The Mystery of Marriage

As this world increasingly grows in its depravity, the institution of marriage is mocked, despised, and distorted. In contrast to this, the Christian must boldly define Biblical marriage and honour and exalt this vital institution. In doing so, God’s glory must be praised and His gracious favour towards His bride, the church, must be made evident. It is with this intent that this paper is written. In particular, this paper will explore how the topic of marriage is found woven throughout the tapestry of God’s Holy Word. It will examine how, from Genesis through to Revelations, the theme of marriage is built upon, developed, and grown.

Definition of Marriage

Definitions are crucially important in any discussion, but especially so in the twenty-first century when it comes to marriage. Marriage is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 2:18 – 24. This passage narrates the history of the origin of the institution of marriage, and as such, marriage is defined in it. This narrative in Genesis tells the reader several things. First, marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Second, the union of marriage between a man and woman results in their becoming one flesh. Third, man must leave his father and mother and become joined to his wife in the institution of marriage. In doing so, he starts his own family unit. Fourth, marriage is a creation ordinance: it exists for the good and preservation of human society.

This is the Biblical definition of marriage and it is crucial to note that this definition does not change throughout the Bible. Jesus would later quote this passage when the Pharisees asked Him about divorce (Matthew 19:4 – 9; Mark 10:7 – 8) giving it the same weight and authority that it has in Genesis. Paul would further reference Genesis 2 in Ephesians 5:31 and I Corinthians 6:16.

Development of the Perversion of Marriage

After the Fall, it did not take long for the institution of marriage to become perverted. In Genesis 4:19, Lamech takes two wives for himself, resulting in the first known perversion of marriage: polygamy. While polygamy is not explicitly forbidden in Scripture (except concerning kings multiplying wives to themselves in Deuteronomy 17:17), God seems to be pleased to reveal through human experience that monogamy is to be much preferred. Whenever someone has engaged in polygamy it has always resulted in strife and division (Genesis 21; Judges 8:29 – 9:57; 2 Samuel 11;13; 1 Kings 11:1 – 8).[1]

In Genesis 6:1 -2, the sons of God (i.e., the seed of the women) intermarry with the daughters of men (i.e., the seed of the serpent). This too is a perversion of marriage because believers are yoking themselves unevenly to unbelievers.[2] This is marriage for the sake of sensual lust, not the glory of God. Genesis 19 recounts two even greater deviations of marriage: fornication (especially rape) and homosexuality. At this point in history, marriage has become so disregarded that intercourse is no longer something that is only to exist between a married couple, but instead can be with anybody (in this case, either Lot’s two daughters or the two angels in the appearance of men). Fornication itself is a disgusting perversion of marriage, rape (as utterly unbridled lust) makes it even more abhorrent. Homosexuality is the utter destruction of marriage, for it reduces the purpose of marriage down to one thing: personal selfish gratification. Further, when God instituted marriage, he said that it was not good for man to be alone and He created a helper that was purposefully different for Adam. Relationships between two men or two women defy God’s good purpose in marriage. It mocks God to His face. Due to man’s rebellion against God, God has been pleased to judge the wicked by giving them up to their “vile passions . . . receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due”[3] (Romans 1:26 – 27).

Marriage as a Symbol of God’s Covenant with His People

The depth of human depravity is a sobering subject, especially when it comes to marriage. Nevertheless, Biblical marriage is a beautiful institution and consequently, the Bible has much to say about the beauty of the institution of marriage. Throughout the Scriptures, marriage is beautifully used to symbolize God’s covenant relationship with His people: the church. One sees this especially in the Song of Solomon, or The Song of Songs. This book, far from being carnal or sensual, presents the close and intimate relationship between Jesus Christ and His precious bride. Matthew Henry comments on this book saying,

It is a song . . . wherein, by the expressions of love between a bridegroom and his bride, are set forth and illustrated the mutual affections that pass between God and a distinguished remnant of mankind. It is pastoral; the bride and bridegroom, for the more lively representation of humility and innocence, are brought in as a shepherd and his shepherdess. . . . God betrothed the people of Israel to himself; he entered into covenant with them, and it was a marriage-covenant. He had given abundant proofs of his love to them, and required of them that they should love him with all their heart and soul.[4]

