One of the topics that my husband and I speak about in churches (and to clients) is the fact that porn, sex addiction, and other patterns of sexual acting out are really not a new issue. In fact the sin which we today call "sex addiction" is talked about in the bible using words like (transliteration from the Greek here) "pornos" and "porneia." These word are translated into English using terms such as "sexual immorality," "adultery" and "fornication." Thus, I believe "sex addiction" has always been an issue facing God's people and God has always had a lot to say about it.
Life in ancient times
While ancient peoples couldn't walk around with a virtual brothel in their pockets, like we can today, they still found ways to create highly sexualized cultures wherein sexual sin was nearly ubiquitous... and much of this sin was committed in the name of "worship". I think the biggest difference between then and now is not found in the mediums through which people act out sexually, it's found in the (now lost) awareness that sexual acting out has a spiritual component.
In Unmasked: Revealing the Cultural Sexual Assault Jim Anderson explains that the nations surrounding ancient Israel were worshippers of Baal, Molech and their female counterparts Asherah and Ashtoreth. These were gods of fertility, fire and war. The three main ways these gods were worshipped was through:
- Community sexual festivities at “high places: i.e., hills and mountains, though God eventually charged Israel with making a high place on every street corner (Ezekiel 16:25 & 31)
- Temple prostitution: involving many of the young teenage girls (in ancient Greece boys would be included) of the community... and the communities were of course extended family tribes
- Child sacrifice: which gave you a chance to get rid of the unwanted by-product of the two above.
Asherah poles were phallic symbols placed near the altars to Baal. They would have helped the altar to be located from a distance, but their purpose was likely to help eroticize the atmosphere… which would create a draw to come and “worship.” In 1 Kings 15 God calls the asherah poles “a horrid image.”
Anderson summarizes the situation in ancient times saying:
“In an effort to appease the gods of fertility and entreat them to release blessings on their crops and herds, the people activated and exercised their own sexuality in hope that their sexual experience would allow them to become one with the god or goddess of fertility.”
Those who have had the misfortune to be involved in satanism will tell you that this "joining with the god" via the exercising of one's sexuality still goes on today: and one can become painfully demonized through such a ritual sexual experience.
How God's people fared
As I've already suggested above, God's people did not always do a great job of abstaining from the sexual sins of their neighbours. In fact, God mentions on more than one occasion that Israel became more idolatrous/sexually depraved than "the world" around her (Ezekiel 5, 16). Of the 20 kings of Judah chronicled, 14 were reported as bad, six as good:, i.e. they encouraged the people to follow God. Of those six only two, Josiah and Hezekiah tore down the high places and asherah poles: for which they were highly commended by God. They were also the only two to bring about revival.
By Jesus' day the Pharisees had found a new way to act out sexually: one that still gave the appearance of keeping the law. I refer to this form of acting out as the "Pharisaical divorce scam" whereby Jewish men could divorce their wives on any whim (e.g., "she burned my dinner," and "I've met someone prettier") and were then free to remarry. When Jesus challenged this skirting of the intent of the law—by stating that adultery was the only grounds for divorce (see more here—his own disciples were so shocked they stated that then "...it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:10b).
Nothing new under the sun
Just as in ancient times, we, as God's people, find ourselves living surrounded by a sex-obsessed society... and not faring particularly well (according to the statistics). Previously sex was the means to make "the gods" happy and ensure prosperity. Now sex is directly worshipped (since society no longer acknowledges the associated demons) and this brings huge prosperity to those who, like the silversmiths of Ephesus, deliver "the goddess" to those who desire her (i.e., the porn industry, sex traffickers, etc.)
As in ancient times, innocent blood cries out from the ground (Gen. 4:10) This is the innocent blood of those physically and psychologically murdered by our sexualized culture... the aborted babies, the sex trafficked girls, the discarded (literally or emotionally) wives. The results for those sinning are potentially more dire still... a worse type of death.
And in it all our God continues to invite people to smash the idols, repent, and live a counter-cultural life of devotion to Him and faithfulness to our spouses. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
"Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were."
Jesus built a church on former sexual sinners and false-god worshippers (idolaters). Many would have been sexually addicted and demonized at first... but in Jesus they found freedom and deliverance. God has not changed. He did it then and he longs to do it now.