Proverbs 31 describes in detail the characteristics of a virtuous woman – a truly inspirational picture of a person who with wisdom, selflessness and skills pours out her life to benefit her family and community. The description begs the reader to ask “If she does all this, but what does her husband do?” The answer: “Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.” (Proverbs 31:23)
At first glance, it might seem that, while this woman works effortlessly to provide for her family, her husband is relaxing with his peers in the public square. This thin reading has lead many to despise the absent husband of the virtuous wife. However, a contextual reading of this text in the Middle-Eastern culture of its day sketches the opposite picture.
The Gates. City Gates were significant to preserve a peaceful and prosperous community. It was a barrier to the dangers on the outside as it completed the city walls, but it also formed the insiders into a closed community, allowing for common customs and regulations which typified its culture. Within the city gates one was safe.
These gates were the most vulnerable part of a city’s structural defense. As such, city gates were built as a strategic stronghold, often with watch towers, a moat with drawbridge and sharp spikes to fortify the city’s access point.
As one enters the city gate, one would generally walk onto the city square – an open plain used for town gatherings such as communal threshing floor, the village market, court room, and civic center for both administration and celebrations.
Whoever possessed the gates of the city had rule of the city.
That is where the man in Proverbs 31:23 sat. What did he do at the gate all day long?
The Elders at the Gates. Elders were chosen from among the people groups within the city as wise, honorable representatives to govern and administer the city. They were called out of the hustle of everyday life to be concerned with the wellness of their community. They ensured fair commercial practices, judged civil disputes, administration, ensured the cultural celebration and the safety of the city. Whoever sat in the city gates guarded the culture of the city.
In short, the Bible reveals that city elders were tasked to cultivate and preserve an atmosphere of justice, peace, and joy for all its inhabitants (by wise rule). What the Bible calls Shalom.
At the city gates, priests would address moral issues according to the Law, prophets would call for justice and the fear of God, and the decrees of the reigning king would be read. These teachings, prophesies and decrees were entrusted to the elders for implementation, for the good of the whole community.
In short, elders controlled access to and the atmosphere of the city.
“This is interesting, but what does this have to do with me?” you might ask. If you are a follower of Jesus, then everything!
When Paul addressed the church, for instance in 1 Corinthians, he names them “ekklesia (the Church) tou theo (of God) en korintho (in Corinth),” specifying that they are ones sanctified and called to this place by the Lord Jesus Christ. The word ekklesia in its context refers to the elders called out of the hustle of everyday life, summoned to meet the God, the Great King, about His rightful reign in this city.
The church are the chosen ones, called to sit as elders in the gates of the city, to ensure the reign of God in their community.
When we gather, we represent our community, bearing its current concerns, gain wisdom from the Rule of God, listen to His call justice, and how to bring about righteousness, peace and joy to our people. Male and female, young and old, educated or not – we are all ekklesia, called out ones summoned to serve the Kingdom of God in this city. We are called to be ambassadors of the Great King in the gates of our cities.
When we consider this call to guard the gates, we should also consider the blessing God promised to us as Abraham’s decedents through faith: “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” Genesis 22:17-18
When we rightly possess the gates, our communities enjoy God’s peace (blessing). But our modern cities generally don’t have gates. If we are called to sit and govern, where do we yield our influence?
The 7 Mountains Mandate. In 1975, in the heyday of the Jesus Movement that awakened a youth missions movement across the globe, Loren Cunningham (of YWAM) and Bill Bright (of Campus Crusade for Christ) met for lunch. Each received a revelation from the Lord they had to share with the other about what it takes to “disciple a nation” and “win a nation for Christ.” They were so shocked that their Revelations that day were exactly the same: to “disciple a nation” and “win a nation for Christ” involves more than individual conversions: one would have to transform the culture by “conquering seven cultural mountains” (Cunningham) or “possess seven gates of culture” (Bright). See the short embedded video of Loren Cunningham’s account below.
The seven gates of culture (or seven mountains), pertain to Media, Government, Education, Economy, Religion, Family and Celebration/Arts, with Science and Technology frequently added to the list. These spheres of influence into a community orient the dominant culture of the day either towards God’s Kingdom or another value system.
