Guidance in Courtship and Marriage

‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church’ (Ephesians 5.31-32).

Not surprisingly, more questions are asked about finding God’s direction for marriage than about any other aspect of divine guidance, especially by young people. They also seek the Lord’s will about their future work, but here the mechanics of guidance seem easier to apply, and in any case, a mistake can be rectified, whereas marriage is for life.

Love is the best starting point in any study of guidance for marriage. Occasionally, even among Christians, one comes across the idea that love is not essential for marriage. Perhaps someone is deeply in love, but the other person does not feel the same way, and so an attempt is made to persuade that person that love is not vital, and that it will come with time, and this can happen. People can marry first, and then learn to love each other, just as love can be rekindled after being lost. Nevertheless, the intended foundation for Christian marriage, according to Ephesians 5, is love, and if we are seeking the guidance of the Lord we will not proceed without strong mutual love. But what kind of love should it be?

The present age only knows about one level of love, namely, biological love. With rare exceptions, all media interest and all popular entertainment nowadays focuses on this one level of love. Biological love, in its pure form, is the natural urge for companionship and family, coupled with an immense appreciation of the appearance and also perhaps of the femininity or masculinity of the other person. This definition disregards the corruption of biological love, which is little more than a perverted lust for nakedness or intercourse. We do not wish to devalue a human, biological level of appreciation and desire, unspoiled by lust, for it is a gift from God. However, when we speak of the love which indicates that the Lord may be binding two people together, we have in mind another level of mutual oneness, soaring above desires for family, or physical appreciation, and it is this level of love which is most significant for guidance. The simplest and yet the most profound way of describing it, is to call it best-friendship love.

Is there a growing appreciation of the other party’s personality, character and ways? Is there a genuine fondness, coupled with a readiness to listen, share, please, trust and help? Is there an unusual openness to accept correction, and to take account of the other person? Is there a desire to share the Lord’s service? Is there mutual inspiration, and mutual loyalty? Are there the makings of a situation in which that other person could be described as your best and closest friend in the world?

In Ephesians 5 we learn that the love relationship of husbands and wives is analogous to the love which Christ has for his Church, and that of the redeemed for him. Christ came to die for his people, and to save them for all eternity at great cost, and in response we love him and we willingly yield our lives to him. For marriage, we should possess such a level of friendship and affection that we are ready to surrender our independence, and bind ourselves to the other person for life. Our love must be more than a biological attraction. Best-friendship love is much more outward in its flow, and possesses the characteristics in the magnificent definition of love given in 1 Corinthians 13. It is longsuffering and kind; void of envy, self-promotion, vanity, disloyal behaviour, and selfishness. It is not touchy, nor does it fly into tantrums, or keep a mental record of offences. It does not deceive and scheme, but wants openness and truth. It also bears with all trials, is redolent with trust, and anticipates advance and happiness together. To crown all, it is genuine and consistent, not coming and going, and not inclined to fade or disperse.

Biological attraction alone can never honour the glorious terms of 1 Corinthians 13. At its best and purest it is more of a benefit than a strength; more of an experience than a virtue. It seldom possesses consistent loyalty, and if unaccompanied by the higher form of love, fades with time.

We do not want to exaggerate the comparative weakness of biological attraction, because even this can rise to obsessive proportions and produce intense attachment and loyalty, but the higher form provides the best cement and the most profound expression of marriage, purifying biological love at the same time. Has a couple been given by God the kind of love which causes them to adapt, shape each other, and grow in the sharing of aims, objectives and delights? Only best-friendship love produces compatibility, harmony, and communication, fulfilling the remarkable words of Paul in Ephesians 5 (quoting Genesis 2.24) that the man shall ‘be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh’.

Here, then, is the pivotal question when guidance is sought for courtship or marriage: is there every prospect, every indication that this true and best friendship will be formed? Or is a budding courtship marred by constant disagreement, upsets and disappointments? Is it hard to resolve problems and settle difficulties? Are there long, tense silences, with mutual resentment and a holding out for supremacy? Is there mutual irritation, and are there wild differences in tastes and desires? If so, it would appear most unlikely that a sufficiently deep friendship and bonding could be formed. The principle uttered by the Lord through Amos holds good always – ‘Can two walk together, except they be agreed?’

