The Covenant of Marriage

 

 

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Related Resources

Covenant: As It Relates to Marriage
Covenant: Why Study It?
Covenant: Introduction

Part 1 Covenant: Summary Table
Part 2 Covenant: The Exchange of Robes
Part 3 Covenant: The Exchange of Armor and Belts
Part 4 Covenant: Solemn and Binding
Part 5 Covenant: A Walk Into Death
Part 6 Covenant: The Oneness of Covenant
Part 6a Covenant: Oneness Notes
Part 7 Covenant: Withholding Nothing from God
Part 8 Covenant: Abrahamic versus Mosaic
Part 9 Covenant: New Covenant in the Old Testament
Part 10 Covenant: Why the New is Better
Part 11 Covenant: Abrahamic vs Old vs New
Honoring Covenant Marriage - God is serious about covenants!

 

THE COVENANT OF MARRIAGE:
TRUTH THAT CAN
TRANSFORM YOUR MARRIAGE

Almost 100 years ago, Andrew Murray motivated by a waning understanding regarding the truth and power inherent in God's covenants wrote that...

One of the words of Scripture, which is almost going out of fashion, is the word 'Covenant'. There was a time when it was the keynote of the theology and the Christian life of strong and holy men. We know how deep in Scotland it entered into the national life and thought. It made mighty men, to whom God, and His promise and power were wonderfully real. It will be found still to bring strength and purpose to those who will take the trouble to bring all their life (Ed comment: and their marriages) under control of the inspiring assurance that they are living in covenant with a God who has sworn faithfully to fulfill in them every promise He has given. (Two Covenants)

Covenant as defined by the Scriptures is a solemn and binding relationship which is meant to last a life time. This discussion will not deal with the signing of a so-called "marriage covenant", but instead will emphasize knowing the Biblical truth about the faithfulness of the covenant keeping God. It is my contention that when we come to know the Biblical truth regarding covenant (e.g., that covenant involves a "walk Into death", that it produces a supernatural oneness between covenant partners, and that it is ultimately withholding nothing from God), this truth will set us free (John 8:36), free to live as we should in our marriages, and not to live as we please.

 

Let me give you a short personal testimony (for the longer version click A Testimony to God's Grace) of the transforming effect an accurate understanding of the truth about covenant can have on a Christian marriage. The short version is that our marriage of 25 years was in serious trouble in 1995, both of us having been born again about 10 years prior. In the sovereignty of God, a Precept Ministries inductive Bible study on Covenant (click lesson 1) was offered at our local church during the day and during the evening which allowed both my wife and myself to attend. The Spirit of God took the Biblical truth on covenant and radically transformed our marriage, restoring the "years that the locusts had eaten".  What transpired was nothing short of a miracle! Although, I cannot promise you a miracle, if your marriage is in need of an infusion of transforming grace, it might just be that this Precept course on Covenant is the truth that God's Spirit could use to revitalize, revive or restore your relationship. This material on Covenant is also summarized in Kay Arthur's book "Our Covenant God: Living in the Security of His Unfailing Love" if you don't feel like you have time or energy to tackle a formal eleven week in depth Bible study on Covenant.

 

Dennis Rainey a well known Christian family life speaker writes that

 

"For the past two years I have had a growing concern that the Christian community has passively watched the "dumbing down" of the marriage covenant. Marriage has become little more than an upgraded social contract between two people—not a holy covenant between a man and a woman and their God for a lifetime. In the Old Testament days a covenant was solemn and binding. When two people entered into a covenant with one another, a goat or lamb would be slain and its carcass would be cut in half. With the two halves separated and lying on the ground, the two people who had formed the covenant would solemnize their promise by walking between the two halves (Ed note: see Covenant: A Walk into Death) saying, "May God do so to me [cut me in half] if I ever break this covenant with you and God!" You get the feeling that a covenant in those days had just a little more substance than today." (from The Covenant of Marriage) (Bolding and links added)


Jack Hayford
writes that...

