The Bridegroom and the Bride

(A parable illustrating the Principles of Marriage related in the examples and types in Scripture)

Have you ever been invited to a wedding where you harbored real misgivings about the suitability of the match? Irrespective of whether you were friends of the bride or of the groom, you had an uneasy feeling about the prospective spouse and the success of the future union.
I'd like to relate to you just one such case where the brother in question married a sister who broke his heart. The brother--we'll call him Hos for the sake of our discussion-- was a fine upstanding young man. He was dedicated to the work of the LORD and was a real pillar in his ecclesial community. But his choice of a bride left many tongues wagging. Hos married a sister whom we'll call Sister Gogo, a name that proved most fitting. Gogo was a flirt. She had roving eyes and never seemed content. Now that's not to say she wasn't attractive. Many men would size her up and consider her "perfect". And it wasn't as if Hos was blinded by this girl's flirtatious style. Brother Hos was known to be a good judge of character-- and so it became all the more surprising that he would choose to marry Gogo with all the potential for problems down the road. It was as if Bro. Hos had made it his mission to turn this young sister's life around

Hos and Gogo were married. Initially, it appeared as if things would work out. They had a son, Jezzie, and one would have thought that this would have served to solidify their union. Gogo, though, soon got bored with the life of a stay-at-home mother, and her flirtatious eyes started to catch the attention of all the men in town-- men whom she thought had more to offer than humble Hos. It wasn't long before Gogo had developed liaisons with these new boyfriends in the neighborhood. Hos was devastated, but it was as if he harbored a spiritual fortitude, that despite his wife's unfaithfulness, he would not toss in the towel nor would he abandon her, even though she had, for all intents and purposes, abandoned him.

Sister Gogo was determined to enjoy the good life. And she pursued what she thought would bring her pleasure with abandon. She led an immoral lifestyle and had two other children fathered by different men. She spent her money on the comforts of this life and spared no effort to serve her own lust, greed and ambition.

Longsuffering

Many of us would have simply chalked this one up to experience, and sadly, would have moved on. What could be saved from this marriage? Put yourself in Hos' shoes. This would have been a humiliating experience to endure. The life that you were willing to devote to your spouse was treated with contempt. Hos didn't have anything she needed! He was just a country bumpkin. She had her eyes set on bigger things. She was going to satisfy her every desire. But our brother didn't give up. With great resolve and unflagging determination he undertook to bring his wife back.

Well, what did he do? Whenever possible he made it difficult for her to gain access to this life of sin. But she was not to be easily dissuaded. She did her utmost to circumvent the obstacles placed in her way. The proverbial hedge of thorns wasn't going to hold her back. Hos sent their son Jezzie to plead with his mother who was living this sinful life, blissfully ignorant of her true condition. Her own son warned her of the serious consequences her wanton lifestyle had upon both her marriage and her salvation.

Through all of this, Hos continued to provide for her, but he did it quietly. Meanwhile Gogo had become so blinded by sin that she erroneously assumed the things she'd been receiving were from her lovers, upon whom she then squandered them. So Hos adopted a different approach and withheld the support he had been providing. His hope was that this would be remedial --that she would come to her senses and would realize that the blessings she'd received had come from her husband, and no one else.

Repentance

By now, sin was reaping its harvest with Sister Gogo. She was caught on a downward spiral of her own making until finally she hit rock bottom. She was no longer an attractive woman. The sin that she had found so appealing had done its worst. She ended up so destitute
that--believe it or not-- she had literally sold herself, and Hos bought her back. The state of her utter degradation could be seen in the fact that she was dirt-cheap. She cost little more than the
price of a slave. This was not the girl who had attracted so many lovers. She was now unwanted and available for a paltry sum. But then the light came on. She realized what she had done and the great pain she'd caused the one who truly loved her -- the one who loved her despite her life of unbridled sin. She knew now that it was her husband who was the source of all her blessings. Now that it was almost too late, she would know the cost of her life of sin.

And you may wonder what Bro. Hos was thinking when he finally found her. She was now nothing more than a wretched shadow of her former self. Could he ever love her again? Not only had she spurned his love and sought out others, but also now she had paid the price of her sin and there was nothing left that you or I would find desirable. She was a wasted woman.

