A passage in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 expresses in allegorical terms the difference between these two levels of marriage:
Two are better than one because they have a good return on their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.
The principle from which Solomon starts, "Two are better than one. " agrees with the reason that God gave originally for providing a mate for Adam, "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). Solomon goes on to give three examples that clearly illustrate this principle:
When two are together and one falls, the other can help him up,. If two lie down together, they keep each other warm, If two are attacked, together they can drive off the attacker.
But the last example that Solomon gives is different: "A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart." In this case, the strength is supplied not merely by two together, but by three together.
We may use Solomon's pictures to illustrate the difference we have observed between the concept of marriage under Judaism and the concept of marriage that was initiated by God Himself at creation. Solomon's first three examples of' "two together" illustrate the concept of marriage on the human plane, a horizontal relationship, merely between a man and a woman. But Solomon's fourth picture - the "cord of three strands"- illustrates marriage as it was conceived at creation, a binding together of three persons: a man, a woman, and God. The relationship between the man and the woman is still on the human plane; but when God is added to the relationship, it introduces a new dimension. He becomes the integral part of the marriage.
One of the most revolutionary features of the teaching of Jesus was His standard of marriage. He refused to settle for anything less than the original purpose of God. For this reason, Solomon's picture of "a cord of three strands" not only illustrates the pattern of marriage established at creation, it also portrays just as accurately the pattern of marriage for believers today who are united through their faith in Christ. The three strands are the man, the woman, and God. The principle that binds them inseparably together is covenant.
What Solomon says of a cord thus formed is still true today; it "is not quickly torn apart." In reality the strongest rope is a threefold rope. The largest number of strands that can all touch one another is three. If you take away one and leave only two, obviously you weaken the rope. But if you add an extra strand and make four, you do not add to the strength of the rope because all the strands no longer touch one another. With a rope of three strands, or even two of the strands under pressure starting to fray as long as the third strand holds, the rope will not break. This speaks of the marriage.
There come times of strain when both husband and wife may begin to weaken and feel unable to hold out. But God Himself is that third strand, and He holds on until the strain is eased and both husband and wife can be healed and restored. The third strand will never break.