 

The covenant of marriage is the single most important human bond that holds all of God’s work on the planet together. It is no small wonder that the Lord is passionate about the sanctity of marriage and the stability of the home. This covenant of marriage is based on the covenant God has made with us. It is in the power of His promise to her mankind that our personal covenant of marriage can be kept against the forces that would destroy homes and ruin lives." (Hayford, J. W. The Spirit-Filled Family : Holy Wisdom to Build Happy Homes. Nashville: Thomas Nelson) (Bolding added)


Marriage is God's design - One man for one woman as we read in Genesis, the book of beginnings...

 

Genesis 1:1 the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… Ge 1:26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness… Ge 2:18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper, who is suitable, adapted and complementary for him."

 

Although the word "covenant" is not actually used, Moses describes what is in its essence the first covenant of marriage writing ...

           

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept. Then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. And the LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man and brought her to the man. And the man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."  For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife and they shall become one flesh. (Ge 2:21, 22, 23, 24)
                             

they shall become one flesh

pictures the essence of covenant
(
See "Oneness of Covenant")

 

Genesis 2:24 could be paraphrased as follows...

 

For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall stick like glue to his wife (forcibly intimating that nothing but death should be allowed to separate them) and they shall (become one flesh as they) enter into a covenant relationship.

 

Jesus reinforced the idea that marriage is a covenant relationship when the Pharisees tried to trap Him (knowing that the rabbis were divided on this issue) with the question of whether or not it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for "any cause at all". Jesus answered...

 

Have you not read (rather than aligning Himself with either rabbinical position, Jesus appealed to the authority of the Scriptures), that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, 'FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH' (oneness)? Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together (note Who joined them), let no man separate. (Mt 19:4, 5, 6)

 

In ancient times, covenant was the most solemn and binding agreement into which two parties could enter. It is tragic that this vital truth seems to have been lost in much of our modern culture, including even in the church, with devastating consequences to American families. It is critical that one understand the truth about covenant, as it is God's cornerstone for marriage as illustrated in the following section.

 

IN the
COVENANT of marriage
remember the following truths…

 

1) Two lives become one: (See note)

 

In covenant you become identified with the other individual and there is a supernatural  commingling of two lives.

 

(two becoming one flesh) "is a mystery but it is an illustration of the way Christ & the church are one." (Ep 5:32NLT-note)


In marriage, your family becomes your spouse's family, your desires your beloved's desires, and yes, even your finances are your covenant partner's finances (including credit card bills!).  
(
See "Oneness of Covenant")


2) There is a sign TO REMEMBER WHICH SERVES AS A WITNESS AND A MEMORIAL  (See note)

 

When God entered covenant with Noah, He gave Noah the rainbow which was to be a testimony that God would remain forever faithful to keep the covenant never again to flood the earth so as to destroy all flesh.

 

In Genesis 9:16  the LORD God testified that...

 

When the (rain) bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.

 

When a you enter covenant with your beloved, the sign is usually a ring which serves as a constant reminder (memorial) of the solemn and binding of your marriage covenant.

 

3) THERE IS a change in name  (See note)

 

In Genesis 17:5, 15 when God reaffirmed His covenant with Abram, God said

 

No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I will make you the father of a multitude of nations." “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.

 

As the wife takes on her husband's name, this change symbolizes the supernatural identity and oneness God intended for the partners who had entered the  marriage covenant.

 

4) TheRE is a meaL SHARED (See note)

 

Biblical covenants were often commemorated with a "covenant meal". The most famous "covenant meal" is of course found in the New Covenant where we read that the Lord Jesus on the night

 

in which He was betrayed took bread and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. (1Co 11:24, 25)

 

In a short while you will probably celebrate your new covenant relationship by feeding each other wedding cake which is a picture that you are now sharing a common life, that two lives have become one.

