Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Series on marriage (I)

(I) Marriage in the Garden of Eden - The gift of the bride, biblical principles of marriage


Marriage is the most intimate relationship that we can have with another human being. It is closer than that between parents and children, between siblings and closer than that between soul mates (Jonathan and David). However it is not the closest, most intimate and meaningful relationship that we can have as a human being. That relationship is the one we have with our God, creator, redeemer, saviour and Lord.

However the marital relationship is the most basic and most important building block of society. When this basic relationship is in widespread decline and difficulty, society veers on the brink of chaos and collapse. The fall of mighty empires is almost always the result of the breakdown of the family due to corruption and immorality.

For us personally, this is true as well. If the marriage is not working, everything else is in trouble, from the home, to the office, to our ministry and fellowship in the church.

Divorce statistics

In the USA

Percentage of first marriages that end in divorce in 1997: 50%

Percentage of remarriages that end in divorce in 1997: 60%

Divorces as percentages of marriages

Belarus : 68%

Russia : 65%

Sweden : 64%

UK 53%

US : 49%

Canada 45%

The fallout from divorce is tremendous. Divorce results in dysfunctional homes, and dysfunctional children. As long ago as 1990 when I was in Canada doing my masters, husbands who abandoned wives and families have reached epidemic proportions. The cost to society in terms of increased potential for criminal activities, the increased number of families in need of welfare, more children dropping out of school, and consequently the loss of productivity to the state is immense. We certainly need to do more to protect the sanctity of marriage.

What has the bible to say and to teach about marriage?

Gen 2.

“The subtle change from ‘the heavens and the earth’ (1.1) to ‘the earth and heavens (2.4b) point to the shift in perspective : from God as sole actor to humanity as reactor”. Waltke, Genesis, p79

The setting: Garden of Eden

The first marriage is set in paradise, before the fall, with Adam and Eve at their newly minted best.

Gen 1.31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

In the midst of a newly minted creation, where everything was every good, we read that there was a discordant note: Gen 2.18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

It is not good

Waltke (ibid, p 88) “ essentially it is bad for Adam to be alone. God intends marriage, which entails intimacy and sexual relationship. Our longing for relationships, for friendship is modelled after God in whose image we are made. God does not exist in isolation but is a tri-unity, three persons revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Augustine invites us to understand the tri-unity of God this way.

He taught : ‘ The Father is the lover, the Son the Beloved, and the Spirit the love that is between them and that unites them. surrounded by a heavenly court.

For love to exist there must be a lover and the beloved. If not, there is only narcissistic (self absorbed love) That God is a plurality is supported by the mention of the Spirit of God in 1:2 and the fact that the image of God itself is a plurality.

26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

John Harriot comments ‘ If we are made in the image of God, we are made in the image of the Trinity; and the life of the Trinity must in some sort be reflected in the pattern of our human life’. God in the Trinity is revealed as ‘persons in relationship’. Hence being made in God’s image we too are persons in relationship. Hence it is not good for Adam to be alone.

Preparation of the man for the gift

19 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. 20 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.

Waltke asked ‘ why does God determine that it is not good for Adam to be alone and then give him animals? In fact, Adam must realise that it is not good to be alone. Rather than squandering his most precious gift on one who is unappreciative, God waits until Adam is prepared to appreciate the gift of woman.

Eve was the missing link that Adam was looking for. This missing link cannot be found in all the other creatures created by God. It is a search for a soul mate. That special someone has to be specially created for Adam. God created Eve to perfectly complement Adam – like the fingers of both hands perfectly fitting in together. Hence the bible teaches us that “He who finds a wife finds a good thing. And obtains favour from the LORD”. Proverbs 18.22 (NASB)


God creates the woman to help Adam, that is, to honour his vocation, to share his enjoyment, and to respect the prohibition. The word help suggests that the man has governmental priority, but both sexes are mutually dependent on each other. The man is created first, with the woman to help the man, not vice versa; however, this does not mean ontological superiority or inferiority. The word helper ….signifies essential contribution, not inadequacy.”

Creation of the woman

Gen 2.21 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.

Matthew Henry, “ the woman is not made out of his head to top him, not our of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.

Marriages are made in heaven!

22Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

God gives the man his wife. Every marriage is divinely ordained. Hence the holy and ideal state of marriage.

23 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."

Man names the woman – signifies man’s authority in the home

24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. 25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.


