(The Courting or Engaged Series – Batch 2)
Marriage is a covenant. When a man and a woman enter into marriage, it is more than just signing a piece of paper so as to comply with the laws of the land. It is more than having a fun day and afterward, a fun-filled night and marriage with the hope that you continue to enjoy each other’s company forever.
In God’s eyes, a marriage is a COVENANT. In other words, irrespective of what the laws of the land may say and the means of escape they may seek to provide through divorce, in God’s eyes, marriage (which He instituted) is and will always be an irrevocable, non-reversible promise, oath, commitment or vow that you have made together with a person of the opposite sex in HIS sight, one that is permanent and not to ever be broken.
What am I saying? I’m saying that there is no getting out of it, FOR AS LONG AS YOU BOTH SHALL LIVE, not even after you’ve sought and successfully gotten a divorce from a man-made Court.
God is the one that created marriage (which most people don’t realize) and when he created it, he intended for it to last a lifetime. In fact, he sees a man and a woman who have married in his presence, as tied to each other for life. They will always be husband and wife for as long as they both shall live. Only death, not divorce, breaks that tie.
Marriage is so permanent that the decision of who to marry and if to marry at all is a very serious thing. The disciples of Jesus realized this when the Pharisees asked Jesus (within their earshot) if it was okay to divorce a person, like used to happen in the Old Testament. Jesus made it clear that it was not permissible and that, while Moses indicated that it was okay to do so in the Old Testament times due to the hardness of their hearts, it was not God’s plan from the beginning He went further to label those who divorced and remarried or married someone that was divorced, as an adulterer.
In Matthew 19:3-12 KJV, it reads about Jesus:
- “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
- They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. AND I SAY UNTO YOU, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
- His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”
On another occasion, Jesus, who is Lord over all and has the authority to instruct us and set rules and standards by which we are to live and be governed, reinforced his position on the permanence of marriage, telling his disciples again in in Matthew 5: 31-32 KJV:
- “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: BUT I SAY UNTO YOU, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.“
Marriage therefore is a serious thing because it is a covenant and covenant is a serious, non-reversible thing with God.
One only has to look as far as the scriptures to realize this.
People back in the day understood the importance of a covenant. In Bible times, once a person entered into a covenant with God or in the presence of God, it was understood that God expected that person to keep it, no matter the cost or else, they would make themselves liable to his wrath.
To cite some biblical examples, I will begin with the Israelites and the Gibeonites.
In the case of the Israelites, God had given them certain lands in which different ungodly nations occupied. He therefore instructed them to destroy the people of those lands, so that they could take possession. This was within God’s right to do as the lands and every thing on earth belonged to him. He was therefore free to give it to whoever he pleased. Also, the people occupying these lands were ungodly, in that they had zero relationship with God and were therefore living wicked lives. Them being destroyed could therefore be regarded as God’s righteous judgment for their wickedness.
In Joshua 9, after the Israelites had destroyed the people of Jericho and Ai, other nations in their path were understandably becoming fearful of a deadly invasion and so banded together to fight against them.
The scripture states though, that when the people of Gibeon (who lived very close to where the Israelites were) heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they paid a visit to Joshua who was in charge of the Israelites but they did not tell him that they were the Israelites’ neighbours. Instead, they put on old shoes and old clothes and used old bottles and old mouldy bread, to pretend that they had travelled from a very far country and to give the impression that this was why the bottles were so old and the bread that they were hoping to bring as a gift was so mouldy.
They informed Joshua that they wished to make a league or an alliance with the Israelites, where they would serve the Israelites and they would not be destroyed along with the other nations.
Instead of seeking counsel from God on the issue, Joshua believed the men and entered into the league with them, promising them in the sight of God, that they would not destroy the Gibeonite people. He did this because he mistakenly believed that they were from a far off land and therefore were not in the near path of the Israelites and posed no significant threat.
However, the Bible states in vs. 16, 18-20 KJV, that:
- “…it came to pass at the end of three days after they had made the league with them that they heard that they were their neighbours, and that they dwelt among them…And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel. And all the congregation murmured against the princes. But all the princes said unto all the congregation, We have sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel: now therefore we may not touch them. This we will do to them; we will even let them live, lest wrath be upon us, BECAUSE OF THE OATH which we sware unto them.”
The Israelite people were not pleased. They found the Gibeonites to be nuisances and wanted them destroyed so that they could have the space to possess as they were promised. However, the princes informed them that they could not touch them because they had made an oath or vow to them by the Lord God of Israel, that they would not destroy them.
They had been deceived into making the covenant and found themselves in that situation because they did not seek God’s counsel on the matter. Nevertheless, they had to honour the vow or oath they made. They could not do away with it simply because they realized that they had been duped or deceived into covenanting with the Gibeonites and the Gibeonites had withheld important information from them.
Despite the discomfort and unhappiness of the Israelites and even the deception on the part of the Gibeonites because the Israelites feared God, it was understood that the league, promise, covenant or vow that was made, had to be kept. It could not be reversed.