All life’s journey the married couple will be seeking to express the closeness and harmony of ‘one flesh’; one in worship, in the exercising of a sanctifying, moulding influence on each other, and in service for the Lord. Their potential for such a life must be assessed in courtship. Is the kind of friendship-bond we have described naturally and spontaneously taking shape? This is what we must look for before we should allow biological love to deepen. If biological attraction is felt the couple must hold their emotions in check in order to discern whether there is the appearance of a true, higher friendship.

A warning must be sounded here, because the illusion of a true friendship-bond can be simulated by unwise activities. It is, for example, very foolish to open one’s heart too early to someone of the opposite sex in the sharing of deeply personal information. We are not thinking here of talking about sexual matters (though this would obviously be included), but about anything which is not usually shared with anyone else. We must be aware that to divulge to another person a closely kept, personal secret, such as a great hurt or failing or embarrassment, excites powerful and deep feelings, and has the effect of forging a false emotional bond with the other person. The divulger breaks through a wall of personal reserve to share close personal secrets, and the confidant then possesses a precious part of him. The difficult act of divulging releases a rush of emotion, a cathartic experience, and a bond of intimate sharing is formed. It is insubstantial, however, and will not last. If we share secrets in early courtship, we may well imagine that there is a strong bond of understanding and friendship when there is nothing of the kind. We have merely stumbled on an age-old technique for stimulating emotions, and have produced a phoney closeness. Never, therefore, cloud the formation of friendship by the early sharing of your deepest secrets, embarrassments and failures, for this may utterly confuse the quest for a genuine bond of mutual affection, which is a key pointer in the quest for divine guidance.

For the same reason we very strongly advise against close spiritual counselling across the sexes. An inappropriate bond of dependence and reliance will be formed, probably leading to an artificial courtship.

The beginning of courtship

The parallel between Christ’s relationship to the Church and Christian marriage provides a sanction for courtship and casts light on the procedure. How should a courtship begin? Should the believer do nothing, and just wait for something to happen? Or should an initiative be taken, and an approach made to a suitable person? We need only ask – What did Christ do to secure his bride? Having given himself for his redeemed people on Calvary’s cross, he now seeks out his people by the work of the Spirit, and woos, wins, and effectually calls each one. He must seek after us because left to ourselves we would never desire him, see our need of him, or seek him, but he reveals his saving ways to us, and his love touches our hearts.

Observing the divine initiative in salvation, we realise that the analogous union of Christian marriage must begin with an initiative, and an approach. If our attention is attracted to another person, and we are impressed by that person’s love for Christ and Christian character, then we may make an approach, and talk. We will make some effort to get to know that person better, praying to God to overrule, trusting him to be our perfect Guide. Obviously, we should expel from our thoughts premature hopes of love and marriage, and certainly not fantasise ourselves married to this person. How can we sincerely seek God’s guidance while, in the realm of fantasy, we have virtually arranged it, and are relishing it – even if in purity?

It is imperative that all members of a church show maturity and respect where friendships between single believers are concerned, because if all their conversations with members of the opposite sex are closely watched, monitored, talked about and speculated over, it makes the natural conduct and emergence of friendships very difficult. Single people must be free to associate without conclusions being drawn, and rumours circulating. In some fellowships serious-minded singles are almost afraid to talk to each other, knowing they will be married by gossip before courtship has even begun.

Apart from the obvious embarrassment, courtships have been cemented prematurely and also broken by the attention of ­trivially-minded, interfering Christians with nothing better to do than turn their churches into soap operas. Young people are immensely blessed wherever a pastor discourages that spirit, and where there is a deep respect for privacy, so that God’s guidance may be sought and honoured.

