Marriage—An Arrangement Honored in God’s Word
“Let marriage be honorable among all.”—Heb. 13:4.
1. How did Adam react when seeing his marriage partner for the first time, and why could their marriage have been one of unending joy?
THE marriage of a man and a woman should be a most happy occasion. It was for the first human pair. Evidently after waiting for a time, Adam, on finally seeing the woman who was to be his marriage partner, exclaimed poetically: “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” (Gen. 2:23) Their entire married life could have been one of unending joy, for their Creator had made every provision for just such a life.
2 Even now under the imperfect conditions resulting from that original pair’s rejection of God’s sovereign rule, marriage can still be a source of genuine happiness where sincere effort is made to put Bible principles into effect. Weddings are often cited in both the Hebrew and the Christian Greek Scriptures as representative of happy times among God’s servants. (Gen. 24:67; Song of Sol. 3:11; John 3:29) When foretelling the desolation due to come on unfaithful Jerusalem, Jehovah said: “I will cause to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of exultation and the voice of rejoicing, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; for the land will become nothing but a devastated place.” (Jer. 7:34) Yes, the absence of weddings would be typical of the loss of joy and exultation that devastation would bring. By contrast, when speaking of the restoration of Israel from exile, Jehovah’s prophet said of Jerusalem that, “with the exultation of a bridegroom over a bride, your God will exult even over you.”—Isa. 62:1, 5.
AN ARRANGEMENT TO BE HIGHLY HONORED
3. (a) Why should the marriage bed be kept without defilement? (b) What is the only Scriptural ground for divorce?
3 In view of its divine origin and God’s obvious blessing on the arrangement, it is easy to see why the inspired apostle gave this exhortation to the Hebrews: “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” (Heb. 13:4) There is a very powerful reason for keeping the marriage bed without defilement. After describing the creation of man and woman by God, Jesus then quoted God as saying: “For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.” He thus showed that the words recorded in Genesis 2:24 were spoken, not by Adam, but by Jehovah God. Jesus went on to say that, in view of this union, “what God has yoked together let no man put apart.” He stated that the only ground for divorce allowable by God was that of “fornication” (Greek, por·neiʹa, meaning sexual misconduct of a gross kind with another person or even with an animal).—Matt. 19:3-9.
4. How does Jehovah God view disregard for the permanence of the marital arrangement?
4 Jehovah God, therefore, takes very seriously the attitude shown by his creatures toward this divine marital arrangement. It should properly be a permanent, lifelong union, dissolved only by the death of one of the mates. (Rom. 7:2, 3) In warning his servants in Israel against viewing the union lightly, God said: “‘Jehovah himself has borne witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you yourself have dealt treacherously, although she is your partner and the wife of your covenant. . . . You people must guard yourselves respecting your spirit, and with the wife of your youth may no one deal treacherously. For he has hated a divorcing,’ Jehovah the God of Israel has said.” (Mal. 2:14-16) Yes, “God will judge fornicators and adulterers,” and those resorting to unrighteous divorces to accomplish selfish ends. Those entering the marriage union should therefore realize what a serious and weighty responsibility they accept. The Creator of marriage expects his servants to honor it and contribute toward others’ holding it in honor also.
5. (a) How should a Christian husband treat his wife? (b) In what way does a husband’s failure to treat his wife properly affect his relationship with Jehovah God?
5 Jehovah God describes a man’s wife as his “partner” in the marriage covenant. Christian husbands cannot honor the marriage arrangement without honoring their marriage partner. As the apostle Peter counsels, they should be “assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one, since you are also heirs with them of the undeserved favor of life, in order for your prayers not to be hindered.” (1 Pet. 3:7) Not only by tender dealings will the Christian husband honor such feminine partner, but he will do so especially in loyalty to the marital union they share. He should seek always to preserve it as a sacred responsibility. If failing to show his wife due gentleness and empathy would hinder his prayers, how much more so would his indulging in some degree of disloyalty to his mate, showing undue interest in someone outside the union. (Prov. 5:15-21) Not showing proper honor to his wife means dishonoring the marriage arrangement and its Maker. But the husband honoring the arrangement will love his wife as his own body, being willing even to give his life on her behalf.—Eph. 5:25, 28-33.
6. (a) What does God’s Word require of a Christian wife? (b) What blessings come to a wife who follows the Bible’s counsel?