 

5) THERE IS A FRIEND WHO WILL STICK CLOSER THAN A BROTHER  (See note)

 

Friend is a covenant term and is beautifully seen in God's covenant with Abraham. In 2Chronicles 20 there is a marvelous account of God's deliverance of Judah's king, Jehoshaphat.  Upon hearing of the enemy's advance against him, King Jehoshaphat cried out to God, appealing to His covenant relationship with Israel and reminding Him of who He is and of His great power:

 

O LORD, the God of our fathers (an allusion to covenant with the patriarchs), art Thou not God in the heavens? And art Thou not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Thy hand so that no one can stand against Thee. Didst Thou not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before Thy people Israel, and give it to the descendants of Abraham Thy friend ('ahab) forever (because the Abrahamic Covenant was everlasting)? (2 Chr 20:6, 7)

 

James underscores the association of "covenant" and "friend" writing that when Abraham offered up Isaac his son on the altar, his faith was shown to be working with his works and thus...
 

The Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD (Abrahamic covenant), AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God. (Jas 2:22, 23-note)

 

In Genesis God declared to His covenant partner and "friend"...

 

Shall I hide (keep secret, conceal, cover) from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?" (Genesis 18:17,18)

 

Abraham was the friend of God by virtue of entering covenant with Him. As friends in the marriage covenant there should be no secrets kept or concealed from the covenant partner.
 

6) THERE ARE WITNESSES TO TESTIFY

 

In the Old Testament, the solemnity of cutting covenant was often witnessed by setting up a memorial or sign. For example, when Jacob cut a covenant with his father-in-law Laban, the latter responded...

 

So now come, let us make a covenant, (cut a covenant) you and I, and let it be a witness (Hebrew = 'ed = someone or something that would be accepted to bear a true testimony and in this context refers to an object which symbolized this solemn event as a memorial) between you and me." Then Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. And Jacob said to his kinsmen, "Gather stones." So they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. Now Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha (Aramaic for "witness heap") , but Jacob called it Galeed (Hebrew for "witness heap") And Laban said, "This heap is a witness between you and me this day." Therefore it was named Galeed; and Mizpah (watchtower), for he said, "May the LORD watch between you and me when we are absent one from the other. If you mistreat my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us, see, God is witness between you and me. And Laban said to Jacob, "Behold this heap and behold the pillar which I have set between you and me. "This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass by this heap to you for harm, and you will not pass by this heap and this pillar to me, for harm.  "The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us (Solemn and Binding)." So Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac. Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his kinsmen to the meal (covenant meal); and they ate the meal and spent the night on the mountain.  (Ge 31:44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54)
 

The heap of stones served as a witness that neither party would break their solemn, binding covenant, and God was called as their Witness. Similarly when a man and a woman enter into the solemn, binding covenant of marriage, witnesses are present, the highest of which is God Himself.

 

When Dennis Rainey's daughter, Ashley, was married, he noted that...

 

...as Michael and Ashley contemplated their wedding day, we talked about how they could exalt God and about the pledge they would make with God and with one another. Their vows were taken to an artist who then created a large document titled, "Our Holy Covenant on Our Wedding Day." During the ceremony Ashley and Michael signed the document after they had recited their vows. Family members were then asked to come forward and sign their names as witnesses of their covenant. Then the pastor asked for a few members of the audience to sign it as well. By doing so, these people not only became formal witnesses of the covenant, but they also agreed to pray for Ashley and Michael's marriage and hold them accountable to keep their vows to one another. Later at the reception more than 100 people signed their covenant, filling the parchment. As I stood by the covenant I heard people say, "They are really serious about this, aren't they?" I couldn't help but think, "Isn't this what marriage was intended to be in the first place? The most sacred promise we will ever make to another person?" (from The Covenant of Marriage) (Bolding added)

 

Covenant in the Bible clearly represents a serious commitment between two parties. The covenant between Jacob and Laban was so serious that God was called to serve as a witness! In view of the divinely ordained nature of the covenant of marriage, it too is a solemn, binding agreement that is witnessed to by the attendees. Sadly, too few married couples or wedding witnesses have a sense of the seriousness of the covenant or of their role as life long witnesses.

