“I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and the one who is guilty of violence,” says the sovereign LORD. “Pay attention to your conscience, and do not be unfaithful.”
Malachi 2:16 (NET)
Perhaps you have heard that marriage is a covenant relationship. What does that mean practically? How does that affect us day to day? A covenant is the most binding commitment you can make to another person. It is a serious vow and should never be taken lightly, either before or after the ceremony. Our promises in covenant are taken before God Himself. Many of the traditions of our wedding ceremonies come from age-old covenant symbolism.
A covenant is the kind of commitment that God makes to us.
The context of this passage contrasts the Old Covenant, or the Law, with the New Covenant we have with Christ. Under the Old Covenant the Jews made sacrifices day after day because their sins needed to be constantly covered. The animals’ blood did not in reality pay for those sins but merely covered them until the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, could come and shed His own perfect blood to wash away all the sins of those who believe in Him.
1. Why is our covenant with God now so much better than the Old Covenant made with the nation of Israel according to v.17-18?
We need to read the original passage where God promised that He would eventually replace the Old Covenant with a better Covenant.
2. List from this passage, using the words here in the Scripture, the promises that God makes those who enter His covenant.
Notice that God makes these promises unconditionally. He will fulfill the covenant with us because He is faithful to His promises. Have you entered the New Covenant through Jesus Christ? Has God forgotten your sins because you have recognized your sins and turned to Jesus to forgive you and to give you a relationship with Him? If not, these promises do not apply to you; however, they can become yours today. Recognize your sins, primarily the sin of doing your own thing and running your own life instead of obeying God, and trust Jesus as God who died to wash your sins away and to give you the power to change. He will come and live within you through His Spirit, begin a lifelong relationship with you, and walk with you every day.
3. Copy 2 Tim. 2:13 below. How can this verse be a comfort to you when you betray God with your attitudes and actions?
You are responsible before God to fulfill your part of the marriage covenant. It is not conditioned upon your husband’s loving you as he should. You have promised certain things to him before God and you are only responsible for you.
You are to be faithful to your vows, just as Christ is faithful to you.
God made a covenant with mankind just after the flood that destroyed all the earth except Noah and his family.
4. What did God promise?
5. What was the sign of the covenant?
6. What was the purpose of the sign?
Many times covenants include signs to remind the parties to the covenants of their promises. Often in marriage we use rings, which have symbolized the permanence of a covenant for thousands of years. In the Scriptures we see other signs employed: trees were planted (Gen. 21:32-33) or a pile of stones was set up (Gen. 31:44-55) to remind the parties that they had a covenant between them and were to fulfill the promises that they made in that agreement.
Many covenants in the Bible were made for protection and may be understood as seriously binding treaties. The parties to the covenant recognized them as so solemn that they called upon God to bring judgment upon either of them who broke the covenant. In Gen. 31:49-53 Jacob and Laban called upon God to exact judgment if either of them broke the pact. This type of covenant indicated that the two became one in their protection of one another. They promised not to attack each other or ally themselves with anyone against the other. Do you side with anyone against your husband? Your loyalty in covenant is to him.
I remember as a child seeing an old movie on television. It was the story of a man who befriended an American Indian. The two of them made a covenant that bound them as blood brothers. At the ceremony they made cuts in their wrists and bound their two arms together with a piece of cloth, symbolizing the intermixture of their blood. They were now permanently one as brothers. Their responsibilities included protecting the other man even at personal cost. They would give up their lives to protect the other. The scars were the permanent symbols, reminders of the promises they had made.
Marriage is this kind of covenant. We saw in our first lesson that God intends for a couple to be one. We leave and cleave. We are superglued together permanently. Thus, marriage is a permanently binding agreement. Remember the picture of the body in both Gen. 2 and Eph. 5:23? Just as we do not tear one body into two parts and expect it to live, we cannot expect to join a man and a woman and then rip them apart. God’s plan for covenant is permanent.
You can see from the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching on divorce that it is clear that rarely can someone divorce in God’s eyes. In fact, the only exception Jesus gave is adultery. Under the Old Testament law, an adulterer was stoned to death because he had broken the covenant and the oneness with his wife. To allow the wronged party to divorce an adulterous mate merely finalizes the reality that the bond has already been torn and they are no longer one.
