On Doubts Regarding Marriage

Doubts seem to plague people with regard to marriage. People wonder if this is the right person for them. They wonder if they have the necessary skills. They wonder if God is really leading them in this direction. Guess what? Doubts don’t leave when entering the marriage state! Marriage is not some eschatologically perfect state of affairs wherein both parties have come to perfect peace about any and all situations that they could possibly face, or about reservations with regard to their spouse. That eschatological perfection is reserved for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

I remember talking to someone about Proverbs 31 in this regard. The person was implying by his statements that he was looking for such a person. Whereupon I told that person that Proverbs 31 is the goal, not the starting point! If you find a true Proverbs 31 woman, that woman has been happily married for many years, and is in no position to marry you. The inverse is true of women seeking men, of course. What is extremely dangerous is to assume that one has already arrived, in any sense. Experience has taught me that people who think they are ready for marriage are wrong by definition. That is because marriage is an entirely different universe of existence. I am reminded of the wonderful scene in Prince Caspian where Aslan asks Caspian if he felt sufficient to take on the kingship. Caspian says that he doesn’t think that he is sufficient. Whereupon Aslan says, “Good. If you had thought yourself sufficient, it would have been proof that you were not.” The only way to be ready for marriage, and to have no doubts is to have been married for twenty years, and worked through all the major issues! As one counselor said, after twenty years of marriage, he knew enough to start a marriage wisely. I am not denying that one can work through some issues ahead of marriage. Indeed, some issues must be worked through ahead of time (religion especially).

What is the criteria, then, for discovering whether or not one is ready for marriage (recognizing that one can never be ready for marriage)? 1. Recognize that you can never be ready; 2. Have discussed religion and theological beliefs and are on the same basic page. 3. There is a commitment to love one another, and provide for the other’s basic needs. Scripture stops here, folks. There is no place in Scripture where God commands that all other supposed “compatibility” issues must be fully worked out before one can enter into the marriage state. Some people wonder about compatibility. If both people are Christians, they are compatible. All other issues can be worked through. The real question is this: are the two people committed to working out the issues in a Biblical way? There are no “compatability” issues that cannot be worked out if both parties are committed to working them out. They may take a long time to work out. But the committment involves trusting that God is the center of the marriage, and that He will work in that marriage. God is more powerful than supposed incompatibilities.

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Systematic Theology

I am going to start a new series of posts on systematic theology. What it will consist of is simple definitions of terms, and a brief exposition of a particular idea in ST.

First up, the definition of theology itself. Theology comes from two Greek roots: “theos” meaning “God,” and “logos,” meaning “thought” or “word”. Combined, you could paraphrase the word “theology” as “God-talk.” It is talk about God. More particularly, it means discussion and study of God.

Most theologians of Reformed persuasion make a distinction between two different kinds of theology. The first is “archetypal theology.” This refers to how God knows Himself. It is the archetype for the other kind of theology (our derived “ectypal theology”). To put it a bit plainer, God knows Himself exhaustively. He is the Theologian par excellence. Our theologizing can be only a mirror of that most excellent Theology. We cannot know God exhaustively, only derivatively.

Further than this distinction, it must be noted what is the link between these two kinds of theology. The link connecting God’s archetypal theology with our ectypal theology is revelation. God reveals to us part of what He knows about Himself in creation (general revelation) and in Scripture (special revelation).

2 Peter/Jude

Most commentaries on 2 Peter are paired with Jude. If you are planning on teaching on these epistles, I would wait. In the next five years or so, there will be a spate of good commentaries on two books that have never been well-served.

First-rate: Kelly, Schreiner, Bauckham, Moo, Neyrey, Watson, Mayor, Manton (on Jude)

Second-rate: Clark, Nisbet, Luther, Bigg, Green

Forthcoming: Davids (PNTC), Green (BECNT), Hafemann (NIGTC), Pearson (Herm), Webb (NICNT)

Conservative: Schreiner, Moo, Clark, Nisbet, Luther, Bigg, Green

Moderate: Kelly, Bauckham, Watson, Mayor

Liberal: Neyrey

Of the forthcoming commentaries, Davids, Green, Hafemann, and Webb should all be fairly conservative, although I do not know how they will come down on authorship. Pearson will probably be liberal.

