Marriage in Honor - Dr. W.G. de Vries
|Dr. W.G. de Vries (1926-2006) wasa minister in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands.He received his doctorate from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches in Kampen.He was also editor of Petahja, a monthly publication for the Reformed Men's Societies in the Netherlands.|
Marriage, the bond between a man and a woman who promise love and faithfulness to each other for life, is one of life's most fundamental relationships. It is also a widely disputed institution. Many wonder whether marriage has not run its course. "Is this form of association between a man and a woman the only possible and right one?" they ask. And they seek alternatives.
The only possible answer to that question is the starting point of this book: The God of heaven and earth instituted marriage as one of His most beautiful gifts. Marriage is as old as creation itself. It may be accepted and enjoyed with thankfulness.
This book seeks to offer insights which will lead to a thankful and proper enjoyment of marriage.
After the Lord God had created heaven and earth and had supplied it with a multitude of living creatures, He formed man-His final act of creation. About man He said: "It is not good that man should be alone; 1 will make him an help meet for him" (Gen. 2:18).
The essence of this matter is that God's creation be complete. In that wholeness, it would not be good for man to live alone. The Lord wants to find a counterpart, a match for man. This is how the term "help meet for him" can be translated. A counterpart is a help who is man himself, who is on man's level.
This one could not be an animal. When God presented the animals to Adam to be named, Adam found no counterpart, one who was on his level. God awakened in Adam a longing for a fellow human at his side, a longing to be alone no longer but to have a partner with whom he could share his desires, his joy and all that filled his heart. The man Adam longed for a companion.
God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. He took one of his ribs, formed it into a woman and presented her to Adam. Eve was brought to him by God's own hand.
Recognizing his partner, Adam joyfully proclaimed: "This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man" (Gen. 2:23ff). "Therefore" -adds Scripture"shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." This has been so throughout history. Paul calls these words from Genesis the law for all times and ages, fixed by God (Eph. 5:31).
Eve was taken out of Adam's flesh. In the most literal sense she was the other part of him, the complementary half. The unity between a husband and wife is like that. Closely and tenderly they form one flesh and body. The separation of a husband from a wife is as horrible as tearing a body in two. God has joined them together inseparably, and what He has put together let no man put asunder!
When Adam felt the lack of companionship in his life, God filled his emptiness. His partner would assist him as the right hand assists the left, and as other members of the body help each other. This is the greatest and richest gift man can receive on the earth.
In order to promote their communion, God differentiated the man from the woman. The essence of a woman's nature is different from a man's. Only thus can a woman truly be a help to a man.
More precisely, a help must first complete what is missing. The secret of unity lies in difference. Something can only fit together when one part has what the other lacks. Because of their differences, woman and man received different places in the creation.
Note that the woman's place is different not lower. God
did not allow Adam to dominate Eve as he dominated the kingdom of animals, plants and minerals. No, God brought the woman to Adam; He gave her to him for a help. A husband does not own his wife. She is not his possession, for she is his fellowman.
Yet since the husband is placed as head of the wife, the initiative is his. This should not be a humiliation but an honoring of their different natures. The head has a different function than the heart but that does not mean that the heart is inferior to the head.
The word "head" implies an unequal communion. The woman is taken out of the man -he is her "beginning." The bond of life ties her to him . They are one flesh, and the one head is the husband. This characterizes the communion of marriage. However, the husband may not rule with domination and force; he may not tyrannize his wife. On the contrary, he must protect her.
God ordained this so that man could fully realize his purpose. Marriage is a communion in which life blossoms to the honor of God, where His glory as Creator shines. Poets sing its praises; thinkers cannot grasp it; Scripture derives its richest imagery from it.
God deliberately engaged man, as husband and wife, to cultivate and fill the earth. Through marriage, man received the high honor of being allowed to reflect God's splendor as Creator: as husband and wife, man rules creation under God. Moreover, new life can be brought into the world. God did not create all people at the same time; man has the ability to produce new life within himself.
So that His creation might be cultivated, God ordained that man should sow and reap to satisfy his hunger. So that His creation might be filled, God decreed that man should satisfy his sexual appetite through marriage.
However, the chief aim of a marriage is not to produce offspring. Would a childless marriage have missed its purpose? Certainly not! After all, the chief aim of a marriage is that husband and wife be help and partner to each other in all of life. Only then follows the second purpose, the increase of the human race. As the Lord God gives the command: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28), He places in man the urge, the desire for this.
Man's restless urge to discover and to penetrate the earth's mysteries one by one reflects God's decree to cultivate the earth. The urge and desire for union between husband and wife, the most intimate communion, also reflects God's decree. just as no one need be ashamed of the urge to develop further the materials God has placed on earth at his disposal-to convert nature into culture-so there need be no shame about the desire of a man for his wife or of a woman for her husband.
