- What is Marriage: Marriage today is under attack both from within and without. The traditional roles of men and women in marriage have been disparaged and divorce is rampant, so that large percentages of people today forego marriage altogether, and now are even redefining marriage to mean something entirely different. So in this first study we wish to answer the question, “What is marriage?” Foremostly, marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman for their mutual blessing. Marriage is the first of many covenants that are mentioned in Scripture, and these other covenants will help us understand more about the marriage covenant, even as marriage is meant to likewise help us understand God’s other covenants with man. Notice though that while every marriage is a covenant, every covenant is not a marriage: David and Jonathan made a covenant, but it wasn’t marriage. Still though, to understand marriage we have to first understand covenant.
- What is a covenant? A covenant is a solemn agreement of binding force that joins together two parties in a united relationship. Many covenants are mentioned in Scripture, and the Bible itself is divided into the Old and New Testaments, which is another name for covenant. One covenant illustrating the several parts that compose a covenant is found in Gen 31:43-54.
- Covenant Terms: A covenant has terms that are agreed to by the parties entering into the covenant; Gen 31:50,52. The terms of the Old Covenant / Testament was the law of commandments, especially the ten commandments written on tablets of stone that the Israelites for their part were to obey so that God for His part would have them as a people for His own special possession and blessing from among all the peoples of earth; Exo 19:5-6, 20:1-17. The terms of the New Covenant / Testament is the law of love written on human hearts by the Holy Spirit that Christians for their part are to obey so that again God for His part will have them as a people for His own special possession and blessing, forgiving their iniquities, and their sins remembering no more; Jer 31:31-34 (cf. Heb 8:8-12).
- Covenant Oath: The terms of a covenant are agreed to by means of a solemn and binding promise—a vow or an oath—in the presence of witnesses; Gen 31:53. See Exo 24:7-8 for the Israelites solemn promise to keep the terms of the Old Covenant. Likewise when entering into the New Covenant a believer solemnly promises at his baptism in the presence of witnesses that he is truly sorry for his past sins and repents of them to follow Christ, renouncing the world, the flesh and the devil; cf. Act 2:38, 2Co 6:14-7:1. What are the terms of the marriage covenant, and what do we call the man and woman’s agreement to abide by those terms? Do you…take … to be your lawfully wedded wife / husband, to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, for better and for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness as in health, and forsaking all others do you give yourself only unto her/him from this day forth as long as you both shall live?
- Covenant Sign: In addition to the ceremony itself where the vows to abide by the terms of the covenant are made, a covenant also has some lasting sign or token of remembrance of the covenant that has been entered into; Gen 31:45,48,51-52. The sign of God’s covenant with Noah was the rainbow (Gen 9:12-13); the sign of His covenant with Abraham was circumcision (Gen 17:11); the sign of the Mosaic covenant was the Sabbath (Exo 31:13-17). The sign of remembrance for the New Covenant we enter into with Christ at our baptism is the Lord’s supper: “Do this in remembrance of Me”; 1Co 11:23-26. What is the sign of the marriage covenant? With this ring, I thee wed…
- Covenant Sacrifice: A covenant is put into effect and made binding by means of a sacrifice, signifying a dying to self of each party entering into the covenant. As in a last will and testament, since the death has taken place it cannot be altered or changed; Gen 31:54, Gal 3:15, Heb 9:16-20. In the Hebrew language a covenant is literally cut, in reference to the sacrifice being cut in two for each party to pass between as part of the ceremony; see Jer 34:18-19, Gen 15:7-10,17-18. This also signified the essential unity of the covenant that binds the two parties in a relationship that cannot be undone—divided asunder—without irreparable harm to the parts composing it. Thus Christ’s New Covenant / Testament with the Church was put into effect and made irrevocably binding by the sacrifice of Himself (Luk 22:20), which covenant we enter into by also dying with Him in our baptism (Rom 6:3-4). In this same way a marriage covenant is entered into and made irrevocably binding by the spiritual sacrifice that is made as both husband and wife die to themselves to become one; cf. Phil 2:3. The Hebrew ceremony of “cutting” a covenant illustrates the harm that is done when a marriage covenant is divided asunder.
- Covenant Meal: A covenant ceremony is also marked by a meal that is eaten together by the two parties and the witnesses to the covenant; Gen 31:54. This signifies the communion and fellowship of the two parties to live in peace for their mutual betterment. By partaking of the same loaf and drinking from the same cup the parties are signifying that they have become “one”. Thus when the Old Covenant / Testament was established it says in Exo 24:9-11 that “Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they beheld God, and they ate and drank.” Likewise when the New Covenant / Testament was established Jesus and His disciples partook of the same loaf and drank from the same cup at the Last Supper signifying the Lord’s communion and fellowship with those who are joined to Him as one in the new covenant of His blood; Luk 22:14-20. What is the covenant meal called in the marriage ceremony? What is the significance of the part of the ceremony when the bride and groom eat each other’s cake and drink each other’s wine? Cf. John 6:53.
- Covenant Blessings and Curses: To ensure adherence to the terms of the covenant, God is invoked to oversee each party’s faithfulness; Gen 31:49-50. By invoking God to watch over the covenant, it is understood by the parties that He will reward them with rich blessings for covenant obedience (Deut 28:1-14), and punish them with dire curses for covenant disobedience (Deut 28:15-29:1). Likewise in the new Testament, “as many as may be the promises of God” under the Old Covenant, “in Christ they are yes” (2Co 1:20), for “He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises” (Heb 8:6). “And this is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life” (1Jo 2:25). The blessings for obedience to the old covenant was a physical land of inheritance—the land of promise; the blessings for obedience to the new covenant is a spiritual land of inheritance—the kingdom of God. But just as the same Nadab and Abihu who partook of the covenant meal in the Lord’s presence were later destroyed by the Lord for offering strange fire on His altar (Lev 10:1-2), so Paul warns that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord”, and “for this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (1Co 11:27,30). Likewise the author of Hebrews warns that “if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Heb 10:26-27). “For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned” (Heb 6:7-8). In this same way, there are also rich blessings of happiness and joy for faithful obedience to the terms of the marriage covenant, but also painful curses of sorrow for disobedience; cf. Gen 1:27-28, Heb 13:4.
- Inviolable: Because God who sees all is invoked to oversee faithfulness to a covenant, a covenant is to be considered inviolable as the most binding of agreements because it calls for God to punish covenant breakers with curses much worse than whatever hardships may be encountered by remaining faithful to the terms of the covenant; see Jos 9:3-21, 10:1-10, 2Sa 21:1-6, Hos 10:4, Rom 1:31-32 (NAS “untrustworthy” = KJV “covenant-breakers”, as in Jer 3:7-11 “treacherous”).
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