Marriage By Design

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Published 2 May 2007; Revised 2 June 2015

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Sources: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. The meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB."

Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic writings and message I use the terms Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament) and incorporate other appropriate Hebrew and Jewish terms. (See the glossary.)

Introduction

Marriage is the first social relationship created by God. Throughout Scripture marriage is a blessed and desirable and expected relationship. God intended husbands and wives to relate to one another in accordance with universal and absolute principles, just as the physical universe operates according to the design of the Creator. Unfortunately, God’s intentions have been forgotten or ignored by most of mankind. Even in Christianity God’s ideals and guidance have been reshaped by some to suit unbiblical theologies and accommodate worldly philosophies.

In my years of counseling I discovered that born-again couples had little teaching on God’s design for marriage. It is no wonder that the divorce rate, even in the Body of Messiah, is tragically high. God did not leave mankind to guess how to have a blessed marriage, but through example, precept and commandment He has provided all the essential guidance needed by every married couple and every person contemplating marriage. This treatise is not an attempt to justify a particularly philosophy of “traditional” marriage, but an honest examination of what the Bible has to say about marriage.

In order to understand God's design for marriage we have to go back to Genesis. Yeshua reiterated this fact of creation in His response to a question on divorce as if it were a matter of great importance (Mark 10:6). In the creation account of Genesis chapters one and two are the fundamental principles of godly marriage.

Creation of Marriage

Commission

“Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Gen 1:26-27)

In the beginning God made Man (Heb. adam) in His image and gave him a great commission to rule (KJV "have dominion," Heb. radah) over the earth. This commission made Adam God's steward, not as one with license to destroy. God retained ownership but Adam served as God's regent to carry out the divine plan for humanity. The command to "rule," while a military word, should be understood as a responsibility to bring all aspects of Adam's world into a state of fruitfulness and utility, offering glory to God and benefit to mankind. By virtue of Adam being created first he as husband would be the head of his wife and the family that would come from their union (cf. 1Cor 11:3; Eph 5:23). The text goes on to say that from Adam God made male (Heb. zakar) and female (Heb. nekebah). The significance of this straightforward statement is that male and female belong together. In a sense marriage reenacts the original creation when both male and female were fused in Adam.

Continuation

God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Gen 1:28)

God expected there to be children and He intended that mankind would fill the earth. God created a planet capable of sustaining a population much greater than now exists. Instilled in God's creation is the principle that everything reproduces after its own kind. Nothing "evolves" into something else. Generally speaking, children grow up to be like their parents.

Contentment

"The Lord God had planted a garden." (Gen 2:8)

God created a pristine paradise for man's habitation that was protected from harsh elements and which maintained a constant tropical temperature. There would be no need for anxiety over food, shelter or clothing. All of Man's physical needs would be met. A couple needs to understand that the true source of all that they need is God (cf. Deut 8:18; 2Pet 1:3).

Cultivation

"Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it." (Gen 2:15)

However, God wasn't going to do everything for Adam and his soon to be created bride. Adam was commanded to cultivate the garden. He was put in charge and expected to oversee the garden and insure its productivity, and in so doing the garden would meet their needs. As a model for husbands, Adam was given the primary responsibility for providing for his family's needs (cf. 1Tim 5:8).

Circumspection

"Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it." (Gen 2:15)

Adam was given a second serious responsibility. He was told to "keep" the garden, which literally means to guard, or be a watchman or a gatekeeper. He was to protect his wife and his home from intruders, competitors or anyone who would threaten their security.

Commandments

“The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree in the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” (Gen 2:16-17)

God established from the beginning that marriage would be governed by His commandments and not merely the expectations of the spouses or societal rules. Within this commandment lay the definition of freedom. Their liberty of self-determination would only be limited by what God specifically prohibited and enjoined. Adam was told clearly not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The greatest danger lay, not in a frontal attack from the enemy, but erosion within of their commitment to God’s commandments. Conservation of the home requires staying away from what God has prohibited and doing the things God desires.

