The Covenant Of Marriage (1) The Indissoluble Bond

February 2, 1997 / No. 2821

Dear Radio Friends,

Today we are going to begin a series of messages under the theme: The Covenant of Marriage. Today we are going to talk about marriage as an indissoluble, or lifelong, bond. I would like to encourage you to write in for these messages for your own study and contemplation.

There is a reason why I turn to this series at this time. That is because we are also promoting a marriage-seminar which is going to be held in Sioux Falls, South Dakota from February 27 through March 1. More information on this seminar is going to be given by the announcer after the message today. But I would certainly like to encourage you to write in for information on this seminary, or to call (507) 442-4441 and get information on the “Reformed Marriage Seminar.”

We are going to look at the indissoluble bond of marriage today. And the Scripture we will use is Jeremiah 3:1. We read there these words: “They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD.”

If we are to understand this Word of God, we must first of all see what is undergirding it, namely, the truth of God’s gracious, covenant relationship with His people. The truth that undergirds marriage as it is given to us in the Bible is the truth of God’s covenant, namely, that marriage is to be a picture of the relationship that God has with His people in Jesus Christ. That relationship that God has is called His covenant, His covenant-bond of intimate and loving fellowship which He Himself calls a marriage. And the Bible teaches us that earthly marriage, our marriages on earth, are intended to be a picture of that relationship between God and His people in Christ.

In our text in Jeremiah the prophet is assuming that there is, in the Old Testament, a relationship that existed between God and Israel, which at his time was backsliding. He describes them as a married wife who has been unfaithful and has lived like a prostitute. God says to His people, “Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers.” God says that His people, when they would serve other gods, were guilty of spiritual harlotry or adultery, implying that His people in Jesus Christ were married to Him. In verse 14 of the chapter, when calling them again to repentance, God says, “Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you.” The people of Israel, that is, those who according to Hosea 1 and Romans 11 are the ones whom He foreknew in His election, the elect people of God, are redeemed by Jesus Christ, are married to God. He is their husband and they are His bride.

That means that our earthly marriage was given by God to be a picture of that relationship between God and His church. Already in the beginning, when God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden, He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make an help meet for him. Thus a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined unto his wife.” Already there God was intending marriage to serve a purpose, a purpose with respect to Himself – that earthly marriage be a picture of His covenant with His people. You see, marriage is not given first, or even primarily, for our own good and enjoyment. Certainly it is for our good and enjoyment as His children. Marriage is a blessed state. But it is not given first of all for that. But marriage is given to serve God’s purpose. That purpose is to reflect God and His unbreakable relationship with His people.

God’s covenant with His people in Jesus Christ, then, is pictured as a holy marriage. We are married to Him by His grace. He has engaged our souls to Himself. He has paid our dowry in the cross of Jesus Christ. He has wedded us to Himself in righteousness. He has worked in our hearts so that we love Him as our Lord and Husband. We are now, as believers and as a church, devoted to Him. We are given to Him as a wife is given to her husband. And we are under the secret and sweet law of His love to dwell with Him in His house. He is the Bridegroom of our souls. He has arrayed us in the wedding dress of His righteousness. And as a wife loves and depends upon her husband for his care, so we love and depend and delight in our God.

Now Jeremiah tells us that that covenant between God and His people in the Old Testament had been horribly torn apart by the sin and the spiritual unfaithfulness of Israel. He says to them, “Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers.” God likens idolatry (for Israel was worshiping other gods) to spiritual adultery. Whenever we, as believers, set our heart upon something other than God, whenever we place our trust in something other than God, whenever something other than God is the center of our life, then we have committed spiritual adultery. James says, in the context of lusting, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses.” How can he address us that way? Because, you see, when we are saved we are wedded to God. He alone is our rightful trust and love and husband.

For instance, when we are covetous, when we set our hearts upon riches, when we set our hearts upon the earthly, when we think that those earthly things will give us contentment, that is spiritual adultery. When we lust, when we give our hearts over to the yearning for what God has said, “Thou shalt not have it,” yet we go after it, we live in rebellion, we go apart from our God: that is spiritual adultery. That is a horrible thing. In Israel it was idol gods. It was the base and carnal life that went along with those idol gods. God says to them, “Thou hast lifted up thine eyes unto the high places.” The “high places” were the mountain tops where altars were erected to sacrifice to other gods and where deeds of immorality, astounding, shameful, bold deeds of adultery were performed. And that had ruptured the marriage tie.

In the human sense, in an earthly marriage, what will unfaithfulness do to a marriage? The world speaks of affairs. It even speaks of it in a comedy situation. It wants us to think that it is a normal way of life: sexual experimentation. It expects the youth to perform it. But God? God calls it treachery. God calls it a killer. God has intended one for you to know sexually. That is your husband or wife in the bond of marriage. And no one else. All sexual relationships outside of the bond of marriage are destructive. It is not all right! It is not a passing fling. It is not gaining experience. It is a horrible sin against God. It is a horrible sin against yourself. It is a horrible sin against Jesus Christ who has purchased you and, oh, the hurt, the fractured trust between a man and his wife, the rupturing of that most intimate trust and tie. It is not just a fling. It is a horrible hurt.