 

7) THERE IS A COVENANT PARTNER TO DEFEND  (See note)

We see this principle of covenant vividly illustrated in the covenant David cut with Saul's son Jonathan. In this exchange we see that covenant is stronger than paternal ties (Jonathan was more committed to his covenant partner David than to his father, King Saul!) and stronger than personal ambition (Jonathan would have been next in line to be king but willingly released that right to his covenant partner David!). This covenant relationship (which some have misinterpreted as a homosexual partnership -
see discussion) clearly took priority over all other relationships.

 

First Samuel records that...

 

Jonathan made (cut) a covenant (karath beriyth) with David because he loved him as himself. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt. (1Sa 18:3, 4) (See discussion of the significance of this action)

 

Henry Morris rightly concludes that

 

The practice of bestowing one's garments and weapons upon another is known from archaeological discoveries to have symbolized the transfer of one's position to another. Jonathan evidently knew that God, through Samuel, had chosen David to be the next king over Israel instead of himself (1Sa 16:13), and he gladly accepted this as God's will." (Morris, Henry: Defenders Study Bible. World Publishing)

 

This exchange is also a picture of "putting on your covenant partner" or of the two becoming one (Ge 2:24, Ep 5:31-note). The exchange of armor is a picture of a willingness to take on the other's enemies, one covenant partner saying to the other in essence "I am now bound to defend you from your enemies." (Husbands, compare 1Co 13:7 - see discussion below). Remember that covenant in ancient times was a bond in blood (cp Ge 15:9, 10, 18). Therefore, when two people or parties entered into covenant, they understood that everything they had was now held in common, even each other's enemies (cp "credit card debts", etc!). Whenever one was under attack, it was the duty of the other to come to his aid.

 

What were David and Jonathan saying?
 

They were saying that "Because you and I are no longer living independent lives, but are in covenant-and because covenant is the most solemn, binding agreement that can be made between two parties-I am bound by covenant to defend you from your enemies. Those who attack you become my enemies."
 

Because of their covenant which was binding unto death, Jonathan committed to defend David at all costs, first Samuel recording his promise to David that...
 

"If it please my father to do you harm, may the LORD do so to Jonathan and more also ("covenant is death to one's self interests"!), if I do not make it known to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. And may the LORD be with you as He has been with my father. (1Sa 20:13)
 

We see this principle of covenant defender later when Jonathan knowing that his father King Saul seeks to king David, says to David...

 

"Go in safety, inasmuch as We have sworn to each other in the name of the LORD , saying, 'The Lord will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever (see fulfillment in life of Mephibosheth).'' Then he rose and departed, while Jonathan went into the city." (1Sa 20:42)

 

In the New Testament Luke records Paul's encounter with the resurrected Christ, an incident which clearly demonstrates the covenant commitment of the Lord to defend His those who have entered the New Covenant with Him by faith...

 

And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who art Thou, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:3, 4, 5).

 

Who had Saul been persecuting? Was Saul not persecuting those in covenant (the new covenant in His blood - Je 31:31, Lk 22:20, 1Co 11:25) with the Lord Jesus Christ even

 

"breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (Acts 9:1, 2)

 

And so we see that Scripture clearly teaches that those in covenant are responsible to defend their covenant partner. How much more poignant and imperative could this directive be than in the holy covenant of marriage in a culture which has lost the knowledge of this critical truth and where all too often marriage partners instead of being defenders become persecutors and enemies? Beloved, this was not God's original design. If there are "walls" and/or "wounds", ask God to examine your heart and strengthen your hands to do the right thing according to His good and acceptable and perfect will.

 

How does a husband defend his covenant partner? (As a husband I speak primarily to the men, but the principle is applicable to wives.) There are many ways to answer this question but one that might surprise you is to read (meditate on) the poignant and pithy little book of Ruth, observing especially how Boaz the kinsman redeemer interacts with Ruth the Moabitess in Ruth 2 (Ru 2:8, 9, 10, 11-note, Ru 2:12, 13, 14-note). As husbands we should pay very close attention to Ruth 2:15, 16...

 

When she rose to glean, Boaz commanded his servants, saying, "Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her (see notes)  And also you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her." (Read the explanatory notes).
 