Companionship

“Then the Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." (Gen 2:18)

Marriage began because God determined that it was not good for Adam (or any man) to be alone. There is no suggestion that Adam was lonely. Thus, from creation God’s will for men and women is that they be married. Stated another way God’s original intention was that every man be married and every woman to belong to one specific man for a lifetime. The woman was created primarily for Adam’s benefit, to be a helper (Heb. ezer), one who offers succor or support (BDB 740). The word "suitable" (Heb. neged) may be a substantive, meaning conspicuous or in front, or a preposition meaning in front of, in sight of or opposite to (BDB 617). Used with a preposition in this verse the intention is that the woman would be equal to Adam and adequate to his needs. The same word repeated in verse 20 indicates that only she corresponded to Adam. There is also the nuance of meaning in the opposite nature of male and female. God's declaration meant that He was not giving Adam a slave or an employee, but a capable and intelligent partner to share the work. God intended that marriage be a relationship of helpful companionship (cf. Prov 31:10-31).

Cutting

"So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of the his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place." (Gen 2:21)

God sacrificed part of Adam to create Eve and thereby the first marriage. The blessing of marriage requires the willingness of the husband to lay down his life for the good of his wife. God cut open Adam's side in order to create Eve and thereby the first marriage. This act foreshadows the cutting of Yeshua who died to create a spotless bride (Eph 5:25-27). Marriage by God's design is a call to sacrifice, especially by the husband who is commanded to love his wife, but also by the wife who subordinates herself to her husband's leadership.

Consecration

"The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man." (Gen 2:22)

God set the pattern for all time by acting as both matchmaker and father of the bride. By bringing the woman to the man (not the man to the woman), God demonstrated that she now belonged fully and exclusively to her man, her husband. In biblical accounts a wife never takes a husband, but a husband takes a wife (e.g., Gen 4:19; 6:2; 11:29; 1Sam 25:39; Hos 1:2). Later in Israelite history the act of consecrating the bride to the bridegroom would be called kiddushin.

Crown

The man said, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." (Gen 2:23)

The Hebrew word rendered as “woman” is ishshah, the feminine form of ish, the Hebrew word for husband or man. Adam was delighted with the woman God made and pleased that she came from him. The wife was created to be a reflection of her husband (cf. 1Cor 11:7). Proverbs 12:4 says, "A wife of noble character is her husband's crown." The practice of a wife taking her husband's name, then, is a commitment to being the glory of her husband, someone he will value with pride. Husbands need to remember, too, that every word they speak about their wives is heard by God.

Cleavage

"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother" (Gen 2:24a)

The English word "cleavage" with its dual meaning of joining and separating appropriately illustrates the principle of this passage. God’s design for marriage requires a radical shift in allegiance, commitment and loyalty from one's parents to one's spouse. Leaving may represent physical movement, but certainly the security responsibility for the wife being transferred from parents to husband.

Conciliation

"and be joined to his wife" (Gen 2:24b)

The Hebrew verb “join” refers to things that stick together. God’s intention is that the man would stick to his wife with affection and loyalty and be united in purpose, values and goals. The word “wife” (Heb. ishshah) is the same Hebrew word as “woman” in verse 22. English translations render ishshah as wife when the context refers to a woman belonging to a man.

Consummation

"and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame." (Gen 2:24c-25)

From this account we learn that Eve became Adam’s wife when they joined their bodies (cf. Gen 24:67; 38:2). In Scripture the term "one flesh" refers to the genitals. Only in this union of sexual opposites can marriage be legitimate. Therefore, marriage by biblical definition occurs when a woman consents to belong to a specific man and they consummate with sexual intercourse. Nothing else is required to be married in God’s sight. Finally, sexual union makes possible the creation of another "one flesh," namely a child born from the union of father and mother.

Curse on Marriage

"And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel." 16 "To the woman He said, "I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you. Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 "Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; 19 by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Gen 3:15-19)

While the first marriage began in perfection it soon suffered because of sin. Disobedience resulted in immediate and long-term consequences. God cursed all life with a limited lifespan. He cursed the great enemy who had tempted the woman. He cursed the woman with sorrow associated with having and raising children. Eve would give birth to children only to see them die. God cursed the ground thereby causing Adam toil and frustration in his effort to support and take care of his family.

