The Institution of Marriage

"And Adam 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. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." (Genesis 2: 23-24)

The Bible definition of the institution of marriage is developed around the words above, from Genesis 2:23-24. The Divine intention of this union is that the man and his wife would be "one flesh." As we consider the examples of this marriage bond in the Bible, we learn that even before the actual and necessary consummation of the marriage, there is a betrothal period during which the intentions of the man and the woman to become one are demonstrated.

Betrothal

Servants of God, who have taken on the name of Christ in baptism, have an understanding of what betrothal is all about. The same steps and principles involved in the betrothal period during the Bible times find a counterpart in the commitment that we make in baptism. There are many types and shadows relating to this subject. Our purpose in this writing will focus on the principles concerning betrothal and marriage as taught in the scriptures.

First, the Scriptures portray betrothal as the absolute commitment to the marriage bond. The nearest thing in modern times that we can find relating to the betrothal period of Biblical times is what we call the "engagement" phase. While there are some similarities between the betrothal of Biblical times and the engagement of our times, on close inspection, we find that there are also major differences. For example, some couples, even in the brotherhood, change their minds during the "engagement" period and decide to call off the wedding. From this observation, it is possible to see that today's engagement period is not as solemn a commitment as betrothal was intended to be. In the sight of God, betrothal was a very serious step in the life of an Israelite, being an important first step in the full process of the marriage commitment. It was not considered as an experimental period. Sexual intimacy during the betrothal was considered sinful and to be avoided. There are a couple of examples in Scripture that help us to understand betrothal as viewed by the Almighty.

Scriptural Examples

In Matthew 1, we have the account of Joseph and Mary leading up to the birth of Christ. When the account begins we find that prior to their consummating their marriage, "before they came together" (Verse 18) that "Mary was espoused to Joseph." He is also referred to as "her husband, being a just man...was minded to put her away." Joseph is later told to fear not to take unto him "Mary, thy wife." This shows the solemnity of the espousal (betrothal) situation. Joseph, who was called a "just man", took his commitment to Mary very seriously, this alone should tell us to pay close attention to the attitudes and views of Joseph, as well as to their situation as a Biblical pattern for betrothal.

In Hosea 2, God speaks of a future day when he will betroth Israel to Himself forever. "And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD." (Hosea 2:19-20) The word "know", the Hebrew term "yada," that is used in this context, is the same Hebrew expression used to denote the coming together of a husband and wife, when Adam "knew" his wife in Genesis 4:1.

In a natural sense, this clearly teaches us the spiritual lesson of the relationship between God and Israel. The parallels are abundantly clear. One lesson we could draw from this is that our commitment to our future mate should be taken very seriously. We live in a society where "commitment" is almost a word that is not politically correct. Many marriage commitments, among others, are not taken seriously. Today, it is fashionable to have a "pre-nuptial" agreement, actually anticipating the break-up of the marriage. The world may consider this a reasonable course of action, but servants of God should be thinking only in terms of working through the difficulties that may occur in their marriage. Breaking up the marriage is never an option to be considered. The trials of marriage can be a strengthening experience and adversity can be the glue that bonds the couple more closely together.

Seeking Our Father's Guidance

Another principle that should be emphasized is that a betrothal should be entered into with our heart seeking God's guidance and blessing. Abraham's servant, on his errand to find a wife for Isaac, demonstrated the mindset of the believer for all of us. (Genesis 24:12)

Seeking the Lord's guidance and blessing should be our foundation principle in any path that we walk. "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." (Prov 3:6) In his quest to find a wife for his son, Abraham provides clear instruction to his servant. He is made to swear not to take a wife for his son from the daughters of the Caananites, but to go to his own country and kindred to find a suitable wife. Relying on God should always play a dominant role in all of our decisions, including our commitment to the marriage betrothal period and to the marriage itself.

Finally, the principle that should be instilled and taught in our ecclesias is that our love for God, and a commitment to follow His ways, should be developed first, before we attempt to enter into a betrothal or marriage relationship. Though this might seem very obvious, is it the message our children will learn from our own example? Does our example teach our children that success in life is measured in material terms, such as acquiring a well-furnished house in the suburbs? True success, in God's sight, comes from a character that has developed in His love and in His ways, in whatever state we are in, whether single or married. "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth." (Luke 12:15)

This is the primary goal that we all need to make the number one objective of our lives. The assurance of Romans 8:28 becomes increasingly important. "...We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Therefore we must always "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matt. 6:33)

This is the sequence that we should follow in all of our choices of life. To the degree we can adhere to these priorities, God will extend happiness to us in this life and more importantly, in the life to come. "But godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." (1 Timothy 4:8) He may also bless us in finding a spouse 'in the Lord" with whom we can live together joyfully, (Ecc. 9:9) if in is in accordance with His will and wisdom for our eternal good.

Mark DiLiberto, Garfield, NJ