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The marriage covenant

A home is where you can be real, where you are you. If we considered our homes in the same way as religious Jews then there would be no room for hypocrisy. We could hardly be "Sunday Christians", wearing our "Sunday best" and reserving our pious religious face for those Sunday moments, then undoing our belt and resuming our bickering with our spouse in the car on the way home! Instead our home becomes our Church and God has His beady big eye on us 24/7. Can we handle that? In a way that's irrelevant, as God has His beady eye on us anyway, whether in our homes or in our Church and whether we like it or not. It's all a matter of perception really. And if our home is our Church, is it "open all hours", do we welcome the stranger, are our pews available for all?

Where there's a home, there are people. Of course, people don't always get along with each other, least of all families, but in the home of the religious Jew there is a standard set, shalom bayit, a peaceful home, that is worth striving for. It is an aspect of that most overused Hebrew word (along with hallelujah and amen), shalom. The usual understanding is that of peace, either internally as a calmness or externally as an absence of war. Shalom is a six lettered word with tons of meaning. In its truest sense it invades all areas of mind, body and spirit. It implies health, safety, completeness and wholeness. In Israel it is used both to greet people and say goodbye. It's an all purpose word - when confronted by a Jew, when in doubt, just wish them shalom and you've made a start.

So shalom bayit, peace in the home, is important, particularly as the Jewish home is such a hub for the family and community. Its truest expression is defined by the core of every family, that sacred covenant between two people known as marriage. To achieve shalom bayit one needs to achieve domestic bliss, so you've got to get your relationship right with your spouse first. This brings us to the marriage covenant itself.

The Jewish marriage covenant is a wonderful thing indeed, not just in the practical sense, but in what it teaches us about God, Israel and the Church. I will now take you through the steps of the Jewish wedding ceremony and we will not only see the spiritual principles behind the physical rituals but we will examine wider principles that take us right to the heart of what God means by "covenant".

It all starts with courtship, or you may need the services of the schadchen (matchmaker), depending on time, cost or degrees of attractiveness. Then it's time to meet the parents and haggle over the price. This is the bride price, the amount the man is willing to pay his prospective in-laws for his wife to be. This was all part of the betrothal process which involved a contract being drawn up, the ketubah, the marriage contract.

Both God and Jesus had marriage contracts drawn up, according to the Bible. God had one drawn up with the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah and the contract was, in fact, the book of Deuteronomy!

"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 31:31-32)

But the Northern Kingdom of Israel broke the terms of the contract, by committing spiritual adultery, and was summarily divorced and sent packing.

"I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries." (Jeremiah 3:8)

The southern kingdom of Judah also committed adultery but was spared from divorce, on account of promises made to King David and the necessity of ensuring an unbroken messianic line, leading to the birth of Jesus generations afterwards.

Nevertheless, for the sake of his servant David, the LORD was not willing to destroy Judah. He had promised to maintain a lamp for David and his descendants forever. (2 Kings 8:19)

Jesus himself had a marriage covenant drawn up with the Church. The first mention of it is in the passage in Jeremiah already mentioned.

"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." (Jeremiah 31:31)

This is the New Covenant made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Yes, you heard it right. The New Covenant, the new marriage contract drawn up by God, was with the whole house of Israel. This may surprise some people, but here it is in the Bible, the only time it is explicitly mentioned. The New Covenant, as detailed in the words of the New Testament, was, in the first instance, with Israel. Of course Gentiles were eventually allowed in too and all those who accepted the terms of this covenant also became the people of God, the Church.

Steve Maltz
October 2012

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Way)

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