Similarly, in Judges 11 KJV, Jephthah, who had only one child, a daughter, went out to battle and promised God that if he allowed him to have the victory, that the first living thing that greeted him when he returned home, he would sacrifice it unto God. I don’t know if he had pets and was used to a dog greeting him at the entrance to his home or not but it so happened, that on that fateful day, the battle was victorious and on arriving home, his only daughter went out to greet him.
Instantly, he became sorrowful and regretted making the promise to God. However, although this was his only daughter, he knew that a promise made to God (which was a covenant), could not be reversed.
Even his daughter, who one would think would object to being painfully killed and then sacrificed, also understood that he could not recant on what he had promised God. She accepted her fate without any objection but merely asked him if she could first spend some time away with her friends to mourn for the fact that she would die a virgin. For, she would never get the opportunity to experience being physically intimate with a man and to have a family in marriage.
Her father allowed her to go and when she returned, she submitted herself to him to be killed, painfully and then sacrificed to God.
This must have hurt Jephthah incredibly to do. After all, this was his daughter that he loved dearly and his only child at that! Yet, he understood that a promise to God could not be broken, no matter the cost.
The people in the Bible generally understood that once a promise, vow or oath was made to God or before him, it could not be reversed or else the wrath or anger of God would be upon them. In fact, the Bible warns that it is better not to make an oath to God, than to make one and break it.
Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 KJV warns:
- “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?”
Similarly, Deuteronomy 23:21-23 (although given at a time in the Old Testament when Moses indicated to the people that divorce was okay in certain circumstances), states:
- “When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee. That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the Lord thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.”
Today, we make vows to each other, promising to be there in sickness and health, for richer for poorer, TILL DEATH DO US PART or make grandiose promises of everlasting love, fidelity and faithfulness, come what may and in personalized vows and WHATEVER WE SAY WITH OUR LIPS, WHATEVER WE PROMISE BEFORE GOD to our spouse, GOD EXPECTS US TO KEEP IT.
This, to my mind, flies in the face of divorce. For, other than for fornication (which Jesus has said is the only ground justifying divorce), how can we promise to love and be faithful to someone for a lifetime and then later divorce that person when the going gets rough or we lose interest or we feel that we are not being treated as we deserve or we think that the grass is greener on the other side?
The grass may indeed be greener but you have to content yourself with the grass you have promised to dwell with for a lifetime. Green grass is attainable on your side of the fence. You just need to work at it and take care of it and even if it never blooms because you have vowed unto God, you MUST stay within that marriage and make the best of it. If this means that this is your cross to bear because you chose rashly and did not properly seek the Lord’s input as you ought to have, then so be it. Like the Israelites with the Gibeonites, you cannot go back on what you have covenanted.
The Word of God is clear. You cannot say that you are a Christian and yet fight rebelliously and stubbornly against the AUTHORITY of God’s Word, simply because you don’t like what it says or it doesn’t line up with your view or your church’s practice or what you want to do or have done. You must REPENT of this wicked way and SUBMIT yourself under the mighty hand of God. Resolve in your heart that whatever God says in his Word, you will accept and not foolishly fight against.
When a man and a woman go before the marriage altar, they make vows to each other in the presence of God and unto God. This is therefore sacred. For, God expects them to keep those vows and holds them to it.
This is why I believe that what each person vows at their Wedding is important and we should not just vow something routinely because it is tradition. For example, instead of saying definitively ‘I promise to do this and that’, there are some areas where we know, as imperfect human beings, that we are bound to mess up with time, It is therefore more prudent to say: I will by God’s grace, endeavour to do this or that.
Given how important vows are in the sight of God, it is important in my view (although this may not be the norm), that couples sit down before the Wedding and work out what they want to vow to each other, making sure that what they vow has room for grace, errors, mistakes, hurts and imperfections, as neither person is perfect and you want to make vows that are realistic, that you will not breach.
Vowing to never hurt the other person for example, as I have heard men promise women at the altar is completely ridiculous and unattainable. Such a vow sets the spouse up for failure from the onset, as it is too unrealistic a goal to achieve. Both persons will hurt each other at some point or other and repeatedly, no matter how much they are in love.
I am also of the view that each person should be pleased with what the other person plans to vow to God in relation to him or her, as what is said on that big day, affects the other person. A person should not wait to be surprised on the day therefore, clueless as to what the other will promise. This might sound cute and romantic but the reality is that vows are serious and should not be made lightly. What if you don’t agree with what your spouse- to-be vows? You will not be able to intervene then and those vows (whatever they may be) are what your whole marriage will be based upon.
When it comes to marriage, God’s intention was for it to be a lifelong covenant. He hates divorce (which is referred to in the scriptures as putting away) because it means that the covenant, which he takes so seriously, has been breached. That is, a vow or oath was made and before Him but then it was not kept.