Hosea and Gomer

The account is a true story, and as you doubtless realize, it is that of Hosea and Gomer. Hosea was commanded to marry a woman he knew would be unfaithful, yet his marriage and the redemption of his wife was to be an enacted parable to Israel and through her, to all who would hear. Hosea was to be the bearer of God's message but not before he had experienced it himself first hand in his own life. Hosea personally knew the pain of a faithless wife- and the intensity of that emotion echoed in his call to the ten tribes of Israel who had become immersed in idolatry. But there is also a message for us today. The central theme of the prophecy speaks to the formation of a new Bride through the redeeming work of Jesus and this is a work only made possible because our God is so merciful.

If we had a wife like Gomer, I think most of us would have been stretched to the very limits to find it in our hearts to forgive her. Similarly, I think we find it difficult to understand how God can desire to save man who is so unlovable; and how, while man persists in walking his own way, God can at the same time be planning for his redemption. Yet this is a basic truth revealed through Hosea. God said, "I will love them freely." (14:4) Paul in writing to the Romans taught that "...while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us;"(5:8) these aren't empty words, brothers and sisters. They speak to a depth of love that for us is difficult to comprehend.

There can be no comparison between that which passes for human love and the love demonstrated by God. Human love always requires something beyond itself to excite it, whereas God loves because He is love. Human love is self-rewarding; it is fed by its own experiences. It is stimulated by the response it engenders, whereas God's love flows from Him for the benefit of the one loved by Him. Occasionally, human love may appear to be selfless, but in reality, it is an emotion which is generated by what is seen or felt; there is always some external cause to which that love has responded. By contrast, God's love is truly selfless in that He has shown it towards man who is totally undeserving and unlovable.

God's love for Israel was demonstrated through Hosea's relationship with Gomer. When he sought out his wife, there would be little that he would find appealing, yet when he found her, he had to free her from slavery. Hosea wrote, "So I bought her."(3:2) Just as Hosea
illustrated with Gomer, God was demonstrating how it was possible for Him to reach those who through their own willful perversity were separated from Him. A price had to be paid that the slave might go free. It was not with the paltry price paid for a slave that God purchased our redemption; it was with the precious blood of His own Son. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."(1 John 4:10)

Probation

But we are not to assume that our salvation is automatic and only dependant upon the love of God. It's certainly true that the first step had to be taken by God; but before the salvation for which Jesus died can be ours, we must become personally involved. It appears from the prophecy of Hosea, that after her freedom had been purchased, Gomer was not given full marital status immediately. "Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another man."(Hos.3: 3) So over a period of time, Gomer had to prove that she was indeed repentant. There was no returning to her old way of life. Rather, this was an opportunity to prove that she had changed. I like to think that she added her voice to that of Hosea's in calling the ten tribes to repent; but hers would be a voice tinged with urgency. "Come and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up."(Hos.6: 1)

Similarly, for those who would be the bride of Christ, this example speaks to the chastity, which is required of us. The days following our baptism provide us opportunity to demonstrate the intention of our heart. Our behavior must speak of our longing for the return of the one
who has purchased our freedom by his own blood, and there must be no returning to our former lovers--whatever they may be.

This enacted parable of Hosea and Gomer's marriage would have provided a very powerful and profound message to those in Israel who were willing to listen. Hosea and Gomer's relationship was a pattern or shadow of God's relationship to the nation. God was their husband-- but Israel played the part of an unrepentant bride-- so that as a nation, the Northern Kingdom ceased to be. Jeremiah, for example, spoke of the covenant, which they (Israel) broke, "...although I was an husband unto them." (Jer. 31:32) The prophet Ezekiel also employed the same metaphor. "... And I will judge thee, as women that break wedlock ... are judged." (Ezek.16: 38) The image of God and His people is one of husband and wife.

Divine Patterns for Marriage

The marriage of a man and a woman was designed by the Almighty to be a small-scale imitation of the relationship between Christ and his bride, the New Israel of God. Paul repeatedly emphasizes this very fundamental point. In Ephesians 5, note how frequently Paul reinforces this idea that human marriage is to be patterned after the spiritual union of Christ and His ecclesia.

Paul's repeated use of this emphatic language was not simply to employ Christ and the redeemed as an illustration. It's actually the reverse of that. In Ephesians 5, Paul is declaring over and over again that in the divine scheme of things the central theme was Christ and his
redeemed. Human marriage was designed by divine wisdom, to be a kind of miniature or replica of that sublime union. And when this realization sinks in, it becomes a marvelous transforming catalyst in our relationship with our spouse. Paul exhorts each of us to view every aspect of our marriage through this divine lens--that the love our Lord has towards us, and the loyalty we have towards him be reflected in our marriage to our mate. In other words, the relationship between Christ and the ecclesia is to supply a continuing pattern or template for husband and wife to imitate in their conduct towards each other. It is a lofty ideal for each one of us to strive for.

