The only Scripture in the Bible where you actually find the word 'covenant' used in direct relationship to marriage is at the closing of the former testament. In response to man's cry as to why the Lord will not accept his weeping and tears, the prophet says, "Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant." (Malachi 2:14)
How men treat their wives is singled out as a reason the Lord refuses to answer their prayers. It seems Peter had this in mind, when he said, You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)
So here we have our two witnesses as to how the Lord refuses to bless a man where the wife is being mistreated in some form. However, Malachi points out that the man's attitude towards his wife is only an indicator of a much deeper problem. The prophet calls attention to the prevailing arrogance in the man that has spilled over into all his life.
The following statements are lifted out of the book of Malachi. Listen carefully. Man says, "The table of the Lord is defiled." "My, how tiresome it is." "How have we robbed You?" "Why won't God accept my offering with favor?" "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them?" "Where is the God of justice?" "It is vain to serve the Lord!"
The reason I point this out is because these words are very much in vogue today. There is a spirit of arrogance in our western societies that has been the cause of the spiraling destruction of marriage. How desperately we need to reorder our lives in the ways of the Lord. And how desperately we need to get back to God's ideal for the marriage. As one writer says, "Divorce and unhappiness are the gravestones that pockmark the open fields of the free society." (Maurice Camm; "The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage.)
While I stated earlier that Malachi is the one book that uses the term 'covenant' in a direct tie to marriage, it is interesting to note that the Bible opens and closes with scenes of the marriage. The first marriage is between Adam and Eve. The last marriage is between Christ and His Bride. And these two marriage scenes tell the story of redemption. And so we have a Bible that wraps itself around the marriage.
So is marriage a covenant? Yes. It is a covenant and much more. The Biblical marriage is a divine picture of Christ and His Bride. But in addition to that, the Biblical marriage speaks to us of the mystery of Deity. In the marriage the wife can be likened to the Holy Spirit, and the man to the Word of God. It takes both to produce life. But let's leave the mystical to the side for now.
Part of our modern day problem is that we have drifted far from God's program for marriage. But this problem did not begin yesterday. It reaches far, far back to when the Church began to lose her Biblical moorings, and began to take on a Latin-Greek mind set.
For example, where the Bible teaches the goodness of marriage, the Latin-based church began to take on the idea that marriage was in itself a distraction from a deeper walk with God. The result was monasticism and the eventual requirement of a celibate priesthood. The problem with this picture is that celibacy is never portrayed in the Scriptures as God's best for a deeper spiritual life. In fact, one of the basic requirements to be a pastor is that the man had to be married.
The truth of the matter is that marriage itself relates to things that are deeply spiritual. This means that there are certain things that cannot be discovered in a celibate life style. But the only way to make a marriage work in its spiritual expressions is to return to its Biblical foundation. (This is not an affront against someone who has the gift of celibacy. This gift is from the Lord.)
God said that it was not good for man to be alone. And the very first commandment given to man and woman in the Scripture is, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it." (Genesis 1:28)
So once again, is marriage a covenant? Most assuredly. Marriage is the most sacred of covenants. In fact the Hebrew word for marriage and the Hebrew word for holiness is the same word; kiddushin.
Marriage is the only covenant in the Bible that allows two people to be perfectly joined in all areas of life, from the physical to the spiritual. Where else but in marriage can we find such sacredness and dignity placed together?
Now let's consider some of the mystical side of marriage along with God's ideal. In the very first marriage, which will always be God's ideal for marriage, we find the Lord presenting Eve to Adam. Does it not say that, "House and wealth are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord." ? (Proverbs 19:14)
For the mystical side we have this truth that the Church is a gift of the Father to the Son. When Christ came out of the overshadowing of the cross, He saw His bride. Jesus said, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out." (John 6:37)
When Eve is presented before Adam, we hear Adam say, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man." (Genesis 2:23)
Adam's role was to draw Eve to himself. Adam's role was to drive Eve's fears away. Adam's role was to let her know his love and his protection, that she was now sanctified to him. On the mystical side, this is what Christ does for the Church. On the marriage side, this is what men are to do for their wives.
