The Bible furnishes us with numerous examples in the selection of marriage companions. We are given the story of Adam and Eve who were literally 'made' for each other, but theirs was a world without sin or misty clouds, and so we cannot look to the way Yahweh brought them together. When I got married Yahweh didn't suddenly put me to sleep, take a rib out of my side and say, "Here is your wife." How simple it would be if we could all have our marriage companions chosen as Adam and Eve did! Though I personally believe that our marriage companions were created in a similar way in the spirit before we came here, this is not how things are done any longer in this physical world. We have to look elsewhere for examples.
The Bible gives us several examples, as I have said, in spouse selection. What is interesting about them is that they each represent different situations and challenges based on the temperaments of those involved. The ideal method is presented in the story of Isaac and Rebekah (Gen.24). Yahweh guided the process from beginning to end and all the right elements are present. Firstly, the father of the bridegroom is a man of God who walks in the Ruach (Spirit) and is therefore able to properly fulfil his duty as a matchmaker. This was an arranged marriage. However, for an arranged marriage to work it absolutely depends on the father being a man of Yahweh walking in the Ruach (Spirit). If he isn't, that matchmaking can lead to disaster. What the Bible is not saying is that all marriages should be arranged by the parents. It is saying that arranged marriages only work if the parties concerned are truly Ruach (Spirit)-led men and women of God (many think they are who are not). If they are not, other methods are given.
Abraham was, of course, a true patriarch and son of Yahweh. He gave his servant Eliezer precise instructions on how to find Isaac a bride. Moreover, Eliezer was a man of God too and was likewise guided. Rebekah was approached, she approached her father who gave his consent, and she finally said 'yes'. Notice, please, that even in the ideal arranged marriage, the prospective bride must give her consent. She must have the freedom to reject the arrangement. The transgression of free agency is a cardinal sin. Thus under no circumstances is anyone to be forced to marry against their will. Ever.
There is no doubt that Rebekah was Yahweh's choice for Isaac, and vice versa. And though the marriage had struggles - as all do - it was, most importantly, right, and so it worked and prospered.
There are no other examples of such arranged marriages in the Bible - marriages that showed the unmistakable finger of Yahweh on it in the method used and from beginning to end. In the many other examples, some of which we are going to look at now, there were complications. And if we are truthful, these probably have more in common with our situations than with Isaac and Rebekah's.
The next two examples of marriage were marriages that were in Yahweh's will but handled in the wrong way. I'm afraid it is all too often that people are too much in a hurry to marry and in so doing make disastrous mistakes. We are told very little about the origins of Abraham's marriage to Sarah but we are told quite a bit about his second marriage to Hagar. Here was a right marriage done in the wrong way for the wrong motives (Gen.15-25).
In this story, Sarah is barren. She has been promised a son who will be a forefather of the Messiah. Unfortunately, she grows impatient and suggests that Abraham marries her Egyptian maid, Hagar, and have the promised child by proxy. As we know, Yahweh's Torah permits a man to take more than one wife within certain limits (Dt.17:17) and under certain conditions (Ex.21:9-10) so the principle of expanding the family in this way was, and is, not wrong. What was wrong was in trying to take a short-cut by 'forcing Yahweh's hand', as it were. So Abraham married Hagar and gave him a son, Ishmael. But he wasn't the promised seed. The rest of the story is well known to you. Sarah remained barren and passed the age of childbearing and gave up all hope of the promise being fulfilled in spite of Yahweh continually reaffirming that the 'impossible' would happen. Which it did. When she was in her 90s, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, proving that what man cannot do, that Yahweh can, and that Yahweh always keeps his promises.
We know the marriages to Sarah and Hagar were right because both mothered two important races - the Hebrews and the Arabs, respectively. But had Abraham's marriage to Hagar been for the right reason and not to hurry Yahweh up, these two people probably would never have warred against one another. Sarah and Hagar became rivals and eventually had to part - not because their marriage was not in Yahweh's will but because they tried to do God's work in their way. Today the Jews and Arabs are mighty peoples but they hate each other. However, a time is coming when the two will be at peace, and the seed of Sarah and the seed of Hagar will talk together as one.
No one doubts that the marriage of Adam and Eve was divinely ordained and yet we have had nothing but trouble because they chose to disobey. No one should doubt that the marriage of Abraham to Sarah and Hagar was divinely ordained and yet we have his two descendants at each other's throats because their forefather tried to use a human solution to a divine 'problem' that Yahweh would have fixed in His own time and way.
The third example of a post-Edenic marriage is that of Jacob. These three marriages are very important for us to understand because Yahweh, the God we worship and serve, is repeatedly called the "God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex.3:6; Ac.3:13). We are supposed to look at these men as examples of true faith in spite of their mistakes and learn from the way Yahweh fixed things in their lives.
