As previously noted, my husband and I just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. The journey has definitely been a marathon, rather than a sprint. It seems that when couples come to us for counseling, we inevitably end up talking about commitment. It all boils down to a relationship in which we have agreed to commit our whole being. All the other side issues, although some may be deeply painful and serious, really are just that—side issues. Whether it is love lost, or a wife who doesn't like the lifestyle her husband provides, or a husband who doesn’t understand his wife, or even, in some cases, unfaithfulness, it still boils down to commitment. Is the couple going to honor the commitment, made before God, to stay together until death parts them, despite how arduous it may be to work through the difficulties?
In Malachi 2:14, we find God’s view on marriage. In the context of this passage, God is reproving his people for profaning their marriage vows. What does he call marriage? Look up Proverbs 2:17. What does God call marriage in this verse?
Ezekiel 16:8 says, “…when I saw you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you” … “spreading the corner of my garment” was a symbolic term for the marriage relationship. Then the Lord says, “I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you …” From these verses, how do you perceive God views the marriage vows?
Marriage, in God’s eyes, is a covenant alliance, but in western culture, we have little understanding of what that means. Coming to the marriage altar is not making a vow, even though we talk of “taking the marriage vows.” Marriage is a covenant, and there is a difference.
A vow may involve only one party. For instance, I can vow to lose ten pounds in time for my high school reunion. I can break that vow to myself. Or a vow may involve two or more and can be broken. But a covenant always involves two or more and is permanently binding. An oath is taken and the covenant is made, never to be broken. Our culture is a contract culture—contracts being broken on every hand, with little thought to the integrity of one’s name on the dotted line.
Hebrew word for covenant is berit. It literally meant “a cutting” and came to mean a contract, a will, a league, a testament, or a bond. In ancient cultures, a cutting of the skin actually took place and blood was exchanged to signify the seriousness of the bond (Gen. 15). Sometimes gifts were exchanged (Gen. 21:30) and/or a pile of stones set up (Gen. 31:53). When a couple stands before a minister and promises to live together in covenant until death parts them, that is a solemn occasion. Covenant is not to be taken lightly.
Lawmakers in some of the United States have noted with alarm the high divorce statistics and have passed legislation invoking covenant marriage laws. Katherine Spaht, LSU Law Center, was instrumental in passing covenant marriage legislation in Louisiana in 1997. Ms. Spaht, speaking at the Christian Marriage, Family and Couples Education (CMFCE) Annual Conference in 1998, had this to say:
What the covenant law marriage… represents is an opportunity for virtue, an opportunity to choose a more binding commitment…What covenant marriage does is to ensconce in the law the ideal that marriage is to be a lifelong institution. It doesn’t impose, but it permits couples to chose this ideal…Secondly, it was envisioned as a way of revitalizing and reinvigorating what we call mediating structures, human communities, those that nourish and act as coffers between the State and the individual. Principal among those, which covenant marriage encourages and reinvigorates, is the church. It invites religion back into the public square to perform a function it is uniquely situated to do, to preserve marriages.
“Covenant marriage strengthens marriage in three different ways. First, there is mandatory premarital counseling. The second…there is a legally binding agreement that if difficulties arise during the marriage, they will take all reasonable steps to preserve the marriage, including marital counseling… It is a form of, in a sense, mandatory pre-divorce counseling. Lastly,… there are limited grounds for divorce, so it is more difficult to terminate a covenant marriage and more time consuming.
In the passing of covenant marriage laws in some of our states, perhaps even secular society is beginning to recognize that something must be done to help stem the tide of divorces and assist couples in counting the cost.
· Do you think a “wise woman” would be interested in committing to a covenant marriage, rather than a conventional one, if she and her husband lived in a state that provided the opportunity to do so? Why, or why not?