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Redeemer Bible Church

Unreserved Accountability to Christ. Undeserved Acceptance from Christ.

The Christian Home, Lecture Five:

The Covenantal Nature of Marriage
Selected Scriptures

So far in our discussion of the nature and purposes of marriage we have learned that
humanity was created male and female, as a married couple, as a specific reflection of their
status as divine image-bearers. As male and female, the man and the woman together were
given the task of exercising dominion over the created order, which we suggest takes place
by and large through procreation. We can sum up like this: marriage exists for the purpose
of manifesting the divine image through exercising rule through procreation.

Additionally, we have learned that the marriage relationship also exists to alleviate
man’s solitariness. Genesis 2:18 says, It is not good for the man to be alone. As a result,
the Lord God made the man a helper suitable for him. Thus another purpose of marriage
along with the propagation of the human race is for the purpose of partnership. Marriage is
about friendship; it is about relational intimacy. Married couples ought to strive to be
interdependent. They complete one another and fill the void of one’s aloneness.

This morning we will expand on the partnership of marriage by developing how it is

that such a partnership is initially established and maintained. Turn with me in your Bibles
to Gen 2:24: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to
his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

We Enter the Marriage Partnership by Covenant

There are two key phrases for the purposes of this lecture: (1) a man shall leave his
father and his mother; and (2) and be joined to his wife. The reason why we are focusing
on these two phrases is that they refer substantially to the same thing—the marriage
covenant. For the marriage covenant (like any covenant) is a promise or commitment
publicly and solemnly and formally certified by the swearing of an oath. Here are two
examples cf. Gen 21:22-32; 31:43-53:

Now it came about at that time that Abimelech and Phicol, the commander
of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, "God is with you in all that you do; 23 now
therefore, swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my
offspring or with my posterity, but according to the kindness that I have shown to
you, you shall show to me and to the land in which you have sojourned." 24 Abraham
said, "I swear it." 25 But Abraham complained to Abimelech because of the well of
water which the servants of Abimelech had seized. 26 And Abimelech said, "I do not
know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor did I hear of it until today." 27

The Christian Home, Lecture 5: The Covenantal Nature of Marriage © 2004 by R W Glenn

Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them
made a covenant. 28 Then Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. 29
Abimelech said to Abraham, "What do these seven ewe lambs mean, which you
have set by themselves?" 30 He said, "You shall take these seven ewe lambs from my
hand so that it may be a witness to me, that I dug this well." 31 Therefore he called
that place Beersheba, because there the two of them took an oath. 32 So they made a
covenant at Beersheba; and Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army,
arose and returned to the land of the Philistines.

Then Laban replied to Jacob, "The daughters are my daughters, and the
children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine.
But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they
have borne? 44 "So now come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a
witness between you and me." 45 Then Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46
Jacob said to his kinsmen, "Gather stones." So they took stones and made a heap,
and they ate there by the heap. 47 Now Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob
called it Galeed. 48 Laban said, "This heap is a witness between you and me this day."
Therefore it was named Galeed, 49 and Mizpah, for he said, "May the LORD watch
between you and me when we are absent one from the other. 50 "If you mistreat my
daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us,
see, God is witness between you and me." 51 Laban said to Jacob, "Behold this heap
and behold the pillar which I have set between you and me. 52 "This heap is a witness,
and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass by this heap to you for harm, and you
will not pass by this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. 53 "The God of Abraham
and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us." So Jacob swore by
the fear of his father Isaac.

Here in Genesis 2, the public nature of the covenant is expressed by the words shall
leave and the commitment is signified by be joined. Thus we have both essential
components of a covenant: public recognition and solemn, official commitment. We will
explore this terminology in a bit more detail in a moment.

For now, turn to Mal 2:14 where we see again that marriage is by covenant: “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.”

Thus we enter the marriage partnership by covenant. Covenant is of the essence of

the nature of the marriage relation.

Now perhaps you are wondering what part sexual intimacy has in this relationship.
Once I was asked by a group of college students if the sex act itself establishes a marriage.
Biblically speaking, the answer is that it clearly does not. Aside from what we have seen in
Genesis 2 and Malachi 2, let me give you two more examples.

First, turn with me to Matt 1:18-19: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows:
when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was

The Christian Home, Lecture 5: The Covenantal Nature of Marriage © 2004 by R W Glenn

found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man
and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.”

Verse 19 is of singular importance. Note first of all that before Mary and Joseph
came together (had intercourse) Joseph is called Mary’s husband. Second, v 19 tells us that
when Joseph discovered that his wife was pregnant before their wedding ceremony, he
planned to send her away secretly. That is, he planned a clandestine divorce so that Mary
would not be disgraced (or killed). Deuteronomy 22:23-24 says that fornication committed
during betrothal was considered adultery. Listen:

If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her
in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that
city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the
city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. Thus you shall purge
the evil from among you.