Taking the initiative and approaching another person to ignite or test friendship is not to be done in a ‘prospecting’ or flirtatious way. Some young believers abandon all trust in the Lord, and rush to find courtship as though they faced doom if not quickly settled. Others fix their minds on their marriage prospect in an almost idolatrous way.

Some young believers have discovered that a succession of courtships can act as a euphoric drug, firing their imagination and lifting their mood. They would not dream of inhaling drugs, nor of fornication, but they cannot live without the warm sensations of close courtship, sharing and planning. As soon as one loving relationship comes to an end they are knee-deep in another, and almost immediately the talk is of marriage and children. Outwardly, such people appear to be pious, earnest Christians, and so they may be, but their appetite for constant courtship is self-indulgent, sensual, sinful and extremely foolish. It is also rather cruel, being painful for successive discarded partners.

In the event of a well-conducted and wholesome courtship coming to an end, the parties may be emotionally vulnerable to another, sudden courtship, and blind to even glaring signs of its unsuitability. If a courtship should end in disappointment, it is wise for those involved to give themselves ample time to recover, and the Lord will  surely give ‘grace to help’ for this. The believer should certainly not lust or long for a constant ‘love’ experience. The command ‘that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour’ refers not only to fornication, but also to selling oneself to love and intimacy as an indispensable emotional crutch (see 1 Thessalonians 4.4). God’s pure standards, and his sovereign right to guide and govern us in these matters, must never be swept aside.

In taking an initiative to speak and relate to someone we need an unselfish attitude, which will deliver us from the snares just mentioned. We learn this also from the relationship of Christ to his Church, who came into this world not for his own good, but to carry out the great plan of redemption, and to save us. His work of pity and compassion was gloriously unselfish, and this should be reflected in the attitude of the believer from the very outset of courtship. It is not just a matter of what we want, what we long for, what will make us most happy, what we will enjoy, what will flatter us, or what will please our eyes. It is a matter of honouring the Lord, fulfilling his will, and being united with someone we love for his glory and service. Of course, it is also a matter of being fair to the other person, and being in the fullest sense a blessing to him or her. Selfish courtship is ungodly courtship, and as far as guidance is concerned, it is totally blind. It learns little about the other person, and ultimately cares very little for him or her. If courtship is all about me, my needs and my feelings, any sincere desire for the glory of God and his guidance is destroyed.

Some believers become over-anxious about marriage if they seem to be among the last of their peer group to remain unmarried, but we should not be driven by excessive pining to abandon the desire for a union based on godly consecration and real love. Do we really trust the Lord to overrule and guide? The natural desires of the heart may seek a speedy resolution, but this is a test of our trust. How will we handle the longing for love? Will it dominate our thinking and determine our attitudes, or will we pray to be able to bring these thoughts into captivity, to the obedience of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? (2 Corinthians 10.5.)

How the Lord guides in courtship

Principles from Isaac and Rebekah

The best-known passage on courtship in the historical portions of the Old Testament is Genesis 24 – describing the finding of a wife for Isaac. It may seem strange to refer to this event for information on guidance as Isaac had all the work done for him, but the inspired record presents to us a number of important counsels for courtship. Certainly, the narrative describes a most unusual way by which God provided a bride for a special person, through whose line the Saviour would in due course be born. Because unique procedures brought Isaac and Rebekah together, the passage does not tell us precisely how we are to go about things today, but abiding principles are clear to see.

After the death of Sarah, Abraham was moved by the Lord to send his most senior servant, the controller of all his property, to procure a wife for Isaac, sending him 450 miles to Mesopotamia, where he would find relations, because Canaan was at that time a land of idolaters, and intermarriage was out of the question. Abraham’s family was truly a prefiguring of the Church in the world, as God had taught him. The obvious lesson is that believers should marry within the family of God, and not into the world around, and this is explicitly required in 2 Corinthians 6.14-16, and also in 1 Corinthians 7.39.