However, just as gluttons and drunkards came into the world because of sin, so also misusers of marriage arose. For this reason, the Old Testament records the Lord's strict precautions against unrestrained desires and passions. Marriage is one of God's best gifts. The corruption of the best makes it the worst; the most beautiful becomes the most ugly. The many Old Testament instructions regarding marriage were intended to stem the flood of impurity which threatened to inundate human life.
Contrary to the will and mandate of God, Polygamy -the taking of more than one wife -came into existence. Besides Sarah, Abraham had two concubines. Jacob married Leah and Rachel. Esau had three wives. Gideon had many. Some of the kings had densely populated homes. Often the Bible describes the resulting troubles and quarrels. Consider the rivalry between Sarah and Hagar, Rachel and Leah, and Hannah and Peninnah.
Despite these examples, we must not conclude that polygamy was common in Israel. Monogamy -the marriage of one man to one woman - was still the rule. Both the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes assume monogamy when they speak of marriage: "Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well" (Prov. 5:15). The virtuous housewife is praised in song: "Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her" (Prov. 31:28). The book of Ecclesiastes says: "Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest. . ." (Ecc.9:9).
Likewise the prophets assume monogamy when they use marriage to illustrate the relationship between God and His people: "For the LORD has called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth . . . " (Is. 54:6). Apparently, in Israel the wife was her husband's possession. just as he was the master of a house or field, he was the master, or baal of his wife (Ex. 21:3, 22; 11 Sam. 11:26; Prov. 12:4). In fact, a woman was "bought" by her prospective husband. Genesis 34:12 speaks of a "dowry" and "gift',, as does Exodus 22:16 and 1 Samuel 18:25. The work Jacob performed to acquire Rachel can also be viewed as a dowry.
Recent investigations indicate that dowry was not purchase money, but rather compensation for the woman's family (R. de Vaux), for when the Law speaks of the sale of a woman, this woman is the slave of the man who bought her (Ex. 21:7-11), not his wife. We conclude that the position of women in Israel had not sunk as low as it had among the surrounding heathen. The Lord also gave laws to prevent the further misuse of marriage. These laws do not go back to "the beginning" in every detail as Christ later did because of "the hardness of [their] hearts."
A few words should be said about the way we value engagement today. The engagement we know, whereby a couple "officially" announce their promise of marriage to parents, relatives and friends, was unknown in Israel. There was something similar, however.
To our way of thinking, it left not much freedom to the young people. Did not their parents give them in marriage without consulting them? Strong patriarchal authority dominated this area of life. When the young woman married, she left her parents and joined her husband's clan. The children she bore also belonged to her new family.
Yet parental authority was not so overbearing that the young people's feelings were completely disregarded. A young man could indicate his preference, and often mutual feelings of affection could develop. The girls of Israel were free to come and go. They, were not, as in many eastern countries, locked up, and neither did they have to wear veils. They were busy tending the herds, carrying water from the wells, gleaning the fields behind the reapers, and visiting. They could converse unhindered with the men.
This freedom of movement sometimes led to the molesting of young women. Whoever seduced a girl was also obliged to marry her, and he did not have the right to repudiate her later. "And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to he his wife" (Ex. 22:16).
However, a father could object to giving his daughter in marriage to the man. In that case, the seducer had to pay the full dowry even though the girl did not become his wife. "If her father utterly refused to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins" (Ex. 22:17). Deuteronomy 22:29 adds that whoever seduced a girl and then married her according to the law, could not send her away later. "He may not put her away all his days." Clearly these instructions were designed by the Lord to nip in the bud every immoral outburst of "free love." That speaks to our time as well.
Today's promise of marriage can be compared to Israel's betrothal. Regardless of the failures during the time of preparation, a betrothal period followed a commitment of two young people to be married, whether they were promised each other by parents or through love found each other.
The law recognized and also regulated the legal consequences of a betrothal. For example, whoever was engaged to a girl, but had not yet married her, was exempted from military service: "Let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her" (Deut. 20:7). The word "engagement" actually means "betrothal" here. Its character is strongly binding and obligatory.
The binding nature of "engagement" is evident when someone assaults a girl "engaged" to another man. If she is assaulted and raped in the city, according to Deuteronomy 22:24, both she and the man must be stoned: "the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbor's wife." If the offense should take place in a field where no one could have heard the girl's cry for help, then, according to Deuteronomy 22:25-7, only the man is stoned.
It is evident from the laws in Deuteronomy that this form of engagement can be considered as a betrothal. Even though their marriage has not yet taken place, the couple is considered husband and wife before the Lord. This allows the man to return from military service to marry his betrothed wife. Whoever lays hands on a betrothed woman actually commits adultery for which he must be punished.