7. Why does God hate divorce according to this verse? (You may want to read the context.)
8. What are the promises that you made when you married (or will make when you marry)?
9. What relationship in the heavenly realm does marriage picture in the earthly realm?
10. What does divorce do to this heavenly picture?
11. Consider 2 Tim. 2:13, which you read above, and what you read about the signs of the covenant. If you are to picture Christ through your marriage relationship, how seriously should you take your marriage promises? Why?
There is another custom used in covenants in the Bible and in many other lands. To indicate the seriousness of the promises they were making, the parties to the covenant cut animals in two; they laid each half opposite the other with an aisle, so to speak, between the two parts. Then they walked through the pieces asking God to judge them by slaying them just like those animals if they were unfaithful to their covenant. The marriage aisle is the modern-day symbolism of that “walk unto death.” In marriage, just as in our covenant with Christ, we die to ourselves and commit to someone else to become part of us, no longer to live for ourselves. This is the antithesis of sin. The root of sin is selfishness and self-centeredness. To put others before ourselves reflects the heart of God.
12. How did Jesus express His attitude of putting others before Himself?
The sad fact is that this may be the biggest hindrance to marital happiness. We are unwilling to give up our rights, our pleasures, our personal time, our priorities, and our pride to become one with another person. We hold onto what we want rather than doing what our mates want. Sin pervades the household and unhappiness is the fruit.
13. Married women: As you have followed your own lusts, in the form of placing your desires over your husband’s, how has the death of some part of your marriage been born? Be specific. (You will not have to read this to your group unless you volunteer.)
As believers we die as we enter our covenant with Christ. This is His call upon each of us. “Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27 NET). The cross was the symbol of death and His listeners would have understood this to be their own death. To follow Christ is to die to yourself and to live for Him. Have you made this commitment to Him?
Gal. 2:20 (NET) says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life which I now live in the body I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
14. Have you forsaken your own rights and the life you want to live for the life Christ has for you as He lives through you? This is His call to you. Married women: Does the fact that you have died and Christ now lives in you affect your married life? Are you living for Jesus and putting your husband first rather than your personal desires? Single women: What other relationships do you have in which you need to die to yourself?
I personally believe that death to self is the key to your marriage. Are you ready to die so that there will be life and health in your home? Steve Smith says, “Marriage is your last best chance to grow up!” Isn’t growing up about putting others and their needs before your own?
As Christian mothers, we desire to have our children love and obey Jesus Christ for that will bring them joy and purpose in life.
15. How will the lessons you teach your children about faithfulness to promises and about selflessness and giving for others be enhanced or undermined by your personal actions in your marriage? Give specific examples of actions that would help or hurt your teaching.
Ray and I had a remarkable number of similarities in our lives: both of us being the second born, from a family of four, our dads were "only" children, our moms were one of two children; and, last but not least, both from homes broken by divorce. We knew firsthand the pain and heartache that comes from divorce, and neither one of us had any intention of getting one ourselves. Besides, the Bible tells us in Malachi "God hates divorce."
We decided that if we were to make a marriage covenant before God that only He would separate us in death. It's a vow that we keep by His grace and faithfulness; and we can joyfully, confidently tell our children that our marriage won't be broken by divorce. That's especially comforting to them when daily they see the heartache and sadness in the lives of many of their friends whose parents have divorced.
16. Married women: What one thing did you learn about covenant that helps you in your marriage where you are today? Single women: What one truth about covenant will help you as you enter marriage?
17. Write a prayer to the Lord asking forgiveness for any sinful action or attitude brought out by this lesson. If you have previously been divorced apart from God’s design, confess and ask God to forgive you. You may need to ask forgiveness of your previous husband as well. God is a God of grace, but His covenant is not to be taken lightly. When we make promises before God, we need to be as faithful to them as He is to His covenant with us. If you find yourself in a second or third marriage, know that God forgives. Commit now to be faithful to this covenant. Write a prayer recommitting to both your marriage covenant (married women) and to your covenant with Christ (all of you), promising to let Him live through you this day in your marriage and in the future.