Physics of the Curse

God warned that death would result from eating from the forbidden tree (Gen 2:17). The Apostle Paul called this the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). Scripture says that "in Adam all die" (1Cor 15:22), so everything in creation, including marital relationships, naturally degenerate. In the curse, two laws that God had created in the beginning were thrown into serious conflict.

First, there is the Law of Conservation, which says that there is a constant amount of energy in the universe. This is a law of maintenance in which the eternal Son of God is "sustaining all things by His powerful Word" (Heb 1:3). Second, there is the Law of Entropy, which says that energy is being lost and the universe is subject to decay and disorder, as Scripture says, "For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it" (Rom 8:20) and that "the whole creation groans and suffers" (Rom 8:22).

The curse didn't just impact the physical universe, but affected every aspect of human life. These laws affected relationships, because while on the one hand society has been sustained by the home, every marriage relationship has been subjected to frustration and strife, resulting in societal decay caused by the breakdown of the family.

Conflict of Desires

In creation the woman was made subordinate to the man. The husband was not to be merely a titular head but to be a leader exercising actual management authority over his wife and children. The Hebrew word used frequently for husband and marriage is ba’al, which means one who rules, lord or owner (e.g., Ex 21:3, 22; Deut 21:13; 22:22; 24:1, 4; Prov 12:4; 31:11, 23, 28; Isa 62:5). The wife's subordination to her husband’s authority was intended for her benefit and the conservation of the home. The curse resulted because Adam had "listened to the voice of his wife." Adam had been with her while she was being tempted and heard the conversation. Yet, he had been passive when he should have exercised caring leadership.

By sinning first Eve challenged the leadership responsibility of her husband. God informed Eve that she and Adam would now have conflict. In the Hebrew text the statement of the woman's desire (verse 16) is set in opposition to the fact that the husband would rule. The word for the woman’s “desire” (Heb. teshuqah, lit. “longing,” "a strong craving" BDB 1003) occurs only two other times in the Tanakh. It’s next use (Gen 4:7) refers to a desire to exercise control over something and the third use (Song of Songs 7:10) refers to a desire for intimacy. Thus, the woman would have the dual longings of independence and intimacy, but because of the curse women experience tension in fulfilling these desires. Intimacy can only be received, not taken, requiring surrender of control. Yet, every wife tries to control her husband to some degree in order to express her independence.

God explained to the woman that while she would want to control her husband he would rule over her. The Heb. word, mashal, means to have dominion, reign as a sovereign or wield governing authority (BDB 605). It is often used in Scripture to define the authority of God and kings. Because of the curse the husband's rule in many cultures throughout history has been one of despotism, treating women as property to be bartered and at times crushing women into a virtual slave status. Even in modern egalitarian marriages the tension still exists and husbands resist wifely control, either passively by withdrawing or aggressively by outbursts of temper, and intimacy invariably suffers. Functioning as a curse Genesis 3:16 makes all couples naturally incompatible.

Conservation of Marriage

The curse's operation in marriage, just as the Law of Entropy in nature, can only destroy marriage. However, implied in the curse is the potential for the Law of Conservation, what could be called a curse containment plan. In verse 15 God offered a great hope to the first woman. God would initiate a covenant that required a bloody sacrifice just as a part of Adam had been sacrificed to create the woman. The covenant would be enacted by a mediator, a Seed, a Deliverer who would give his life but would also crush the Serpent’s head and do justice for the woman who had been so cruelly deceived.

Covenantal Marriage

God’s principles of creation marriage, alluded to by Yeshua when He said, “joined by God” (Matt 19:6), and His mercy on Adam’s descendants would lay the foundation for preserving marriage. God’s expectations of marriage were incorporated in the concept of covenant. The term covenant (Heb b’rit, "covenant, pact, or compact," BDB 136) in ancient times referred to a treaty, alliance, agreement or pledge, usually between a stronger party or party of higher position and a weaker or lower party. The first mention of b’rit in Scripture is God’s covenant with Noah (Gen 6:18), and God specifically mentioned Noah’s wife and his sons’ wives.

