Marriage and the Family - 2 - Pattern Under Pressure

Ch 2  Chapter Two

God’s Pattern Under Pressure

The Patriarchal Pattern

A trip to your local evangelical bookstore should suffice to convince you that “marriage” is a big seller. Books abound on every aspect of marriage. You can learn how to select the perfect partner, begin your days together with “happily ever after” almost as a guarantee and, finally rekindle your flagging relationship.

Current popular Christian writers have not discovered marriage, they have simply rediscovered what God long ago took great care to include in His exhaustive writings. You do have that volume. It is called The Bible.

Now some might feel that, while marriage is by no means something new, the many attacks and societal pressures on marriage today are indeed new and unique to our generation. A very cursory study in Genesis will quickly reveal quite the opposite. No sooner had wedding vows been exchanged in Eden’s garden than Satan began working to disrupt, counterfeit and destroy marriage. He had very good reasons and relatively good results. Notice that Genesis 4 introduces Lamech with his wicked polygamy, the very antithesis of all that the union in the garden typified. Ham, in chapter 9, shows us indecency; adultery appears upon the scene in chapter 16; Sodom has become synonymous with homosexuality; incest shamefully makes its appearance, first in Lot and his daughters, and then in the royal family of Judah in chapter 38; prostitution in 38:24 and, finally, seduction, in chapter 39, complete the list. Not much has been added to the pressures and perversions of marriage by our twentieth century. Agreed that the restraints which once kept these sins at a minimum have disappeared, but the sins are the same though increased in frequency and in acceptability by society.

Lest any of the readership should think that they are immune from satanic attack, allow the inspired words of Paul to reach your conscience and bring you into the presence of God for preservation, “That Satan tempt you not for your incontinency” (1 Cor. 7:5). If nothing else is impressed on us from this article, may we all be sobered to realized that Satan desires to mar and destroy everything in which God finds pleasure. That, solemnly, includes your marriage.

It is always rewarding to look in Genesis when seeking to find a God ordained pattern. This occasion is no exception. The marriages at which we will look together are not perfect marriages. They were marriages between imperfect human beings. Yet in these marriages, God was revealing something of His intention for what marriage should be.

Please accept these principles as they have been sent. They are not descending to you from the mountaintop of personal experience. They are sent in the spirit of one who is learning with you.


Adam and Eve - Leaving and Cleaving

God is a great teacher. He teaches slowly and patiently. He frequently teaches one lesson at a time. In Adam and Eve, the great lesson taught relates to oneness in marriage. God comes at this unity and impresses it on us from several different angles. If nothing else could impress this on us, certainly the words of Genesis 5:2 would suffice. He “called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.” Two people with one name. As someone else has said, “In the arithmetic of heaven one plus one equals one.”

Their unity is expressed first of all by the woman’s unique origin. Other creatures were created from the dust of the earth (2:19). Here was a unique creature who came from Adam’s side. She was completely different from all others from the very outset.

The importance of this one-of-a-kind creature was not lost upon Adam’s intelligence. When Adam awoke from his divinely induced anesthesia, his first words were, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” God was instructing him in this oneness by the very origin of the woman.

But God sought also to teach us this oneness by the woman’s unique suitability. At the dawn of human history, the triumphant cry rang out that all was “good.” Strangely, when God looked upon Adam, He said, “It is not good ... “ He was referring to his single state. We are then told that every creature was brought to Adam ( Gen 2:9), but there was not found a help meet, or one who was suitable to Adam. The concept of a “help-meet” for Adam is not someone who would be a servant or assistant to Adam. The usage of this word in the remainder of Scripture does not allow this interpretation. Would it surprise you to find the exact same word used in Psalm 10:14 and referring to God? “Thou art the helper of the fatherless,”and again in Psalm 22:19, “Haste Thee to help Me,” and yet again in Psalm 30:10, “O Lord, be Thou My Helper.”