Adultery is an abomination in the Lord's sight. When a man is caught in adultery with a married woman, both must die: " . . . both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil in Israel" (Deut. 22:22).
The exhortation to put away evil occurs often in the Mosaic law. The Lord did not act gently when He punished Israel's acts of impurity. An Israelite knew that he risked his life when he laid hands on another's wife. The Lord insisted that marriage be kept holy by all.
The solemnization of marriage in Israel was a purely civil matter. No priest or temple was necessary. In Malachi 2:14, the wife is called "the wife of thy covenant," meaning the marriage covenant.
The marriage covenant is an unconditional fidelity by which we are bound to each other for life. Scripture often speaks about the Covenant of the Lord as a marriage. "And 1 will betroth thee unto me for ever" (Hosea 2:19). This kind of unbreakable faithfulness is what God demands from a husband and wife in marriage.
We tend to assume that such a covenant would be recorded in writing. But nowhere in the Old Testament do we read of a "marriage contract" although mention is made of "bills
of divorcement. " In Deuteronomy 24: 1, it is this bill which is given to an expelled wife. It would be strange if the marriage itself was not recorded in black and white. In the Jewish colony of Elephantine, among others, marriage contracts have been found from the fifth century B.C. Such contracts state: "She is my spouse, and I am her husband from this day for ever."
We know that marriage was often the reason for a grand feast that lasted for days. The entry of the bride into the bridegroom's house was the most important part of the ceremony. Surrounded by friends playing musical instruments the bridegroom, wearing a royal crown, walked to the bride's house to get her. The Song of Solomon 3:11 reminds us of this: "Go forth, 0 ye daughters of Zion, and behold King Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart."
The waiting bride was beautifully dressed and bejeweled. Psalm 45:14, 15 alludes to this: "She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins, her companions that follow her, shall be brought unto thee. With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the king's palace." The bride would continue to wear her veil until she entered the bridal chamber. "Your eyes are doves behind your veil" (Song of Solomon 4:1 RSV). That is why Laban was able to deceive Jacob when he gave him Leah instead of Rachel (Gen. 29:25).
Finally, a large banquet was arranged, usually at the bridegroom's house. In Matthew 22:2, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a king who arranged a marriage feast for his son. Such a feast normally lasted seven days. The marriage was consummated on the first night and the bloodstained linen was kept as a sign of the bride's virginity and as evidence in case of slander by the husband (Deut. 22:13-21).
As previously mentioned, it was possible for an Israelite to divorce his wife. Deuteronomy 24:1 says rather vaguely:
"Because he bath found some uncleanness in her." Rabbis deliberated at length over the legitimate grounds for a wife's expulsion.
The strict school of Sjammai accepted adultery or misconduct as the only reason for divorce, whereas the more flexible Hillel school considered even poor food preparation as lawful cause. In Matthew 5:32 the Lord Jesus breaks through all this by saying: "Whoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery. "
It was only because of the hardness of their hearts that Moses allowed the Israelites to divorce their wives (Matt. 19). Note that he did not institute the bill of divorce. We read: ". . . then let him write her a bill of divorcement . . ." By legislating the practice of divorcement, Moses gave it his tacit acceptance.
Moses not only proclaimed God's religious and moral demands, he was also the civil lawgiver. As such he had to take into account actual situations brought about by the Israelites' unrepentant attitude. Although he made divorce civilly legal, he did not morally sanction it. When Jesus said: "Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery", He actually said that the "former" marriage continued to exist because there had been no moral right to divorce.
Moreover, a bill of divorcement was sometimes given when adultery had not taken place at all. In citing adultery as the only reason for putting away one's wife, Jesus clearly says that divorce is impossible. The act of adultery annuls a marriage once solemnized, and any other divorce is meaningless. In complete agreement, Paul says in I Corinthians 7: 10, 11: "And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, 'Let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife."
Paul does note an exception in this regard. If one of the partners does not believe and if the unbelieving party leaves the other, "A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases." Marriage is not necessarily to be the institution for evangelization. "For what knowest thou, 0 wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, 0 man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?" (I Cor. 7:15, 16).
Remember too that this also applies: a woman left alone by her adulterous husband does not commit adultery when she remarries. Christ's words, "Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, committeth adultery," apply to those who were divorced for having committed adultery, or to those divorced for unlawful reasons and therefore still married in the sight of God. Only when a woman is left alone because of her husband's adultery or unbelief, does she not commit adultery by remarrying.
Sin has sullied marriage with impurity and adultery. The beauty of marital relations has been spoiled.