The second mention of covenant is in connection with Abraham (Gen 15:18) and in that context the covenant was ratified by cutting animals in half (Gen 15:10, Heb. bathar, to cut into two, BDB 144). Thereafter, covenants were often made by cutting animals in two and the parties passing between them as a self-imposed judgment for breaking the covenant (cf. Jer 34:18). In the case of Abraham God passed between the slaughtered animals to demonstrate the permanent nature of covenant with God. The covenant God made with Abraham certainly involved his marriage, because God promised him descendants. Sarah his wife was barren at the time.

God intended that the lives of Noah and Abraham and their marriages would be governed by a covenant with God. Malachi 2:14 clearly states that a woman becomes a wife “by covenant” (Mal 2:14). Marriage is not merely a contract between the spouses, but primarily a covenant between the spouses and God. The adulteress in Proverbs 2:17 is said to ignore the "covenant of her God," not the covenant with her husband. Marriage as a component part of God’s covenant with His people means that the creation laws given to Adam and the commandments given to Israel at Sinai and Moab provide the basic framework for the marital relationship. Marriage was not designed to be an exchange of personal expectations, but an obedient response to God's covenant.

New Covenant Marriage

Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Jer 31:31, 33)

I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” (Ezek 36:27)

"He took the cup after the meal, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20 TLV)

The mention of the New Covenant by Yeshua at his last Passover Seder (Luke 22:20) emphasized the continuation of the authority and relevance of the previous covenants God made with the patriarchs (Gen 12, 13, 15, 17), Israel (Deut 4, 5) and David (2Sam 7:12-16; 23:5), all of which were given as permanent and special blessings to His chosen people (cf. Rom 9:4; 11:29; Eph 2:12). Yeshua affirmed to his disciples in the most positive manner God’s intention that “the requirement of the Torah might be fulfilled in us” (Rom 8:4 TLV). The New Covenant, building as it does on Torah, expresses God's instruction for the conservation of marriage.

The New Covenant Torah given by Yeshua and the apostles adopts, expands and clarifies God’s requirements for the conservation of marriage. The relationship of the partners in the covenant should be patterned after God’s faithfulness and lovingkindness (Deut 7:9). Sexual unfaithfulness (Prov 2:17) and divorce without just cause (Mal 2:14-16; Matt 19:9) amount to a betrayal of the couple’s covenant with God.

Parties

As in the Torah the New Covenant stipulates that a prospective marital partner must be a member of the believing community (1Cor 7:39; 2Cor 6:14). Thus, color, ethnicity, culture or national origin are not barriers to choosing a marriage partner in the Body of Messiah. The only restriction is that disciples of Yeshua must not yoke themselves in marriage to unbelievers. However, if unbelievers marry and one later turns to God the believer cannot divorce the unbeliever without the unbeliever’s consent (1Cor 7:14-15).

Priority

The New Covenant continues the creation mandate and men and women are commanded to be married for the benefit of both (1Cor 7:2; 1Tim 5:14). In a male dominated society it seems cruel to suggest that a woman could pick out a husband and marry him. Paul was actually reminding the men of the congregations of their duty to be married and insure that all believing women were cared for. The Greek verb “to have” in 1 Corinthians 7:2 for both man and woman is in the imperative mood, so he is not merely offering his opinion or making a suggestion subject to personal preference.

Many Christians have erroneously assumed from 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, 26 that Paul advocated remaining unmarried as a way of life. Paul’s pastoral concern related to the threat of persecution and he counsels people in a variety of circumstances, including married people, to “remain” as they were for the time being. Paul's lists of qualifications for congregational leadership (1Tim 3:2, 12; Titus 3:6; cf. 1Cor 9:5) have produced a variety of interpretations, but they nonetheless assume that congregational leaders would be married.

Paul’s later exhortations also prove his true attitude when he warned against the siren call of asceticism that promised greater spirituality by denying the body the good things that God created for all to enjoy (Col 2:16-23; 1Tim 4:1-5). Asceticism was a real and present threat to the divine institution of marriage. Paul called the prohibition of marriage a demonic doctrine. It is ironic that the Christianity should later embrace such a doctrine as the standard for its priests as well as the monastic orders of monks and nuns.

Paul demonstrated in all his instruction on marriage that he never intended to advocate remaining unmarried as superior to marriage. In fact, he likens the relationship between a husband and wife to the mystery of the Messiah and His body (Eph 5:32). Paul never speaks of being single in such exalted terms.