Jacob (Gen.25-49) was to become the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel into which we, as Christians, are grafted (Rom.11). We are known as New Covenant Israel (Jacob) and we are likewise told in the New Testament that those who accept Christ as Lord and Saviour become the adopted sons and daughters of Abraham. Abraham and Jacob especially therefore stand as our heads as they did of the Hebrew people in the Old Covenant. We are connected to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is our God, the God who glorified Yah'shua (Jesus) (Ac.3:13). And the apostles cite them as the men of faith whom we should imitate. We are even commanded to do the works of Abraham because we are of his seed (Jn.8:39).
Jacob started his life all wrong. He was a deceiver, a trickster. He swindled his elder brother out of his birthright, and deceived his father Isaac too. The cost for him was to be terrible. He became an outcast. He had to run away from home to escape his brother Esau killing him. So he ran away to Haran to his Uncle Laban's farm and found in his relative a man even more of a trickster than he was, and an pagan at that. And though Jacob met Yahweh on this journey northwards to his uncle's home, and covenanted to follow him as had his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham before him, he quite evidently had not made the same agreement concerning his choice of marriage companions. In His mercy, Yahweh made sure that he married the right women but not without considerable trouble. It was always Jacob's divine calling to be the father of the twelve tribes of Israel and is was always his calling to marry the four women who were to be the mothers of the different tribes.
What happened was this. He fell in love with one of the women Yahweh intended him to marry. Her name was Rachel. And she was a fine woman, the mother-to-be of Joseph and Benjamin. And we all remember Joseph as the exemplary Messiah-like man that he was. And I have to confess with many others that Joseph is one of my heroes. However, Yahweh never intended that Jacob should be absorbed in this one very wonderful woman, for He had ordained four wives for him. Leah, like her sister Rachel, was also a very fine woman, and both were unlike their unscrupulous father Laban. Indeed, both readily embraced Yahweh as their God when they saw how wonderful He was an how He blessed Jacob in spite of himself. For all his faults, Jacob did have faith. He was to have his deceitful and egotistical streak burned out of him later at Peniel by the River Jabbok after which he was renamed Israel.
Leah and Rachel, and their two maids Zilpah and Bilhah, were Yahweh's undoubted choice for Jacob, and he had to be more or less manoeuvred into marrying them against his will. To teach him a lesson for deceiving his brother Esau and his father Isaac, Yahweh arranged for Jacob to be tricked into marrying Leah before Rachel. He was furious and demonstrated his stubborn unwillingness to be conformed to Yahweh's will by showing favouritism to his younger wife Rachel. For this he was punished. Rachel was barren and Leah kept having children. And the same mistake was made with Zilpah and Bilhah as had been made with Hagar. The two wives Leah and Rachel used these maids to rival each other in giving Jacob children. They were competing with each other to have the most children, thinking they could earn Jacob's favour and love this way!
It is a long and complex story that shows how very foolish we can be sometimes in trying to do our will in selecting marriage companions instead of Yahweh's. The error in this case was selfishness and favouritism. Jacob only wanted Rachel and when he was gently reminded by Yahweh that he was called to have four wives, still continued to show favouritism. Not until he finally had his carnal nature burned out of him at Peniel when he wrestled with an angel of Yahweh and had his thigh dislocated (symbolising having his carnal will broken) did harmony between himself and his wives, and between his wives, finally prevail. Yes, there were troubles ahead, but of a different kind. Yahweh's will was done but in a roundabout sort of way, and not without considerable struggle.
In these three stories particularly we see Yahweh's choice for marriage and the different way the men and women responded. Disobedience, impatience, carnality, spiritual blindness, favouritism, and a whole string of other human vices are graphically portrayed as a warning to us to get things right by doing things Yahweh's way. We see that whilst the majority of men are called to have only one wife (like Isaac, Joseph, and Boaz) others were not. Some, like the prophet Jeremiah and John the Baptist, were commanded to have none, and others like Abraham and Jacob, were commanded to have several. The point at issue here is always Yahweh's will. If we do not link ourselves to the right marriage companions, trouble and unhappiness follows. At the same time, if we link ourselves to them too early or with the wrong heart, trouble follows too. We must not lose sight of these twin principles.
Look at King David. We are told that Yahweh personally gave him his wives (2 Sam.12:8) but he got fatally greedy - he lusted after another man's wife, killed the husband, married adulterously, and brought unspeakable sorrow both to his own household and to the nation of Israel (2 Sam.11-12). His son Solomon went even further. Not only did he marry for political reasons to cement alliances, but he married unbelievers in direct violation of Yahweh's Torah (1 Ki.11:4) and went mad and married one thousand women again contrary to Torah (Dt.17:17). His uncontrolled libido ruined not only him but also Israel. The nation split into two at his death and both were eventually led away captive.