In Malachi 2:14-16 KJV, the Prophet stated to the Israelites:
- “…the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.“
It is therefore better to decide not to marry than to make vows at the altar and then break them. It is better to stay single or to back out from getting married to someone if you are not sure that this is what you want for the rest of your life or you feel that you will not be able to keep the vows that are to be made at a Wedding. For, God is looking on and he is the Judge. In Numbers 30:1-15 KJV, it reads:
- “And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded. If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall NOT break his word, he shall do according to ALL that proceedeth out of his mouth. If a woman also vow a vow unto the Lord, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father’s house in her youth; And her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her; then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand. But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the Lord shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.
- And if she had at all an husband, when she vowed, or uttered ought out of her lips, wherewith she bound her soul; And her husband heard it, and held his peace at her in the day that he heard it: then her vows shall stand, and her bonds wherewith she bound her soul shall stand. But if her husband disallowed her on the day that he heard it; then he shall make her vow which she vowed, and that which she uttered with her lips, wherewith she bound her soul, of none effect: and the Lord shall forgive her.“
The vow therefore binds the soul. If it is broken, then it is sin and will be held against the maker of it. In the Old Testament however, if it was made by a woman not yet married and living in her father’s house, if when she made it, her father heard it and annulled it on that same day, then God would not hold the vow against her and would forgive her for making the vow. The same applied if she was married. Her husband could disannul the vow if he heard it on the same day it was made and was not in agreement with it. If that day passed and he did nothing, then the vow would stand and had to be honoured.
Notably, if a woman who was in her father’s house or her husband’s house, made a vow without her father or husband knowing (whichever was applicable), so that they could not disannul it, that vow or promise would stand and it had to be honoured by her. For it was made to God or before him.
This was the case with Hannah. She vowed without her husband knowing and therefore bound her soul to that promise. She promised God in prayer, that if he opened her womb and gave her a child, that she would give him back to God. Whether her husband would have been in agreement with this promise or not, he was not within earshot when she made the vow and so it stood as valid. God expected her to keep it and in fulfilling his side of the bargain by giving her a child, Hannah gave that child to God as she said she would. From a very early age therefore, Samuel went to live in the house of the Lord in Shiloh, where Eli the Priest was.
Given that a vow therefore binds the soul, it cannot generally be retracted. It must be honoured by the person who made it or it will be sin against that person. You may have regrets (like Jephthah seemed to have) but you still have to keep it. It may cost you more than you had anticipated or bargained but you still have to keep it. It may mean that you will have to suffer tremendously but you still have to keep it. It may adversely affect other people who would not have wanted you to make that vow when you made it but unless as a single woman, your father heard it and disannulled it on the same day before God or as a married woman, your husband heard it and disannulled it in like fashion, you still have to perform it.
You may ask but how does all of this apply to marriage when today, divorce is so prevalent, even in some so-called ‘churches’?
Well, irrespective of the madness taking place today and the lack of fear by many for God, even in some places of worship calling themselves ‘churches’, he is unchanging. In Matthew 24:35, Jesus stated: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”
Proverbs 19:21 reminds us that: “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.”
As explained before therefore, once you get married and make vows before God, he expects you to keep them. He says he hates divorce. It is a serious thing. Whether you did so recklessly or not or because you felt pressured by peers and you now regret your decision or are unhappy in your marriage union, all of this is irrelevant. The fact is you have bound your soul with that vow or oath and have said that that union will last till death part the two of you and so you must keep it. You are married in God’s eyes for life to that person you married for the first time and what you have vowed must stand, no matter what you go through or have to endure.
Pain and suffering is not an excuse to not honour your vow. The grass being greener on the other side is not an excuse to not honour your vow. Your spouse giving you a hard time is not a reason to not honour your vow. Him not loving you or you no longer loving him is not an excuse to not honour your vow. You being unhappy, bored and miserable is no reason to not honour your vow. Your spouse being unable to give you children is not reason enough to not honour your vow, nor can you dishonour your vow and look to divorce because your spouse has gone the way of some addiction or has involved himself in some crime or other. You have made a solemn vow before God and you MUST keep it.
The only condition Jesus gave that justifies divorce is fornication and given its definition, together with Israelite culture in the Bible days and even the example of Mary and Joseph when Joseph thought that Mary had been unfaithful during the engagement period, I firmly believe that in mentioning fornication, Jesus was referring to pre-marital conduct (Deuteronomy 22:13-21; Matthew 1:18-19).
Mind you, I do not believe that staying married means that if a spouse is threatening to kill you, is endangering the lives of you and/or your children, is physically abusive or some other form of serious abuse against you and/or your children, that you must stay in the same home with him. I believe that you can separate and the Bible speaks about separation.
However, you can separate physically from the same space without getting a divorce. It would mean that you remain married but live separately, until and unless you both agree to reconcile. You are bound to your husband in marriage for life and so even if you leave the home, no matter what you do or what he does, that man is and shall be, for as long as you both shall live, your husband. (Romans 7:2-3 KJV)
(Written on 10th December, 2018, expanded on 09th October, 2020, added to on 21st December, 2021)