These revelations by Cunningham and Bright are in line with God’s Old Testament Template for society in the Law of Moses, as Landa Cope unpacks in her book. In these first five books of the Bible God gives the blueprint for a society – his Kingdom Law of shalom – prescribing the wholesome (“blessed”) life in each of these domains.
To subject a nation to God’s Kingdom and receive his blessing, the church are called to possess these gates in society to bring about justice, peace and joy.
If you are part of the church of God, called to represent and reinforce his good reign in your community – in which gate do you sit? How has He gifted you to bring his rich culture of peace to your city? What are the concerns that press on your heart? Be bold to step out and act for God’s sake – Christ promised the grace to conquer and the reward for your faith.
In 21st post in our study of Revelation we look at the Fall of Babylon (chapter 17). A recording of this post will be available on the Shofar Durbanville Youtube channel.
We are easily tempted to heroify the struggle for faith in the early church and downplay our own challenges to remain faithful to Christ. In doing so we diminish our battles and remain ignorant of the dangerous evil forces waging war against us (Ephesians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). The spiritual forces opposing us within our own culture is real, and could be life-threatening to our faith. (Do you have friends or family who have drifted away from Jesus?) Therefore we should not be ignorant of the schemes of Satan (2 Corinthians 2:11). Revelation 17 unveils the satanic forces within the 1st century Roman culture, Christ’s judgment on it, and how to overcome it. A careful look at their struggle within their own seductive culture will unmask our struggle within our culture – so this message becomes personal.
This chapter unveils three seductive lies which is potentially lethal to faith in God, as well as three truth to overcome Satan’s scheme in these lies.
Absolute autonomy. John sees Babylon, the Great Harlot, riding on the Beast, superior over many nations and people groups on many waters (nations and people groups) (17:1,3,5,15). All the rulers on earth are said to be seduced and subjected to her (17:2, 18). She is the one responsible for the death of God’s saints through the ages as well as witnesses of Jesus, as she resists their message of the reign of God in Christ (17:6).
In John’s day this clearly pointed to Rome, the ancient city surrounded by seven mountains from which the empire was ruled (17:9; 18). But Rome was not the first city to be named Babylon: the Old Testament prophets also referred to Nineveh, Tyre, and Greece as “Babylon”. Rome was not the last city to be known by this name (17:9-10). The city is named after Babel (Genesis 11:4), the first city who revolted against God’s rule. Babylon has become synonymous throughout the Scriptures with humanity’s claim for self-rule, self-sufficiency and self-seeking. This is an extension from mankind’s original sin in Garden – succumbing to the temptation to decide what is good and right so that I may satisfy my needs all by myself. As such, Babylon represents all of mankind who choose to live in sin, to live apart from God and his rule.
Why then name Babylon the “Mother of all harlots” (17:5)? Scripturally, spiritual idolatry is likened to sexual immorality in that every single man and woman is created by God: “from him and through him and for him are all things” (Romans 11:36; refer Hosea; Ezekiel 16; Isaiah 3). Each person belongs to God, as a husband or wife belongs to his/her spouse. Therefore, denying him and living as though we do not belong to another to live for our own pleasures is the spiritual equivalent of sexual infidelity in a marriage. And this is the seductive heresy of Babylon: “I belong to no-one; I will decide what is right and wrong and give answer to no-one.I am my own master!”
Do you see this lie at work in our culture, in the undertones of films, music, advertisements and career pursuits? Do you hear this voice in your head when you are tempted to deny God and serve yourself – like everyone else in society?
Luxurious living. John is mesmerized, almost hypnotized by the image of the seductive Babylon – in spite her brutality (17:6-7). She is displayed in great power (over the nations, mastering the beast (17:2-3, 15), arrayed in opulence and glamour (17:3-4), and oozing sexual seduction (17:2). She is the epitome of John’s description of sin: “the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, the pride of life” (1 John 2:16)
The picture John sees is the promise of fulfillment of all our desires. The is that of hedonism, calling to us: “Look at me: I can fulfill all your desires!” All she asks is to stop resisting, to give in and enjoy her. She will give you life! Can you hear her call in our sensual, self-seeking culture? Do you believe her?
