A Great Mystery

A Man and a Woman

One of the more enigmatic passages in the writings of the Apostle Paul concerns his teachings on marriage.  In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reveals a mystery to the church and instructs the believers concerning the marriage relationship, stating that it is like the relationship between Christ and His Body, the Church:

So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:28-33)

In many places in the Old Testament, the Old Covenant, the Lord God is described as a “husband” to Israel, as in the following passage:  

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like thecovenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”  (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

This new promise is fulfilled in the New Covenant, the New Testament, where Jesus Christ is compared to the bridegroom, and the Church is compared to His bride.  Even Jesus compares Himself to a bridegroom, such as in the following passage from Luke’s Gospel:

And they said to Him, “The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers, the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same, but Yours eat and drink.” And Jesus said to them, “You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? But the days will come; and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” (Luke 5:33-34)

The Covenant Relationship

The basis of this comparison, I believe, is the nature of the covenant relationship portrayed in the Scriptures.  One of the clearest examples is the covenant Jonathan, King Saul’s son and heir, makes with David, who at the time was merely a shepherd:

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt. (I Samuel. 18:1-4)

The making of a covenant is portrayed in many other places in the Scriptures.  This sealing of a covenant literally means “to cut,” and the cutting entails the bleeding or shedding of blood as the basis of this sealing.  A covenant was “cut” when two people passed between the cut carcasses of slain animals after making an agreement together.

This ceremony is described in the Book of Jeremiah, where the prophet speaks against those Israelites who have violated God’s covenant by not releasing their captives:  

Yet you turned andprofaned My name, and each man took back his male servant and each man his female servant whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your male servants and female servants.. . .I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not fulfilled the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts— the officials of Judah and the officials of Jerusalem, the court officers and the priests and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf.  (Jeremiah 34:16, 18-19)

Such a ceremony describes the making of a covenant in the Old Testament, and the parties might also have shared a meal as well, such as when Laban and Jacob made their covenant promising not to do harm to one another:  “I will not pass by this heap to you for harm, and you will not pass by this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.”(Genesis 31:52-3).

 

God’s Unilateral Covenant with Abram

For example, God’s covenant with Abram is sealed by the cutting of animals in two pieces.  God has made many promises to Abram, but Abram wants assurance.  How can he know for certain that God will do what He promises?  The following passage is lengthy, but well worth the reading, so think about reading the entire chapter when you can:

And He said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” He said, “O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?” So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds.The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. (Genesis 15:8-)

Abram is weary from making the preparations for the sealing of the covenant and defending the pieces of the animals from predators.  Therefore, Abram  falls into a sleep slumber.  Then God speaks to him:

“Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:13-16)

After making these promises to Abram, the Lord seals the covenant by moving between the pieces of the animals.  He does this alone, and Abram does not pass through the pieces, revealing that the covenant is unilateral.  It is a promise of God, to be fulfilled by Him alone:

It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying,“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. . .”  (Genesis 15:8-18)

Again, this covenant was essentially unilateral, or one-way, because Abram did not himself pass through the separated pieces.  Only God alone in the form of the oven and the torch passed through the animals.  Thus, it was only necessary for Abram to accept God’s offers by faith and allow the Lord to fulfill His promises.  

The covenant was renewed in subsequent renderings due to the disobedience of Abram’s descendants.  The covenant relationship between God and Israel is described as a “marriage,” but ultimately because of Israel’s “harlotry,” God divorces Israel, yet declares that He will make a new covenant:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”  (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

 

Christ’s Covenant With His Bride, the Church

In a similar way, Jesus Christ made a covenant with all who would accept Him.  In fact, Jesus Christ was the “mediator” of this better covenant Jeremiah describes, one better than the one made with Abraham (See Hebrews 7:22, 8:6, 12:24).  Jesus Himself was the “lamb of God,” sacrificed to establish this covenant by giving His life for us.  

This covenant is revealed in many places in the New Testament, particularly in the Book of Hebrews, but also in the Gospels where Jesus shared a meal with His disciples, when He said, “This is the new covenant in My blood” (Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20).

When Paul recited the account he had received from the Holy Spirit concerning the Last Supper, he quoted these words of Jesus speaking about the cup as “the new covenant in My blood” (I Corinthians 11:25).  This new covenant accomplished what the old could not, for it was made on the basis of better promises, including the removal of sin and the cleansing of the conscience:  

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

 

The Marriage Covenant

Today, one rarely hears about two people cutting a covenant to become blood brothers.  The closest comparison we have to a Bible blood covenant today is the one Paul describes in Ephesians, a marriage between a man and a woman.

Just as in the more usual bilateral biblical covenants, in a marriage one party making the covenant with the other says, “What I have is yours and what you have is mine.”  Everything is shared, even the hardships and difficult times, hence the “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health” vow recited at ceremonial marriage “covenants.”

Unfortunately, today the marriage covenant has been diluted by “prenuptial agreements” and tacit understandings that “If things don’t work out, we will separate.”  

In a true covenant, the parties are “all in,”  and both parties can fully count on the resources of the other participant if they have need of them, just as David received Jonathan’s weapons and armor, and Jonathan’s son was received as a son into David’s house.  This was how Bible covenants worked, and this is how marriages should work today.

Unfortunately, while sexual practices today have descended into the depths of depravity and have led to the diminishing of the marriage covenant itself, the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, the Husband of the Body of Christ the Church, is everlasting for all who will call upon Him and turn to Him in repentance and loving commitment.

 

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  1. Biblical Mysteries Revealed » Abraham’s Greatest Act of Faith — February 1, 2015 @ 1:15 pm

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