Thus we have people considered husband and wife even before the ceremony. This
is because Jewish betrothal was as binding as contemporary marriage. Legally, the couple
was husband and wife because this betrothal involved the partners entering into a covenant
of marriage with one another.

Second, turn ahead to 1 Cor 6:9-10: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will
not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor
adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards,
nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Now fornicators are persons who commit sexually immoral acts outside of the
marriage relationship, that is, before marriage. Adulterers are those who commit sexually
immoral acts after having already entered into a marriage covenant. Sex itself, therefore, is
not equivalent of marriage; it is an important component of a healthy marriage, but it is not
absolutely necessary to have a legitimate marriage.

So if there were two quadriplegics who could not engage in intercourse they could
still be married in the sight of God provided that they could enter into covenant with one
another; for covenant is of the essence of marriage.

The Nature of the Marriage Covenant: Leaving and Cleaving

But what is the nature of that covenant, that public and solemn commitment? Turn
back to Gen 2:24.

The two sides of the covenant coin are leaving and cleaving, leaving father and mother
and joining man to woman.

In order to understand what it means to leave father and mother, it is important that
we describe what it is not.

The Christian Home, Lecture 5: The Covenantal Nature of Marriage © 2004 by R W Glenn

Leaving father and mother does not mean that either spouse neglects his or her
responsibilities to honor his or her parents. Ephesians 6:2-3, quoting from Exod 20:12 says,
“Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it
may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.” And 1 Tim 5:8 says, “But
if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has
denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Leaving father and mother also does not necessarily mean that the newlyweds move
out of their parents’ home. I say this because in the Ancient Near East family life was
patrilocal; that is, the man brought his bride into his father’s family and household, where
she became a member and he continued to be a member. Up to three generations lived
together in a single compound in the same house or several adjoining houses. Clearly, then,
it is not an absolute necessity physically to leave one’s in-laws in order to leave father and

The idea of leaving is that of a publicly recognized establishment of a new family

generation. It means that the husband and wife relationship becomes their priority human
relationship. Other obligations persist, living arrangements may change little, but it is
undeniable that a new nuclear family has been established.

The public nature of the marriage relation as expressed in the word leaving also
suggests the propriety of public ceremonies, public celebrations for marriage. These have
taken place since God instituted marriage and are reflected in Scripture in places like Psalm
45 and Matthew 25.

In addition, the public nature of the marriage relation leaves off the possibility of
entering into private covenant without witnesses, as if it would be sufficient for a man and a
woman to park along Lake Minnetonka and promise to be with one another forever. No, as
we have seen, a covenant requires witnesses, even stones! It is a publicly recognized
institution and ought to be treated as such.

The other side of the coin of the covenant of marriage is contained in the words
joined to his wife, what can be called cleaving.

The term itself literally means to be in close physical proximity.1 When used
relationally and figuratively (as it is here and in Gen 2:24), it conveys loyalty with the idea
of physical proximity retained—loyalty and physical proximity.

Nevertheless, the notion of loyalty predominates. And in light of the covenantal

nature of the marriage relation, it is covenant loyalty that predominates. In fact, the word is
a covenant-faithfulness word. The idea of covenant loyalty is especially in view in terms of
God’s relationship to his people expressed in Josh 23:6-8:


The Christian Home, Lecture 5: The Covenantal Nature of Marriage © 2004 by R W Glenn

Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of
Moses, so that you may not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, 7 so that
you will not associate with these nations, these which remain among you, or
mention the name of their gods, or make anyone swear by them, or serve them, or
bow down to them. 8 "But you are to cling to the LORD your God, as you have done
to this day.

The same is true for Jer 13:11: “‘For as the waistband clings to the waist of a man, so
I made the whole household of Israel and the whole household of Judah cling to Me,’
declares the LORD, ‘that they might be for Me a people, for renown, for praise and for
glory; but they did not listen.’”

Fidelity, therefore, is a key component of the covenant. When once a man cleaves to
his wife, it means that he understands himself to be entering a permanent and indissoluble
union with his spouse. There are, of course, ways of breaking covenants, but the intention
of the one entering into covenant (marriage or otherwise) is that the covenant would be
permanently binding.

According to Scripture, this permanency ideally should be only interrupted by one or

the other spouse’s death. The Apostle Paul uses the “till death us do part” aspect of the
marriage covenant to illustrate the believer’s relationship to the law since he or she has died
with Christ. He says,

For the married woman 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. So
then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called
an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an
adulteress though she is joined to another man.

And when teaching directly about marriage to the Corinthians, Paul says, “A wife is
bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to
whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39).

Loyalty unto death means that the marriage covenant should not be established apart
from each person’s intention to remain married until death. In addition, it means that
adultery is absolutely forbidden; for it functions to break the marriage covenant. By
implication it means that the use of pornography is forbidden. And it means that all forms
of flirtation must not persist into marriage. Absolute loyalty is what is required in marriage
until death shall separate you.