It’s beautiful to see here how God is not rebuking believers for their sensual desires here. Rather, he makes the readers aware that resisting sensual temptations in this self-gratifying culture amounts to waging spiritual war. We are taking our thoughts captive, breaking down strongholds, battling principalities and powers (2 Corinthians 10:1-5; Ephesians 6:12). Christ helps believers to see the true nature of the this Beauty and her Beast: Her beauty is skin-deep; she is vulgar, blood-thirsty and downright evil (17:3). The message to believers is clear: resist her and live, orsuccumb to her temptation and die (compare with the seductress of Proverbs 5:3-6 and 7:6-27).
The futile fight. The angel explains the mystery of this Great Prostitute riding on the back of the Beast with seven heads and ten horns. It refers in John’s day to the city of Rome (7 mountains). The angels reveals the heads to also mean 5 kings past, one reigning now, another to come, and the Beast himself being an 8th. This is confusing.
A number of interpretations are offered by commentators. A first interpretation explains Babylon is likened to five great empires in OT Scripture, being Egypt, Nineveh, Babylon, Persia, Greece, now Rome in this Text, and perhaps another powerful nation in after John’s writing (or all the secular nations combined). A second interpretation tries to identify a number of powerful Roman emperors who this list of 5/1/1 might refer to. Both these interpretations leads to creative speculation – who is included and who is excluded in this list? And what does this mean to the reader?
A third interpretation comes by reminder that Revelation is an apocalyptic genre – and therefore all numbers are symbolic! The seven rulers refer to all the rulers of Babylon throughout the ages – past, present and future. The beast is also a ruler in his own right. The ten horns represent the totality of power and authority of human rule apart from God. As such it illustrates the Great Harlot’s control over every kingdom. Together the Harlot and the Beast is portrayed as an unstoppable force. Together they have ruled through the ages and will always rule. It leaves the reader feeling powerless, that resistance is futile.
Do you believe this lie that the fight is futile? Have you given up on resisting the world, of obeying the call of Christ to “deny yourself, pick up your cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23-24)?
Great encouragement. We are often tempted to see our struggles as insignificant in comparison with those persecuted for their faith daily. These believers get lashed and locked up for their prayers – while we struggle to maintain our times of devotion. But God does not take our struggle lightly, as we see in this chapter. He shows us the severity of our struggle, those sinister forces that wears us through distraction, doubt and deception, shutting us down in shame. Christ faced the same temptations in the dessert as John witnessed here (Luke 4:1-11), and overcame them, so that he might have compassion on us and extend grace to overcome with him (Hebrews 2:17-18).
Great exhortation. Revelation 17 not only reveals Harlot and her deadly deceptions, but also the truth by which believers might overcome her seduction.
Truth 1. To a people who are tempted to believe that we may choose to live as we want, John records the victory of the Lamb who “is King of kings, Lord of lords” (17:14). Against the lie of independence and autonomy we see the Lamb as sovereign over all earthly and spiritual domains. He is the sovereign Lord: Master, Owner, and Commander of all. And those who overcome with Him see themselves as “called” by Him, “chosen” by Him “and faithful” to Him (17:14). We overcome the lie of autonomy by recognizing His Lordship over us.
Truth 2. Secondly, to people pressured to believe that they may (or must) pursue the fulfillment of all their desires in this world, Christ reveals that the offers of satisfaction in this world are all empty promises. Even the Beast will turn on the Harlot to destroy her (17:15-17). The way this fallen world tries to fulfill our desires leaves us unsatisfied, often with shame, regret, and even disgust. “Life is not in found in the abundance of things stored up” (Luke 12:15), nor in “gratifying the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).This fallen world cannot satisfy all desires. Our desires were shaped for paradise and can only be satisfied in Christ’s renewal of all things.
Truth 3. The third truth Christ gives the church to overcome the overwhelming sense of futility, is that indeed, the Lamb and his Army does overcome Babylon and her Beast (17:14-16). Revelation contrasts the destruction the city Babylon, the city filled with immorality and idolatry and all things abominable with the with the glorious unveiling of Jerusalem, the city of the holy, the pure, the faithful (chapters 19-22). It contrasts the destruction of Great Harlot with the great wedding feast and celebration of the Bride of Christ. Indeed, the Way of the Lamb – of self-denial and trust in God – leads to victory and eternal life (compare Jesus’s “I am meek and lowly of heart” Matthew 11:29).