6 So, also, with the Christian wife. She expresses subjection to her husbandly head in the same way that the Christian congregation is “in subjection to the Christ.” She shows him, not merely respect, but “deep respect.” (Eph. 5:22-24, 33) If such deep respect keeps her from speaking disparagingly to him or about him, how much more so should it keep her from disloyally showing undue interest in someone outside their union, engaging in a flirtation to any degree. She can never honor God by dishonoring her husband or their marriage relationship. (Prov. 2:16, 17) But if she ‘loves her husband and children, is chaste and a worker at home,’ showing a “quiet and mild spirit,” she will indeed be like a precious jewel and will bring praise to Jehovah God. She will gain her husband’s unfading love and contribute toward his being held in high esteem by his peers.—Prov. 31:10-12, 23, 26-31; Titus 2:4, 5; 1 Pet. 3:1-4.
VALIDATING MARRIAGE IN BIBLE TIMES
7. What do the Scriptures reveal about the way in which the marriage union was established in ancient times?
7 In Bible times, how was the marriage union established? Marriage was primarily a family or a tribal affair. There was no intervention by a secular government, nor concern for its authorization or validation of the marriage. There were, however, certain formalities. Marriage agreements were generally worked out by family heads. (Gen. 34:4, 6, 8-10) At least the suitor had to seek the approval of the father of the girl whom he sought to marry, as Jacob did upon falling in love with Rachel. (Gen. 29:18-20) The willingness of the girl might be asked, as was the case when Rebekah was sought as a wife for Isaac. (Gen. 24:8, 58) Customarily a bride price was paid over to the father, who would now lose the services of his daughter.—Gen. 34:11, 12; Ex. 22:16, 17.
8. Anciently, how did it become publicly known that a man and a woman were entering a marriage covenant?
8 As was true in Eden, at the time of the wedding there was no particular ceremony or sermon to solemnize the marriage, but the bridegroom would go to his bride’s home and escort her through the streets to his home. Thereby he publicly declared that he was taking her as his marriage partner. (Matt. 1:20, 24) She likely had specially prepared herself, bathing and using perfumed oil, perhaps putting on breastbands and a white robe and certain ornaments or jewels. (Ps. 45:13-15; Isa. 49:18; 61:10; Jer. 2:32) The streets were often lined with people seeking to get a view of the newlyweds, particularly by young virgin girls showing keen interest in and excitement about the wedding. (Jer. 7:34; Matt. 25:1-6) The bridegroom’s arrival at his home might be followed by a wedding feast with many invited guests sharing in the rejoicing, they even being dressed specially for the occasion.—Gen. 29:22; Matt. 22:2, 3, 11; 25:10.
9. What should be the strongest reason for proving faithful to the marriage covenant, and why?
9 By all these means both the bridegroom and the bride openly made known their entry into a marriage covenant and their acceptance of the responsibility this brought. In later times it seems that written records of marriages were kept. But more important than the witness of other humans to their union, the couple would be aware of Jehovah God’s knowledge of the agreement and union into which they had entered. This fact should be by far the primary and most powerful force moving them to stay loyal to each other. It should make them strive to keep their marriage free from defilement, as well as motivating deep respect on their part for the marriages of all others.—Compare Genesis 20:1-7; 39:7-9; Job 31:9-12; Proverbs 6:23-35.
MARRIAGE HONORABLY USED TO ILLUSTRATE DIVINE ARRANGEMENTS
10, 11. How do features relating to betrothal and marriage in ancient times illustrate the relationship of Jesus Christ to his Kingdom associates?
10 All these marriage features are used beautifully in God’s Word to illustrate and symbolize the union established between God’s Son and those who become his Kingdom associates. (Rev. 21:2, 9, 10) As regards this “bride” class, formed of Jesus’ anointed footstep followers, the Bible shows that it is the Father, Jehovah God, who selects such class for his Son and that these are bought with a price of very great value, the life of the very Son who becomes their spiritual husband and whose love was great enough to move him to die on their behalf. (John 13:1; Eph. 5:25-27) As Rebekah’s expression of willingness was asked, so too these express their goodwill to ‘follow the Lamb wherever he goes.’ (Rev. 14:1, 4) While on earth they view themselves as engaged and seek to maintain themselves like a “chaste virgin,” unsullied by the world and undivided in their devoted loyalty. (2 Cor. 11:2) They maintain that loyalty to Christ Jesus under the fiercest of tests and the most subtle temptations. They clothe themselves with a new personality that reflects the beautiful qualities of their heavenly Bridegroom, and by their righteous acts they maintain a clean identification, like a pure white garment.—Col. 3:9, 10, 12-14; Rev. 19:7, 8.