In addition, I would like to suggest that there ought to be on the part of husband and
wife a healthy jealousy for one another.2 Man, when you enter the marriage covenant, you
say to that woman and before the entire world, “You are mine.” And woman, when you
enter the marriage covenant you say to that man and before the entire world, “You are

In Numbers 5, the Lord does not condemn a husband’s spirit of jealousy; instead, the Lord provides a
test whereby his jealousy may be validated or invalidated.

The Christian Home, Lecture 5: The Covenantal Nature of Marriage © 2004 by R W Glenn

mine.” Anyone or anything that would pose a serious threat to the “mineness” of the other
ought to be considered an enemy.

This can be a spirit of flirtation in a spouse. It can be a flirtatious co-worker or

church member. It can be a sport or a hobby. Whatever may be a threat to the covenant
should be strongly resisted.

Secondly, it is important to note that although cleaving is a covenant-faithfulness

word, cleaving to one’s spouse also retains the idea of physical proximity. Therefore, you
need to live with one another and share a bed once you are married.

So then, entering into a covenant of marriage involves not simply a public and
solemn vow to commit one’s life to another, but it entails leaving father and mother and
cleaving to one another in the bonds of holy matrimony.

Having spoken about the covenant of marriage, I think it is important that we ask
who may be married. Who is eligible to enter into such a covenant? Can or should just
anyone be married? Let’s find out.

The Lawful Participants in the Marriage Covenant

Notice again Gen 2:24: a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to
his wife. Very basically, we may say that God’s intention is that a man marries a woman, a
woman marries a man. This may sound patently obvious, but I feel as if I need to say it in
light of a notion that has become increasingly popular in recent times; namely, that men
may marry men and women marry women.

This is clearly an aberration. In seeing the solitariness of man, God met the male’s
need not through the provision of another male, but through the provision of a female. A
man’s suitable helper and therefore his only possible marriage partner is someone of the
opposite sex.3

Additionally, one man cleaving to one woman is the biblical ideal. Though much of
the culture of the Ancient Near East was not opposed to polygamy (in particular, polygyny),
it has never been God’s design for marriage. And even though those who had multiple
wives in Scripture represent an almost who’s who of “heroes” of the faith, such does not
mean that the Lord approves of all their behavior. In fact, you will never see polygyny
approved by the Lord in the pages of sacred Scripture. One man marrying one woman until
death separates them has been God’s intention from the beginning of time.

Now we move on to something that seems to me to be at least equally clear, but too
often forgotten when speaking of those eligible for marriage. Turn with me in your Bibles to
1 Cor 7:39: “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is
free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.”

For more on this point see “Lecture 3: The Nature and Purposes of Marriage, Part One.”

The Christian Home, Lecture 5: The Covenantal Nature of Marriage © 2004 by R W Glenn

Equally Yoked
This little phrase only in the Lord is extremely significant and is overlooked only to
one’s peril. Christians can marry whomever they wish—there are no restrictions for race or
height or weight or eye color or intelligence or mobility—the only restriction is that
Christians marry other Christians. Believers should not enter into spiritual unions with
unbelievers. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, “Do not be bound together
with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what
fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14).

The union of husband and wife is more than a mere contract; it is a spiritual joining,
a spiritual leaving and cleaving. In fact, it is Jesus himself who says “What God has joined
together, let no man separate” (Matt 19:6). Marriage partners have been joined together not
by an officiating minister, not by the state, not by their families, not even by one another.
Ultimately, man and wife are joined together by the Lord himself. Therefore marriage is a
holy estate, a holy institution. How foolish to tamper with God’s design by joining oneself
to an unbeliever, a God-hater, a child of the devil!

So then, believers may only marry other believers. This truth should be of
paramount importance to those considering marriage. I cannot stress enough the
importance of abiding by this one rule of eligibility. And aside from it being sinful for a
Christian to marry an unbelieving partner, my ten years of pastoral ministry experience tells
me that your failure to marry a believer will bring you only deep regret and profound

And yet, I have found so many people, especially young women, all too willing to
give up this standard so that they can reach that laudable place called “marriage.” Once a
young woman (not in my church) told me that the Lord had confirmed in her heart that she
should marry so-and-so. The first question I asked was, “Is he a believer?”

And she said, “No, but I prayed and have a peace about it.”

I said, “Well, I can tell you this: your peace is not from God. Because God’s word is
crystal clear; you must not marry an unbeliever.” And I cited the Scripture passages from 1
and 2 Corinthians. I don’t know what she did with my counsel, all I know is that she did
not leave that conversation resolved to end her relationship.