The End of the Road

Genesis 25:1-18
Some people handle death with humor. One bumper sticker says, “Don’t take life so seriously. You won’t get out of it alive.” Woody Allen once said, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” We come now in our trek through Genesis to the end of Abraham’s road. It is time to take stock of Abraham and see what manner of man was he. He was a man of faith who trusted in God’s promises. If you want to know what was important about Abraham, it is just that: he was a man of faith who trusted in God’s promises.

Notice that the story of Abraham starts and ends with genealogies. That places an emphasis on God’s promise for a seed. It was God’s promise that the Seed promised to Adam would be given through Abraham. That was half of God’s promise. The other half of God’s promise was the land. Seed and land were the two halves of God’s promise. We see that Abraham did not come to fully enjoy either blessing. But he did get to see the beginning of the fulfillment of those promises.

Abraham was a lot like us when it comes to God’s promises. John Currid says it this way, “When we look over Abraham’s life, we see that he merely tasted the rich promises of God. He saw God’s promise of a great posterity only partially fulfilled with the birth of Isaac and his other children, but he did not see them as many as the stars of heaven. He saw the land of his inheritance, but he never inherited it. But this situation is true of all believers-we have the great and precious promises of God. (and then he quotes Ian Duguid): ‘Yet we too know what it is to see in part, to know in part, to experience in part. Even the fullness of the Holy Spirit that we have received is simply a down payment on what we will one day receive (Eph 1:14). Like Abraham, we too must live by faith and die by faith, receiving in part, but not yet receiving in full, what God has promised.’” And so, Abraham’s life looks like the average Christian’s life. It is characterized by faith, and by the possession of God’s promise, though not the fulfillment of it. Let’s look a little closer at how Abraham ends his life.

First we see a flashback to an earlier part of his life. 1 Chronicles 1:32 calls Keturah a concubine, not a wife, and so there is reason to believe that Keturah was a wife of Abraham while Sarah was still alive. After all, in 17:17 Abraham says, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?” The taking of Keturah as a concubine would have to have been forty years later. The reason why Moses puts this narrative here, rather than earlier in the story is that it simply wasn’t as important to him. This is an appendix, as it were, to the story of Sarah and Isaac. Another reason that Moses put this account here is that it solidifies Isaac’s claim to be the sole heir. If there was any doubt about Isaac’s heirship, this would cinch it. This is clear from verses 5-6, where the contrast is evident: to the sons of Keturah Abraham gave gifts, but to Isaac Abraham gave all that he had. Furthermore, Abraham sent these sons away from Isaac, so that there would be no dispute about the succession.

Keturah’s name is related to the word for incense, which was used in sacrifice. It is from Keturah that Jethro comes, who was the father-in-law of Moses. Jethro was of the tribe of Midian. So our passage here is another way of saying that Moses married into a good family, one related quite closely to Israel itself. Possibly, Moses means to head off criticism of his wife. It is even possible that he already was being criticized for his wife, and that Moses was here defending her.

What eventually happened to those born from Keturah? Well, they became enemies of Israel. The Midianites were famous for having oppressed Israel in the time of the judges. But there is a prophecy concerning them in Isaiah 60:6-7, which says this: “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you; the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; they shall come up with acceptance on my altar, and I will beautify my beautiful house.” The reference to gold and frankincense points to the possibility that the wise men who came to the birth of Jesus were of this descent. But in any case, it is surely in Jesus Christ that all racial boundaries are breached, and it is in Jesus Christ that racial reconciliation can take place. Outside Jesus it is impossible.