Bringing this home
Indeed we are at war in our peaceful, prosperous Western society. “Many cry ‘peace, peace,’ when there is no peace'” (Jeremiah 6:14; Ezekiel 13:10). God knows this and gracefully unveiled our cultural battle as seductive lies, luring us away from Christ, to destruction. But He also reveals the victory of those who see themselves as called and chosen, remaining faithful to him (17:14).
This unveiling of deadly deceptions in our culture calls me to recognize where I have come to believe these lies, and repent of my sense of autonomy, giving in to sensuality and succumbing to worldly living. Turn to God, because is rich in mercy, and his grace is sufficient for today!
In the book of Numbers, four chapters are devoted to the history of a prophet who had a profound impact on God’s people during their conquest of the Promised Land. This prophet was not a Jewish man, but a seer who dwelt in Pethor: Balaam son of Beor. In 1967 archeological evidence was discovered with the inscription of “Baalam son of Beor” prophet of “El Shaddai” – the Almighty God as he was known to the Israelites in the days of Moses. This archeological evidence adds tremendous historic weight this account in the Bible.
The reason why this account of a foreign prophet speaking to ancient Israel is important to contemporary believers is highlighted by the numerous New Testament references to Balaam. All of these references of Balaam are warnings: Peter warns the church of false prophets who “have gone astray… in the way of Balaam…” (2 Peter 2:15). Jude warns of “ungodly people… [who] abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error” (Jude 1:1, 11). John wrote of those in the church in Pergamum “who hold to theteachings of Balaam.” (Revelations 2:14). In each of the three texts the prophet Balaam is used as reference or type of ungodly lifestyles and doctrinal error of believers that is condemnable. But what is this dangerous “error”, “way” or “doctrine”?
Reading through the historic account of Balaam’s dealings with Israel (Numbers 22:1-25:10, 31:8,16), one has to acknowledge his absolute commitment to relay only what God says: “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God to do less or more” (22:18). Throughout these three chapters he maintains this stance, repeating his commitment to speak only the words of God another five times (22:38; 23:8, 12, 26; 24:13). In the end, Balaam’s loyalty to prophesy in truth as God revealed cost him his wages which Balak promised (24:11). Thus Balaam is an accurate prophet, true to delivering God’s message, not yielding to pressure or bribe to speak falsely.
So why the negative connotations with Balaam? Numbers 25 records a shameful time in Israel’s travels as they camped on the Eastern side of the Jordan river and started living like the Moabite people. Swaying under the power of cultural seduction to sexual immorality and idol worship, the Israelites came under the wrath of God through as a plague that killed 24’000 Israelites (Numbers 25:1-9). This moral decay is attributed to Balaam (Numbers 31:16). Although he was extremely gifted and graced by God to hear and speak accurately the pure words of God, he himself was an immoral man whose way of life was corrupted with sin (“way of Balaam” 2 Peter 2:15; ““error” Jude 1: 11) and his teachings deceptive (Numbers 31:16). His lifestyle and teachings were not to be followed, admired or trusted. In fact, Balaam was executed along with the Midianites under the wrath of God (Numbers 31:8).
Although his prophesies is shown to be infallible in the text, the author of Numbers includes the humorous account of his journey on the donkey to Balak (Numbers 22:21-38), which is very deliberately inserted to humble this “great prophet”. For instance, Balaam the great prophet is hired to subdue Israel with words, but he cannot even subdue his donkey with a stick. He claims to see visions (24:4,17) but can’s see what the donkey sees on three occasions (22:32). He claims that his prophetic speech is from God (22:38; 23:5, 12, 16), yet the donkey silences him as its mouth is also opened by God (22:28). Balaam claims to posess knowledge “from the Most High” (24:16) was beaten in verbal exchange with a stupid donkey (22:30) and then has to admit to the angel “I did not know [what the donkey knows]” (22:34). Although Balaam is on his way to slay a whole nation with his words he has to draw a sword to kill the donkey (22:29); while lamenting lamenting that he had no sword to slay the animal, the donkey sees the drawn sword in the hands of the angel (22:23) right in front of him. This irony is meant as a lesson in humility – that the great prophet, like any donkey, can see and speak only what God shows him, and that he simply is graced to serve in the purposes of God. Secondly, this account shows that although the prophet speaks graceful words by God’s Spirit, he is more beastly than his donkey: where the beast is kind to move his master Balaam out of harm’s way three times, the master is beastly in beating the faithful, kind-hearted, willing animal without considering the motive.