But let us remember the lesson of Gomer--the lesson the ten tribes of Israel never learned. There is nothing demeaning to the ecclesia in humbly accepting the authority of the Lord Jesus or zealously fulfilling his every commandment. And the wife, who sees her role as comparable to that of the ecclesia, will feel no humiliation or resentment regarding the higher status of her husband. For the woman who trembles at God's word, the matter is taken seriously. She submits to this spiritual model -- cheerfully not reluctantly. There is no antagonism between husband and wife, but rather a spirit of co-operation characterizes the marriage. Imagine what a disaster it would be if the ecclesial bride sought to go her own way, do her own thing and look after only her own interests. Remember the lesson of Gomer.

In order for the ecclesia to fulfill its role, it must revere the Lord and submit to him. And it's important to realize that this whole arrangement is by God's decree, rooted in Eden. Paul spoke of the ecclesia as being subject to Christ. However, Christ does not compel obedience from those who are his. Rather, because he offers continual forgiveness of all human lapses, the pattern is established for the husband to be unfailingly tolerant of whatever disappointments he may encounter in his wife. In this regard, he only needs to remember how far short he himself falls from the goodness and love shown by the Lord Jesus who is his prototype.

Just as Hosea was God's representative, the husband serves in the place of Christ and is called upon to mirror in his attitude and behavior towards his wife the loving kindness, concern and devotion which Jesus has shown to his faithful. And what a love this is: "as Christ also
loved the church, and gave himself for it.
"(Eph. 5:25) "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life..." for another (Jn.15: 13) The Greek thought throughout is one of willing self-sacrifice for the benefit of the other.

Looking Beyond the Present

And the Lord's sacrifice was as great as it could be, not because he had a perfect bride from the outset--far from it-- but because of the end in view. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Our starting condition did not attenuate his love for he saw what a converted community could become; it could become sanctified, it could become cleansed, it could become a glorious ecclesia without spot or wrinkle, it could become his true companion. He saw the end results of the travail of his soul and was satisfied. What a love, what a willingness
to sacrifice for the benefit of the other! And this is set out as a pattern for husbands to follow!

This high ideal for the husband to emulate may involve some discouragement. The key to Jesus' success was in looking beyond the present state to what his bride could become. Furthermore, there is nothing the husband is going to endure which Christ hasn't already experienced for the saving of his bride and it is his love, which sets the pattern. At a time when he needed personal help and consolation, he had instead to encourage and pray for his own. He put up with many frustrating situations without becoming discouraged or giving up. He experienced their repeated failures in the same fault but continued with patient instruction. He did all this with the twelve and does it with us today, persisting, working, and always seeking to save. It is this quality of love that a husband is to have towards his wife in regard to her
eternal welfare.

Jesus, Our Model

In self-sacrifice Jesus was willing to go to the very limit in self-denial and suffering. This is the working model for the true husband. Similarly, the wife sees her husband as her lord and as her head, the savior of her body, the one to whom she is gladly subject.

By behaving as Jesus did, the husband actually subjugates his own welfare to see to his wife's needs. The principle is summarized in Ephesians 5:21: "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." Each of us is to show greater concern for the well being of the
other than for our own convenience. The successful key for both husband and wife is this quality of selflessness in contrast to the selfishness that characterizes the thinking of the natural man. By nature, we want to get our own way. What we ought to be asking is what would Jesus have us do?

The love of Christ for his ecclesia and the submission of the ecclesia to Christ serve powerfully to illustrate the right relationships in marriage. But we see here much more than a helpful comparison. There is a deliberate relationship between the two, for the marriage bond is
intended to be a living parable of the love and intimacy existing between the Lord and his own. The illustration is profound and beautiful. It provides for us a continuing exhortation to right
conduct. Could we ever contemplate Christ betraying the ecclesia? Is he unreliable so that the ecclesia can't trust him? Does the true bride take another husband? Of course not! God has set before us a pattern to be followed, an ideal for which to strive. He has designed that two
might become one; one in concern for the other's welfare, one in submission to the other's need, one in raising a godly family. This is a union that beautifully reflects the uniting of His Son with his beloved.

If in faith we strive to follow that pattern, then in that day when the marriage of the Lamb is come, we as his bride will be ready. Through God's love and mercy we will be arrayed in linen clean and white-linen that has been washed in the blood of the one that loved us and died for us.

Alan Ghent, Toronto, ON