Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor
The Bible says a lot about marriage.
There are numerous places where men and women are instructed to behave in certain ways toward one another in their married lives. It’s most notably featured in Ephesians 5:21-33, but also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, 1 Timothy 2:13, Colossians 3:19, and 1 Peter 3:1-6.
In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus explained that marriage was instituted by God himself. “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Marriage is used as a metaphor for Christ (the Bridegroom) and the Church (the Bride) in the New Testament. (In that same section in Ephesians referenced above, and again in Revelation 19:5-9.)
But the Bible is woefully absent of couples that are good examples of what it teaches.
It seems that throughout history, even among God’s people, a bunch of things have come between a man and a woman.
Think about it—although Jesus states that monogamy had been God’s ideal from the beginning, most all of the Old Testament patriarchs had multiple wives, or concubines. In fact, a lot of it is pretty skeezy. Abram’s wife Sarai was unable to conceive, so she suggested he sleep with her handmaiden, Hagar to try and perpetuate the family line. Lot’s family was royally screwed up—after seeing their mom turned into a pillar of salt, two of his daughters get him blackout drunk in Genesis 19, and over two consecutive nights have sex with him in order to conceive their own children. (I don’t remember Mrs. Bridges teaching us that story in Sunday School.)
David was unfaithful to his wife Michal, with Bathsheba, and then had her husband killed trying to cover up the affair. Judah, a widower, was seduced by his daughter-in-law, Tamar, and mistaking her for a prostitute, had relations with her, and got her pregnant. Twice. God instructed the prophet Hosea to intentionally marry an unfaithful wife, and then write about it in the Old Testament book that bears his name, because it reflected God’s relationship with the nation of Israel. (Think Pretty Woman, except with a donkey instead of a limo, and a chick named Gomer, probably not looking like Julia Roberts.)
Ruth and Boaz are probably the best example of a married couple that we’re given in scripture, but she was a widow, and Boaz was her late husband’s uncle, which didn’t raise an eyebrow in that day and time, but to me, is still pretty weird.
Solomon wrote Song of Solomon to describe the intimate relationship between he and his wife—but which one? If he’d written each of the 103 verses about a different wife, there would’ve been almost 600 of them, upset that he’d left them out of the poem, and he had another 300 concubines on the side. (I can picture him walking down one of the halls of the palace, seeing a girl and saying ‘Hi, i’m Solomon, don’t believe we’ve met,’ while the girl (rolling her eyes) replies ‘um…like we’re married!’)
Men can be pigs, or at times display ‘pig-like’ qualities. Even God’s men.
There are very few unions, Adam and Eve, and Noah and his unnamed wife are the only examples that come to mind, where a couple apparently remained faithful to one another throughout their lives without somebody making a mess of things. And let’s face it, Adam didn’t have any options, and after the flood, neither did Noah.
Moses had two wives, but we’re not told if these were simultaneous, or if his first wife, Tharbis, the daughter of the Ethiopian King, had died, or was just back home in Egypt, when he married his Midianite wife, Zipporah. (Those are two names that ain’t making a comeback.) Joseph and his Egyptian wife Asenath are mentioned to have two sons in Genesis 41, but there’s nothing of her anywhere else in the story, but i think we’re safe to assume Joseph was a faithful husband, given his virtuous response to Potiphar’s wife when he was younger.
Anyway—the Bible doesn’t paint any kind of picture for us on what those relationships, or the other marriages in olden times were really like, and that’s a shame. Those of us who have been married for a long time could really benefit from reading about how a couple, married for 300 or 400 years dealt with aging parents, or problem children, trouble with their finances or personality differences with one another. Or just how freaking tired they must have sometimes been of sharing a tent and a bedroll with one another, and how they worked through that.
But here’s the deal, church. Since the Bible doesn’t give people many real, relatable human examples of marriage, you and i need to be the examples.
The outside world is watching, and when a ‘Christian’ marriage fails, folks are there to shout ‘i told you so’ from the highest rooftops in town. In their minds, it ‘proves’ to them that our faith is not real, that God is not who we say he is and puts His whole Church in a bad light.
Truth be told, when both parties are fully devoted followers of Christ, divorce is not an option. If a man and woman are both recklessly in love with Jesus, they find a way to love each other well.
The world is full of bad examples of marriage. Every day our news feeds pop up with another pair of celebrities making the decision to ‘consciously uncouple’ or whatever this year’s trendy euphemism for failure is. Believers need to make a stand and show what true marriage should be. But again, what should that really look like?
It goes back to Christ and the Church. Even though, we as the Church, much like Hosea’s wife, continually fail to keep our end of the bargain, and chase after other lovers, God is faithful. God loves us unconditionally, and welcomes us back when we stray. Marriage shows us how deep and intimate our relationship with God can be, and nothing, and no one can separate us from His love. (Romans 8:38)
(I’m not saying martial infidelity cannot be grounds for divorce, since that is stated multiple places throughout our Bibles. I’m using it, like Scripture does, as an illustration of his relationship with us, but, on the flip side, i know of many marriages that God has healed from the sin of unfaithfulness.)
We have a chance to reflect God’s plan for marriage to the world better than the heroes of the Old Testament. It’s true that a lot of things can destroy the bond between a man and a woman, but we need to hold on, persevere and show an unbelieving, cynical world the unquenchable relationship between Jesus and His Church.
The world needs it. Desperately.