Marriage and the related symbols of bride and bridegroom play as large a role in Scripture as they did in real life in the ancient world. whether we consider the Old Testament picture of Israel as the bride and God as her bridegroom (Isa 62:4-5; Jer 2:2) or the New Testament picture of the church as the bride and Jesus as the bridegroom (2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:21-32; Rev 21:2, 9), the message points to a special relationship God longs to have with his people. (See also BRIDE, BRIDEGROOM.)
THE IMAGE OF GOD
Genesis 1:27 explains that God not only “created humans in his image” but also created them “male and female” The human image of God involves male and female in unique relationship. Then God summarized the practical purpose of that relationship: “God blessed them and said, ‘Be fertile,increase in number, fill the earth, and be its master. Rule the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that crawl on the earth’ ” (Gen 1:28). But more significantly for the symbol of marriage, God conducted the first wedding ceremony and described the significance of what he had created:
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is right for him.”
So the LORD God caused him to fall into a deep sleep. While the man was sleeping, the LORD God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. Then the LORD God formed a woman from the rib that he had taken from the man. He brought her to the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She will be named woman because she was taken from a man.”
That is why a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, but they weren’t ashamed of it. (Gen 2:18, 21-25)
The relationship between a man and a woman was blessed by God and is intended not only to multiply and preserve the race but also to create a living symbol of the relationship that is possible and desirable between God and people.
Interestingly, God’s description of marriage in Genesis 2:24 is not repeated again in Scripture until Jesus uses it several times in his teaching about marriage. Then Paul quotes it when he presents the beautiful working relationship between husband and wife (Eph 5:21-32) as the ultimate example of the way God has intended us to see our corporate relationship with him: “We are parts of his [Christ’s] body. That’s why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will be one. This is a great mystery. (I’m talking about Christ’s relationship to the church)” (Eph 5:30-32).
A PICTURE OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS
In both the Old and New Testaments, unfaithfulness in marriage is used as a picture of people rejecting God and all he offers. The heartbreaking account of Hosea and his efforts to preserve his marriage with Gomer reflect the grief God expresses over the people for whom he had done so much for so long and who persistently rejected his love: “When the LORD first spoke to Hosea, the LORD told him, ‘Marry a prostitute and have children with that prostitute. The people in this land have acted like prostitutes and abandoned the LORD’ ” (Hosea 1:2). Although Gomer had prostitured herself into slavery, Hosea redeemed her and continued to treat her as his wife. When Jesus on at least three different occasions said, “The people of an evil and unfaithful era look for a miraculous sign” (Matt 12:39; see also 16:4; Mark 8:38), the word he used for unfaithful means “adulterous.” This is an indelible lesson about the lengths to which God will go to keep his promises.
Jesus also made clear that the marriage he had in mind was a future event. What God desires to have with his people of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14), he says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who planned a wedding for his son” (v 2). Here the theme of rejection focuses on those who have been invited to the wedding but ignore the invitation. The bride isn’t mentioned in this parable, setting up the possibility that those who treat the invitation with disdain do not realize that they are not simply expected to attend as observers but have actually been offered a place as part of the bride. This picture of the ceremony of marriage finally comes to full completion in Revelation 21:2 when John sees a city and a people ready to marry and live with a husband: “Then I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.”
In marriage, the first human relationship, we find the ultimate sign of God’s purpose in creating us; that we might live with him forever in the holy bonds of matrimony! “I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘God lives with humans! God will make his home with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them and be their God’ ” (Rev 21:3).