70. A Biblical Pattern for Relationships

Doug Wheeler

A great deal has been written about the role of the man as husband and father. One has but to go to any local bookstore and peruse through the shelves to find numerous titles dedicated to the subject. If one is a strong proponent of the wife being in submission to her husband, there is no lack of books supporting every aspect of that belief along with full instructions on how to accomplish that task. There are books that are intended to teach men how to be more effective husbands. Women trying to correct the atrocious behavior of the husbands write many of these. Clearly, these instructional books have had little to no effect as the divorce rate continues to climb and families are ripped apart. When submission is the issue in marriage, it is often fostered by a man who has given little to no attention to the command that husbands are to love their wives as the Lord loves the church. When wives pontificate on the low state of husbands today it is often with the motive to diminish their own accountability in the relationship. These ideas are even fostered in women’s prayer groups, which can turn into a time of comparison on the shortcoming of each husband. It would seem that many marriages are simply at war, and a spirit of competition exists between husbands and wives of who will ultimately have control of the family.

They have failed to realize that husband and wife together should form the weaker partnership in a covenant relationship with God. In order to be echad (one) with God, they must first become echad with each other. One must ask the question of who is the loser in such a war. Many marriages are content to remain in this quagmire of competition and, in fact, thrive on it. It is the children of such marriages that are ultimately the losers thinking that such behavior in marriage is the norm. Failure is propagating failure and the abnormal has become the normal. Children are not learning how to become good husbands, wives, and friends. The parents have not taught them because they themselves have not learned. In the midst of this confusion God calls out to allow Him to be our teacher in relationships. He desires to teach men how to be good husbands and fathers. He desires to teach women how to be good wives and mothers. He desires to teach us how to interact with one another.

In the book of Hosea we are given the beautiful story of a husband who remains faithful to his wife even in the midst of adultery. This is also the picture of a God who remains faithful to His children even when they choose a lifestyle of sin over intimate relationship with the God of the Universe. In this scripture, Israel had once again wandered away and substituted idolatry for relationship. In the midst of this, God spoke a message. It was a message of love and warning. It was a message of the quality of relationship that He wants to share with His people. In his book, The Prophets, Abraham Heschel says, “God’s relationship with Israel is most commonly called a covenant. Is the covenant a tether, a chain, or is it living intercourse? In the domain of imagination the most powerful reality is love between a man and woman. Man is even in love with an image of love, but it is the image of a love spiced with temptation rather than a love phrased in service and depth-understanding; a love that happens rather than a love that continues; the image of tension rather than of peace; the image of a moment rather than of permanence; the image of fire rather than light…To Hosea, marriage is the image for the relationship with God and Israel. This is one of the boldest conceptions of religious thinking. It may lack the excitement of adventure, but it has the aura of sublimity. It involves restraint, bringing with it duties and responsibilities, but it also endows with a nobility that is a synonym for eternity. Israel is the consort of God. Hosea’s direct purpose, however, is not to celebrate the grandeur of that relationship, but rather to expose any implications of disturbance which that relationship may have for the life of God. Idolatry is adultery. More than objective falsehood, it is a betrayal of God; more than stupidity, it is lewdness. Israel is like a wanton wife, the Lord like a faithful, loving, but forsaken husband…yet stronger than jealousy is God’s longing for reunion and His hope for Israel’s return…The reconciliation will take effect as a new betrothal. And these will be the gift and dowry for the bride: righteousness, kindness, mercy.”

In Chapter 2 of Hosea, God lists the characteristics of His betrothal. This is a description of how God desires to relate to His people. They are both characteristic and instructional. First, as believers, we should see each of these characteristics as operational in our relationship with the Lord. We should recognize them, learn them, and become dependent upon them. They should form the pattern for each relationship we are involved in, especially the family unit. God provides the example of how to be a great husband, a great father. As we begin to walk in these characteristics our confidence in our God will grow. We will find that these are not just characteristics of God’s attitude and behavior toward us, but patterns for relationship, patterns for living. Husbands should begin to treat their wives with these same characteristics; wives should reciprocate. Fathers should prepare their sons for marriage by teaching them how to treat others with love and respect. These characteristics show them how to do exactly that. We should also teach our daughters to never be satisfied with a potential lifemate that does not actuate these characteristics as a standard for their life.