And God says that when His people have been unfaithful to Him, when they put their trust in or live for something other, they have been unfaithful.

Now Jeremiah was saying that in his day men were asking, if a man puts away his wife and she goes away from him and becomes another man’s, shall he return to her again? Shall not that land be greatly polluted? That is, they were being more than just a little self-righteous. They were saying, “Well, that woman is polluted. She has been with another man. I’m not going to take her back. She is polluted. She is touched by another man.” But God says, “Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers.” Not just one, many! “My people have been as a woman who is married to one man, but now has played the prostitute with many others.”

Now these men in Jeremiah’s day, when they put away their wife and she went to another man, those men became indignant. They said, “That woman is polluted. I’m not taking her back.” And God says, “But you, when you go after idols, when you place your trust in other things, when you sin against me, you have done something even more brazen, far more brazen! You have committed harlotry against me.”

It is exactly in this context that God brings out the indissoluble bond of marriage. What is to be done when there has been divorce? What is to be done when a woman has gone and married another man? The men in Jeremiah’s day were saying, “Shall he (the first husband) return to her again? No, she is polluted.” And yet Jehovah said to His people who had been with many lovers, “Return again to Me.” That is, God sets Himself in contrast to what a man or woman would do. And God says, “I take back My wife.” Psalm 23: “He restoreth my soul.” He brings us back in the way of repentance.

They, that is the false pastors and the false priests of Israel who prophesied against Jeremiah, were saying, “That woman now is polluted. You must not take her back.” That was the advice and counsel of the spiritual leaders. “Don’t take her back.” But God sets Himself in contrast to such spiritual leaders and He says, “But I say unto you, My people, who have done the same to Me, Return to Me.” And that is why in verse 15 of this chapter Jeremiah immediately adds that God will give pastors according to His heart, which shall feed with knowledge and understanding. “Pastors, they will be, who know My heart, and who know this about Me, that My covenant with My people is an indissoluble bond. And when My people shamefully commit spiritual adultery against Me, I stand before them and I say, ‘Return again to Me.'” Restoration of the indissoluble bond. Let those words sink into your soul. That is God’s practice in the covenant of His marriage. Understand that with your heart.

God, of course, is holy. God brings us back to Him in repentance. God brings us back to Him in sorrow. But God does not cast away His people. Romans 11:29, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” God has ratified His covenant in the blood of His Son. Over the grave of His Son He swears to His people, chosen in Jesus Christ, “I will not leave you, I will bring you back. I will bring you back in the way of My power of making you repentant and sorrowful.” He says in Malachi 3:6, “For I am the Lord, I change not. Therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” God maintains His covenant in the way of restoration, reconciliation, repentance. God restores His people through repentance.

That is the greatest truth of the covenant. If that were not so, if God did not take you back again, if God did not forgive you, if God did not work in your heart to go back to Him, what would come of you? You and I in our sins have played the harlot. You say that language is too strong? It is not my language, it is God’s. God says that when we place our trust in something other than Him, we are spiritual harlots. We have slid away from Him. We have done the same as a wife does when she is unfaithful to her own husband. That is our sin.

And men say concerning a woman who has been with another man: “She is polluted. I will not take her back.” That is what men say. But God does not say that. God forgives, God brings us back, God restores the bond.

As you stand before God, why does He abide faithful to you? There is only one answer. Because He is the living God who is merciful and restores those again in the way of repentance and keeps His people whom He has foreknown. Oh, the obstacles, our sins, appear insurmountable. We have sinned mountain high against God. But He takes us back in repentance.

Now God’s covenant must be reflected in our marriages. And it is reflected in restoration, reconciliation, and forgiveness. It means that we must bow before the foot of the cross. We must look to God and humble ourselves and be like Him and seek reconciliation of the indissoluble bond.

The church of Jesus Christ, faithful to the Word of God, has only one word on marriage. It is very simple. Reflect God. Be like God. Do what God would do. Reconciliation must be our dying prayer. The church can say, and she dares only say, “God’s covenant with us is a faithful bond in which He takes us back to Himself.” And that is how we must live in our marriage. Marriage has one purpose: the glory of God. That means, young people, you must not marry thinking that there is a back door. But you must marry in the Lord Jesus Christ. You must set the Lord before you. And in all marital difficulties you must not conclude that it is hopeless. You must not conclude that the only solution is separation, it can never be fixed.

That is what men say. What does God say? God says to His people, “Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD.”

Let us pray.

Father in heaven, we pray that Thou wilt bless and sanctify this message to our hearts and give us to search the Scriptures to be obedient to them and to reflect Thee in all that we do. Amen.