During my daily devotional this afternoon I happened to descend on Genesis 24 – the “romantic” story of Isaac and Rebekah. Of course, anyone who is semi-familiar with the story of Isaac and Rebekah knows that it was anything but “romantic,” at least compared to the sappy stories Hollywood creates such as every Christian girl’s favorite, “A Walk to Remember.” Is there a feeling of disappointment after the avid romance enthusiast finishes Genesis 24? I may not be the most authoritative person to speculate considering I don’t frequent the romance section of Barnes and Nobles, but I do suspect that such is the case whether it’s admitted or not. I attribute this to the false view of romance that has been elevated to the point of idolization in our culture. In Christian circles, finding a husband or wife means there must be chemistry (translation: he/she must make me feel good about myself). It is of little surprise that the divorce rate between evangelicals and everyone else is none existent. Our perception of what marriage should be, and the criterion which should be placed on any potential suitor are frankly the products of Cupid and his error- I mean arrow- dipped in heavy doses of self-esteem. This isn’t to say that relationships are to be emotionless and cold – on the contrary, they should be so much warmer than the world-system makes them! Relationships should be driven by a common passion for God, with a purposeful intention of fulfilling God’s plans with and through the marriage partner.
As college students, a point in life in which many marriage relationships start, it is of the utmost importance to have serious discussions and meaningful studies in this area. To someone just out from under the direction of parental figures, perhaps half a country away from all the familiar institutions and structures they respect, a new and fresh kind of attitude formulates – an attitude of freedom. For most of these Christian students, responsibility still (even after leaving the house) hasn’t entered their lives. They may be away from personal authority figures, but their living situations, classroom settings, transportation arrangements, and friends are still provided to them through an educational institution (being paid for by either daddy’s money, scholarships, or most likely hefty loans). This attitude of freedom can be a best friend if in its testing ground temperance, self-restraint, and maturity emerge. If excess, carelessness, and immaturity develop however, it may not be until three divorces down the road that they realize the error in their ways.
I’m not attempting in one short piece to solve all of life’s relationship issues, or for that matter explain in depth what marriage should be, or where the best places to look for a wife are. But I do want to get the discussion started. I believe Scripture offers some basic principles that must be followed if we are to be responsible toward suitors of the opposite sex. Hopefully this will serve as a motivation check for everyone including myself. (Note: For the sake of time I’m assuming that the reason a Christian would want to get into a relationship is for the reason of potentially marrying their suitor. This is not meant to preference dating over courting, or vice versa. I’ll save that for another time.)
So why should you get a boyfriend or girlfriend? This is perhaps the most important question a college student can ask him or herself. Is it to stifle insecurity? To reach a level of social status? To become physically or emotionally intimate? What’s the motivation? So many individuals get this part wrong, and as a result their whole relationship falls apart in the long run – because no matter how emotionally “strong” the guy is, he possesses weaknesses, no matter how “beautiful” the girl is, she ages and has bad hair days, and no matter how popular either of them are, a day will come when dance floors become quiet and the only audible sounds are babies crying down the hall. If this portrait of marriage disturbs you, there’s a good chance your motives may be off. Enjoying social gatherings and youthful vigor and beauty are wonderful things, but they are second to the main purpose of marriage. Abraham understood this.
In Genesis 24:3-4 we see Abraham instruct his servant to “go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” We find later in the narrative that the Canaanites, among whom Abraham and his son lived, were depraved in their pagan practices. No evangelistic dating going on here! Both Abraham and Isaac (as we see from his later reaction to the wives of Isaac’s son Esau) understood that God’s principles needed to be followed. The “unequally yoked” principle of 2nd Corinthians 6 is the New Testament parallel. Most Christians interpret 2nd Corinthians 6:14 to mean that it’s forbidden to “date” a non-Christian, but is this really what the passage is saying? Let’s take a look at verses 14-18.
“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?”
It sounds like Paul is going much farther than saying “Don’t marry a non-Christian.” He’s saying don’t be “bound,” or “yoked” (as the KJV says), with an unbeliever. This is not meant to exclusively apply to romantic relationships. It can be applied to business partnerships, close friends, etc. But it definitely does apply to marriage and dating relationships, however, it is in a much deeper way that a mere prohibition. To understand this we must first understand what a “yoke,” is. In agrarian societies up until recently, cattle or other animals were used to plow the fields. A yoke is what kept them bound together so that they would accomplish their purpose of tilling the ground. In order for the yoke to be successful, the cattle had to be going in the same direction. In the same way, a relationship must be going in the same direction intent on one purpose – becoming more like Christ. This leaves no room for non-Christians, but more than that, it leaves no room for Christians who aren’t growing in their walk or who lack a true passion for God. One member of the partnership can’t be dragging the other member by their feet. That just makes for a crooked path, and the yoke becomes negative factor instead of its intended purpose. Both members must have a strong relationship with God, and complement each other’s spiritual gifts (now there’s true chemistry for you!).