1. The person intended by God

A strange feature of this narrative, already noted, is the passive stance of Isaac throughout the process. His father’s servant finds his future wife, takes the initiative, makes the proposal, and brings her home. Isaac seems to sit in his tent while life just comes to him. However, the unmistakable message of this procedure is that Isaac’s wife will not be chosen by his own passions or inclinations, but selected for him by the Lord. God will superintend the process, and no one will ever be able to say that Isaac interfered with or manipulated events. The Lord had told Abraham that an angel would go before his servant to lead him to the right place, and the right person.

If we belong to the Lord, we must desire the husband or wife of his appointment, believing that he has planned our lives and will guide. As outlined in the article Does The Lord Really Guide?, the new, semi-rationalistic approach to guidance claims that we are free to make up our own minds in these great issues, because God does not have a specific partner for us, but Isaac’s case shows that the opposite is true, and it is the same for all believers who seek his leading and overruling.

But what if we rush out and marry in haste the first believer who responds to us? Will we be out of God’s will and have a partner not predestinated by the God who predetermines all things? Surely, whatever we do, his will is done, so why should we conscientiously attempt to pray for his choice? By this line of reasoning we may as well sin as we please, and then blame God for predestinating our wickedness. It is true that God’s will shall be done whether we seek his guidance for marriage or not, but if we fail to honour him by seeking guidance, it may be his will to let us fall into a marriage involving much painful adjustment, so that we reap a degree of chastisement to cure us of our spiritual anarchy.

These are deep matters, and we do not want to discuss them glibly, but believers must honour the sovereign right of God to choose their partner, and they must seek his leading with conscientious care in these great issues of life. Abraham’s servant clearly grasped that his responsibility was not to choose, but to recognise the guidance of God’s angel. He even used the telling phrase – ‘she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac’. We too are not on our own in this matter, and the Lord will guide us if we apply the biblical rules.

2. Not through matchmaking

Abraham’s servant was certainly no matchmaker, not having been commissioned to arrange a marriage, but to locate the wife of God’s choosing, under the guidance of an angel of the Lord. Matchmaking is a pastime for some believers. At worst they amuse themselves by manoeuvring people into courtship; at best they imagine they are helping them to happiness, but either way, they toy with matters they do not understand, and meddle with the purposes of God. Manipulating other people’s lives is described in 2 Thessalonians3 as disorderliness, Paul referring to ‘busybodies’, or meddlesome people who try to run the affairs of those around them. In 1 Peter 4.15 all forms of domineering or interfering in the lives of others are condemned in these words: ‘But let none of you suffer as a . . . busybody in other men’s matters.’ The New Testament Greek term refers to a bishop or overseer of other people’s lives, and a matchmaker is such a person, a self-appointed bishop over the affairs of others.

It follows that single believers would be wise not to allow themselves to be manipulated by people who indulge in matchmaking tricks and schemes. If they suspect that they are being invited into situations which will force them into unsought, close association with an eligible person, they would be wise to avoid the arrangement, and be highly cautious of that host.

3. By honest presentation

Abraham’s servant took with him ten of his master’s camels, with many valuable gifts as tokens of the prosperity and security of Isaac’s family. They would authenticate the account which the servant would give about his master and his son, honesty being all important.

In early courtship we must present ourselves honestly and ­genuinely, not acting a part, projecting a personality which is not normally ours, or exaggerating our abilities and accomplishments. Such behaviour is dishonest, God is offended, and the other person seriously misled. Isaac’s approach, through the servant, was to reveal only things that could be verified, and to give assurances of his worthy intentions. The equivalent of these gifts today would be acts of kindness, and helpfulness, indicating the kind of person we will always strive to be, if the Lord encourages the relationship. Courtship is a time for love to deepen, but it is supremely a time to make sure that this is the right partner. Honesty demands that we each give a fair view of our real selves.

The celebrated novelist Daniel Defoe conceived a plot in which two people of very modest means feigned great wealth in order to ‘catch’ a well-born partner. Unfortunately, they caught each other, were married, and then discovered the truth. How many couples, one wonders, have feigned accomplishments, character and kindness which they did not really possess, and then, after marriage, have had to face reality? What we present in courtship must be genuine and represent our ongoing state.