11 In due time the bridegroom, now a heavenly King, will come to take them home to heavenly residences, resulting in a joyous feast. (John 14:2, 3; Rev. 19:9) By his establishing the Memorial of his death he has told his bride class, in effect: ‘Do not ever forget me or ever stop loving me. Remember, I gave my life for you.’ (1 Cor. 11:25, 26) When finally united with God’s Son, these will enjoy a partnership with him, sharing submissively in the privilege of extending his Kingdom rule and benefits to mankind, who become children of the King.—Rev. 5:9, 10; 20:4, 5; compare Isaiah 9:6, 7.
12. Why should the relationship between Jesus Christ and his anointed followers be a strong incentive for humans to maintain an honorable marriage?
12 God has thus seen fit to represent things of highest importance to us through these marriage features. This supplies another strong reason for us to give due honor to marriage. To fail to do so would, in effect, dishonor the relationship between Christ Jesus and his anointed followers, as well as the blessings that their fruitful union will bring to mankind as a whole.
NO ENCOURAGEMENT FOR DIVORCE
13. (a) Do Jehovah’s laws ever encourage divorce? (b) As pertains to marriage, what can be learned from Jehovah’s dealings with ancient Israel?
13 It is true that Jehovah’s laws provide for divorcing. God, however, shows that he nowhere encourages such action but, rather, urges a genuine and persevering effort to keep the marriage intact. Again using marriage in a figurative way, Jehovah represented himself as married to the nation of Israel through his covenant with them. (Jer. 31:31, 32) He had purchased them out of slavery in Egypt. (Deut. 9:26) In his relationship with Israel, Jehovah was ever loyal, never turning his affections to other nations nor entering into relations with them. Even when Israel proved rebellious, Jehovah was not quick to cast her aside. Out of love he showed amazing forbearance and long-suffering. Only after centuries of effort at preserving the union did Jehovah finally ‘divorce’ himself from the nation that had become like an adulterous wife.—Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3:8.
14. In view of Jehovah’s example in dealing with Israel, what should married couples be moved to do?
14 So, no one can say that God asks us to do what he himself is not willing to do when he exhorts us to make every effort to keep marriage in honor and to work to preserve the marital union. Surely anyone who seeks a pretext for divorce for selfish reasons could never be pleasing to Him. Our respect, admiration and love for Jehovah, combined with our desire for his favor and approval, should move us to shun whatever might bring our marriage or that of anyone else into disrepute. Thereby we will never cast a bad reflection on God’s use of marriage to illustrate his own dealings and the outworking of his purposes.
THE MARRIAGE BED UNDEFILED
15. What is the Scriptural view of marital dues?
15 Marriage has as its fundamental purpose the producing of families. (Gen. 1:27, 28) Nevertheless, God’s Word shows that his servants are not obliged to limit sexual relations solely to efforts to produce children. Such relations properly can fill emotional and physical needs and be a periodic source of pleasure to the married couple. (1 Cor. 7:1-5) In various texts ‘love play’ prior to intercourse is indicated as honorable. (Prov. 5:18, 19; Gen. 26:8, 9) Even marriage partners, however, need to be on guard so that their marital relations do not degenerate into something defiling. Letting unbridled passion take over could lead to that. How so?
16. What conduct in intimate marriage relationships must be avoided if the union is to continue to be honorable?
16 Perverted practices engaged in by homosexuals, who, in such practice, do not have natural, normal copulation between themselves, have been adopted also by some married couples in search of greater “thrills,” specifically oral and anal copulation. When writing of conditions in his day, the inspired apostle Paul said that homosexuals ‘dishonored their bodies among themselves by disgraceful sexual appetites, changing the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature, working what is obscene and receiving the full recompense for their wrongdoing.’ (Rom. 1:24-27) When married couples adopt homosexual methods they surely bring no honor to the marriage union but, rather, degrade it, exalting selfish passion instead, and the marriage bed loses its cleanness.a
17. What should guide a married couple in their intimacies?
17 Aside from actions that are clearly and obviously gross and obscene, such as the aforementioned practices, the Christian must be guided by his or her conscience as to what ‘love play’ leading up to intercourse involves. Still, it is certainly the course of wisdom to avoid coming so close to the obscene practices earlier mentioned that one might easily slip into them due to loss of control.—Jas. 1:14, 15.
18. What benefits come from conducting marital affairs in harmony with God’s Word?
18 Acting in accord with the lofty principles of God’s Word does not detract in the slightest from the joys and happiness that marriage can bring. To the contrary, the wholesome effect of this enhances those joys, makes them more satisfying and enriching as the marriage partners grow in genuine affection, tenderness and unselfish devotion. Yes, “the orders from Jehovah are upright, causing the heart to rejoice; the commandment of Jehovah is clean, making the eyes shine. . . . They are more to be desired than gold, . . . sweeter than honey and the flowing honey of the combs.”—Ps. 19:8, 10.