When you think about marriage in light of the last few posts, it is clear that husbands and wives are making a covenant bond on their wedding day. Because God is a party to every covenant, being the One called upon to render blessing if covenant promises are kept and cursings if they are not, Jesus rightly refers to a couple’s union as something “… God has joined together…” (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9). Knowing God’s perspective on keeping covenant more fully reveals why He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). (This doesn’t mean, by the way, that He hates people who divorce or that there is no hope for those who have. But it does mean that it is not what He intends and that divorce is hard and sad and painful. It is the death of something He created.)
A wedding ceremony contains the vows, the solemn and binding promises of covenant, to remain committed to one another in sickness, in health, with wealth, in poverty, until death, and etc. The wedding party (along with the other guests) plays the important role of witnessing the promises that they can later attest to their being made when times are hard and the temptation to give up comes (as it certainly will). When the pastor notes that the bride and groom have made these promises before God and ‘these witnesses,’ he is merely emphasizing the seriousness of the vows. These are not whimsical commitments that can be altered at a later time.
The sign of a marriage covenant are the rings. Just as each time a blood brother saw the scar from the cut made or David wore the armor given to him by Jonathan, wedding rings serve as a reminder of the covenant. The covenant meal occurs during the reception. That odd tradition that most go along with without really knowing the purpose has its origin in covenant practices. As the bride and groom feed one another cake and drink the champagne (or, if you’re from east Texas like me, sparkling cider) with arms intertwined, they are symbolically eating and drinking one another. It is what Jesus invited the multitudes to do and enacted with the twelve (John 6:53-57; Matthew 26:20-29). The covenant meal represents that two parties are becoming united as one.
As God changed the name of Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) when He entered into covenant with them, so there is an exchange of names in most marriage covenants. In Western cultures, the wife takes on the family name of the husband. In most Hispanic cultures, while the wife takes on her husband surname, their children will be called by the family names of both their mother and father. The exchange of names symbolizes in yet another way the dying to an independent life that both husband and wife are entering. It is more way the oneness of covenant is communicated.
Marriage is first summed up in this way: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The beautiful, God-ordained oneness of sexual intercourse is the ultimate expression of the covenant relationship. After ceremonially expressing the fact that two are becoming one throughout their wedding day among many witnesses, the bride and groom complete their promises to one another in the presence of only one another and the Lord on this and every occasion they come together as one flesh. (disclaimer: somewhat explicit) As God is a God of details, it may well be that the thin membrane inside a woman’s body that causes her to bleed the first time she has intercourse is intended by Him to be the blood of the marriage covenant.
Marriage is intended to last a lifetime. And, in the words of our Savior, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). This is the reason marriage vows are the most important human promises that can be made. The covenant makes it possible for two people to enter into the most intimate relationship without fear.
Covenant is the foundation a marriage is built upon but the life in is the relationship. More on this in the coming days.
PS Please don’t misunderstand today’s title. BY NO MEANS am I saying that if you really want to love God and be a happy, well-balanced, good person, you must be married. God calls some to be single (Paul, anyone?). But I am saying He created marriage and that it is a good thing.