Attack on marriage


Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently gave an interview, which I watched some of.  Towards the end a child asked her a question: “Why did you not let gay people get married?”[1]  Her reply was that she did not oppose gay marriage for the reasons that others opposed it, but as a feminist she opposed the notion of marriage itself.  It is evident in Australia today that there is an attack on marriage.  This attack comes in various forms: the push for gay marriage, the promotion of promiscuity, feminist attacks on marriage and family, the rise of pornography, a decrease in the number of people marrying, an increase in the number of divorces, and a devaluing of virginity.  In praying about this evident attack on marriage in Australia, I suddenly understood that this is not merely an attack on traditional morality, but a radical rejection of the goal of human being.

Marriage is central to the biblical picture from beginning to end.  God created marriage at the beginning.  Adam is not meant to be alone, or to image God alone.  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  This is not simply the creation of human marriage and the basis for human society.  It is a mystery which cannot be fully revealed until Christ came (Eph 5:32).

Yahweh the husband of Israel

Marriage is used a metaphor for the relationship between Yahweh and the people of Israel on numerous occasions in the Old Testament.  Yahweh is the husband of Israel.  “For your Maker is your husband– the LORD Almighty is his name– the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth” (Isaiah 54:5).  To be a husband to Israel is for God a commitment to be intimate with the people of Israel.  As marriage is a covenant which involves becoming one flesh (Gen 2:24), so the relationship between God and Israel involves a covenant which joins them inseparably together.  Although Israel is repeatedly unfaithful, Yahweh cannot bring himself to abandon them.  “‘The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit– a wife who married young, only to be rejected,’ says your God.  ‘For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back’” (Isa 54:6-7).

Israel the faithless wife

Despite the commitment of Yahweh to his wife Israel, the nation is repeatedly unfaithful to her husband.  “Does a maiden forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number” (Jeremiah 2:32).  “‘Return, faithless people,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I am your husband. I will choose you– one from a town and two from a clan– and bring you to Zion’” (Jeremiah 3:14).  “‘But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:20).  “You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband!” (Ezekiel 16:32).

It is because of this unfaithfulness to Yahweh her husband that Israel (first the northern kingdom of Israel and then the southern kingdom of Judah) is sent into exile.

Hosea was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel.  The entire book is about Hosea’s marriage to an unfaithful wife.  Yahweh speaks to Israel through the actions of Hosea.  In the second chapter of Hosea Yahweh rebukes the nation because they are faithless as a wife.  “Rebuke your mother, rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts” (Hosea 2:2).  But this situation will not continue, because Yahweh will woe back Israel his wife so that she will again call Yahweh her husband.  “”Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.  There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.  “In that day,” declares the LORD, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master’” (Hosea 2:14-16).  The ultimate goal of calling the nation of Israel was that they would be intimately connected to Yahweh, that is, they would enter into a marriage with their God.

Jeremiah is a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah.  He is told not to marry because part of the punishment of the exile will be the end of marriage in Judah.  “Then the word of the LORD came to me: “You must not marry and have sons or daughters in this place.” … “And do not enter a house where there is feasting and sit down to eat and drink.  For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Before your eyes and in your days I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in this place“” (Jer 16:1-2; 8-9).

The rejection of God as a husband for Israel is paralleled by the punishment which involves the end of marriage as a possibility in land of Judah.  There is here a clear connection between the rejection by the people of the goal of their lives – the goal of human being, which is intimacy with God in being the people of God – and the lack of marriage amongst those people.  This end to marriage is brought about by Yahweh himself as punishment for their rejection of him.

The kingdom of God as a wedding feast

The New Testament again uses this metaphor of marriage in several places.  Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a wedding feast. “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son” (Matthew 22:2).  The virgins who await the bridegroom are finally let into the wedding banquet only if they are prepared (Matt 25:1-10).  The goal in both of these parables is to gain access to the wedding banquet.  The first story is about those who refuse the invitation to the banquet and the second story is about those who were not ready when the wedding banquet began.  But in both cases the wedding banquet is something which a person should desire to be present at.

Instead of Yahweh being the husband, it is Jesus who is characterised in the New Testament as the bridegroom.  When questioned about why his disciples did not fast, “Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast’” (Matthew 9:15).  John the Baptist also testified about his role and that of Jesus when he said, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete” (John 3:29).  Instead of Israel it is now the church which is the bride and Jesus who is the husband (Eph 5:32).

The ultimate goal of humanity – the wedding supper of the lamb

When we come to the end of the Bible, and indeed the end of the age, we find that the ultimate goal of humanity has been reached in the wedding supper of the Lamb.

“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.  Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)  Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!‘” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”” (Rev 19:6-9).

From the beginning in which humanity is made with marriage in mind, to the end when the ultimate end of humanity is reached in the wedding supper of the lamb, human beings are intended for intimacy with their Creator.  Human telos (goal) and purpose is to experience marriage to Jesus Christ.  This is what we are made for.  To reject marriage as Australians are presently doing is to reject both the Creator and the goal for which we are created.  For this reason we must stand in opposition to all of the manifestations of the rejection of marriage in our culture.

Singleness as a way of upholding marriage

There is, however, one final word on this matter which cannot be bypassed.  If marriage is the ultimate goal of human being, then what of Christian people who are single and those who are called to remain single in this life?  On the surface this seems to present a problem.  However, I do not think that being single as a Christian person devoted to Christ in purity is against marriage.  Rather it upholds marriage as the sacred covenant which it is.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (2 Cor 11:2).  The most profound way in which Christian singleness upholds the value of marriage is through a consecration to a chaste life committed to virginity outside of marriage.  This is something which our society has also rejected.  Only the presence of pure and faithful single people can provide this witness to the sanctity of marriage as presently important and as ultimately the goal of human existence.


[1] Such a question from a child is itself disturbing.


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