Websites, media channels, and blogs will give you a plethora of explanations of how marriage should be defined and why, but to understand the biblical view of marriage we need to first understand WHY it’s important. Both the Old and New Testaments put an emphasis on this “institution” and it’s context in society. They both feature certain rules regarding the role of spouses and how married people are to interact with one another as well as with others.
The Marriage Question
In our post-modern Western societies we can see the institution of marriage being deconstructed to it’s most basic function, namely a legal union resulting in certain benefits for the couple without much concern for the form it takes. This, I believe, is all together different from what marriage means to God. Before we can really get into the meat of what this is, we first need to have at least a basic understanding the difference between contracts and covenants.
What is a Covenant?
I think it’s safe to say that pretty much everyone knows what a contract is and how it plays out. For those who are unsure, a contract is a negotiated, legally binding agreement between two or more parties for a particular outcome. For example, when you rent a home/flat/apartment/etc. you sign a lease. That lease is a contract stating that you will rent that living space for a particular period of time and for a set amount of money and that the landlord will ensure everything stays in working order. The same idea applies to a new car, job, or any website that you have to click a button that says “I Agree to the Terms”.
At first glance a covenant seems much like a contract, however it is often conceived in a more relational kind of way. We can see a number of different types of covenants in the Old Testament established by God; ones where action is required, and others where God gives with no other requirement.
Examples of Requirement Covenants
- The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3) God says “leave your land AND I will bless you, bless your family, and make your family a blessing to all peoples”
- The Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 19:5-6) God says “obey what I say and follow the rules I give you AND you will be my chosen people”
Examples of Promise Covenants
- The Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9:11) After Noah obeyed God’s command and God destroyed all life on the earth, God says “I will not kill everything on earth in this way again”
- The Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:12-17) God tells King David “after you pass away one of your descendents will be my anointed and will be King of Kings forever”
- The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) the Prophet Jeremiah prophesies the coming of the Christian covenant in which God would write His law on our hearts, make us His priests, and forgive us of our sins
But covenants were not established only by God. We see examples of this in Job, when he tells God that he’d established a covenant of purity with Him (Job 31:1); and in the Torah regarding the Nazirite Vow (Numbers 6). The point here is this: biblical covenants were established WITHIN relationship. They were either established by saying I want to give you this but I need you to do these things to keep the covenant; or by saying I love you and here is what I will do for you.
I could keep going but I won’t belabor the point. Suffice it to say, a covenant is like a contract but has deeper roots and implications. It’s not something that is simply broken and disregarded.
The Marriage Covenant
The marriage covenant has always been something unique. It both requires and promises. It requires sacrifice, fidelity, and trust AND it promises love, fidelity, and provision. I believe it’s fair to say that the marriage covenant is actually the oldest covenant we have, going all the way back to Adam and Eve.
“Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24 (ESV)
So why is it so important? Because it paints a portrait of the Gospel. This is why Jesus speaks of Himself as the groom, and of the Church as His bride. There is a lot more to say about that, but I’ll touch on that in a later post.
From here, we will springboard into the practical side of this series but I felt it necessary to touch on this concept that seems to be more foreign to our society than in generations past.