Marriage: A Blood Covenant With a Threefold Purpose (Part 1 of 3)

So as we look at the inception of marriage under the Old Testament, we discover that it involves, as all blood covenants do, the shedding of blood. And we discover that virginity was a very special and treasured thing in the law of God. And it is special and treasured because it is part of the shedding of the blood in this blood covenant of marriage

Text: Malachi 2:10-16 (ESV)
Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?

Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying women who worship a foreign god. As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the Lord remove him from the tents of Jacob —even though he brings an offering to the Lord Almighty.

Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.

“The man who hates and divorces his wife, ” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.

Introduction: This Is Not Something About Which I Want to Speak.

I direct your attention, to begin with, to 2 Timothy 3:15-17.

Sometimes I think living in a time such as we live, it is important that we remember that all of Scripture is God’s Word and therefore it is all profitable for us. Saint Paul could say to the elders at Ephesus, as he was leaving them: “I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

And as the time of my departure is at hand, which we should always be confessing — you and I, for we know not when the Lord will come for us — it is important that we have clear consciences and that we discharge that duty. And so as the Lord led me as I was praying to preach on this passage of Scripture — much to my chagrin — the last time I preached out of Malachi two was seven years ago — I preach it, reminding us of this truth, 2 Timothy 3:15-17.

“…and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures” (2 Timothy 3:15).

Remember what he is talking about here. The Holy Scriptures that he is speaking about in his time is the Old Testament. That is the Holy Scriptures they had. Of course, here and there, God adds to the Old Testament Scriptures. He gives us in the New Testament, Scripture as well. Saint Paul’s writings were recognized by Saint Peter as Scripture, and he refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture.

But keep in mind, again, that we are talking here in verse 15 particularly about the Old Testament. And he says concerning that, he says, first of all, they are: “…are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

And then in verse 16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Literally, God-breathed. Every word that I speak this morning is a Bob-breathed word. That means I am speaking it. And so when Scripture is referred to as God-breathed, it means that it is the very Word of God. It is his actual word.

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16).

And we might think, therefore, that this is so, because . . . that because of that, the following things are true. It is profitable for doctrine. Doctrine simply means teaching. It is profitable for teaching. It is profitable for reproof. It is profitable for correction, and it is profitable for instruction in righteousness.

And then the phrase “man of God” is a particular reference, I think, in Scripture to a pastor. And he says: “…that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

You know, I know a lot of people who use other people’s material when they preach. I was always frightened to do that, not that I don’t mind picking up an illustration or something from a book and sharing it — trying to give credit where I find it — but the point is that everything that I need as a preacher is in this book, and that has been my conviction from the day that I first began to preach back in 1965, until today, that I need nothing else but to know this book, that the man of God, having this book, is sufficient and complete, and he is thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I. Every True Marriage Is Formed by Making a Covenant.

With that in mind, then, I would like us to look back at Malachi for a moment, Malachi 2.

I want you to notice something here, if we look at the last clause of verse 14 up near the top of the page, the last clause of verse 14. He speaks there of a person who is someone’s companion and wife by covenant. I want to bring out three truths about marriage today and why the modern opposition to same-sex marriage is somewhat hypocritical.

Now, hold on to that, because you know that I am not advocating same-sex marriage, but I am saying that much of the opposition to it is hypocritical because it fails to deal with the very nature of marriage itself as it is revealed in Scripture. So we want to explore three reasons why God instituted marriage, focusing in particular on Malachi 2. I want you to notice that he refers to marriage as a covenant relationship. Immediately that brings us into some very clear understanding.

I. A. The Marriage Covenant Is in the Presence of God.

A covenant, as the Bible is using it, means that a marriage involves three people and not two. A marriage involves a man and a woman and God. A marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman and God. And if you look back at the passage that Merrill read earlier, Deuteronomy 22, there are some very striking things about the nature of marriage that are revealed in that passage that probably, if I had my choice, I would never preach on. But I don’t have a choice because I want to be faithful to God. And that means if God directs me to a passage of Scripture, I have got to preach on it.

