Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why marriage is a covenant

Genesis 2:23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man

2 Samuel 5:1,3 Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh. (3) So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

Word Studies and scriptures that define the term "covenant"
What is meant by the term covenant? Covenants are binding agreements made between at least two parties.  In the Hebrew the word translated "covenant" (berith) speaks of "a treaty or agreement between nations or individuals that should be understood on the basis of whether the parties are equal or one is superior to the other".1 Often this particular word "covenant" was connected to another Hebrew word (carat) meaning "to cut, to shed blood", resulting in both terms being translated "to make a covenant."  Thus in Genesis 15:18 we see these two Hebrew words translated as one phrase in God's promise to Abraham: "On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, 'To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.'"

The Old Testament and its various words drive home the meaning of the idea of "covenant".  In the New Testament, Hebrews 6:16-17 unfolds the idea of covenant further: "people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath."  From what we can discern from Hebrews 6:16-17 and other scriptures, covenant includes the ideas of a promise, an exchanging of oaths, a sign, the shedding of blood and God being either the Originator of the Covenant or Witness thereof.2  Truly the idea of covenant is embedded deeply in the fabric of scripture, and as we will see, it is also at the base of the marriage relationship as well.3

Covenantal language proves marriage is a covenant
In Genesis 2:23, quoted above at the beginning of today's blog, we see Adam communicating to his wife the fact that she is "bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh".  The Hebrew of this text could literally be rendered: "bone from my bone and flesh from my flesh".  The language of covenant conveys what God did in the forming of the woman from Adam's side.  Literally God "cut" out of Adam's side and took a rib and fashioned that DNA material into the woman who was to be Adam's wife. 

Now we know that from the above details about covenants in the Bible, as well as what we see here in Genesis 2:23, that the marriage relationship was to be a covenant.  2 Samuel 5:1,3 and 1 Chronicles 11:1 are the only two places in the Old Testament that use this covenant language of "bone and flesh".  The elders of Israel anointed David to be king over all of Israel.  By borrowing the marriage language, the nation of Israel saw David's kingship as fulfilling the promises God had made to David concerning his rise to Israel's throne.  The people were identifying themselves with David and swearing their allegiance to him in the presence of God.

In marriage we see the same type of activities.  The husband and wife swear themselves to one another according to One who is greater than they - namely God.  God is not only the beginning but the end focal point of marriage.  In Christian marriage in particular, Jesus Christ as the revelation of God in human flesh is the focal point and beginning point of the marriage relationship. (Ephesians 2:22-31) 

Various illustrations prove marriage is a covenant
You may had noticed the diagram at the beginning of today's blog.  The triangle depicting God and the husband and the wife has been used for years to illustrate the covenantal nature of marriage.  In short, the husband and wife make God the central focus of the marriage.  As the husband and wife focus on God, they inevitably move closer together. 

Another illustration that is actually one of the Biblical truths pointed to in marriage is the relationship between Christ and His church.  Paul spells out in Ephesians 5:22-31 that Christ's giving of Himself on behalf of His church and the church's submission to His Lordship is the true intention of God designing marriage.4  Matthew Henry, the able Biblical commentator, has made this connection between Christ's work of redemption on behalf of the church and the husband and wife relationship:

"The woman was made out of the rib, the side of the man.  Not out of his head to rule over him, nor his feet to be trampled by him but out of his side to be equally valuable as him; under his arm to be protected by him; and near his heart to be loved by him."   

Specific scriptures that explicitly state marriage as a covenant
Malachi 2:14 gives us a very clear statement from the Old Testament regarding marriage as a covenant: "Yet you say, 'For what reason?' 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."  Other Old Testament scriptures bear out the fact that marriage is a legal and spiritual covenant between the Husband and the Wife before God. (Proverbs 2:17, 5:18; Malachi 2:14-15). 

In the New Testament we see the covenantal nature of marriage being made even more explict.  For instance, Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding of Cana, whereby He illustrated the New Covenant in the turning of water into non-fermented wine. (John 2)  Throughout the course of Jesus' ministry we see Him using wedding illustrations to picture the realities of the Kingdom of which He is King, bidding people to come to Him by faith and repentance. (Matthew 22)  Then of course who can forget the glorious final scene of Revelation 21-22 where the bride and bridegroom word pictures are used to portray the eternal covenant between Christ and His church in eternity.   

Since other covenantal arrangements either use marriage language or will entail the imagery of marriage, only one conclusion can be drawn: marriage is without a doubt a Divinely ordained covenant between one man and one woman in the sight of God. 
End Notes___________________

1. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.  Pages 128-129.

2. We can add other ideas that are included in the Bible's teaching on covenant:
a. A treaty or binding agreement between two or more people

b. Some standard of reference or "greater person" to guarantee the covenant's fulfillment

c. At times there would be "heirs" or "beneficiaries" or "descendants" who would receive the blessings or cursings of the covenant

d. In scripture, other than His covenant at Mount Sinai, God is the One who designs the covenant and unconditionally guarantees the outcome of what He promises by oath to his people.  When it is God alone guaranteeing the covenant's success and bringing about its outcome, we call that an "unconditional covenant".  Whenever man is expected to perform certain duties ("if you do this, I'll do that" language) to ensure the covenant's success, we call that a "conditional covenant". 

e. There is usually some sort of covenantal language that communicates the entry of the two parties into agreement with one another (ex: "bone of my bone" Genesis 2:23; 2 Samuel 5:1,3)

3. Marriage is a covenant in every detail that we have outlined in this blog.  It includes the exchanging of oaths and promises before God, the signs or tokens of rings, the public communication and ceremony and even blood.  In Deuteronomy 22:15 we see laws regarding the proof of a wife's marital purity by the parents bringing out sheets of the marriage bed when both she and her husband would had originally consummated their marriage on their wedding night.  The presence of blood on the sheets would had proven the girl's virginity.  All of these details, both public and private, physical, emotional and spiritual lend to this idea of marriage not being merely a human contract but a God-ordained covenant.   

4. Christ's shedding of blood was to purchase His church (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 1:7) so that He could wash her with the water of the word with the aim to present unto Himself a radiant bride. (Ephesians 5:22-33). Being that Jesus' blood is termed the "blood of the covenant" in numerous scriptures, marriage's picture of Christ and His people only solidifies marriage itself as a covenant between the husband, wife and the Lord. 

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