The writer remembers being amazed many years ago on hearing a group of believers counselling one of their number on how to make progress in a ‘match’ that was forming. The counsels they gave, some in humour, but most in deadly earnest, could have come straight from any worldly group, all the usual ‘play-hard-to-get’ ideas being wheeled out, with many other crafty strategies. The general philosophy seemed to be that courtship was rather like fishing. You ‘catch’ your fish, and then enjoy it. You trap your future husband or wife, and then build a better relationship afterwards. The reality is that a foundation of genuineness is needed, and honesty is the only fair policy. We can learn nothing from the courtship tactics of the world.

4. By sincere prayer

Abraham’s servant, led by God’s angel, came to the city of Nahor during the early evening, and made his camels kneel down by a well. It was the time that women went to draw water, and the servant prayed very specifically that the Lord would bring the woman who was appointed for Isaac, and identify her by a certain sign. The sign requested was that she would answer his request for water with the words, ‘Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also.’ We should not imitate the servant’s prayer today, for he was under the special guidance of God. We do not pray for signs, because we have been given a different procedure for guidance, designed for Christians in the Gospel age. Unfortunately, some believers do make the mistake of asking for signs, but the New Testament teaches that the Lord will both guide our thinking and overrule our circumstances in answer to prayer, bringing us to his chosen path.

It may be that we are eager to pray while there is no one in view, but less inclined to pray as soon as our affections are drawn to someone. Perhaps we want that person too much to pray for guidance, and apply the standards, forgetting how easily self-will and self-­determination take over. Or we pray to the Lord to ‘guide’, but by guide we really mean ‘approve’. We need to examine our hearts even as we pray, and to be sure that we are sincere in asking for God’s overruling care.

5. By evidence of character

There is a lesson to be learned from the nature of the sign which the servant requested. He did not ask that the woman should be dazzlingly beautiful, nor for a physical indication, such as a particular movement of arms or head, but rather he asked for a response that would reveal a kind heart and a serving spirit. He requested a sign of character, and there is the lesson for us. A spiritual heart is better than any abundance of human abilities. If we have a choice between someone with many attributes but no deep godliness, or someone far less gifted, but with a warm, godly heart, we must choose the latter.

In the servant’s case, Rebekah came at once, and he ran to meet her and to make his request for water. She gave him water, and went on to show the hoped-for concern for his camels. Though possessing high status in a family with servants, yet she showed herself to be humble, ready to serve, ready to toil, and unhesitating in kindness. We are reminded of a grand old Puritan maxim. ‘When seeking a husband or wife, seek not according to the eye, but according to the ear.’ A person’s conversation reveals so much more about his or her character, interests and spiritual seriousness than appearances ever can.

6. Through time of courtship

It will seem odd that we see in the case of Isaac and Rebekah a lesson on taking our time, because the arrangements seem to be made so suddenly, and without Isaac’s personal involvement. We realise that here was a unique case of very direct divine superintendence, and yet there are indications of extreme carefulness, and concern not to make a mistake on the part of Abraham’s servant. It is from this that we derive a clear lesson on caution. We read in the inspired account – ‘the man wondering at her held his peace.’ The requested sign had been so perfectly provided that it almost worried him. Caution ruled his tongue, and he watched, waiting longer before asking Rebekah who she was. Was this really the woman appointed by the Lord for his master Isaac?

It is vital in the early stages of meeting and courtship that we too know how to hold our peace. How can we pray for guidance, and be serious about God’s will being carried out, and immediately rush into a lifelong commitment? It certainly ought not to be possible for two believers to meet, propose and accept in a few days. We acknowledge that God is gracious, and the greatest foolishness can be overruled by his power. Lightning marriages which bring together ill-matched believers, can still be wonderfully sanctified, hallowed and blessed by the Lord, because nothing is too hard for him, but our duty is to pause and pray. Did we not say to the Lord at the time of our conversion –

Take myself, and I will be,
Ever, only, all for thee.