The Apostle Paul also speaks of God’s relationship to the church as being pictured in marriage in Ephesians 5:22 – 33. Here Paul writes that just as Christ is the head of the church, so the husband is the head of the wife and must love her as Christ loved the church. Thus, the wife must submit herself to her husband as the church submits herself to Christ. But the great mystery, according to Paul, is the fact that when a husband and a wife are married, they become one flesh (cf. Gen. 2:24). It is a mystery because the unity of the husband and wife in marriage is a picture of the amazing unity of Jesus Christ (the perfect Son of God) and the church (who apart from the grace of God, is totally depraved).

Nevertheless, the sad truth about the marriage union between Christ and the church is the fact that the church is often spiritually adulterous. The Old Testament prophets constantly had to rebuke Israel for spiritual adultery and playing the harlot (Hosea 1 – 3; Jeremiah 3; Ezekiel 16). Not even Sodom or Samaria were as wicked as Israel was in this spiritual adultery[5], yet God’s covenant to His people is an everlasting one. God’s faithfulness is true faithfulness. Even though Israel sacrificed its children to false gods of silver and gold, God will provide atonement for the sins of his adulterous wife (Ezekiel 16:63). In that day, Israel will call God, “’My Husband’” and no longer “’My Master’” (Hosea 2:16). It is interesting to compare adulterous Israel with the church of Ephesus in Revelations 2, who is accused of forsaking her first love.

The marriage relationship between Christ and the church is brought to perfection in that beautiful marriage feast in the new heavens and the new earth. This is spoken of in Revelations 19:7 – 9. The church, who is clothed in the clean and white wedding garments, praises and gives honour to her bridegroom who clothed her with those pure garments: the Lamb of God.

Lessons and Application

Marriage is a very serious institution in the sight of God. The Christian, in this sex-crazed world, needs to maintain his or her purity, remembering that marriage exists for a reason. The intimacy of the marriage bed is for a married couple alone (Proverbs 5 – 7; Hebrews 13:4). God’s fierce wrath and anger abides on those who participate in fornication, sexual immorality, and adultery (cf. I Corinthians 10:8 in connection with Numbers 25). Parents need to be ever vigilant in what books, music, TV shows, movies, and websites are allowed in their houses lest their children are led down the treacherous slope of slavery to lustful passion. But on top of forbidding what the Lord views as an abomination, it is the obligation of parents to train their covenant children in the beauty of marriage and helping them see the positives of God’s command in sexual purity.

The Christian also must stand as a witness in this culture of sensuality that God is a God of mercy. The church is going to have broken people in the area of sexual morality coming into its fold. Divorced and remarried parents, fornicators, prostitutes, homosexuals, slaves to pornography, and couples living out of wedlock all need to hear the gospel and the church must be quick to give it to them. The church must be quick to tell them that the blood of Jesus Christ is more than able to cover over all their sin.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Israel time and time again committed spiritual adultery with the Lord, engaging in all the fornications of the heathen nations. Yet, God in His covenant faithfulness was pleased to forgive those who repented and turned to Him. He was pleased to forgive them for He looked toward the sacrifice of His only begotten Son on the cross. God is able to take sinners and bring them at peace with Himself; He is able to make the mystery of marriage, that mystery of two becoming one flesh, apply to wretched transgressors of the Seventh Commandment. That is the great beauty of the gospel of grace.

[1] Not to mentioned the fact that the leaders of the church are called to be the husband of only one wife (I Timothy 3:2, 12)

[2] On this point see Deuteronomy 7:3 – 4 and Nehemiah 13:23 – 28

[3] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982)

[4] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 1056.

[5] A chief reason for this being that God had established His Covenant with the nation of Israel. He had not established it with Sodom or Samaria. Israel was His people and the Seed of the Woman would come through Israel.

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