Also pay careful attention to how Boaz treats Ruth in chapter 3 where he "covered" her and defended her honor (Ru 3:1, 2, 3-note, Ru 3:4, 5, 6, 7-note; Ru 3:8, 9, 10, 11, 12-note, Ru 3:13, 14, 15-note, Ru 3:16, 17, 18-note), much as did Joseph centuries later...

 

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed (engagement or betrothal in Jesus' day could only be broken by divorce and so was as binding as the actual covenant of marriage!) to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace (paradeigmatizo from para = beside, in view, publicly. In short paradeigmatizo = put something alongside of a thing by way of commending it to imitation or avoidance. To make an example of or expose to public disgrace) her, desired to put her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  (Mt 1:18, 19, 20, where "disgrace" means to expose to public shame!)

 

In 1Corinthians 13 we read God's convicting definition of love is often read in marriage ceremonies, and in Paul's definition one can see many practical ways for the husband to defend his covenant partner

 

Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1Co 13:4-note,1Co 13:5, 6-note,  1Co 13:7,8-note).

 

Take time to read and meditate on this passage in light of the truths you've seen about  covenant calling one to defend their covenant partner.

 

LOVE BEARS
ALL THINGS

 

You have read and perhaps even heard someone teach on 1Cor 13:7 (notes) but you still may not fully understand what Paul meant by love bears all things.

 

The Greek verb translated bears is stego which is derived from a root word, steg, which means to cover or conceal. A related derivative word stege which is used to describe a thatched roof or covering for a building. The idea conveyed by the verb stego is first to protect by covering, then to conceal, to cover over or to forebear. At its core stego denotes an activity which blocks entry of something from without or exit from within. In secular Greek stego was used to describe a ship as that which "held back" the salt water or of that which kept the ship tight (and by implication allowed it to stay afloat! Interesting picture in a discussion on marriage!) Figuratively, stego conveys the idea of covering over by maintaining silence.

 

Can you see how this definition of bears all things relates to a husband's role as covenant defender of his marriage partner? Your understanding of and commitment to your marriage covenant produces a Spirit empowered (Ep 5:18-note) love which covers over the faults of your covenant partner, (rather than exposing her faults to other in off color humor or even with a desire to embarrass her. cp Pr 12:16 where "dishonor" = insult, disgrace or shame) HUSBANDS! Never, ever do this to your covenant partner! Read the notes attached to Ruth 2:15, 16-notes). To conceal a matter protects one's covenant partner. How are you doing in this area? Remember you can only genuinely carry this action out under the control (filling) of the Holy Spirit and His power. Note also that stego is in the present tense, which indicates that this is to be one's continual or habitual activity! Husbands, just try to carry out this exhortation in your own strength. You might make a day or even a week, but eventually your "natural" strength will collapse. Verses like this and Eph 5:25-note calling (present imperative = commanding this attitude and action as a lifestyle) for husbands to continually love their wives with Christ-like, selfless agape love, make it very clear the only way to have the desire and power (Php 2:13NLT-note) is to walk by faith (2Co 5:7) and in God's Spirit (Gal 5:16-note).

 

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Life Action Ministries in their handout "Honoring the Covenant of Marriage" (Download) states that...

 

Marriage by definition is:

 

1. A holy covenant


2. Initiated by God


3. Conditioned on an irrevocable promise


4. Oneness with an imperfect person of the opposite sex


5. For a lifetime


6. To glorify God

 

DOES GOD REALLY CONSIDER MARRIAGE
TO BE A COVENANT RELATIONSHIP?

 

What saith the Scriptures?

 

In Proverbs there is a reference which appear to relate to the covenant of marriage, Solomon writing that ...
 

wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will guard you. Understanding will watch over you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things; from those who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness, who delight in doing evil, and rejoice in the perversity of evil, whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways, to deliver you from the strange woman, from the adulteress who flatters with her words that leaves the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant (beriyth) of her God. (Proverbs 2:10-17)

 

Although one might interpret forgets the covenant of her God as a reference to the Mosaic covenant with its prohibition against adultery (cf Ex 20:14), the context favors that this statement is a reference to the marriage covenant of the adulteress.