Now, if Keturah was a wife of Abraham at the same time as Sarah, that raises the issue of polygamy, which is the having of more than one wife. We will see later that Jacob had more than one wife, as did David and Solomon (the latter of which was notorious for the number of wives and concubines that he had). Why did God allow polygamy in those times? It is plain even from the early chapters of Genesis that the ideal was one man and one woman in marriage. We have to remember that polygamy was first practiced by the depraved Lamech. In other words, it is a practice of the kingdom of man, not of the kingdom of God. In the Old Testament, men’s hearts were hard. For that reason, the laws were given to regulate polygamy, not to sanction it. In the New Testament, we see that Christ has restored the original focus of marriage in His Sermon on the Mount. We see also in the requirements of elder and deacon in 1 Timothy 3 that the men were to have only one wife.

In verse 8, we see Abraham breathing his last. It says that he died at a good old age. It says that he was full of years. Here we have some helpful instruction for us. Not one of us will live too short a life, if it is a life of faith. Psalm 139:16 says that every one of our days was written in God’s book before they even started to come to pass. Sometimes people die when they are young. Even their lives were not too short. We have this idea in our minds that if someone doesn’t live to be 80, then their life got “cut short.” The fact is that God has all the days numbered of every one who lives, and none live too short a life. This can be of immense comfort to those who lose someone young. God is sovereign over the number of days that we live. That doesn’t mean that we should treat our bodies recklessly. We should not. Yes, God numbers our days. However, the means that God uses to bring our lives to completion include our taking care of our bodies, and treating them as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Now notice carefully the order in which things occur here. First, Abraham dies, then he is gathered to his people, and then he is buried! This is the first time this phrase is used in Scripture. It is used in exactly the same way when Isaac dies, and his two estranged sons Jacob and Esau reconcile when they bury their father. The phrase “gathered to his people” means that his soul was carried wo where his ancestors were. It means that Abraham has fellowship with his ancestors after his death. His death was therefore a matter of concern to the God in whom he believed. Psalm 116:15 says that the death of His saints is precious in the eyes of the Lord. Do you believe that?

It is vital that we have the same faith as Abraham, if we want to have fellowship with our people after our death. As we said last time, Abraham died with the promise on his lips. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Hebrews 11:8-19.

Notice another thing: Abraham’s death reconciled Ishmael and Isaac. They both were there, and they buried their father together. Death often has a reconciling tendency. Petty grievances are put into their proper perspective when death comes. We saw that after 9/11, when half of the divorce cases pending in Houston Texas were dropped.

The last thing to be gleaned from this passage is the remaining opposition between Ishmael’s descendants and Isaac’s descendants. Ishmael has 12 princes, much like Jacob’s twelve sons. It says in verse 18 that dwelt in hostility against all his kinsmen. Now, we just said that he and Isaac reconciled at the death of their father. Probably this verse refers to a time before the death of Abraham, when he was still at enmity against Isaac and the rest of Ishmael’s kin. You will remember that the angel said to Hagar that Ishmael would dwell with his hand against everyone else, and everyone else’s hand against him. That is fulfilled here. That is what happens to those who are opposed to God’s will. God will turn everything against those people who oppose God’s will, or who make fun of the covenant community.

So we have come to the end of Abraham’s road. It was a road with many ups and downs. There was faith and doubt. But God strengthened Abraham so that faith would triumph. Ultimately, God’s own plan was involved in Abraham’s sojourning. Therefore God made sure that faith would ultimately triumph. That is what we saw when Abraham gave back the son of the promise to God. God made His covenant with Abraham and swore by Himself that a Son would come from that son Isaac who would save the peoples of the world, since all the nations of the world would be blessed in Abraham. So we see the two seeds: the seed of the serpent in Ishmael, and the seed of the woman in Isaac. They constantly are at war, with only brief periods of rest, such as when Abraham dies. The kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God can never have peace until one of them is destroyed. Are there any here who doubt the outcome of that battle? Then you had better be a member of Abraham’s offspring, an heir according to the promise, having Christ’s blood shed for the remission of your sins. Trust in Christ, so that you may be gathered to your people after you die.