of the need to disarm and seek peace, and the name of Jesus is emblazoned on one of the stones. Our family call it our ‘Peace Hut’ and I watch with some amusement the curiosity of some of our non-Christian visitors! No one has been sceptical about the building yet. In fact, most people want to enter to absorb the atmosphere.
In Deuteronomy, home is the place where intimate relationships first grow and develop. Being together at home gives time and space for that. I love the unusual concession for Israelite men in Deuteronomy 24:5. Military service was a requirement for them, as the Hebrew people had many needs for security from their enemies. Yet a newlywed man had greater responsibilities: “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.” This was a kind and thoughtful provision – both for the woman and the man. The home was honoured as the place where the couple could share and experience love for each other. It echoes, again, the importance our home has in shaping our lives and identity.
A haven for all of us
‘Home’ can simply refer to people we feel safe with too. Many of the ancient Hebrews were nomads, living in transit, wandering through the desert, moving on towards God’s promised home. But kinsfolk and friends were a home to each other, building up lives in the relationship of community.
In Proverbs and Psalms, we have a contrast between the homes built up by wise women and those torn down by foolish ones. Wisdom is seen as vitally important (see Proverbs 14:1). Proverbs 3:33 also differentiates between the ‘blessings’ of the homes of those who worship God, and the ‘curses’ of the houses of the wicked. We see these blessings and curses illustrated in Jesus’ parables and in the lives of people in the New Testament. The wise man built his home on the rock and was saved; the foolish built on the sand and was lost (Matthew 7:24-27). Mary and Martha opened their home to Jesus and he blessed them and those who ate with them (Luke 10:38-42, John 12). Cornelius opened his home to Peter and the Gentiles were reached with the gospel (Acts 10). Lydia opened her home to Paul and his companions (Acts 16) and witnessed the miracle of his prison escape. Generous, homely hospitality is a powerful witness to the love of God.
Home in the Bible is also viewed as the place that releases us for service. Hannah took Samuel from home to serve God in the Temple (1 Samuel 1). Ruth left home to go with Naomi into a new country (Ruth 1). Mary left home to visit Elizabeth, and prepare to give birth to God’s anointed one (Luke 1:39-45). The disciples, (including the women in Luke 8) left home to follow Jesus (Luke 5:1-11). Paul and Barnabas left home to spread the good news (Acts 13). Phoebe left home to take Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome (Romans 16). Being called from home into a new life is challenging. But we cannot set out on a journey until we first have a place to leave.
A place of safety and healing
Home is just as important today as it was in the scriptures. When our homes celebrate our faith in Jesus and share our love of God, they can be places of safety and healing. The sad thing is that, in our broken and hurting society, too many homes are places of damage and heartache. Anger, neglect, self-centredness, impatience and resentment can all destroy the key values that our homes should embody. Those who have been wounded at home, rather than experiencing healing there, can be left struggling through life. Those who are lonely at home can find it hard to receive comfort and deep companionship elsewhere. This week alone I have encountered almost a dozen people who have told me how unhappiness at home (and even abuse) has scarred their lives.
However, the Gospels also remind us never to despair. Those of us who know the blessings of a happy home can reach out in love to those who do not. Every day offers us a new start before God, where we can begin to let his love fill the loss and emptiness in our lives. For what the Bible also teaches us is that here on earth we have no permanent home, other than with God (2 Corinthians 5:1). God is the parent who loves, gives and forgives, in order to show us more fully who we really are and how valuable we will always be to him. And as we get to know God better, we also find the reality of what it is to come home.