Marriage Under Fire (Introduction to “Marriage by the Book” Sub-Series)
I admit that my blog series, Refocus on the Family, gets its name from the organization known as Focus on the Family. But we Christians really should Refocus on the family. I do not mean to belittle Focus on the Family’s work (on the contrary, I applaud their devotion to God’s teachings about marriage, gender roles, and the family and am weekly blessed by their ministry at Boundless); rather, by my title I mean to express the idea that we Christians have not focused on the family as we should have but have rather neglected the family to the point where in most houses, it no longer functions according to God’s design. In short, we need to refocus on the family by refocusing on the Bible’s teaching about family.
I have arbitrarily broken Refocus on the Family into four sub-series, the first of which is Marriage by the Book. In this first subseries, I will deal exclusively with what the Bible teaches about marriage. After today’s introductory post, I will have ten subsequent posts that take us through the Bible and examine various Scriptural texts to give us a biblical view of marriage. I start with marriage first because that is where God starts in Genesis 1. He doesn’t start with gender roles (in the church) or parenthood; He starts with marriage, and so do I. In this introductory post, I lay out my case that marriage is under fire in the United States, and I examine Ezra 9-10 for a pattern of what we as Christians should do to rectify our less-than-biblical esteem of marriage.
Marriage is under fire in the United States. Divorce rates hover at 50% among both professing Christians and openly non-Christians. This is where individualism takes us: the erosion of marriage. Yes, the gay-rights movement does not help matters, but Voddie Baucham rightly places the responsibility on Christians: “If we are to change the world, we must first change the church. Currently there is no distinguishable difference between the way our culture views marriage and family and the way we do in the church. … [We] have to promote a biblical view of marriage and family.”[i]
Adam and Eve both shifted blame when God confronted them with their sin; let us not make the same mistake now by shifting blame from ourselves to homosexuals and feminists. Let us, like the Israelites in Ezra 10, admit that we God’s people have lowered our esteem of marriage and that we are the ones responsible for letting it come under fire.
Indeed, the parallel we find in Ezra 9:1-6 is interesting to our modern case of marriage being under fire. Consider Ezra’s inspired words here:
After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations …. For they have taken some of their [the non-Israelites’] daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God, saying:
“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted to the heavens.”
God called the Israelites to be separate from the surrounding nations; they were not to intermarry with those who did not worship the One True God. God likewise calls us Christians to be separate (in lifestyle but not location) from the unredeemed world in such passages as 2 Corinthians 6. We are in the world, yes, but we are not of the world. Our actions should differ from those of the world, but concerning marriage, they often do not. Like the Israelites, our sin lies in failing to be truly separate (i.e., different) from the unsaved people around us.
Notice also that “in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” Also in Family Driven Faith, Voddie Baucham poignantly writes: “If we ever expect our churches to lead the way in family restoration, we must begin by holding those who lead to a higher standard. … Or to put it another way, do we really believe that elders must be ‘examples to the flock’ (1 Peter 5:3)?”[ii] Pastors must be strong and take courage to lead their congregations by modeling for them what true biblical marriage looks like. Jesus’ words in Luke 6:40 ring true: “everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” If laypeople are to gain a high biblical view of marriage, their pastors must also.
Ezra responded to this knowledge of the people’s sin in sorrow; he “sat appalled.” He confesses the people’s sin to God and realizes how serious an affront that sin was to God. Even so, we today must realize that our sin is against God, and just as the Israelites’ guilt, so our own “guilt has mounted up to the heavens.” The first step toward regaining a biblical view of marriage (and of gender roles, by extension) is acknowledging and confessing our sin.
We see the Israelites’ resolution of their sin of defiling biblical marriage in Ezra 10:1-17.
While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly. And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law. Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it.” Then Ezra arose and made the leading priests and Levites and all Israel take oath that they would do as had been said. So they took the oath.
Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib, where he spent the night, neither eating bread nor drinking water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles. And a proclamation was made throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the returned exiles that they should assemble at Jerusalem, and that if anyone did not come within three days, by order of the officials and the elders all his property should be forfeited, and he himself banned from the congregation of the exiles.
Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month. And all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain. And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have broken faith and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now then make confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” Then all the assembly answered with a loud voice, “It is so; we must do as you have said. But the people are many, and it is a time of heavy rain; we cannot stand in the open. Nor is this a task for one day or for two, for we have greatly transgressed in this matter. Let our officials stand for the whole assembly. Let all in our cities who have taken foreign wives come at appointed times, and with them the elders and judges of every city, until the fierce wrath of our God over this matter is turned away from us.” Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahzeiah the son of Tikvah opposed this, and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite supported them.
Then the returned exiles did so. Ezra the priest selected men, heads of fathers’ houses, according to their fathers’ houses, each of them designated by name. On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to examine the matter; and by the first day of the first month they had come to the end of all the men who had married foreign women.
As Ezra admits the people’s sin to God in Ezra 9, Shecaniah admits the people’s sin to Ezra in Ezra 10:2. Ezra at this time was still “weeping and casting himself down before the house of God.” But Shecaniah reminds Ezra that “there is still hope for Israel in spite of this.” Even so, “there is still hope” for us Christians who have (even if inadvertently) lowered our esteem of marriage below the biblical standard. Like the Israelites, we must resolve to “make a covenant with our God” and replace our wrongdoing with rightdoing. We must heed Shecaniah’s words in Ezra 10:4, “Arise, for it is your task … be strong and do it.” We are empowered by God’s Holy Spirit and can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13)! Let us not mope about in sackcloth and ashes; rather, let us “arise … be strong and do” that which God commands of us; let us reclaim a biblical view of marriage, gender roles, and parenthood.
Just as the Israelites’ rectification took a relatively long period of time (three months as opposed to one or two days), so shall our rectification take a relatively long period of time. Regaining a biblical view of marriage, gender roles, and family is a process that could take months, even years, especially concerning the implementation thereof. There will be some in the Church, like Jonathan and Jahzeiah who will oppose our renewed stance upon the Bible, but we must take courage despite this and obey the Word of our Lord again, even as the Israelites did once they had confessed their sin.
Fellow Christian, confess your sin to God. Stop believing the cultural lies about marriage, gender roles, and the family; rather, reorient your mind to believe God’s Word about marriage, gender roles, and the family. Come with me on this journey toward refocusing on the family and specifically in this sub-series to do marriage by the Book.
I cannot stress enough the importance of not doing this in your own strength, though; confess, repent, and change your actions in humble reliance on the grace of God in your life. We obviously canNOT fix this problem of a low view of marriage on our own, or we would’ve fixed it by now. We need God, so before you continue reading this series, please acknowledge your need of God in Christ to Him in prayer.
[i] Family Driven Faith (Wheaton: Crossway 2007), p. 203
[ii] ibid., p. 212
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