In Paul's time, the word mystery had a more specific meaning than it does today. Then, it had religious associations. It denoted a form of knowledge that conferred valuable benefits but was restricted to a special group who were bound together by their religious practices. For a person to have access to this knowledge, he had first to be initiated into the group. Therefore, Paul's use of this word to describe the marriage relationship suggests two things:
- There is little known knowledge which can make marriage what it ought to be.
- That a person can only acquire this knowledge by meeting certain conditions.
In the book of Deuteronomy, when the children of Israel were ready to enter into their promised inheritance in the land of Canaan, Moses reviewed for them the lifestyle God had planned for them in their new environment. He promised them, on God's behalf, that if they would keep God's law, they would be abundantly blessed in every area of their lives. In particular, Moses told them that their homes would be like "heaven upon earth". (Deuteronomy 11:21) He painted a beautiful picture of contentment and unbroken harmony. Such was the level of home life God had planned for His people. About twelve hundred years later, through the prophet Malachi, God took stock of Israel's conduct since they had entered into their inheritance. In general, they had failed to meet God's conditions and therefore had not enjoyed the level of life He had planned for them. In His assessment, God pinpointed a number of specific areas of failure. One was in the Israelites' home lives, and specifically in their marriages. Here is what the Lord says concerning this:
"And this is another thing you do: you cover the alter of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand 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. " Malachi 2:13-14
Obviously, Israel's failure in this respect was not due to lack of religion. They were covering the alter of the Lord with tears. Yet, for all their prayers, their marriages were failures. We are quite often confronted with a similar situation today. People may be very - busy with religious activities and yet be unable to make a success of their marriages. Their religion does not enable them to succeed at home. These people fail to know that God would instruct His disciples in the New Covenant to begin in Jerusalem first which was home. Indeed, excessive preoccupation with religion outside the home, by one or both parties, is sometimes an important factor in the failure of a marriage. The essence of Israel's failure is contained in the closing phrase of Malachi 2:14: "though she is your wife by covenant." Israel had come to view marriage as a relationship for which they might set their own standards; one which they were free to initiate or terminate on their own terms. God reminds them, however, that He views marriage quite differently. According to His unchanging purpose, marriage is a covenant, which is the secret that alone ensures the success of the marriage relationship. Once this secret is forgotten or ignored, marriage inevitably loses its sanctity. With the loss of the sanctity of marriage, it also loses its strength and stability. Much of what we see in our contemporary civilization is closely parallel to the condition of Israel in Malachi's day and the root cause is the same - a wrong view of marriage.
JESUS' STANDARD OF MARRIAGE
After Malachi, the next and fuller revelation of marriage comes to us through Jesus. The essence of His teaching on marriage is contained in a conversation He had with some Pharisees:
And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?" And He answered and said, "Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife,. and the two shall become one flesh'? Consequently they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."
They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives,. but from the beginning it has not been this way. "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." Matthew 19:3-9
We can easily sum up the teaching of Christ in four successive statements:
- The form of marriage that had become accepted in Israel under Judaism was below the level of God's will.
- God's real purpose for marriage was expressed when He originally created man and woman.
- In the initial union of man and woman, they were so perfectly joined together that they lost their separate identities and became "one flesh. "
- It is the purpose of Jesus to restore marriage in the lives of His disciples to the original standard revealed at creation. This is redemption!
If we consider the account in Genesis 1 and 2 of the creation and union of Adam and Eve, the following facts are emphasized:
- God Himself was directly and personally involved
- it was His decision, not Adam's, that Adam should have a mate;
- it was He who formed Eve from Adam;
- it was He who presented Eve to Adam;
- and it was He who established the terms of the covenant relationship in which He united them.
Therefore, it is correct to say that, all through the Old Testament, marriage was viewed as a covenant relationship. However, the concept that developed under Judaism was on a lower level than that which had found expression at creation. Under Judaism, the covenant relationship was viewed as being merely horizontal-between a man and a
woman. But the covenant relationship established at creation had two dimensions: horizontal and vertical. Horizontally, it related Adam and Eve to each other; but vertically, it related the two of them together to God.