Marriage Vows and Ceremonies

     Marriage Book CoverMarriage is a covenant relationship (Prov. 2:17; Ezek. 16:8; Mal. 2:14-15; Matt. 19:6).  In Scripture, the word covenant (Heb. בְּרִית berith, Grk. διαθήκη diatheke) is used of a treaty, alliance, or contract.  The strength of a covenant depends on the person, or persons, who enter into it.  Some covenants are vertical between God and individuals or groups, and some are horizontal between people.  Some of God’s covenants are unilateral, in which God acts alone and unconditionally promises to provide and bless another, either a person or group (e.g. Noahic covenant, Abrahamic covenant, Davidic covenant, New Covenant, etc.).  In a unilateral covenant, God will always bless the recipients, and there is no fear of God doing otherwise, because the blessing is in no way conditioned on any action by those whom God assures blessing (e.g. Gen. 12:1-3; Jer. 31:31-34).  Some of God’s covenants are bilateral, in which blessing or cursing is conditioned on obedience to stated laws (e.g. Adamic covenant and Mosaic covenant).  In a bilateral covenant, God is faithful to bless and curse depending on compliance to the agreed upon conditions set forth (see Deuteronomy Chapter 28).  God is always faithful to keep His promises in both unilateral and bilateral covenants.  In the Bible there are examples of people who made bilateral covenants among themselves (Gen. 21:27; 31:44-54; Josh. 9:15; 1 Sam. 18:3; 2 Sam. 3:12-13).  Covenants made by people are generally bilateral, depending on the faithfulness of each person to keep their promise.

In making covenants God was solemnly invoked as a witness (31:53), whence the expression “a covenant of the Lord” (1 Sam. 20:8; cf. Jer. 34:18–19; Ezek. 17:19), and an oath was sworn (Gen. 21:31). Accordingly, a breach of covenant was regarded as a heinous sin (Ezek. 17:12–20). The marriage contract is called “the covenant of … God” (Prov. 2:17).[1]

     The marriage covenant is a bilateral agreement in which both persons promise, before God and others, to love each other faithfully.  It is regarded as a bilateral covenant—depending on the faithfulness of each person to each other—because God permits a way out of the relationship by divorce (Deut. 24:1-3; Matt. 5:32; 19:8-9).  A unilateral covenant would make no stipulations on the relationship.

     RingsThe marriage covenant glorifies God when the man and woman commit to love each other, to seek God’s best in each other, and to remain faithful to their promises.  Typically, marriage vows are thoughtful, addressing the reality of good and bad circumstances, the influence of wealth or poverty, sickness and health.  A vow is a promise, and a promise is only as strong as the person who makes it.  Often we vow to be committed to each other and to endure all tests and trials until separated by death.  We may not like the tests or trials that come our way, but it’s only in those situations that a person’s integrity becomes manifest.

     Marriage ceremonies mentioned in the Bible varied depending on the people and culture.  Sometimes we read about arranged marriages without any mention of a wedding ceremony at all (Gen. 21:21; 38:6; 1 Sam. 18:17).  Other times we read of great feasting and celebration during the wedding (Gen. 29:22; Judg. 14:12; Matt. 22:1-12; Luke 14:8-11; John 2:1-10).  The Bible does not prescribe a specific marriage ceremony, and each couple is free to follow whatever customs are particular to their culture so long as it conforms to the laws and customs of a nation (Rom. 13:1, 5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). (this article is an excerpt from my book: Making a Biblical Marriage

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] Merrill F. Unger, et al., “Covenant” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

God Loves Israel

     God loves Israel, declaring, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer. 31:3). God is eternal, and His love is eternal. To possess the love of God is to love that which he loves. One cannot claim to have God’s love, and simultaneously hate Israel, His chosen people. There is no place for anti-Semitism in the heart of any Christian.

     Israel FlagTo love Israel is not a blanket endorsement of all their beliefs and behaviors. God, who loves Israel and chose them to be His people (Deut. 7:6-8), also called them to be holy (Ex. 19:5-6; Lev. 11:45), and promised blessing or cursing, based on their obedience to Him (Deut. 28:1-68). Israel can and does fail, often rejecting God’s love for them and walking in the ways of the world (see 2 Chron. 36:15-16; Jer. 7:25-26; 25:4-7; Ezek. 16; Matt. 23:1-39; Acts 7:51-53; 1 Thess. 2:14-16). The national rejection and crucifixion of Jesus (Matt. 27:22-23; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28), Israel’s promised Messiah (Deut. 18:15; Isa. 7:14; 9:6-7;53; 61:1; Matt. 1:1, 17; Luke 1:31-33), is their greatest failure. Did Israel act alone in crucifying Jesus, their Messiah? No! God foretold Israel’s Messiah would suffer and die (Ps. 22:11-18; Isa. 53); and, according to His sovereignty, He used wicked men, both Jews and Gentiles, to accomplish His will (Acts 22:22-23; 4:27-28).