How can we suddenly, recklessly, give ourselves to another person, when we have already given ourselves to Christ? We are no longer our own, but have been ‘bought with a price’, and must therefore honour and glorify God in both body and spirit, for they are God’s (1 Corinthians 6.19-20).

All may seem perfect – as it did to Abraham’s servant – but we must still hold our peace, take no premature actions, pause, and seek the confirming guidance of the Lord. But for how long? How long does it take to be certain that the Lord has given us a firm tie, and that we are right for each other? How long before there is comfortable certainty within, and circumstantial guidance from without? How much time do we need in order to really know the best (and perhaps also the worst) of each other, be sure that we can zealously serve the Lord together, and also love and shape one another in the long years ahead? A general answer would be – the younger we are, the more time we need. For the more mature, a sensible minimum time for courtship before the arrangement of a marriage might be six months. For younger people it might be a year, but longer is better.

It is worth noting that couples are not always ready for marriage because they are not able to set up a place to live, or may have no settled regular source of income. If people are determined to marry regardless of their circumstances, one wonders how they recognise or read the guidance of God. If they ignore every obstruction, how will they ever know if the Lord is opening or closing doors?

7. By obvious spiritual enthusiasm

So far, we see a number of rules for guidance on whom to marry in the record of Genesis 24. We must realise that God’s will is paramount, and we must be aware of the seriousness of the matter. We must pray much, and sincerely, without our minds having been made up, and our sights firmly set. We must not rush, nor allow biological attraction to take the whole matter over, so that we become incapable of reading the other indications of guidance. Obviously we must not engage in too-familiar expressions of love until a courtship is very clearly of the Lord, knowing that to do this is to throw away all sense.

We must care far more about godliness than physical attractiveness, gifts and even earthly prospects. We must see a bond of real friendship forming, based not on such things as emotional sharing techniques or feigned behaviour, but based on the observation of each other in deeds that reflect character.

In looking for godliness, we seek a clear love of spiritual priorities. When Abraham’s servant arrived at the house of Rebekah, a meal was set before him, but he said, ‘I will not eat, until I have told mine errand,’ and his host said, ‘Speak on.’

While this item of narrative involves neither Isaac, who was not there, nor Rebekah, it highlights the spiritual priorities of crucial importance in the quest for a husband or wife. The noble servant’s first interest was not comfort and fine food, nor did he launch into hours of fascinating talk about these different branches of the family, and their trials and triumphs. His chief concern was the purpose of the Lord, and this was what he wished to speak about. Uppermost in his mind was the remarkable overruling which had led him to this place, and to the fulfilment of his special mission.

What we should most long for in a lifelong partner is someone who sincerely wants to put the Lord first in everything. He or she will be a compulsive talker and inquirer about spiritual things. Other interests may certainly engage every believer, but the Lord’s things should be first and greatest, and Christian service topics ought to surface most. If we find ourselves attracted to someone who just wants to laugh, joke, and talk about earthly things, we should take a firm grip on our emotions and hold back. Pray for that believer, that by the blessing of God, he or she may change, but never say to that person (in some form), ‘If you change, I will be yours.’ In order to obtain that reward he or she may change, but only to please. Wait until the change is voluntary, genuine, deep and lasting. Always we need to ask, ‘How biblical are my priorities in life? And what are his (or her) priorities?’

8. By openness to counsel

Abraham’s servant soon began to speak openly of his master, and of how the Lord had dealt with him. He told exactly the purpose of his mission, how he had prayed, and how Rebekah had come and spoken to him in accordance with the desired sign. He told of how he had worshipped and blessed the Lord – ‘which had led me in the right way to take my master’s brother’s daughter unto his son’. The point was now reached where the family were asked for their consent. The lesson for us is that while the direction of the Lord is the principal matter, other people should be consulted.