The principle of priority is further illustrated in the command to the husband to love his wife sacrificially, as Yeshua loved the people of God (Eph 5:25). The scope of this love [called agapē] is set forth in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

Being the object of a love that emulates the Messiah Yeshua assures a wife that she may be secure in her husband's affections, loyalty and leadership.

Position

"For the married woman [Grk. upandros gunē, lit. "woman under a man"] is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband." (Rom 7:2)

“But I want you to know that the head of every man is Messiah, and the head of the woman is the man, and head of Messiah is God.” (1Cor 11:3 TLV)

The New Covenant echoes and amplifies God’s expectation of a husband's leadership responsibility (1Tim 3:4). The husband functions as head of the wife (1Cor 11:3; Eph 5:23), just as Yeshua is head of the people of God (Eph 1:22; Col 2:10). The word “head” (Grk. kephalē) in biblical usage does not mean “source of a river,” as commonly alleged by advocates of egalitarian marriage. Kephalē means a person’s head as a term of anatomy. However, Greek lexicons agree that kephalē has a metaphorical use to refer to someone superior in rank who merits respect by virtue of that position. The metaphor is also applied to Yeshua (1Cor 11:3; Eph 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col 2:10, 19) and he is not limited to being a source of inspiration, love and benefits, but exercising benevolent authority over His people.

In recognition of the husband’s position, the wife belongs to him, just as Eve belonged to Adam when she was presented to him. Paul reiterates this principle in 1 Corinthians 7:2 where he uses a different pronoun for “his own (Grk. heautou) wife” and “her own (Grk. idios) husband.” Heautou is a reflexive pronoun denoting something the subject possesses. Idios particularly emphasizes the nature of a relationship, that is, belonging to an individual in contrast to what is public property or belongs to another. In other words, the husband possesses his wife and she belongs to him. English translations tend to obscure the Hebrew idiom. Wherever the translation “her husband” may be found, the original language actually says “the husband of her” or simply “the husband.”

The godly wife is expected to manifest three virtues: submission, obedience and respect. Biblical submission (Grk. hupotassō) does not denote slavery, subservience or inferiority. A slave had no rights and could be sold. Submission pertains to recognizing the positions and function of authority God has ordained and voluntarily subordinating oneself to those who hold those positions and giving respect. Of all the apostolic commands to subject oneself to another the most are directed to wives (1Cor 14:34-35; Eph 5:22, 24; Col 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1Pet 3:1, 5). Obedience pertains to complying with both the divine laws governing such relationships and specific decisions or directives of the one holding authority.

In the Body of Messiah there is much debate over the nature and limits on the wife’s submission. The wife respects her husband (lit. “fears,” Eph 5:33), not because she is afraid of him but because she knows God will hold both her and her husband accountable for their responsibilities (cf. Matt 12:36; Rom 14:12; 2Cor 5:10; Heb 13:17; 1Pet 3:7). The wife should be willing to receive instruction from her husband (1Cor 14:35; 1Tim 2:11). God intended the husband to be her primary teacher, not a priest, pastor or rabbi. She even must be respectful to an unbelieving or backslidden husband (1Cor 7:14; 1Pet 3:1).

Sarah is held up as the model of the godly and submissive wife. Peter points out that Sarah called Abraham adōn, meaning master, owner, or lord (Gen 18:12), as did Abigail of David and bowed down in his presence (1Sam 25:41). The Psalmist reminded his daughter that her future husband would be her adōn (Ps 45:11). Husbands were also called ba'al, which means owner or lord (Deut 24:4; 2Sam 11:26; Prov 12:4; 30:23; 31:11, 23, 28). The godly women of the Bible could submit to their husbands because they trusted in God. The wife’s submission is a voluntary gift, not a response to be compelled or manipulated by her husband.