If it be inquired, as constantly it is, who put Christ to death? It may be pointed out that He was offered by the Father (Ps. 22:15; John 3:16; Rom. 3:25), of His own free will (John 10:17; Heb. 7:27; 9:14; 10:12), by the Spirit (Heb. 9:14), and by men—Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and Israel (Acts 2:23; 4:27). To this may be added that part of His death was contributed by Satan (cf. Gen. 3:15).[1]

     God, who loves Israel with an everlasting love, continues to keep His word to them. Israel has a future hope because of the promises and covenants God made through the patriarchs and prophets (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:18; 17:8; Deut. 30:1-10; 2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:33-37; Jer. 31:31-33). Though unbelieving Israel is currently under divine discipline (Matt. 23:37-39), God’s covenants and promises are still in effect (Rom. 9:1-5), and will remain in force until Jesus returns and is accepted as their Messiah.

     It is wrong to think the church has replaced Israel, for “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (Rom. 11:2), even though there is a “partial hardening” among them until Messiah returns (Rom. 11:25-27). Until then, unbelieving Israel is under spiritual darkness and divine judgment. The apostle Paul—a biological Jew himself—revealed that God’s promises and covenants are still valid for national Israel, and wished all would come to faith in Christ.

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart [for unbelieving Israel]. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh [to whom Paul is related biologically], who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh [i.e. Messiah], who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Rom. 9:1-5)

     Today, Jews and Gentiles alike, become partakers of the church, the body of Christ, when they believe in Jesus as their Savior (Gal. 3:26-28; Eph. 1:22-23; cf. 1 Cor. 10:32). The church is looking forward to the return of Christ, in which He will catch away (ἁρπάζω harpazo – to seize, catch up, snatch away) Christians to heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-17). Until God resumes His prophetic plans for Israel, the Christian is called to love them, pray for them, and share the gospel of grace that they may turn to Jesus as the Christ and be saved (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18-24; 15:3-4).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] Lewis S. Chafer, “Christology” in Systematic Theology, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI., Kregel Publications, 1993), 80.

Glory and Love Within the Trinity

      It is important to understand the relationship that existed between the members of the Trinity before anything was created.  The apostle Peter tells us that Jesus Christ “was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you” (1 Pet. 1:20).  Though He was “foreknown before the foundation of the world” by the other Persons of the Trinity, there was a point in time when God the Son came into the world and took upon Himself perfect humanity in order to make Himself known to sinful men.  God the Son added to Himself perfect humanity (John 1:1, 14; Gal. 4:4), lived free from sin (Heb. 4:15), satisfied every righteous demand of the Mosaic Law (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 10:1-4), and in His humanity died a substitutionary death for sinners that they might have the free and gracious gift of eternal life because of His death on the cross (Rom. 3:24-25; 4:1-5; 5:6-10; 10:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:2).

     God the Father and God the Holy Spirit were both in agreement with God the Son regarding the salvation-work He would accomplish on the cross.  On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed “Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).  These words reflect memories of the glory that God the Son shared with God the Father before the existence of the world; a glory no doubt shared with God the Holy Spirit.  As the time for His crucifixion came near, and knowing His time on earth was ending soon, Jesus said to the Father “now I come to You” (John 17:13).  Jesus’ return to the Father was not only a return to glory, but to a very special relationship of love, of which Jesus declared, “You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24c).  In our finiteness, we struggle to grasp the significance of God’s love toward us through the cross (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8), how much greater is our struggle to comprehend the glory and love that exists among the Persons of the Trinity; a glory and love beyond the constraints of time and space.  Amazingly, Christ asked the Father that we, as believers, share in their glory and love for all eternity.

Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am [in heaven], so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me [into the world]; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:24-26)

     How can this be? How can the perfect Son of God ask that sinful men be allowed to share in the glory and love that belongs intimately to the members of the Trinity?  Certainly that which the Son asks of the Father will be granted to Him. Those whom the Father has given to the Son will, in fact, be with them in heaven and will see the glory of Christ and will share in the love that the members of the Trinity have for each other, and that love will be “in them”, just as Christ is “in them” (John 17:26).  But the problem still remains, how can sinful men be allowed to share in the glory and love that belongs intimately to the members of the Trinity?  The solution to the problem is found in the suffering of Christ (Isa. 53), who paid the price for the forgiveness of our sin through His shed blood on the cross (Eph. 1:7), redeeming us from the slave-market of sin to which we were naturally born (Mark 10:45; Col. 1:13-14), giving us eternal life (John 10:28), imputing His righteousness to us and declaring us justified (Rom. 3:24; 4:4-5; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), and bringing about our adoption into His heavenly family when we trust in Him for salvation (Gal. 4:5-6; Eph. 1:5; 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).  The substitutionary death of Christ on the cross propitiated (i.e. satisfied) every righteous demand of the Father concerning our sins (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and is the basis for our reconciliation to God (Rom. 5:11; 2 Cor. 5:18-19).  God’s so great salvation and the riches of His great grace toward us as sinners is made possible because Christ suffered on the cross, bearing the punishment we so richly deserve.  God’s salvation and the riches of His grace are applied even to the worst of sinners at the moment they turn to Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31).  This is the good news of the gospel message, that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  (this article is taken from my book, Suffering: A Biblical Consideration, 121-124)

Dr. Steven R. Cook