Godliness and our culture
Although Balaam had the ability to speak God’s words accurately, he had lead a whole nation astray. His life serves as a warning that accurate spiritual discernment without holy living (from a godly character) is dangerous. What was this ungodliness? Balaam’s error (2 Peter 2:15) or Balaam’s way (Jude 1:11) simply refers to his lifestyle of cultural acceptance. Although being a gifted prophet Balaam lived as the Midianites did, and that lead to the corruption of God’s holy people as they followed his “way” and “erred” in his footsteps. His love for sensual pleasure made him prone towards greed, sexual immorality and cultural festivity surrounding the worship of other gods, plus his independence lead to rebellion. (See 2 Peter 2:2-14; Jude 1:1, 6-11; Psalm 106:28; Revelation 2:14).
The doctrine of Balaam (Revelation 2:14) teaches that God’s people are chosen, holy and saved in God’s eternal covenant and therefore nothing can change that reality – not even their lifestyle. So by his example and by his teachings the great prophet Balaam deceived God’s people into a lifestyle of sexual immorality and the worship of Baal of Peor. As a result, many died under the wrath of God, never reaching the Promised Land (Jude 1:5). Still today Balaam’s dualism (distinguishing spiritual holiness from moral life) is taught in many places (associated with Gnosticism in the early church and extreme grace teachings). Apart from formal teaching, the wayof Balaam is engrained in our spiritual DNA by the example of our contemporary church culture where Sundays is God’s day, and the rest of the week we live good lives, but find pleasure and security as the rest of society does.
Balaam is not the only example of this fallacy in Scripture. Samson, the mighty deliverer of Israel was like him: a man empowered by the Spirit of God to lead and deliver Israel, yet always seduced and enticed by his worldly passions and made ineffective. (Judges 14-16) Giving in to the seduction of sensual sins enslaves God’s people and brings shame to his Name.
In contrast to Balaam and Samson, Daniel and his friends stand out as examples of godliness amidst a crooked world. Daniel chapter three records how Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image that everyone in his kingdom had to bow down to whenever the music played. The image was not an image of a particular god, but rather represented the religious culture of the day. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the image, and was persevered by God in the fire. Their refusal to succumb to the cultural pressure in faithfulness to the One True God stands as an example to every believer in our present-day materialistic, promiscuous culture feeling pressures us to conform.
How do we respond?
Considering the the error of Balaam, I find three ways to respond to this in pursuit of spiritual maturity.
Review your definition of “Spiritual Maturity”
The reference to Balaam in Peter’s second epistle pertains to false prophets among the first readers, thus spiritually gifted leaders. This is worth mentioning. Peter appeals to his readers to note the ungodly fruit of these spiritually gifted ministers, and therefore not following their example of sensuality and rebellion. Peter looked at the character and behavior of these gifted leaders and was not easily mesmerized by their prophetic ability. After all, Jesus taught him that a person is “known by [his] fruit” (Matthew 12:33).
Peter needed to write this to the growing young church, since the charismatic gift of prophets is very appealing to especially young believers. And the display of spiritual gifts is easily taken as signs of spiritual maturity. It is the will of God that we grow up (Ephesians 4:11ff), but how do you define maturity? That is why these warnings by Jesus and his apostles are so strong and clear. So re-evaluate your view of spiritual maturity: Who do you admire? Who do you want to follow after? Consider their character – are they known by their love? What can you learn from their marriage and family relationships, their work ethic and how they manage money?
Take stock of your own life.
In Jude and Revelations the warning to individuals walking in the error or teachings of Balaam is merely to wrong belief of individuals in their congregations of those in their midst. Balaam is the image of a spiritually gifted man with the lust of sensual pleasures that are lead by his passions through this life like waves thrown around by their earthly desires (Jude 1:12-14). Take an honest view of your life your own life, with special reference to you your passions and desires. Are you leaving it unchecked? What are you doing about it? And who are you accountable to about it?
Grow in godliness.
Our aim remains to be conformed to the image of Christ Jesus and to help form others into that image (Romans 8:29; Colossians 2:28-29). Be purposeful about it. How have you grown in godliness in the last year, and in which area do you need to grow now? Are you growing in the will of God? What does the Lord say, and what will you do to grow in that area of Christ-likeness. Again, and who knows about that?