We must banish from our minds any idea of an intrinsic inferiority or servitude from the word “help.” The woman was to be a suitable companion for the man, his complement. She was given to enable him to carry out his role as head of a creation. She was to enable him to be all that he could be for God. Headship was invested in Adam even before the fall. It was to Adam that instructions were given. It was to Adam that the animals were brought for their naming. It was Adam who was instructed to keep the garden. But the account in Genesis 2 is not stressing so much Adam’s headship, but Eve’s suitability to be a helpmeet and for them to know the unity which God intended for them.


One final element appears to finalize the lesson which God is teaching from our primal parents. It is their unique relationship. If you think that perhaps God was not intending to teach as clearly as I am outlining, look at verse 24. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.” We have become so accustomed to reading these words that we lose sight of one startling fact: Adam had no mother or father to leave. Why has the Spirit of God inserted this here? He certainly wasn’t instructing Adam and Eve. He is impressing on all future generations (and that would include us), God’s great design and purpose for marriage.


An area that is rarely mentioned but which is vitally important is the relationship between parents and their married children. Circumstances may necessitate some temporary (may I stress, very temporary) deviations from the ideals, but the preferred route would be for a married couple to begin life together, on their own.


“Leaving” is a strong word. It admits of no going back. This cannot be stressed too much. The ultimate purposes of God in marriage can never be known and enjoyed if there is not a “leaving.” I recognize that this is addressed to the man. That does not exempt the woman. She moves from subjection under one headship, her father’s home, to another, her husband’s. It is the husband who has the great responsibility of establishing a new headship and leaving his place of subjection in his father’s house.


Leaving parents is not only a physical event. Would it be too practical to suggest that the word urges care in discussing your spouse’s faults with your parents? Your new loyalty is primarily to your spouse. Ask for recipes or tips on home repairs from parents, but don’t hold counsels of war on how to change your spouse’s bad habits.


As much as possible, a couple should not marry until they are prepared to be an independent “unit,” living and functioning on their own. It may mean a very humble beginning. It may require a lowering of life style for a period of time. But the benefits far outweigh any sacrifice. To begin life and attempt to establish a new headship while living in the home of one of the spouse’s parents, is to court disaster. Headship will function and flourish best when allowed, not only the emotional and legal space required, but the physical space as well.


Parents may choose to give financial support during difficult days (one still in school, or similar circumstances) but if they do, it should come with “no-strings” attached. To give financial aid and then assume it allows control in some manner is a cruel form of manipulation.


But what is the relationship which has now been established between parents and their married children? What does the New Testament prescribe?


Allow me to pose a few questions to define the issues. Are the wisdom and experience of those who have been married for years to be ignored and disregarded? Are parents supposed to sit back and watch their adult children make mistakes and not intervene? Are we to be silent when we know what is best for our “children” even though they are married?


The answer to all the above is a resounding “yes” ... and an equally resounding “no!” The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that when a man takes a woman to be his wife, he establishes a new headship (Matt 19:5). He establishes a new headship by leaving “father and mother.” This concept is actually heightened when we call to mind that many of the patriarchs lived in an extended family setting with grandparents, parents, children, siblings, all living together in a family-community. So while a man might not “leave” his parents physically, he was leaving the headship of his father under which he grew up, to assume his own headship and leadership.


What makes this vitally important is what the New Testament teaches - that this is a picture lesson for us of Christ and His Church (Eph 5). Thus, to interject any other headship of control over a man who is head of his own wife, is to mar the picture which God intends to be displayed. It is not a question here of whether that headship is being carried out properly or not. It is the principle which God is enunciating and which is so important. There can be no head over the one who is now head of His wife other than the Headship of the Lord. Otherwise, the lesson is distorted and the teaching flawed. That means that a father-in-law is not to threaten his son-in-law; a mother-in-law is not to give her daughter-in-law a guilt trip in an attempt to manipulate and control. The parents of the wife must recognize that they have “given” her away and that her responsibility as to headship is now toward her own husband, not her parents. Likewise, the parents of the husband must recognize that he now stands responsible to the Lord for his leadership, not to them.