 

Dr. John MacArthur for example comments that...

 

In a wide sense this could be the covenant of Sinai (Ex 20:14), but specifically looks to the marriage covenant of Genesis 2:24, with its commitment to fidelity. (MacArthur, J.: The MacArthur Study Bible Nashville: Word or Logos)

 

God considers marriage to be a covenant relationship.  Furthermore marriage is a God-sealed Covenant  for in (Mark 10:8, 9) Jesus teaches that God Himself joins the husband and the wife together.

 

AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH; consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together (suzeugnumi yoked together as oxen and so coupled together as a team), let no man separate (put space between, isolate one from the other).
 

The verb joined together is in the aorist tense which speaks of a definite completed action (in context in the past) and active voice indicates He (God) actually did this! This is a mystery but it is truth.

 

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In a parallel passage which also emphasizes the truth that God considers marriage to be a covenant, the prophet Malachi explains to his Jewish audience why Jehovah was paying no attention and taking no pleasure in their offerings, writing...
 

Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because Jehovah has been a witness (thus God is able to speak of their violation of covenant since He had witnessed their matrimonial pledges of mutual loyalty) between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion (this Hebrew word is derived from the root habar meaning to fasten together, to join together or to unite and in context implies harmony and working together to achieve life’s goals while sharing the hardships, pain and joys; LXX = koinonos = derived from koinos which means that which is in common or shared by all. Koinonos thus describes one who participates with another in an enterprise or matter of joint concern!) and your wife by covenant (beriyth = a serious, solemn, binding oath). (Malachi 2:14)

 

God goes on to add...

 

I hate divorce," says the LORD, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with wrong," says the LORD of hosts. "So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.  (Malachi 2:16)

 

The same verse in the Amplified translation reads...

 

Yet you ask, 'Why does He reject it?' Because the Lord was witness [to the covenant made at your marriage] between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously (this verb conveys the idea of unfaithfulness in relationships like marriage, as in Jeremiah 3:20) and to whom you were faithless. Yet she is your companion and the wife of your covenant [made by your marriage vows]. (Bolding added)


So why did God reject Israel's "worship" as "worthless"? In this context it was because they had not been faithful to their marriage covenant! Is God serious about the covenant of marriage! The tragedy is that today so many view marriage as a contract, (a business arrangement for the supply of goods or services at a fixed price: Merriam-Webster) not as a covenant founded on Biblical principles. If the contract does not work out, the parties involved mutually agree to terminate the agreement and go their separate ways, and a divorce ensues. Time Magazine had an article in 1993 stating that it was easier in the United States to walk away from a marriage than from a commitment to purchase a used car! This is a tragic statement! Most contracts cannot be unilaterally abrogated, but marriages in open minded America can be terminated by practically anyone at any time, and without cause.

 

John MacArthur comments that this verse in Malachi

 

accentuated the iniquity (of violating their marriage vows) by mentioning the legally binding nature of the marriage contract, a covenant made before God as Witness. (MacArthur, J.: The MacArthur Study Bible Nashville: Word or Logos)

 

Thomas Constable adds that

 

The marriage relationship is a covenant relationship, and those who break their vows should not expect God to bless them. God Himself acted as a witness when the couple made their covenant of marriage in their youth." (Constable's Expository Notes on the Bible)

 

R C Sproul  adds that...

 

Marriages are our closest human relationships and should emulate most nearly our fellowship with God. The rise and fall of marriage in a society acts as a barometer by which to measure the godliness of that culture...

 

First, marriage is a covenant. This is the keystone of the analogy Paul makes in Ephesians 5 between earthly marriage and the relationship between Christ and the church. The bond between Jesus and His bride forms the New Covenant, the spiritual reality of which human marriages are a type. Malachi 2:14 explicitly makes the connection between marriage and covenant. But what does that mean? We should consider several aspects of a covenant.

 

First, a covenant establishes a bond between two parties, in this case the husband and wife. At the heart of this bond is a promise, the promise of faithfulness.