While closing with growth in Christ-likeness, remember these words of Paul: “Continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, giving you the desire and ability for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) Continue, don’t stagnate in your pursuit of Christ-likeness. Work it out yourself, don’t expect it to automatic or someone else’s job. As you grow in Christ-likeness you also will grow to emulate the Christ – the Anointed One (Acts 10:38). Earnestly desire spiritual gifts but let the motive be love (1 Corinthians 12:31).
And work with God – it is he that works in you, leading your through your desires and gracing your with the power needed to grow in Christ-likeness. Don’t stop! Work joyfully with the grace God gives.
Marriage is still very popular, but it is increasingly reported that single Christians struggle to find suitable life partners, which is ironic in this information-age where a Google search for “dating web sites” return 122 million responses in under 1 second. This seems to indicate that a multitude of possible life partners does not solve the problem of loneliness. But why not? Is it because there are too many options, or that a more perfect partner is perhaps one more click away…?
Another possible explanation why single people today struggle to find suitable life partners are due to unclear or unrealistic expectations from marriage and marriage partners. The myriads of writings and media resources bring varied opinions and ideologies about marriage which leave a world in confusion about the essence and design of marriage as God intended it. In particular three most destructive trends keep people from finding and enjoying fulfilled marital lives: firstly the culturally accepted norm of “falling in love” where marital partners are selected (and de-selected) based primarily on emotions. Secondly, the belief that there is a “other half” or “soul-mate” you need to find in order enjoy a fulfilled marriage relationship. Thirdly, the consumerist mindset that markets, searches and compares potential partners to seek an ideal fit, as we do with accessories, cars or clothes. These secular ideas are perpetually propagated and fueled by contemporary music, films and novels, and has become normative in our Christian thinking.
I believe that finding a marriage partner is not primarily about falling in love, not about finding my soul mate, and not at all about comparative shopping. These ideas are foreign to Scripture and does not lead to fulfilled marriage. This leaves us with the questions “what is marriage?” and “what makes marriage work?”
In the light of this confusion I find God’s message through the prophet Malachi refreshingly clear and concise. Although the tone of the conversation we pick up is quite negative: God says that He has no interest in listening to the religious elite’s prayers because of their lack of respect for the institution of marriage and their marriage partners (Malachi 2:13). Then the the Lord clarifies the intent and meaning of marriage, cautioning them regarding the destructiveness of promiscuity and divorce for both the couple and the children. Malachi 2:14-16 reads as follows:
But you say, “Why does [God not hear our prayers]?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
The terms God uses to define marriage in and it’s intent in this passage are companionship, covenant, union, for children, and faithfulness. Let’s look at each one of them to re-evaluate our understanding of marriage.
Marriage is companionship: “she is your companion”
In definition and defense of marriage in Malachi 2:14-18, God first mentions companionship. Here in Malachi 2:14-15 companion refers to the wife, but in Proverbs 2:17 it refers to the husband. Marriage is companionship.
The common interpretation of the role of the wife as “the helper” quoted from Genesis 2:18 is understood to mean that she should help in the purpose of the husband and running of the household.
However, that interpretation misses the intended meaning of Eve as helper, and the primary intent and definition of marriage. Genesis 2:18 reads “LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” To understand the meaning of the term “helper”, one should ask “in what area did Adam need help when the Lord graciously sought to solve his problem?” The answer is clear from the context: Adam was lonely – in the midst of a perfect world! Adam needed someone to share life with, to take away the sting of loneliness. Adam needed companionship, and the Lord gave him a helper, a companion.
This first picture of marriage is important since it reveals God’s design intent of marriage: to remove the sting of loneliness, so that man and woman may share the fullness of life together in intimate relationship.
Another important point to notice here is that while Adam was in a perfectenvironment, in a perfect relationship with God – with no sin and consequently no separation because of it – Adam had a need for companionship which God recognized, God articulated, and God acted upon to solve. (The solution was marriage). I mention this because I have read and heard too many times that single people should “find their happiness and contentment in God.” The sentiment is great, but it seems as though God did not meet that need for companionship in Adam, and that He was the one who recognized (and even created) that need in Adam, and provided that for that need in companionship.