I. B. The Marriage Covenant Is a Blood Covenant.

But if you look here at Deuteronomy 22, you notice that marriage is a blood covenant. I want you to think about that for a moment. Marriage is a blood covenant. That has two profound implications. The breaking of a blood covenant brings a blood curse and the only way to get rid of a blood curse is by the shedding of blood. So marriage is a blood covenant. The breaking of a blood covenant brings a blood curse and the only way to remove a blood curse is the shedding of more blood.

And I want to say at the outset. I thank God Almighty that I am a creature of the New Covenant because the Old Covenant is a covenant of condemnation, and it is a covenant of death. But the New Covenant is a covenant that is about justification (2 Corinthians 3:6-9). What is justification? It is so important that we remember when you are caught, and you are wrong, and someone accuses you, and you defend yourself, you are justifying yourself. But the only way to be right with God is to stop justifying yourself and allow God to justify you. That is what we do when we cast ourselves on God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. We allow God to justify us.

So instead of my foolish and feeble attempts to declare myself righteous, I sit back and say, “I can say nothing.”

As Charles Haddon Spurgeon, perhaps the greatest preacher of the 19th century, said, “When somebody says something bad about you and you learn about it, remember one thing. What they said about you actually is less than what you deserve. You are worse than what people say about you.” And that is the basic point. You see, the Church has gotten away from its double message: the message of the law and the message of the gospel. Without the message of the law, there is no gospel preaching because what we then have is Jesus, some kind of super salesman, who came along to make life better for us. But if we understand the message of the law, if we understand the thunders from Mount Sinai, if we understand that the letter of the law kills us and condemns us and leaves us stripped and undone and naked, but God has provided another mountain besides Mount Sinai and that is Mount Calvary, where our sins are paid for, where our sins are atoned for, where the curse has been absorbed by the Son of God as he hung upon a cursed tree, then we understand these things. So marriage is a blood covenant.

And, again, we see in Deuteronomy 22 the ideal. The ideal is what? It isn’t widowhood or being divorced. God does permit divorced people to remarry under certain circumstances, and God permits widows to remarry under certain circumstances. By the way, we say under certain circumstances because the Word of God absolutely prohibits a believer from every being married to an unbeliever. If you are married to an unbeliever, you must ask God’s forgiveness and claim his blessing and go on with it. But I am talking about sinning with malice aforethought. I am talking about deliberately violating the Word of God.

So there are conditions having to do with remarriage or marriage to start with. We must marry only in the Lord.

So as we look at the inception of marriage under the Old Testament, we discover that it involves, as all blood covenants do, the shedding of blood. And we discover that virginity was a very special and treasured thing in the law of God. And it is special and treasured because it is part of the shedding of the blood in this blood covenant of marriage. So important it is, that the parents of the young woman preserve the evidence that she was a virgin on her wedding night, so that if her husband proves to be a scoundrel and accuses her of not being what she said she was — and this is not the case of someone who is honest and up front before marriage, but this is someone presenting herself for marriage, and she is not really that — then the parents produce the evidence of the blood covenant with the garment or the sheet that was … that absorbed the blood in the cutting of the covenant.

The Hebrew word, by the way, for making a covenant is literally, in Hebrew, “to cut a covenant.” We cut a covenant. And so in the marriage act there are two things. There is the couple committing themselves to live together after God’s ordinance, and there is the shedding of the blood, the private act, the cutting of the covenant. Both things are important.

I. C. Marriage Is a Family Institution, Rather than Church or State.

I think there is something else that is interesting about marriage that I would point out. Nowhere do we find that the state has any role in marriage in Scripture. Where is that in the Bible? And nowhere do we find that the Church has any role in marriage. Where is that in the Bible?