 

Second, a covenant establishes obligations. A primary obligation in marriage is fidelity. The husband is obligated to lead his wife in love, and she is obligated to submit to him in the fear of the Lord.

 

Third, a covenant is public. It is contracted before witnesses. There is a great difference between the whispered pledges of a boy in the back seat of a car and the solemn vows of a young man before God and witnesses in the ceremony of holy matrimony. This public character of the covenant means that marriage is a social institution that society has an interest in preserving. As an institution, marriage is regulated by the Word of God. That the marriage covenant is not simply a private affair becomes clear when we consider divorce. Divorce wrecks the lives of children. Divorce destroys peace of mind and damages the effectiveness of employees. Divorce upsets friends and family. For Christians, an ungodly divorce forces the elders of the church to exercise discipline. Marriage is the closest possible relationship between two depraved human beings. Thus, marriage is potentially a wonder of grace or the scene of intense pain."

 

Sproul adds that 

 

people are no longer familiar with the nature of covenants. (Ed note: A sad "Amen" to that!) Covenants establish relationships publicly and create accountability. If two people are simply living together, either partner may abandon the other without accountability. The covenant involves a promise to obey God and to be faithful—and also involves a curse: May God judge me if I break this pledge. People avoid the covenant of marriage because they want to have irresponsible relationships, but such relationships are hazardous to human life. God has created us so that we blossom as human beings when we conform to God’s covenantal structures. When we live irresponsibly, we destroy ourselves and others...Living by covenants is God’s method to anchor our lives and provide security against the prevailing cultural disintegration. (Sproul, R C: Vol. 4: Before the Face of God: Book Four: Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries) (Bolding and color added)
 

Jack Hayford has an interesting comment on Malachi 2:14 writing that...

 

God Backs Up the Covenant of Marriage (Mal 2:13,14,16). When two people marry, God stands as a witness to the marriage, sealing it with the strongest possible word: covenant.

 

Covenant” speaks of faithfulness and enduring commitment. It (the covenant of marriage) stands like a divine sentinel over marriage, for blessing or for judgment. Divorce is here (Mal 2:13,14,16) described as violence. To initiate divorce does violence to God’s intention for marriage and to the mate to whom one has been joined. Yet, where husband and wife live according to their marriage vows, all the power of a covenant-keeping God stands behind them and their marriage. What a confidence, to know that God backs up our marriage. His power and authority stand against every enemy that would violently threaten it from without or within." (Hayford, J. W.,  Hayford's Bible handbook. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers) (Bolding added)

 

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In Isaiah God addresses faithless Israel, figuratively portraying her as His wife with whom He had a covenant relationship. Note the language indicating God's commitment to His "marriage vows". Jehovah declares...

 

"For your husband (Hebrew = baal =  marry, have dominion, or to rule over) is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth. For the LORD has called you (Israel), like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one's youth when she is rejected," Says your God. "For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you (the final fulfillment of this promise will be at the outset of the Millennial reign of Christ). In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting lovingkindness (Hebrew word "hesed" which is loyal, steadfast love of covenant) I will have compassion on you," says the LORD your Redeemer. "For this is like the days of Noah to Me (referring to the unconditional promise to not again destroy the earth with water. This promise has been kept and is a testimony to God's faithfulness to keep covenant), when I swore that the waters of Noah should not flood the earth again, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, nor will I rebuke you (so just as God has kept His promise in covenant with Noah, so too He will keep His promises to His "wife" Israel). For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness (hesed - loyal love) will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace (referring to the New Covenant described in Jeremiah 31:31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37. See the New Covenant in the OT) will not be shaken," says the LORD who has compassion on you." (Isaiah 54:5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)


Isaiah tells us that the Lord will regather Israel the way a man would take back his wife.

 

Commenting on this passage, J Vernon McGee writes that

 

"If you feel that God is going to break His covenant which He made with Abraham, Isaiah would have you know that you are wrong. God will not break His covenant; He will never break it." (McGee, J V: Thru the Bible Commentary:  Thomas Nelson or Logos) (Bolding added)

 

In Jeremiah we again see God referring to His covenant relationship with Judah in terms of marriage...