Marriage is companionship. Marriage is given to eradicate loneliness. This is the primary task and responsibility of the marriage partner. Every other motive for entering into marriage will set one up for disappointment and eventually marital failure.
Marriage is covenant: “she is …your wife by covenant”
In Christian circles we frequently hear that marriage is a covenant (legal promise). But less frequently the covenant is defined. We frequently read or hear about the ceremony regarding ancient vow-taking, but the essence of the vow is mentioned less frequently.
However, every person who contemplates divorce remembers his/ her vows to be something like “I will never leave you nor forsake you… in good times and bad… in sickness and health…” And that is the essence of the promise: marriage is a covenant of companionship – a promise to never allow the other person to feel lonely again. Marriage is a promise which bind two people together in this life in mutual partnership. Where two is better than one. It is not a contract of mutual performance (“you do this – i do that”) but rather a promise of companionship (“being with you always, regardless of your performance or state”) as Ruth did to Naomi. 
Marriage is covenant – a partnership by promise to remain together and share all “until death do us part”. Marriage is a covenant of companionship.
Marriage is unity: “make them one”
One of the most frequently quoted Old Testament text by New Testament authors is Genesis 2:24, where we are reminded that the essence of marriage is to “leave” what is familiar and “cleave” your spouse, and “the two shall become one flesh.” Thus the unity requires in part our participation (perpetual actions that move us towards our spouse (“cleave”) and move away from our old familiar life of singleness (“leave”). But God’s strong hatred for the Israelite’s prevailing indifference and unfaithfulness towards marriage in Malachi 2:15 also reveals His part in marital union: “did not I make them one with a portion of the Spirit in their union?”
This phrase shows the essence of marriage is a mystical, spiritual union of two people, brought about by God. “Mystical” means something difficult to explain, but can be understood through participation. This truth is also taught by Jesus when He is asked to comment on the practice of divorce made cheap in His day: “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:8-9). It is a mystical unity that speaks of a shared life, a shared identity.
Although the unity is difficult to observe, the effects of separation – what Malachi calls “violence to one’s flesh” (Malachi 2:16) – is observable. The well-researched, traumatic effects of divorce affect the loss of identity, decreased emotional and physical health as well as shortened life expectancy, lowered social status, increased financial pressure and lowered relational attachment. The devastation in children affected by divorce include behavioral problems such as aggression and rebellion, psychological effects such as depression, anxiety and lowered concentration, followed lower academic achievement and poor self-esteem. These adverse effects in physical, emotional and spiritual well-being makes sense when one considers that divorce is a tearing apart of two people that have in reality become one, causing tremendous injury and death in all involved.
Marriage is for Godly offspring: “what was… God seeking? Godly offspring.”
Contemporary Western civilization is self-seeking, bent on entertainment and consumerism. It is a culture that opposes long-term commitments, any difficulty and a sacrificial lifestyle. This lifestyle hates children and views such dependent relationships as burdensome and thus undesirable. Even within good marriages children will be delayed as long as possible to ensure a time of care-free enjoyment. And a family who has more than 2-3 children will be followed by stares and comments such as “don’t you have a TV?” from passer-by’s wherever they go.
At the heart of this culture, marriage is for self-enrichment and pleasure for self children is an after-though or necessity to prolong society. However, God says He made marriage as a union to solve the problem of man’s loneliness through the covenant of companionship. Yet, what He wants from this union is “godly offspring”. Marriage is the only setting where godly offspring can be raised, in the secure setting of mutual faithfulness. This is the place where godliness is modeled and grafted into the young children, and where children are protected in their identity and perception of others from the “violence” of divorce and unfaithfulness. Thus the immediate context of the phrase in Malachi 2:15-16 teaches us that “godly offspring” require “faithfulness” in the union between husband and wife, to not bring about “violence” to the home.
When God thinks of marriage, he thinks of children. What God wants from the union of marriage is godly offspring.
Marriage requires faithfulness: “do not be faithless”
“However, “Why does he not [hear our prayer]?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant… So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (Malachi 2v16)
Marriage is a divine union through a covenant of companionship, a place where Godly offspring is raised. And marriage requires faithfulness. Two reasons for faithfulness emerge from the text:
Malachi 2:14 starts with a question from the Israelites who faithfully offer to God sacrifices to maintain good relationship with Him, and entreat His favor. But God says clearly that He does not hear their petitions, because of their marital unfaithfulness. About 450 years later the Apostle Peter again wrote to the people of God “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel… so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7). This is a profound statement – that God cares so much about our marital relations that He either hears our prayers or not! Thus the first reason for faithfulness in marriage is because God sees, God cares, and God requires faithfulness (and honor) at home before He accepts public worship or answers prayers.
