July’s weekly posts present a biblical view of marriage. This first post considers the Hebrew Scriptures, beginning with verses from the prophet Malachi. The second addresses what Jesus has said about marriage as recorded in the Gospels. The third draws on some of the writings of the Apostle Paul. The fourth looks at marriage as a metaphor in the final book of the Holy Bible, the Revelation to John. Of necessity each post draws on only a small selection of biblical material; the reader is invited to read more deeply in order to perceive what God requires of his people in respect of the institution of marriage in society today.
Malachi 2: 13-16 (NIV)
13 Another thing you do: You flood the LORD’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
15 Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.
16 “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel …
The Hebrew Scriptures consistently hold the institution of marriage in high regard. These writings reflect the LORD’s requirement for his people as presented in the first book of the Law:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2: 24).
The divine intention for husband and wife was a monogamous relationship between a man and a woman for as long as they lived.
Adultery was and is abhorrent to the LORD. He repeatedly instructed his people that they “must not live according to the customs of the nations …” (Leviticus 20: 23). Later the prophets used adultery as a metaphor for the unfaithfulness of the children of Israel as they chased after foreign gods, the gods of the nations around them.
The Law delivered through Moses permitted divorce but only under extenuating circumstances, the primary one being adultery (Deuteronomy 24:1 – there was some dispute between different schools of Hebrew thought as to whether “something indecent” referred only to marital unfaithfulness).
Mosaic Law placed limits on who could be married (Leviticus 20). Marriage between people in a close family relationship was forbidden. These laws remain valid today (The Marriage Act 1961, Section 23B, addresses “marriages of parties within a prohibited relationship”).
In summary, the LORD clearly and often presented marriage as a monogamous relationship between a man and a woman for as long as they live. Divorce for marital unfaithfulness is tolerated by the LORD. Adultery, describing not only unfaithfulness within a marriage but also unfaithfulness between his chosen people and their God, was sufficient reason for the LORD to permit their land to be conquered and his people to go into exile.
They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the LORD had ordered them, “Do not do as they do,” and they did the things the LORD had forbidden them to do.
16 They forsook all the commands of the LORD their God … (2 Kings 17: 15b-16a).