A Biblical Worldview: Marriage
David gave this talk at Woodside Church (Bedford) in 2010, as part of their "A Biblical Worldview" series. Click here to download it.
We've just started a series on Biblical worldview, and will be looking at Genesis to establish a Biblical worldview on issues including:
- Blessings and Curses
- Marriage and Family
- Individual and Community
- Honour Guilt Shame Anxiety etc
Worldview is the deepest level of culture, it's our deepest beliefs about life. If you haven't already, do listen and catch up from the first part in the series, A Biblical Worldview: Culture & Worldview.
Genesis is a series of worldview stories to show God’s perspective on many issues. It was in contrast to the other worldview stories about human origins, such as the flood which appears in other ancient stories. Every culture has its worldview stories. Today we're going to look at the story of marriage.
The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman’, for she was taken out of man." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. (Gen 2:18-25)
God had made Adam out of the soil. This is very different from the rest of creation, because Adam is made in God’s image like a potter making clay. He had placed him in a specially planted garden in Eden, somewhere East of Israel, well designed, beautiful to look at and to eat. He had given him a command not to eat of one tree.
Then God said, ‘It is not good for him to be alone, I will make a companion for him, a helper’. – The word God used did not mean an assistant but a suitable person to complement him and give help and strength where he was weak and insufficient – the same word is used elsewhere of God being our helper. God made all the animals pass in front of Adam – none could be a companion, probably saw that each had their own companion – none suitable – drama of story. He named them all, suggesting authority.
A deep sleep. Took a rib, closed over the place, made a woman and brought her to him. First poetry in the Bible, not naming but exclaiming. ‘Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.’ We say, ‘My own flesh and blood’ - Hebrew said ‘My flesh and bone’. Close relationship – remember the strong family background. The poetry suggests delight. In the story the storyteller adds some teaching: vs 24 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.’ Both are nude. There's no shame – not absence of guilt but presence of innocence.
The story goes on to tell us how sin came into the world. The snake was more shrewd i.e. word play of Hebrew for naked – nude/shrewd in English. Though the story is about sin, it also affected marriage. We see the following elements in play:
- ‘Has God said’?
- Not 'surely die' – temptation to be like God.
- Woman took fruit, shared with husband (who was with her).
- Felt shame – realised they were naked. Hid from God.
- God used to walk in the garden.
- First marriage quarrel – Man blaming his wife.
1. Marriage is God’s gift and God’s idea
- God provided the woman.
- God provided the fun and delight of marriage and of sexual union within marriage.
- God provided it without the need for a dowry. Later in Genesis, they were provided as culture expected, but not enforced on those that couldn’t afford it; marriage was essentially a gift.
2. Marriage is a covenant
It involved terms normally associated with covenant in Old Testament, for example, the people of Israel were to ‘forsake’ all other gods and ‘stick’ or ‘cleave’ to Yahweh. Marriage involves ‘Forsaking’ father and mother. It's better than ‘leaving’. ‘Leaving’ can just imply distance. ‘Forsaking’ means having different priorities. A man’s priority in Israel at the time this was written was Honour God, then Honour parents – under God’s authority, then under parents’ authority. Forsaking meant to come away from parents’ authority and making first priority my wife. People can leave physically without coming away from the authority. Soro Soungalo writes in the Africa Bible Commentary:
‘The transformation of our lives by Christ affects every aspect of our existence, including our family relationships. Where once we accepted traditional African relationships in the family, now we are to seek for God’s style of family relationships. These two styles of relationship are not necessarily contradictory, for, like Africans. God places a high value on a spirit of community. However, some changes may be called for if we are to follow Christ, and there may be areas of conflict.’
‘Traditional African ideas do not always agree with this biblical concept of the relationship between a man, his wife and their children. At times, in fact, they make a true union almost impossible. For example, in many African cultures, the man does not leave his father and mother. He does not leave them spiritually and, sometimes, not even physically. The husband and his wife are perceived as members of two distinct families, with each family retaining all its rights on their own child. The parents of the woman can reclaim her at any time if they think that their son-in-law has behaved badly. In such a situation, the woman feels obliged to listen to her parents rather than to stay with her husband.’
Sticking/Cleaving/Be united – it's a very strong term. We make a clear public commitment and decide to be faithful to our covenant, like God will be faithful to His covenant with us. It means I do not have emotional, flirtatious or sexual relationships with anyone except my own wife/husband. To be one flesh includes sexual intimacy, raising a new family, shared activities, shared love.
3. It does not lay down how the marriage should come about
Arranged by families or because of the choice of the individuals. Both are therefore acceptable and we can follow our own cultural practices. Later in Genesis, most were arranged, such as Abraham finding a wife for Isaac. However, it is clear in that story that Rebecca is free to go or not to go. ‘Let us ask her’; ‘Will you go with this man?’ In the story of Jacob and Rachel, Jacob loves Rachel and asks her father for her. Jacob is then deceived and given Rachel’s sister, which was clearly wrong even though culture said it was the oldest who was to be married first.
4. Polygamy was common in Genesis and divorce recognised in the law
However, as Jesus said, ‘It was not this way from the beginning’. Matt 19:8
5. Marriage was the subject of Satanic/demonic attack
The play on words between ‘nude’ and ‘shrewd’ shows this. Though this temptation was to bring sin into the world and to be ‘as God’ – pride, independence - it was closely related to the marriage relationship.
Later Genesis tells another story of demonic attack on marriage:
When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. (Gen 6:1-5)
What is this story about? The ‘sons of God’ could be either:
- Demonic spirits who entered sexual relationship with women. The term is used elsewhere for angels both good and evil (eg Job 1:6).
- Rulers who took many women into their harems.
The first most likely in my view – but the parallels with the story of the Fall are very strong.
- Eve: ‘saw’, ‘beautiful’/’pleasing to the eye’, ‘took’ (Gen 3:6).
- Spirits: ‘saw’, beautiful’, ‘took’ [in marriage] (Gen 6:2).
- Idea of ‘marriage’ involved – implying fathers of the daughters were involved. There's a parallel in cultures around Israel of fertility rites, which involved giving daughter in marriage to a spirit – a temple prostitute.
In this case, marriage is the subject of demonic attack - as in our society today when anybody who stands for marriage and family values can be viciously attacked. Also marriages including those of Christians are the subject of battle in the heavenly realms.
HOW DO WE FIGHT FOR MARRIAGE?
- We pray for marriages.
- We teach about marriage.
- We hold up examples of marriage, with a determination to demonstrate covenant both ‘forsaking’ and ‘sticking’.
- We show enjoyment of marriage – not negative view of sexuality within marriage as has sometimes been the case in church history.
- We demonstrate grace and forgiveness for those who have fallen on this point.
- We assert that ‘not good to be alone’ includes singleness, and ensure that it is honoured within the community.