Any marriage must be a matter of free and willing choice, and it seems clear that the family asked Rebekah herself. She was certainly given an opportunity a little later to accept or reject the proposal, so we may dismiss the idea that this was an arranged marriage, and that the two families imposed their will upon her. They asked her, ‘Wilt thou go with this man?’ and she replied, ‘I will go.’

Both parties should also be willing to listen to the counsel of their families, particularly their spiritual families, but no parent or church elder should implacably oppose the decision of two people to marry unless there is a very clear scriptural veto in a particular case. If we see danger signals we may warn, and even plead with couples not to proceed, but we have no power to forbid if it is just a matter of human judgement. Even in the ancient culture of Nahor the family did not claim anything like an absolute power of veto. ‘The thing proceedeth from the Lord,’ they said, ‘we cannot speak unto thee bad or good.’ And later they said, ‘We will call the damsel, and enquire at her mouth.’

9. By the test of worship

Throughout the whole episode, from the locating of Rebekah to the making of the proposal, we find reference made to the worship of the servant acting for Isaac. He prays at the outset, then worships and praises God when Rebekah reveals her name and family background, and then, when the family give their consent, he bows himself to the earth and worships once again. These expressions of worship were not empty cultural acts, but sincere prayers for God’s guidance, and earnest cries of thanksgiving.

If a courtship is of the Lord, it will lead to thankfulness to God, worship, and much prayer from the couple. If, however, it is more biological than spiritual, it will probably have only a scanty, token worship element, because the couple will be too taken by each other at a purely human level to think much about spiritual matters. It is obviously a positive sign when an advancing courtship promotes and deepens love and consecration to God, and genuine thankfulness to him.

10. By readiness for new roles

In Rebekah’s case, when all was decided, Abraham’s servant produced many further gifts, including articles of silver and gold, and garments for both Rebekah and her family.[1] They were wonderful gifts, full of significance in the culture of the ancient East. For Rebekah they signified Isaac’s pledge to give himself to her, and to assume an entirely new role in life; and in courtship we must ask: Is there enough love and respect for true mutual submission? Will this relationship be a matter of two people struggling to get their own way, one dominating and taking advantage of the other, or will the wife acknowledge the headship of her husband, and will he gladly take full account of the perceptions and feelings of his wife?

The words ‘I take thee’ in the marriage service are understood too literally by some male believers who think they mean, ‘I take you as my possession; my chattel, the provider of affection and support for me and my plans, and as my cook and house-cleaner.’ The servant’s gifts assigned dignity to Rebekah, promised every consideration, and conveyed total loyalty. If these attitudes are firmly in both hearts during courtship, then there is a strong indication that the right kind of relationship is being established by the Lord.

Are we ready for marriage? In Ephesians 5 Paul lays down the vital duties of marriage in these terms, ‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord . . . in every thing.’ To husbands, he says, ‘Love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.’ Is there commitment to the divinely commanded distinctive roles for marriage? Is the man willing to give himself (even to sacrifice himself) to caring for and sharing with his future wife, and will she enter wholeheartedly into her new calling?

Together for life

The bridal party took the 450-mile journey back to the household of Abraham, the rendering of the King James Version providing a description of unique charm: ‘And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming.’ He was praying when his bride appeared,  not fretting like a man panicking about his future. He was no ‘Mr Small Faith’, desperately hunting for a wife, even less was he a lusting person. We see the groom as a man of prayer, who saw Rebekah, loved her, and entered into the divinely designed union. At the age of forty he received his ideal partner for life, and the Lord’s guidance was proved to be perfect.

[1]    The servant had already presented Rebekah with a gold earring (or forehead jewel) and two gold bracelets, weighing – according to the experts – a fifth of an ounce and four ounces respectively.

Does God approve of gold ornaments? We believe not, for they promote vanity and luxury. But used in great moderation, and to mark special events, and to signify pledges and promises, they are surely permissible. Calvin’s remarks are pertinent. ‘Women who desire to shine in gold, seek in Rebekah a pretext for their corruptions. Why, therefore, do they not, in like manner, conform to the same austere kind of life and rustic labour to which she applied herself?’

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