These two men stand out as stark warning of how flesh-inspired marriages can lead to death and destruction. Solomon died an unrepentant pagan. David repented but his losses was great.
An example of another disastrous marriage was of Israelite King Ahab to Queen Jezebel (1 Ki.18 - 2 Ki.9). She was a pagan - a Baal-worshipper - who corrupted King and nation and waged war against Yahweh's prophets. This marriage was not in Yahweh's will and the consequences of it added to the string of fatalities in the life and history of the Hebrews. When Judah returned from their exile in Babylon, Yahweh ordered them through Nehemiah to divorce their pagan wives whom they had taken knowing what Torah taught. These were marriages not in Yahweh's will (Ezra 10).
There is a lovely story in the Bible about a half-Moabite woman called Ruth who, guided by her godly mother-in-law Naomi, ended up marrying a much older man than herself called Boaz. People often frown on marriages where there is a major age gap between the spouses. The point here is that Yahweh knows what is best, and this marriage was unquestionably ordained by Him. Ruth and Boaz were also ancestors of Yah'shua (Jesus). Another example of a large age gap was in Joseph and Mary, the stepfather and mother of Yah'shua (Jesus). Here was another divinely ordained marriage, and a very unusual one too. Mary was left a widow quite early on and yet Joseph was not only the man to be a proxy earthly father for Yah'shua (Jesus) but also the man who would sire other children, including James who became head of the Messianic Community (Church) for a time after his half-brother's resurrection and ascension (Ac.12:17; 15:13; 21:18). Who would dare say that the marriage of Joseph and Mary was not in Yahweh's will?
We see, then, all kinds of marriage or even celibacy in the Bible which was in Yahweh's will. These were Yahweh's marriage companion choices. They were all good, holy and pure. And He is calling people today in exactly the same way as He did then. Amongst us in the Messianic Community (Church) are Abrahams, Isaacs, Jacobs, Davids, Boazs, Jeremiahs, John the Baptists, Josephs and many, many others. Sometimes we are surprised when we meet them, astonished that Yahweh works in so many different ways and with so many different types of marriage. We see in all of them, though, the divine hand and the divine choosing. What He chooses is right even if we may, because of cultural prejudice, disapprove, as Miriam did of her brother Moses' marriages to Zipporah and the Ethiopian (Num.12).
I want to finish today by returning to Adam. Jewish tradition has it that before Eve was created, Adam had a wife called Lilith. Though we can't be sure how accurate this tradition is, it is possible that there is some truth in it, even though we have no biblical authority to assert it. It is worth mentioning as an illustration, however, of our theme today.
According to the story, Lilith was a very controlling and domineering wife. Far from being Adam's helpmeet, she became an adversary. Because she rebelled against the divine order, it was only a matter of time before she descended to murder, and indeed began killing their children. For this she was banished and is today a demoness. That a demoness called Lilith exists I can testify though whether she was originally the first wife of Adam we cannot know.
My point in sharing this story is to paint one last scenario. I suggest that sometimes men and women are brought together for extraordinary reasons. Sometimes it is a test, sometimes to fulfil a prophetic mission like Hosea being commanded to marry an adulterous woman (Hos.1).
David and Bathsheba are another example. There is no doubt that Solomon was intended from this union, and this being so, it had to be right that Bathsheba be his wife. What went wrong was that the union took place in all the wrong way. It began with lust and ended with adultery. The only way the marriage could have been right was if Uriah, Bathsheba's lawful husband, was removed in death by natural causes. If David had waited and left matters in Yahweh's hands, then he would have obtained Bathsheba in the same way that David obtained righteous Abigail when Yahweh killed her evil husband Nabal (1 Sam.25). How Abigail came to be with Nabal we don't know. It may not have been a marriage ordained by Yahweh but was ended by Him in His own way. We, at any rate, have no business ending a marriage or interfering with another's marriage, and certainly never the way David did by murdering Uriah, a man, who we are given to understand, was a loyal soldier to the King.
We have discussed many biblical marriages today, each giving us valuable insights. One thing we cannot know is all the why's and wherefore's in marriage companionships. Obviously some are in Yahweh's will and some are not. It is not for us to interfere in any marriage but to pray that they may flourish even if we may feel the matches are not always in Yahweh's will. As for us, we, if we marry, have to choose ever so carefully, for a marriage outside of Yahweh's will simply isn't worth it. Our judgement is always flawed and unreliable. If we are wise, we will do what the Scriptures teach us. His perfect choice must be what we choose - always - if we are to thrive and be blessed in that most sacred and blessed of human institutions.
Christopher C. Warren, Whom Should I Marry? Three-part sermon in Collected Sermons, Vol.2, Jan-Mar 2001 (New Covenant Press, Arvika, Sweden, 2001, pp.35-41, 50-63) or www.nccg.org/321Art-Marry1.html.
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