But what of parental advice, counsel, wisdom - of which we all have so much? Give it when asked, and leave it there. Do not keep revisiting the subject and seeing if your suggestions have been implemented. If they fall on their faces a few times and need to pick themselves up, do not hasten with the “I told you so!” but allow them to learn. You once did the same. If advice is not sought, be very slow in offering it. Be wise when you do give as to the manner in which it is given. Above all, respect the leadership which exists in the new family unit and do not try to interfere in a controlling manner.


“Cleaving” is equally strong in its implications and demands. When used in our New Testament, it means nothing less than being glued together. Your lives are now one. It hardly needs to be said that this word allows no room for separation and return to parents when things are not going well. It is by bowing to the standard of Scripture that you will be forced to work out Scriptural principles that will prosper your marriage and your own spiritual growth.


The result of leaving and cleaving is that a couple becomes “one flesh.” Since 1 Corinthians 6:16 describes union with a harlot as “one body,” and not “one flesh,” the union in marriage must be something more than merely physical, although it embraces this. While it is not spiritual oneness, it is a oneness that transcends the physical to involve the emotional, mental, and psychological. I do not understand all this means. I think, however, that we see in this “one flesh,” the ultimate and greatest purpose of marriage. Some will contend that God instituted marriage, primarily, to populate the earth. If true, this would mean that the childless couple is a failure; or that a couple which marries late in life cannot fulfill God’s design. But this is not the truth of the Word of Truth. When Paul writes of Divine purposes in marriage in Ephesians, he tells us by the Spirit of God, that “This mystery is great.” The mystery of which he is speaking here is the mystery of marriage: that God intended from eternal ages to use marriage to reveal the sublime and transcendent truth that marriage was to serve as a hands-on lesson depicting the wondrous union of Christ and His bride.


Abraham and Sarah - Lordship

The marriage of Sarah and Abraham emphasizes lordship. This is not imagination but the Spirit of God’s commentary on their marriage. Genesis 18 chronicles Sarah’s failure to believe God concerning the birth of a son. It marks one of the lowest points in her spiritual experiences with God. But notice Peter’s commentary on this incident in his epistle. “Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham calling him lord ... (1 Peter 3:6). When did she call him lord? The only occasion recorded in Scripture is when she laughed and said, “After I am waxen old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” Notice this and do not miss the lesson which the Spirit of God has painstakingly provided. In Sarah’s moment of failure, God found something which He could commend about her - she called Abraham her lord.


Some might object that she was not acting the part of a submissive wife in chapter 16, but a nagging and complaining wife. It may well be that this was the result of Abraham failing to act in his capacity as leader and head. But that does not change the fact that she recognized him as lord in chapter 18.


Submission is something foreign to our modern way of thinking. What must be understood by young couples is that submission is not a word which deals with the essence, quality, or value of something. It is an attitude word. Its usage in 1 Corinthians 11 should settle that forever. Christ is seen as willingly taking a place of submission to God, a concept which forbids any thought of inferiority.


Submission is not the road for getting what you want from your husband. It is not a manipulative tool you use to get him to change. The idea is not that if you play your part then he will play his part and love you as he ought to love. Submission is commended for its own sake because it is a picture of the Church’s relationship to Christ (Eph 5:22). Paul also mentions that it is to be as unto the Lord. This disallows any idea of bitterness or grudging submission. Paul admonishes Titus that the older women are to teach the younger woman submission, “That the Word of God be not blasphemed.” In Colossians 3:18 it is linked with Christ being all (everything) in all (in every relationship). Finally, it is Peter who suggests, in 1 Peter 3, that this is the way to be of the greatest help and influence on a husband.


More will be said about what submission means in a later chapter. At this point we are simply pointing out that it was an essential ingredient of a Genesis marriage, an ingredient which God commended.