Paul said, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself." (Ephesians 5:25-28)
This statement by Paul shows us why the Lord will not bless a man who mistreats his wife. Every woman is designed to be a gift to some man. But she is ultimately a gift from the Lord. The gift is to be cherished, loved, and cared for. This is covenant. Two lives become one. And while it seems we are putting the greater responsibility on the man, this is because he has the greater responsibility. God designed the woman to be weaker in some things, so that she could fit the marriage in her proper role.
To take this a step further, can the marriage covenant be considered a blood covenant? After all, there are various covenants given throughout the Bible, and not all of them are blood covenants. Again we see the mystical side of marriage. God gave the woman a hymen that was designed to be broken in the first act of intercourse. In the breaking of the hymen there is the letting of blood. Thus the Lord built into marriage the blood covenant.
Surely this ideal has been set aside today, and even mocked. But it should go without saying, that the man and woman who will keep themselves sexually pure before marriage, are able to bring into their marriage something to be treasured. You can only have one 'first time' covenant marriage.
Where does this leave a second or third marriage? Certainly these marriages miss God's best, but so does any area of our lives where sin has worked a defilement. Divorce is not the unpardonable sin. What the enemy is able to destroy, the Lord is able to more than redeem. Paul said, "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." (Romans 5:20)
Men and women who come to Christ are not to walk in condemnation because of sin that destroyed a prior marriage. Sin is in the world. God's provision for all our sins is Christ and the cross. And in the case of a remarriage, any marriage can be born again in Christ.
The best example we have for the problem of multiple marriages is the woman at the well. Jesus went out of His way to minister to this one person. Isn't it odd how people who've been divorced and then remarry get beat up so much? Not so with Jesus. Notice that Jesus drew attention to the fact that this lady had been married five times, and was then simply living with a man. Did he tell her to go back to one of her other husbands? No. He simply told her how to get her life together.
It wasn't a matter of the Lord approving all her past marriages. It was a matter of the Lord seeing her as a person damaged by sin. Nor did he tell her that she would have to wait in line behind all the people who had been married but once, before He could bless her. He simply said, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." (John 4:10)
What then is our need? Our marriages need to have an abundant flow of living water. There is no greater love that a man can have for a woman than that of loving her with the love of Christ. This love transcends all other loves and gives the Biblical marriage its true strength. So it is with the woman. While romantic love is certainly a part of marriage, it is not that kind of love that bonds the marriage in covenant. Only the love of Christ can do that.
In closing there is one more picture to be seen. The ancient marriage covenant had two parts. They were called 'kiddushin' and 'nissiun.' Kiddushin was the bethrothal of the woman to the man. Today we call this the engagement period. For the ancients it had a much deeper spiritual significance. The woman was considered married but had not yet been taken to the husband's home.
This is the stage of marriage that the church is in with regard to Christ. Paul said, "For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that in Christ I might present you as a pure virgin." (2 Corinthians 11:2)
Paul was speaking as a Hebrew man, and had the ancient Hebrew marriage in view. For the Hebrew people, the completed marriage was called nissiun. Nissiun speaks of elevation, or the lifting up. This is where we get the 'lifting of the veil', and even the carrying of the bride over the threshold. For the Church, the nissiun takes place at the second coming of Christ.
Jesus uses these two aspects of the ancient marriage in his sharing with the disciples in John 14, where He says, "In My father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also." (John 14:2,3)
Yes, marriage is a covenant. Think about it.
Copyright © 2001 Lawrence Martin
All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
A note from Paul and Lori: If you enjoyed this article, we suggest you check out the Hebraic-Foundations e-mail study list. On that list, Bro. Buddy does many studies like this about the early church, its practices and beliefs.
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