In our modern way of thinking, arranged marriages seem stupid almost. Shouldn’t we marry for love, and not because something works on paper? We almost have an attitude that if it’s arranged there can’t be any love involved. Of course, this wasn’t the case for Isaac. As the text says in verse 67 “and she became his wife; and he loved her.” Of course, it helps when God is the one directing the choice through special revelation. As Abraham said, “He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there.” But why didn’t Abraham merely tell his son, “Isaac, you’re getting older and it’s time for you to find a wife, therefore I want you to journey to the land of my father and find a wife?” I attribute this to another principle– Making no provision for the flesh. Abraham knew the possibility of sexual deviancy was greater if he sent his son on such a long journey by himself to find a woman. Instead, he wisely sent one of his servants to bring back a wife for Isaac under the direction of the Lord. The New Testament in several places warns against sexual deviancy, but I think 2nd Timothy 2:22 buts it best when Paul states, “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Again, youthful lusts doesn’t solely refer to sexual practices, but the principle certainly does incorporate them. He’s in essence telling Timothy, “Get as far away as you can from youthful lusts. Don’t go near the edge, don’t try to tough it out. Flee them!” When Paul talks about fighting spiritual forces he instructs Christians to put on the full armor of God, but when he talks about the lusts of the flesh he simply says, “Run!” That should be a wake up call for all of us – a reminder of the serious nature of temptation. Instead of telling yourself not to fall prey to sin, tell yourself to not even enter a situation in which you could potentially fall prey.
We see in the narrative that Abraham, his servant, and Rebekah’s family are the primary decision makers in event of Isaac’s marriage. Of course, they were being led by God, and Abraham had the privilege of receiving direct revelation which made things perhaps a bit more simple in one way (although he didn’t have the complete Cannon of Scripture to get guidance from like we do today) – but at the same time, there is a principle to be learned. I strongly suspect Isaac was part of the decision. We notice that it was Isaac who, “brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah. . .” He could have said, “I appreciate all that you did father, but I don’t like her.” However, we see that he valued the council of his father, his father’s servant, and Rebekah’s family as authoritative, because God was followed each step of the way in their decisions. That’s the intriguing thing about Genesis 24. God is really the one who guides each step of the process through the humble faith of those parties involved in the decision. Proverbs says, “a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” Truly council is important in making such vital a decision, and even more important is to obtain such council from those who have faith in God. That’s what Isaac did. He didn’t merely go to all his friends and say, “Hey, what do you think about her.” It was only after his father’s servant told him the entire story that he accepted Rebekah as his wife.
Isaac’s need for a wife was obvious. God was going to make Abraham a “great nation,” and Isaac was known to be the son of promise. In order for Isaac to procreate he needed a wife. His children needed an influence who was godly, or else the line would become corrupt. God orchestrated their relationship to accomplish His purpose. The same should be true of us. We need to know God’s purpose(s) in our lives. Obeying the biblical mandate to be “fruitful and multiply,” mirroring Christ’s relationship with the church, growing in spiritual maturity and helping your partner grow as well in deepness with God, enjoying your spouse and the pleasure he/she brings you as only coming from God, etc. are all great reasons to pursue a relationship. But what do they all have in common? The fact that God is at the center. You can be an orphan and still have an arranged marriage if God is the focus. Allow God’s principles to guide your decision making and your relationship will be arranged by Him. We may not all have Divine intervention in the same way Isaac had, but we have an advantage he didn’t. We have the written word of God by which to measure all things.
I hope the four principles above at the very least have caused you to seriously think about your relationship (or your desired relationship) and how it matches up to the Biblical standard. There are many Christians romantically involved for selfish reasons, and there are many potential suitors who are actively looking for the wrong characteristics in persons of the opposite gender. Praying to God for a marriage partner who fits His characteristics for you is the first step. Obeying him in the small things will help demonstrate greater responsibility for larger areas. It’s hard to believe, but doing your daily devotions and using your spiritual gifts are vitally important and essential for a future marriage, and the process of finding a wife/husband. I pray the Lord directs your decisions as you demonstrate faith in Him.