 

"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt (the Mosaic or Old Covenant), My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD." (Jeremiah 31:31, 32) (See the New Covenant in the OT)

 

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In Ezekiel 16 (see notes) we again see the picture of the covenant of marriage (read the entire chapter - Ezekiel 16  - to see the depths to which Israel sunk in breaking the Mosaic covenant they had agreed to obey, cf Ex 19:8), where God reminds Jerusalem (representative of the nation of Israel) of their betrothal, declaring

 

"I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love (refers to the marriageable state); so I spread My skirt (Hebrew = kanap = common noun for a wing, the skirt or corner of a garment and conveys idea of to cover) over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant (referring to Mosaic or Old Covenant - see notes) with you so that you became Mine." declares the Lord GOD." (Ezek 16;8-mpyr)

 

This verse describes God's betrothal to Jerusalem and their covenant of marriage. The spreading of one's garment over the other party was a symbol of a betrothal. Notice who the nation of Israel belonged to after entering into this covenant! We see the same picture in the book of Ruth, during the night time encounter between Boaz and Ruth in the harvest field. Boaz is awakened by Ruth's presence at his feet and says...

 

"Who are you?" And she answered, "I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering (Hebrew = kanap = same word as in Ezekiel 16:8) over your maid, for you are a close relative (ga'al = a kinsman redeemer)." (Ru 3:9-note)

 

Most commentators agree that the spreading a skirt over someone was a customary way of committing to marry and to provide for someone in that culture. A similar custom is still practiced in some parts of the Middle East today.

 

In summary, from these Biblical examples, it becomes readily apparent that God considers marriage to be a covenant relationship. It behooves every saint therefore to understand the significance of covenant. Most believers could name most of the major covenants and add a variable number of "facts" concerning each covenant (e.g., conditional/unconditional, everlasting, etc) but most church leaders and members fail to grasp the depth and profundity of the term "covenant" unless they have performed a serious study.

Andrew Murray adds that men made covenants, because they understood there were advantages such...

As an end of enmity or uncertainty, as a statement of services and benefits to be rendered, as a security for their certain performance, as a bond of amity and goodwill, as a ground for perfect confidence and friendship (Ed suggestion: reread each of the advantages and apply them to the covenant bond between a man and a woman!)...So valuable was covenant, that they would cut them in blood!

"Covenant was above all to give man a hold upon God as the Covenant-keeping God, to link him to God Himself in expectation and hope, to bring him to make God Himself Alone the portion and the strength of His soul" (Ed note: What would occur in a marriage under stress and strain, when the husband and wife began to grasp this grand truth? Remember "you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free" not the freedom to do as you please but the power to do as you ought!)

Murray concludes stating...

"I feel confident that if I can lead any to listen to what God has to say to them of His Covenant, and to deal with Him as a Covenant God, it will bring them strength and joy." (Two Covenants)

 

An Appeal for the
Proclamation and Promulgation
of the Truth Regarding Covenant

Barna has reported that divorce rates among Christians are in the same range or even higher than non-Christians. Dave Kinnamon, a spokesman for the Barna group, explained that "Born-again Christians don't seem to be very different when it comes to their attitudes about marriage." "Attitudes" are influenced by sound (healthy) doctrine. Could it be that many in the church have failed to fully comprehend the solemn and binding nature of covenant? To reiterate, it was God's Word of Truth concerning covenant which His Spirit used to convict my heart and then bring about a truly miraculous healing in our marital relationship. What would happen if every church in America regularly (at least annually or even semi-annually) taught an in depth, serious course on Covenant (like the Covenant course available from Precept Ministries)? Only God knows, but my educated guess is that there would be more than a few marriages in which the Spirit would use the truth of covenant to renew minds and revive hearts and marriages to the glory of our heavenly Father. After all it is our Father's glory and Name which is at state...because

The covenant of marriage was God's idea
"in the beginning"!

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Last Updated July, 2013

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