So what about Jesus? Jesus was there for the party. Jesus did not marry the couple at Cana of Galilee. Who then performs the marriage according to Scripture? It is the man and the woman performing the marriage. But this isn’t private. We read, for example, that after Sarah’s death, Isaac her son mourned her death and then Abraham arranged for his servant to obtain a bride from out of the land of Canaan, and it simply says that Rebekah went in and joined to Isaac, and they went into his mother’s tent. They became husband and wife. But they didn’t sneak into the tent. And this is important. A valid marriage involves the blessing of the parents. And a valid marriage involves the entering into of a covenant in front of the families because when you marry someone, you marry that person’s family.

You know, I look back to the Hartness-Thornwell Memorial Presbyterian Church at Thornwell Orphanage in Clinton, South Carolina, where on July 6th, 1968, my wife and I were married. Little did I know that I would be taking care of her mother with Alzheimer’s disease in our home and that she would die in one of our bedrooms. Little did Sandy know when she entered into that blood covenant with me on July 6th, 1968, that she would be taking care of my father and my mother, and that my mother would die while living in our home, though in the hospital after eating supper here on a Wednesday night.

When we marry, we marry a family, and that is the important thing about marriage. We stand with our families, and our families bless the union, and we make this commitment before God, and then we party. And that is what Jesus did. Jesus joined the wedding party at Cana of Galilee, and they ran out of wine. And so he took those jars that the Jews used for purification, water jars, and he turned them into wine. And when the stewards of the feast tasted the water that had been turned into wine, he was amazed. He said, “You know, it is the custom to put out the expensive wine first, and when men have well drunk, then to put out the rot gut stuff.” You know, you put out something from California or from France, and then after people have been belting down a few glasses of Merlot, then you put out the Ripple.

The wedding steward said to the groom, he said, “You have saved the best to last.”

By the way, they are two Greek words. There is a Greek word for grape juice. That is not the word that is used. And there is a Greek word that is used of fermented wine. And that is what is used.

Now, I am simply saying that Jesus blessed that couple’s marriage by his presence and by the first miracle that he did, when he gave them a wedding present of over 100 gallons of nice wine, really good wine.

Now the point is that marriage involves the parents. We see that so clearly in Deuteronomy 22. It is the parents that protect the good name of the young lady. It is the father who takes the responsibility for his daughter’s reputation in Deuteronomy 22, and it is the father who is zealous, along with his wife, to preserve the evidence that she was a virgin.

But it is interesting that that man would be punished for his false accusation in some kind of public scourging, as well as paying a fine, but also then what the Old Testament granted, which was permission for divorce under certain circumstances, when the man has brought this charge against his wife, and it is false, he loses that privilege.

I. D. The Breaking of a Blood Covenant Evokes a Judgment of Death.

Now look at verse 20 of Deuteronomy 22.

“But if the thing is true, and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house. So you shall put away the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 22:20-21).

Now notice verse 22: “If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die” (Deuteronomy 22:22).

And here is the thing I want you to understand, for every advocate of the death penalty: the Bible does not require a just government to use the death penalty. It neither forbids it, nor does it command it as an absolute thing under the New Testament. But what the Old Testament law tells us very clearly is this, that God regards sexual immorality as tantamount to first-degree murder. I want to say that. “That is ridiculous,” you may think. It is tantamount to first-degree murder. Why? The same penalty that God enjoined on the children of Israel in the covenant at Mount Sinai for first-degree murder is the penalty for sexual immorality. In fact, if you go through the Bible you discover this. There is only one sexual sin that does not call down the death penalty on it. And what is that? It is an unmarried man and an unmarried woman engaging in physical relations. For that, there is no death penalty. For that, it is life long penalty of marriage without the privilege of divorce.

But all other sexual things, sexual sins, require the death penalty. And I just want to say that. If you are an advocate of the death penalty — and I am not condemning you, if you are an advocate of the death penalty, nor am I a praising you, if you are an advocate to the death penalty. I am simply saying this: don’t forget as you cry out for the death penalty for other people, that you are calling down God’s judgment on yourself as well.