The only constraint on a wife's submission is that she must not sin, i.e. disobey God’s laws. Sapphira went along with a scheme of her husband Ananias to “lie to the Holy Spirit,” i.e., deceive the apostles, and paid for it with her life (Acts 5:1-10). The fact that the husband has real authority to make decisions also means he has a reasonable expectation of his wife’s respect and he may lovingly correct his wife for sinful behavior (cf. Gen 30:1-2; Num 5:19-29; Job 2:9-10; 2Sam 6:20-23). By the same token submission does not equal silence and a godly wife may have occasion to confront her husband's conduct or bad judgment (cf. Gen 21:9-14; Judg 4:6-9; 1Sam 25:18-25; Esth 4:15-5:8; 7:3-4).

The fact that a married woman may work outside the home or engage in a ministry does not free her from the obligation to subordinate herself to her husband. Lastly, the wife demonstrates her submission away from the home in her appearance. She is the glory of her husband and her body is for her husband’s eyes only. Accordingly the godly wife will dress modestly (1Tim 2:9-10; 1Pet 3:2-4). Hairstyles and attire should never give mixed signals to other men.

Protection

Peter speaks of the wife as a weaker vessel (1Pet 3:7). As head of his household a husband has the solemn duty to protect his wife and home from harm. He must take responsibility for the wife’s safety. For Adam this meant guarding the Garden against an enemy he didn’t know he had (Gen 2:15). The husband must be willing to sacrifice himself as Yeshua, and even die to deliver his wife from harm.

Not only does the husband protect his wife from outside dangers, but insures that his wife would never perceive him to be a threat to her safety. He must not abuse alcohol or any drug or bully her in any way (1Tim 3:4 cf. Prov 20:28). He must not become embittered against her (Col 3:19), but demonstrate gentleness and self-control toward his wife so that she has nothing to fear from him. She must have complete trust in his care for her. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23).

Bible expositors are often critical of Abraham for asking Sarah to be silent about their marriage when in enemy territory (Gen 12:13). He was merely trying to protect her and Sarah obeyed without demur. When her welfare was jeopardized God protected her. It was Pharaoh and Abimelech who were chastised by God, not Abraham (Gen 12:17; 20:6-7, 17).

A husband must also protect his wife emotionally. She can be easily hurt by verbal abuse. Several biblical admonitions illustrate how God intended husbands to treat their wives. He is to give happiness to his wife and seek to please her (Deut 24:5; 1Cor 7:34). The keys to making his wife happy are through understanding her nature (1Pet 3:7), satisfying her intimacy needs (1Cor 7:3-5), loving her sacrificially (Eph 5:25), cherishing her (Eph 5:29) and recognizing her talents (Prov 31:28).

A loving husband will honor his wife as a joint heir of the Kingdom. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all,” but the word “marriage” could be translated as “the married woman.” Honoring may be easily accomplished through acts of kindness, chivalry, courtesy, and gallantry. Children should see their father honor their mother. Boys should be expected to learn these behaviors and girls should not consider a boy for dating or courtship lacking in these manners.

Another aspect of protection is being a faithful priest for the family through intercessory prayer and sharing the Word of God. A model for all husbands is Isaac who prayed for his wife Rebekah that she might be healed of her barrenness. God answered (Gen 25:21). Peter reminds husbands of this important duty and that failure to honor his wife could actually cause his prayers to be hindered (1Pet 3:7).

Companionship of Marriage

Partnership

“Yet you say, 'For what reason?' Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” (Mal 2:14)

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua.” (Gal 3:28 TLV)

“You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” (1Pet 3:7)

From the beginning God intended wives to succor and support their husbands, to be true companions. Companionship refers to being united or joined into a close association. Scripture uses other words to convey this same idea. Hosea 3:1 uses the word rea for husband, which means friend or companion. Malachi 2:14 uses a unique word chabereth, meaning united, associate or companion. The husband and wife may be unequal in position and function, but they are equal in value. God expects the husband to honor and cherish his wife since she is an equal heir to the Kingdom of God. She is his companion on the journey to that Kingdom. As a companion the wife endeavors to help her husband in many material, physical or spiritual ways without manipulation or direction.

Many people view partnership in marriage as the spouses dividing everything 50-50 as if it were a business venture. In biblical terms a partnership refers to being united by the same purpose, goals and values (cf. 2Cor 6:14; 8:23), even though the parties may be unequal by virtue of position. Yeshua and His disciples were not equal, but He prayed they would be one with Him (John 17:20-21).