Another terrible tragedy came on the heels of what is sometimes called “Candlelight
Evangelism.” I don’t remember where I first heard this phrase, but I think that it aptly
characterizes what happens when believers enter into romantic associations with
unbelievers in the hopes of seeing them come to saving faith. This almost always fails. And
it usually fails in one of two directions.

The first direction is that the person does not come to saving faith, and in the
meantime, the believer has compromised him- or herself emotionally and often sexually.

The Christian Home, Lecture 5: The Covenantal Nature of Marriage © 2004 by R W Glenn

The second direction we could call “Conversion to Cathy.” In this case, a man is
enamored of a young Christian woman who has reciprocated that affection. She has,
however, told him directly or indirectly that the relationship can only go so far while he is
yet an unbeliever. So under the pressure to win this young woman, the man professes faith
in Jesus Christ. Now I don’t mean to say that he professes the faith knowing that his faith is
a sham; no, by and large such men are genuine and sincere. But because of the relational
investment in this believing woman, it is difficult for him to see whether or not he has
converted to Cathy or converted to Christ. This can have devastating results.

I know of a situation in which a woman was dating an unbeliever, engaging in

“Candlelight Evangelism” (contrary to counsel), saw the man make a profession of faith,
and married him in less than a year. Two children later the man has repudiated the faith
without regret and wants nothing to do with his wife and kids.

Instead of the “Candlelight Evangelism” approach, you should seek to marry

someone who is already loving and serving the Lord without you. In addition, I would
recommend—not by way of command, but so as to save you heartache—I would
recommend that you marry someone at a similar place of spiritual growth, someone with
similar passion for the Lord.

Once, for example, I knew a young woman who had been doing “Candlelight
Evangelism” and saw her man make a profession of faith. He started attending my church
and he seemed to evidence genuine marks of conversion. Soon after, they started discussing
the possibility of getting married. I told them to wait at least a year to see if the man’s
spiritual growth would be at a place where he could sufficiently lead the woman in spiritual
things. Well, they chose not to wait, and as a result they continue to have trouble with
spiritual intimacy, much to the woman’s dismay.

So then, what can we say about marital eligibility requirements? First, marriage is
heterosexual; second, it is monogamous; and third, it is equally yoked.

The Mirror of the Human Marriage Covenant

Now I would be remiss if I did not at this point stop to reiterate something we
mentioned in our first lecture on the Christian home and have tried highlight throughout
our discussions: marriage is a mirror into the nature of God.

In particular, the covenant of marriage mirrors something of who God is and how he
relates to us as his people.

First, the covenant of marriage mirrors intertrinitarian covenantal relationships cf.

Titus 1:1-3:

Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of
those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness,
in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, 3 but
at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was
entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior.

The Christian Home, Lecture 5: The Covenantal Nature of Marriage © 2004 by R W Glenn

The Father promised the Son to purchase a people zealous for good deeds that would
live always to worship and honor the Son even as they worship and honor the Father in the
power of the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Trinity agreed to the terms of this redemptive
covenant, performing his duty as a member of the Godhead. God’s relationship to himself,
therefore, is one of covenant. This is why it is such an affront to the Lord to break the
marriage covenant. Even severing the covenant through lawful means fails properly to
mirror the indissoluble union between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the mystery of the

Second, the covenant of marriage mirrors God’s relationship to his people under the
Old Covenant. Isaiah 54:5-6 says, “For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the
LORD of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all
the earth. For the LORD has called you, Like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, Even
like a wife of one's youth when she is rejected.” And Isa 62:5 says, “For as a young man
marries a virgin, So your sons will marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the
bride, So your God will rejoice over you.”

Indeed, the Old Testament is rife with this kind of language to describe God’s
relationship with his people. And this covenantal reflection in marriage comes to its
fulfillment in the relationship between Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:31-32 says, “For
this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the
two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to
Christ and the church.” In addition, it is not unusual in the New Testament to see the
unfaithful in the church described as adulteresses. Listen to James: “You adulteresses, do
you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?” (Jas 4:4).

Therefore when we fail to leave and cleave, when we fail to honor the covenant of
marriage, we are not simply failing at the level of the horizontal—at the level of our
relationships with one another—but we are also failing at the level of the vertical. We are
failing to image forth the covenant relation between Christ and his church that marriage is
meant to express.

I agree with the commentator who says, “[W]e need to revive the sense that marriage
is a calling to be lived before God, open to the resources of his grace, and a means by which
his covenant love can be displayed.”4

Redeemer Bible Church

16205 Highway 7
Minnetonka, MN 55345
Office: 952.935.2425
Fax: 952.938.8299
David Atkinson, The Message of Genesis 1:11: The Dawn of Creation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity
Press, 1990), 76.

The Christian Home, Lecture 5: The Covenantal Nature of Marriage © 2004 by R W Glenn


The Christian Home, Lecture 5: The Covenantal Nature of Marriage © 2004 by R W Glenn