The book of Proverbs often warns young men about the temptation of a woman who has become unfaithful to her husband. She is called the "strange" woman and those who associate with her risk death by stoning. The unlawful woman-the prostitute-is also included in this category. One may not have a sexual relationship with her, for such illicit love leads to death, to complete moral and spiritual downfall. "He that keepeth company with harlots spendeth his substance" (Prov. 29:3) "and wastes his strength" (Prov. 31:3).
Old Testament Scripture clearly warns against all kinds of uncleanness. Sexual passions are strong and man's heart is rebellious. Like bolting and unbridled horses, passions threaten to carry men to destruction. Unbridled desire degrades marriage, breaks family ties and turns life into a dismal chaos. Indeed, the best, corrupted, becomes the worst.
However, the redeeming word about marriage has not yet been spoken if we limit ourselves to the laws of God found in the Old Testament. Certainly these laws did attempt to stem a flood of sexual corruption. But whoever separates the Old Testament from the New and does not read the Old in the light of the coming Redeemer cannot begin to solve the problems of marriage.
God speaks about marriage in the New Testament through Paul who compares it to the relationship between Christ and His Church. Looking back to its origin, Paul speaks about a mystery in marriage.
The apostle quotes from Genesis: "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh." He immediately adds: "This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Eph. 5: 31, 32). The mystery within marriage can only be understood through the revelation of God in Christ and His work.
Out of infinite pity for our great need, Christ came to redeem marriage and to restore to us the beginning of its former edenic glory. But we must see clearly that Christ was a man with emotions like ours; nothing human was strange to Him. In His heart, too, lived the desire for communion, for someone with whom He could speak about the things that grieved and oppressed Him. However, His task was to redeem the human race, not to increase it.
He was not allowed to become anyone's husband or father so that He could be a Mediator and Brother to us all. The redemption He offers is the redemption of marriage as well.
Christ's life is a comforting example to those who cannot enjoy marriage. Like them Christ was also tempted. He knows the needs and loneliness of those who must go through life without a husband or wife. He wants to make them as fruitful for His kingdom as any married person.
It should be mentioned here that there will be no marriage on the new earth. Christ teaches us that marriage is not the ultimate on earth, for it would be better never to have married than to be married and to miss entering the Kingdom of heaven. The mystery of marriage revealed to us by God is that Christ wants to make the marriage of His people an image of the union between Him and His Church.
just as Christ loves His Church, carries her in His bosom; died for her, bore sorrow, pain, scorn and the anguish of hell for her, so a husband should love his wife as his own body. We can never fathom the depth of Christ's love for His Church. A man must strive to give his wife complete and sacrificial love, for in so doing he reflects Christ's love for His Church.
The Church must cling to her Lord with true faith, firm hope and ardent love. She must flee everything that goes against His will. And a wife must show in her attitude towards her husband the devotion and trust which the Church must show its Savior. Something of the power of redemption will shine through the marriage of believers. Their marriage will portray the unity that exists between Christ and His Church.
Sin will continue to darken many unions. However, when time and again husband and wife find each other at the cross of Christ, and when they live by that mystery of marriage which is hidden from unbelievers, then the bond which God established between them will grow. This doesn't mean that paradise will return to earth; nevertheless, the forces of the new paradise are already at work in the Christian marriage. It is not for naught that Christ's words, "As it was in the beginning," hark back to the mandate and gifts of God in the world before the fall. From that starting point we are directed to the purpose of all things: the new earth which is the new heaven as well.
A true marriage is not possible without love. The foundation of every marriage is that husband and wife, joined in true love, faithfully assist each other in all the matters and issues of life.
At the mention of the word "love", a whole world of love songs, love stories and accounts of lost and unrequited love appears before us. The radio plays love songs in many languages, and ten times to one a novel will be a love story. Not only today, but throughout history, love has been the center of stories and songs. People think that they know love well and can say much about it.
Yet despite the fact that everyone has something to say about the subject, God says that His Word must be the guide for the love between husband and wife. His Word does not spiritualize love; it places it in the right perspective. In His earthly gifts, we taste the goodness of the Lord.
The praise of marriage resounds in Scripture, and especially in the Old Testament. The Song of Solomon speaks of love so frankly that many believers have had difficulty accepting it. The Song was considered too worldly, and it was offensive to the prudish. People whispered about the love in marriage and snickered about it secretly. This was disastrous and an insult to the God who gave it as a gift.
Today we experience the opposite. Intimacies are made public, and nothing remains concealed. This so-called "honest openness" is in fact "unwholesome filthiness." More will be said about that later. But if we can learn true, wholesome love from the Scriptures, we will be protected from both false prudishness and unwholesome openness. Therefore we cannot pass by the Song of Solomon which resounds to the praise of monogamous marriage.