A common battleground in marriage is how decisions are made. A frequent complaint of wives is the indecisiveness of their husbands or conversely micromanaging every decision made by the wife. Being head of the home presumptively grants the husband the right to make the major decisions affecting the welfare of the family, although the wife may make unilateral decisions within her area of authority.

Mutual or joint decision-making by spouses for important matters would best reflect the unity God desires in the relationship. Both spouses should consult each other before making major decisions. The husband must remember that his wife possesses wisdom from God and is trustworthy (cf. Prov 11:14; 31:26). He doesn’t know everything and humility in seeking her input will increase her esteem of him.

Conversely, Scripture grants the husband the power to protect his wife from making unwise agreements or decisions (Num 30:7-14). His veto cancels any vows made by the wife as long as he voices his objection when he hears of it. If he delays, then the vow or decision must stand.

Provision

God expects a husband to be a diligent worker to provide for the welfare of his family (Ex 20:9; 1Tim 3:4-5, 12). Of primary importance is meeting basic needs of food, clothing and shelter in order to sustain the home. Whatever the wife may contribute to the home’s prosperity from the beginning God intended that the husband take the primary responsibility for satisfying financial and material needs of the wife and family, both short-term and long-term.

The wife also has an important role to sustain the family. Some husbands have the erroneous idea that the wife's role is to simply clean the house he buys. In reality, it is the wife who will turn the house into a home. The apostle Paul describes the wife’s role as “keeping the house” (1Tim 5:14). He uses the verb oikodespoteō, which is formed from two words, oikos, meaning house, dwelling, habitation and the possessions belonging to the house, and despotēs, meaning the lord or master over something. In Titus 2:5 Paul uses a related word oikouros, “keeper of the house.” Unfortunately, the translations of Paul's instructions in various Bible versions tend to obscure the level of authority the wife should exercise.

In Jewish culture wives were called by the title of gevereth ("mistress," Gen 16:4, 8-9; 1Kgs 17:17; 2Kgs 5:3; Ps 123:2). The Hebrew root of gevereth means to be strong or mighty. It is interesting that Sarah's name comes from a Hebrew root sar, which means chieftain, ruler, captain, or prince, and the Hebrew word for married woman, be'ulah (Gen 20:3; Isa 62:4), is derived from ba'al, "lord." These terms indicate the level of respect and honor given by husbands to their wives and the authority they wielded in their households. Scripture clearly presents the wife as the household manager with wide latitude in determining the organization and running of the house, including supervision of household employees (cf. 1Sam 25:18-35; Prov 31:10-31).

Being mistress of the home does not mean that a wife cannot work outside the home. A variety of circumstances may in fact necessitate the wife’s financial support. In such conditions the husband should help even more at home so that his wife is not expected to be both bread-winner and "housewife." In addition, she may have gifts and talents that would benefit the people of God and the community. Deborah was a judge (Judg 4:4). The Proverbs 31 wife had her own earnings and bought a vineyard (Prov 31:16). Lydia operated a fabrics business (Acts 16:14) and Priscilla helped her husband in the tent-making business (Acts 18:2-3). Johanna, Susanna and a number of unnamed women supported Yeshua out of their own private income (Luke 8:3). Thus, the insistence of some that believing wives must not work outside the home has no Scriptural foundation.

Pleasure

When God commanded the couple to be "one flesh" He defined the two-fold purpose of sexual union: pleasure and procreation. God created the male and female genitals to experience and provide pleasure. The first couple in their innocence felt no shame by being naked. There were no hindrances or restrictions to knowing one another physically and emotionally.

Sexual relations between spouses is first a right and obligation (Ex 21:10). A husband and wife may not deny each other sex without mutual agreement, even for spiritual reasons (1Cor 7:3-5). Spouses also recognize that marriage is the exclusive relationship designed for sexual intimacy between people. A husband must find his sexual satisfaction only in his wife’s body to the exclusion of others (Prov 5:15-19; SS 2:16; Eph 5:29; Heb 13:4). He must demonstrate that his wife has no competitors for his devotion and loyalty. Marriage does function as a societal hedge against immorality. Failure to take care of one another’s sexual needs may encourage temptation of unfaithfulness.