Yet a second reason in the text seems to be the core reason of the appeal to marital faithfulness from God: to not cause “violence” to self, your spouse or your children. This text enriches our understanding of our sexuality, teaching us that sexual practices are not merely physical or biological activities, but also spiritual and relational. Malachi warns that sexual promiscuity has a negative impact on your own spirit and therefore cautions us to “guard yourself in your spirit”. Your spirit is the seat of your identity and relationships, is your capacity to create and dream (hope), to rejoice, to endure, to trust (or have faith), to communicate, to understand or perceive etc. God says “preserve this! – do not be sexually unfaithful!”
But God also says to remain faithful to your wife for the sake of your wife and children – since the breaking of the covenant brings violence to the spirits of the entire family (as mentioned in the previous section). It seems as though the covenant family enjoys protection from God as God enters into the marriage with “a portion of [His] Spirit in their union” (v15), and faithlessness regarding the covenant allows violence to spirits of the family members, especially if the faithlessness leads to the breaking of the covenant (divorce).
Conclusion and practical response
Thus a clear definition and intent of marriage from Malachi 2 could read:
Marriage is a covenant of companionship by which God makes the husband and wife one for the sake of godly offspring, which is preserved in mutual faithfulness.
How do we respond to this revelation of marriage from Scripture? We need to re-evaluate our expectations of marriage and our (potential) marriage partners in light of God’s design. For a fulfilled life, we need to approach marriage from a Biblical perspective otherwise we will not find the life of satisfaction and joy God contained therein.
Our first mental adjustment from this definition is that marriage isnot primarily a romantic notion. It is a relationship built on companionship, trust, faithfulness and a shared life. Thus the marriage partner is not firstly a lover, but a companion. The aim is an intimate life, not an erotic life. What one seeks for in a marriage partner, and seeks to maintain in marriage is good companionship: someone trustworthy, someone supportive, someone with whom you can live well and work well. Someone to take away loneliness by living a shared existence.
Secondly, marriage is permanent. Malachi’s understanding of marriage re-enforces the truth that marriage is indeed “until death do us part”, and the consequences of faithlessness and divorce is “violence” – death and destruction to all involved. This requires loyal devotion as well as patience and forgiveness from both marriage partners. Thus marriage cannot be approached with the self-centered consumer mindset, where marriage partners are compared and traded in.
Thirdly, the end of marriage is not merely “my happiness” but a Godly legacy, including God-fearing children. The pursuit of self-indulgence (“my happiness”) increases selfishness – the worst enemy of marital joy and bliss.
How do we renew our minds about Godly marriage? I suggest three ways, the first of which are obvious: study the Scriptures to prayerfully evaluate and re-adjust your own opinions of marriage. I do not believe that a mere reading of the Bible is sufficient for transformation here – one has to systematically study it, preferably in discussion with your spouse. Secondly, once a good Biblical understanding of marriage is established, one needs to actively evaluate the underlying presumptions and messages in contemporary music, novels and movies, etc relating to love and marriage. For the trout to swim upstream he needs to know the force with which the river is flowing downstream, and compensate appropriately. Lastly, and sadly this is a difficult one: find a godly example of marriage and make deliberate effort to spend time with them and learn from them. A good, living example is still the best way to grow in godliness.
So, in light of this Scripture – how does your view of marriage compare with God’s design and intent?
 A search into the Amazon online shopping database on “marriage” results in more than 230’000 books and related resources. Accessed 14 July 2014.
 From the Roman Cupid myth where the belief is that the angel Cupid shoots arrows and the victim falls helplessly in love with another upon sight. Refer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cupid
 From the Greek creation myth where the humans were created both male and female in one body, one soul, but for their rebellion Zeus split them in half so that they male and female would forwever wander miserably in search for their other half or “soul mate” Refer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soul_mate
 Adams J.E., Marriage, Remarriage and Divorce, Baker House Books (Grand Rapids, MI, 1980), p8