I have to say to you as a person who became a Christian in 1964, that when I was a non-Christian, I did more than one kind of thing that was a death penalty offense under the Old Testament. I wouldn’t be preaching to you here today, if we were following the law of God in the Old Testament in terms of its penalties. I would not be here today. I would be executed. So we need to understand something: the Old Testament is the letter that kills, 2 Corinthians 3:6. But the Spirit in the New Testament is the Spirit who gives life. The Old Testament is the ministry of death. (2 Corinthians 3:7). The New Testament is the ministry of life. The Old Testament is the ministry of condemnation. The New Testament is ministry of justification. Read 2 Corinthians 3, the whole chapter, this afternoon. That brings that to bear.

But we see several things here in Deuteronomy 22, before we go back to Malachi. We see that marriage is a blood covenant that involves the shedding of blood as the very nature of inaugurating the first marriage. Secondly, we see that marriage is a covenant relationship. It is a covenant relationship, and that means that God is involved in it. And, thirdly, there are sanctions when a marriage is broken. There are sanctions here. There are penalties here, when a marriage is broken. And so we see that. We see that in the case of adultery, in verse 23. We see that in the case of the young woman who claims to be a virgin, but she is not. Both are, in the eyes of God, death penalty offenses.

I say, again, and I am not saying it tongue-in-cheek. These penalties that were given to Israel as a commonwealth teach us how God regards sin. Never forget that. They teach us how God regards sin.

We live in a highly, sexually charged culture. Sex — we sell our children breakfast — they sell our children breakfast food with sex. And they sell us pills at night with sex. We are in a sexually charged culture. We need to understand that God regards these things with deadly seriousness.

And why am I preaching on it? Because I believe that God directed me to this passage of Scripture, as I was preparing my sermon. And I think it shows another truth, and that is this: we are all at heart Legalists. We just want the Legalism to be those bad people. We want to feel good about ourselves. But when you really come to grips with the law of God, you understand something. You understand that you stand with the drug dealer and the prostitute and the pimp and the politician as liable to hell and on your way to hell, and your only hope is Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

So we see something here: marriage is a covenant relationship. Marriage is a blood covenant, inaugurated by the shedding of blood, and there are severe penalties when someone breaks a blood covenant. Going back to Malachi 2, we see that covenant thing reiterated: “Your wife by covenant,” the last clause there in verse 14, “your wife by covenant.”

And then notice what he says in verse 15: “But did he not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth” (Malachi 2:15).

Why does God regard breaking the marriage covenant as dealing treacherously? You understand it is a blood covenant. It is inaugurated by the shedding of blood. Therefore, the breaking of it is the breaking of a blood covenant, and it demands the shedding of blood to atone for it. The blood of Jesus was shed for our sins.

To deal treacherously, then, is to bring violence to bear. When we break apart what God has joined together, we are engaged in violent action — violent action that is so serious in the eyes of God that he puts it on the par with first degree murder because both involve the death penalty.

“…let none of you deal treacherously with the wife of his youth” (Malachi 2:15).

Notice again how he expresses it and think in verse 16 back to Deuteronomy 22. Again, in Deuteronomy 22: remember the parents. When the young man hates his new wife, and he accuses her falsely of not having been a virgin when they married, the parents produce a garment. And the blood of that garment is redemptive blood. It spares her execution. Look at that again in light of verse 16: “‘For the LORD God of Israel says that he hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘Therefore, take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously'” (Malachi 2:16).

So, again, you get all of this imagery back from Deuteronomy 22, and it is woven here in Malachi 2. And it is: breaking of a blood covenant is a violent act that brings down a judgment, and it covers one’s garment with violence.

Bob Vincent has served for over 36 years as Pastor of Grace (formerly Jackson Street) Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Alexandria, Louisiana. This is taken from a sermon he preached on September 25, 2011, and is used with his permission.