Isaac and Rebekah - Love

We come now to a curious thing. If I, and perhaps you as well, had written Genesis, no doubt the scene in Eden would have included some reference to the deep love which Adam had for Eve. If not there, then certainly it would have been mentioned in Abraham and Sarah. Yet no mention is made of a husband and wife’s love until we come to Isaac and Rebekah. Were they the first to fall in love? Was love absent from all prior relationships? Or is God patiently teaching us progressive lessons?


Could I intentionally overstate the truth at first, a truth which may sound shockingly strange to western ears and ways. Perhaps it is not that love is the basis for marriage, but that marriage is the basis for love. In countries which practice arranged marriages, divorce rates are much lower than in western lands where “love” is the driving force for marriage. The problem may not lie with love, but with our understanding and definition of love.


But notice the order in Genesis 24:67: “Isaac ... took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her.” Recall again Paul’s words and note the order: “Husbands (not fiances) love your wives (not your future wife). The emphasis on love, the command to love, is always given after the marriage. I am not suggesting that love is not an important element on deciding upon marriage. The love, however, of the Scripture is not the sentimental soap opera emotion that hovers somewhere between infatuation and lust. It is not the theme which fills the lyrics of pop vocalists and poets. The more the world becomes obsessed with this love in its songs and movies, the higher the divorce rate soars. Obviously this kind of love is not the cement which holds marriages together.


What holds marriages together is not love but commitment, an unconditional, unbreakable commitment made before God and witnesses , to take each other as husband and wife. The implications here are critical. This means that couples cannot walk away from marriage when they discover that “I don’t feel the same love for you as I did.” This means there is no excuse in the claim, “I can’t love her anymore.” Within the commitment of marriage, love can flourish. It is only when I know the security that I am in an indissoluble relationship that I can allow myself to be known to my spouse. If I cannot take that risk, I will never know the oneness of which Genesis 2 speaks.


If a couple should tragically and painfully discover that they should never have married, that they were not in the mind of God, what should they do? God has commanded the husband to love his wife. If God has commanded it, then it must be possible. Whether done correctly or out of the mind of the Lord, once you have married, that spouse is God’s will for you. The advice, no, the command of Scripture is, “Husbands love your wives!”


In past years, laws required couples to visit a physician and have licenses signed. This is no longer required. But when it was, it served a useful function for other reasons. I have used this as an opportunity to explore the couples concepts of marriage. I was dumbfounded time and again to hear the same refrain: that since they were in love (as no other couple had ever been in love), then that would solve all the potential problems in the road ahead. Sadly, I would see many of these couples return in the throes and pain of separation and divorce. The secular world in which they lived has so popularized the idea that love somehow enables couples to conquer all. When they are not able to resolve problems, reverse reasoning ensues and they begin to think that they must not “love” each other. Marriage does not solve problems - it magnifies our failures and increases our liabilities.


From Isaac and Rebekah, we learn that in marriage, God has prepared a soil in which love can grow to its fullest potential. This is only possible, however, when both people recognize the permanency of their commitment.


Jacob and Rachel - Leadership

Allow this chapter to include one more example, that of Jacob and Rachel. Jacob we are told, also loved his wife. This love became the basis for his leadership. It was not the result of a demented distorted view of supremacy, but genuine love which caused him to lead his family.


From Genesis 30:25, 31:4-14, we learn that Jacob discussed his plans for leaving Laban with his wife (wives, sadly), and took the time to hear what they had to say. He did not drive them callously. He considered their protection and safety (ch 32:21-23) and took the lead in spiritual matters as well (35:1-4).


Jacob’s failures in marriage and in leadership are patent for all to see. That is not the concern of the moment. What needs to be grasped is that in these primal patriarchal marriages, God is teaching us His grand design for our lives and for marriage. He is teaching us about leaving and cleaving to become one, lordship, love, and leadership. These are the basic ingredients of a scriptural marriage.


From these lessons we can perhaps make an attempt at defining what a Biblical marriage is: an unconditional commitment of a man and woman for their entire lives, a commitment which not only embraces each other, but accepts the Scriptural roles assigned to each in the wisdom of God.