“Marriage is a long-term binding commitment epitomised in a covenant.” – T.Keller
In Jesus’ day, the institution of marriage had been eroded by the sinfulness of men and women to the point that marriages were discarded for ‘any and every reason’ by some.
As a result, there was a debate amongst various schools of rabbinical teaching as to what God’s will was regarding marriage and divorce with some being very permissive and others taking a stronger view of lasting covenant.
The Pharisees approach Jesus looking to draw Him into their debate, with some seeking to trap or test Him; “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (vs2)
Jesus answers with a question; “What did Moses command you?” (vs3). Here Jesus is referring to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 where Moses gave some regulations for divorce. The Pharisees summarise saying that Moses permitted divorce.
Jesus then teaches them that divorce was never part of God’s original plan for us, but that broken covenants are now part of our sin-wrecked world and human experience because of our hardness of heart (vs5). Jesus explains that Moses wasn’t encouraging divorce, rather regulations regarding divorce became necessary because of sin.
Jesus then teaches those present about God’s original design for marriage:
- Marriage is heterosexual (‘God made them male and female’ vs6)
- Marriage is supernatural (‘two shall become one flesh’ vs8) (‘what therefore God has joined together’ vs9)
- Marriage is a covenant promise (the word is not in this passage but the concept is) that is not to be broken
Jesus’ day seems so similar to our day when it comes to the brokeness of marriage and how far our experiences are often from God’s original purpose. Today, for many, marriage is not considered as the only God-ordained context for all sexual relationships. In addition, marriage itself often resembles a consumer-contract more than a covenant promise.
Consumer-contracts are merely agreements that remain in force as long as both parties feel that their needs/objectives are being met by the other party and any failure to deliver or change of desired objectives is grounds for breaking the contract as it is no longer serving its purpose.
A good example is the ‘relationship’ (consumer-contract) you have with your hairdresser. You like your hairdresser, might even love them, you’re committed to them, you only go to them to do your hair. But that ‘commitment’ is only one bad experience away from being broken. In reality, what is really happening is you’re committed to them as long as they do what you want them to do for you. It is not a relationship, it is a self-serving consumer-contract that hold reserve the right to terminate whenever terminating it serves you.
Although you won’t hear many talking like this about marriage, it is in fact the default for many these days when it comes to marriage, and it was the same in Jesus’ day – that’s how far we are from God’s ideal.
A life-long covenant promise however is what Jesus and all of Scripture reveals is God’s desire for us in marriage. Unsurprisingly, God’s way of covenant promise has incredible benefits for marriages:
1) Covenant makes love deeper because it enables a covenant relationship to grow rather than consumer-contract relationship
2) Covenant creates a cradle of security allowing for true relational vulnerability and allowing for true sacrificial service of one another
3) Covenant creates stability through tough times, and gives you something solid to hold fast to when storms hit
4) Covenant gives freedom as you are not ruled by your feelings anymore, you’re not just a slave to the moment, to impulses, to feelings. You’ve made and keep these promises in-spite of feelings which makes you a truly free person.
5) Covenant provides a reason & a resource to resolve conflicts
A marriage relationship founded on a covenant promise provides the foundation for intimacy, stability, freedom and beauty!
How do you view marriage? Consumer-contract or Covenant-promise?
Which raises a question; “What should you do when your experience doesn’t match up with what you read is God’s will for you in Scripture?”
- Do you bend your interpretation of Scripture to line up with your experience?
- Do you begin to disregard Scripture?
- Or, do you repent if any repentance is needed and ask God to help your life to get restored back a place where it more closely resembles what is His revealed will for you?
Because of the brokeness of our world and our lives due to the fall and due to our sin and the sin of others against us, it is highly likely that your experience of marriage up to the present hasn’t been what God’s intended plan was for you. If that’s your story, may I urge you;
- To repent and make changes if you have been treating your marriage as a ‘consumer-contract’ rather than as a ‘covenant-promise’.
- To renew your covenant-promise commitment to your spouse if you’re married.
- To come and be prayed for to allow God to begin to heal you, if you have broken marriage(s) already.
- To honour marriage highly if you’re not married or not yet married, and to keep for marriage only, that which God has created for marriage alone (sexual relationships).
- To repent and make changes if you have been sinning sexually, to come approach leadership so you can be loved and helped to honour God in this area of your life.
When God made His amazing covenant promises to Abraham & his offspring (Genesis 17) God gave them a physical sign of the covenant, from that day ‘every male among you shall be circumcised’ (Genesis 17:10).
God saved His people out of Egypt, lead, loved and provided miraculously for them in the Wilderness but they rebelled, walked away from God, grumbled and didn’t believe God over and over again. Here in Joshua 5 we see the affects of the breakdown in that ‘Wilderness generation’s” faith in God…
Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. (Joshua 5:5)
Their faith and followership of God had grown lukewarm, was compromised and so things that God had required, signs of the covenant had fallen by the wayside it seems during those wilderness years.
“No matter how long you have traveled in the wrong direction, you can always turn around.” – Nicky Gumbel
The good news is that God is gracious, God gives us fresh starts! And this is what we read of in Joshua 5, a fresh start for God’s people. Note how it is God who takes the intiative, God speaks to Joshua instructing him to have the men circumcised, to re-establish the symbol of the covenant between God and His people.
In our era of redemptive history we no longer need to be physically circumcised as is clear from a reading of the New Testament, but this passage can still speak to us today…
Circumcision was a sign, a symbol of the fact that these were God’s special people, His chosen, set-apart ones.
In what ways does God call us to make it evident that we are His people?
Are there any things we are called to do, not do to make it plain for ourselves and for others that we are His?
How are YOU doing with your followership of God? If the people in the Wilderness could grow cold in their faith, then it CAN happen to us too.
So, let’s continually stoke our love for God, keep the fire of worship strong and vital in our hearts and lives, and let’s as a result live lives that clearly reflect who’s we are – His alone.