Because husband and wife are one flesh, the bond of marriage has priority over the parent child bonds. The husband’s obligations to his wife takes precedence over other priorities. This contrasts sharply with Asian and especially Confucian teaching on priority of parents and filial piety of children. (BTW an interesting question to the husband : if your mother and wife are both drowning, and you have only one life buoy, who would you throw the life buoy to?)


This is the language of covenant commitment cf. Hosea supremely speaks of the Lord’s love to unfaithful Israel.

Hos 2.14-23; 14 "Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her.

16 "In that day," declares the LORD,
"you will call me 'my husband';
19 I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in [d] righteousness and justice,
in [e] love and compassion.

20 I will betroth you in faithfulness,

23 I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called 'Not my loved one. [g] '
I will say to those called 'Not my people, [h] ' 'You are my people';
and they will say, 'You are my God.' "

The essence of covenantal love is show in our traditional wedding vows:

I, ________ take you, ________ to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God's holy laws and this is my solemn vow.

One flesh monogamous, exclusive, permanent, no adultery

No shame image of openness and trust

Consequences of the fall. To recap: The first marriage is set in paradise, before the fall, with Adam and Eve at their newly minted best.

But soon after in chapter three, Adam and Eve fell into sin. Rapidly we see the consequences of the fall on their relationship.

Woman : frustrated in her natural relationships in the home: painful labour, insubordination towards her husband. Control has replaced freedom; coercion has replaced persuasion; division has replaced multiplication

Desire is to dominate or rule over her husband but ironically the man will dominate her. The alienation between the sexes can be seen in the power struggle rather than love and cherishing that is to come (Waltke)

Ugliness of marital conflict – we have all seen it, experienced it. We know which buttons to press to get a reaction from our spouses. The things we say, the things we do….

Spiritual lessons

As Waltke puts it ‘ the garden is paradise: if humanity fails in this ideal setting, then there is no hope for humanity to keep faith anywhere else. The failure of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden has profound theological significance. Since Adam was the only human being who could have resisted temptation, his failure implies that humanity cannot keep covenant with God. If Adam before the Fall proved unfaithful in Paradise, how much ….will we fail God outside Paradise and in our fallen sinful state.

Implications for marriage:

We need the humility to acknowledge the possibility that we are not Adam and
Eve at their best before the fall, in paradise. We are sinful, fallen, self absorbed, selfish fallen human beings. With a great proclivity to sin. Therefore we must be humble enough to acknowledge that :

Good intentions may not be good enough

Vows are not binding enough

Sincerity when put to the test will fail

Human love at its best will not be strong enough

Fortunately God did not forsake our first parents. God gave to Adam and Eve a Promise of deliverance and salvation: ‘I will put enmity between your offspring and hers’. Because natural Adam has failed, ultimately the woman’s offspring must be a heavenly Adam and his community

Therefore we need Jesus, we need God to be alive and well and at the centre of our relationship. We cannot make it on our own. We need :

His empowering Spirit to enable us to walk the straight and narrow

To convict us of sins so that we may turn away from temptations

We need to strive, to work hard and uncompromisingly to put Jesus at the centre and at the heart of our relationship, home and life.

The importance of community

When the marriage is new.

Consider for e.g. Newcomers to church come in with a host of habits, attitudes, worldviews and behaviours – gradually learn what it means to be a Christian through teaching, mentoring, discipling, modelling – business and integrity, honesty. Courtesy, respect, gentleness to the opposite sex, to the seniors, to the marginalised….

Similarly, belonging to and meaningful involvement in a community of faith will help couples who are newly married to form habits of obedience, make and keep commitments to honour, cherish and unconditionally love one another.

The restrains and disciplines of a strong community life will be infinitely helpful to couples in their marriages – not just one lonely couple struggling to make their marriage work all by themselves

A final personal challenge. What kind of person am I ?

Young couples concentrate much time and attention on the weddings. What they should major on is to ask themselves, “ what kind of person am I becoming so that my marriage will work. More than that, my marriage will be marked by unconditional love and honouring and glorifying to the Lord?

How do I become this kind of person?

Desire and longing and imploring of the Lord

Personal spiritual disciplines – QT, bible reading/study, prayer

Meaningful and active involvement in the life and ministries of the local community of faith.

Consider :

The real transforming work of marriage is the twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week commitment. This is the crucible that grinds and shapes us into the character of Jesus Christ… Marriage calls us to an entirely new and selfless life… Any situation that calls me to confront my selfishness has enormous spiritual value.
—Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage (Zondervan)

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