Intimacy is not only a right, but a pleasure. The male and female bodies were created for mutual enjoyment. In the Song of Solomon the bride and bridegroom express appreciation for the other’s physical attributes. The Song also teaches the variety of intimate pleasures that each may give the other. Paul’s observation that a loving husband nourishes and cherishes his wife’s body (Eph 5:29) summarizes not only the joy of marital intimacy as found in Solomon’s Song, but the reverence the husband has for the wife’s body, so that her needs matter as much as his own.

The combined counsel of Exodus 21:10 and 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 reinforces the principle that the husband’s part in intimacy is serving his wife, that is, doing what brings pleasure to the wife, not simply seeking his own pleasure (1Th 4:4). God’s intention is for the husband to know his wife, understand her desires and needs and to take responsibility for meeting those needs (Gen 4:1, 17, 25; 1Sam 1:19; 1Pet 3:7).

An oft debated topic among Christians is whether married couples should refrain from certain positions or sex acts. Think about this. God gave the man genitals in which pleasure and the means of procreating are combined in one organ, whereas the woman possesses the only organ in the human body with no function other than to feel pleasure. God would not build the sensation of pleasure into His design of the human body if He did not intend for it to be experienced. How can a man have the duty to give his wife happiness (Deut 24:5) and ignore a basic need of the woman’s body? If he cherishes her body as he does his own (Eph 5:28-29), then he will serve her need for pleasure.

Freedom as established in the Genesis story of the first couple is defined by what is prohibited. Adam and Eve could eat of any tree except one. From the remaining trees they could eat freely without sin. In a similar manner God has given the wife’s body to the husband and the husband’s body to the wife for their mutual enjoyment and satisfaction. The only restriction given in the Torah has to do with the calendar. They are to abstain from intimacy during the wife’s menses (Lev 15:24; 18:19; Heb 13:4). Otherwise, the couple may choose to express their love physically in any manner that gives them pleasure and is mutually agreeable.

Procreation

God designed men and women to not only enjoy the marriage bed but to produce children from their union. The woman’s body was especially designed for bearing and delivering the conceived child and then sustaining the new life with her own milk. Breastfeeding is frequently mentioned in Scripture (Gen 21:7;49:25; Ex 2:7-9; Ruth 4:16; 1Sam 1:22-24; Job 3:12; Ps 22:9; SS 8:1; Luke 11:27). Why so many modern women deny their babies God’s milk when they are capable is a mystery. Even more puzzling is the insistence of so many that breastfeeding be kept out of sight as if it were a prurient activity. In contrast God is not ashamed to make spiritual analogies to breastfeeding (Isa 66:11-12; 1Pet 2:2).

The command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth was given first to Adam and then reiterated to Noah (Gen 1:28; 9:1). God is the source of fruitful wombs and nourishing breasts (Gen 49:25). People in Bible times would not have considered preventing pregnancy. Children are a gift and blessing from God (Ps 113:9; 127:3-4; 128:3, 6). While there may be a medical necessity for preventing pregnancy, there is no justification for taking the life of a child in the womb. While many think God cursed the woman with painful birthing, there is plenty of testimonial evidence that with careful planning most women can experience drug-free and relatively pain-free natural childbirth (cf. Ex 1:19; Isa 66:7).

Conclusion

Scripture provides abundant guidance on marriage. Sadly much of God’s intention has been either ignored or subverted. The basic design of marriage is not egalitarian but hierarchical that incorporates companionship and sacrifice. God’s curse on sin adversely affected marriage and made men and women naturally incompatible, but building the home on the foundation of the Messiah and individually submitting to God’s will expressed in Scripture offers the best hope for a lasting and happy marriage.

Notwithstanding the fact that there will always be people who remain unmarried because of circumstances, or like Paul, who feel called to celibate ministry, God's original design was that every woman of marriageable age should have a husband and every man to be married. The decree to multiply and fill the earth has not been rescinded. To accomplish this goal would require that many men (and women) give up the dating game and using each other for selfish purposes and take their marriage responsibility seriously. Parents should take greater efforts to prepare their children for marriage, both modeling biblical principles and teaching children God’s expectations for their future marriage roles.

 

Copyright © 2013-2015 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.