If we as people would begin to walk in these characteristics consistently, the very face of families in our communities would change. The divorce rate would fall dramatically and family life would begin to be the blessing that God desires it to be. Our homes would become houses of peace rather than war. Husbands would no longer have to raise the issue of submission because their wives would begin to respond in kind. Teaching these characteristics to our children would not only ensure their happiness in relationships, it would change the very face of our community. In Hosea 2:19-20 we read, “And I will betroth you to me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth you to me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord.”

Before we begin to discuss the characteristics of this betrothal, we must first look at the permanence of relationship indicated in the passage. This betrothal is to last forever. He has betrothed you to Him forever. The word translated “forever” is the Hebrew word ‘olam‘olam is a word that is used to describe time when the beginning or end is unknown. It commonly indicates generation after generation. There is contained the idea of eternity. It describes permanence. The Lord will not abandon you when the going gets tough. The idea of permanence in relationship has been replaced with an attitude that if it doesn’t work out, we can just get a divorce. Our commitment in marriage should be a lifetime commitment. Far too often people abandon a relationship when it can be worked out.

The word translated “betroth” in this passage is the Hebrew word ’arash. It has a three-fold meaning. It means one espoused, betrothed. It means to long for and desire as well as to erect and build. When we accept Jesus as our Lord we literally become part of the Bride of Christ. We are espoused to Him. We are not our own but “bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” He longs for us, desires to be intimate with us and to fellowship with us. This is the whole purpose of the creation, so that the created would know the creator. It is through this betrothal that God can build us into the people that He desires us to be. Therefore, we should know these characteristics of God’s betrothal. This is how he deals with us. He does not vary from them. These characteristics of betrothal should be the very foundation stones for our relationships with Jesus as the chief cornerstone.

God says that He will betroth us to Him forever in righteousness. The word translated “righteousness” is the Hebrew word tzedeq. It is from the root tzadak and it means, “to be right, to be straight, of a straight way; to be stiff, rigid e.g. used of a lance. It is also behavior, which can be termed upright and just. Righteousness is often described as “right standing.”

Consider a picture of a lance or spear. You can, no doubt, recall seeing pictures of warriors in Africa leaning on their spears. They had turned their spears or lances upside down, stuck them in the ground, and leaned on them to rest. This is a good picture of the Hebraic concept of righteousness. God has betrothed you to Himself in righteousness. You can put your weight on Him and he will not move out from under you. He is consistent and never changes and is therefore dependable. To put this in a very practical way, He does not send mixed signals. If it was wrong to lie 1000 years ago, it is wrong today, and it will be wrong 100 years from now. Since He does not change, we always know where we stand with Him. We need that in our relationship with the Lord and we need that in our relationships with each other. You will never walk in intimacy with another if you are in doubt about where you stand. There is another quality to this trait, and that is consistency. God is consistent in His love for and behavior toward you. You never have to worry that one day He is going to love you and the next day want nothing to do with you.

There are so many relationships in trouble today because one or both of the partners demonstrate little consistency. One day, a man comes home from work and he is in a good mood, kisses his wife, pets the dog, hugs the kids, and is just glad to be home. The next day, the same man comes home from work. It has been a tough day. He grunts at the wife, kicks the dog, and ignores the kids, and would rather be any place but home. This lack of consistency forces everyone to walk on eggshells, never knowing what kind of mood dad will be in when he comes home today. This inconsistency is very detrimental to the development of intimacy. The same can be said for the women. Many husbands hate to go home at night because they never know what kind of mood their wives will be in when they get there.

Righteousness is more than just right standing before God. Righteousness is more than just doing righteous acts; it is a state of being. What is yours in position because of Jesus must be worked out in experience. This can only be accomplished by walking closely with the Lord. There can be no righteousness without the Son. Righteousness is first and foremost a matter of the heart. How is this relevant to our earthly relationships? Love for our spouse, children, and community is first a matter of the heart. This is the starting point for righteousness. When the heart is right, the deeds and acts will follow.

God also tells us that He has betrothed us forever in judgment. The word translated “judgment” is the Hebrew word mishpat, from the root shaphat and it means, “to judge, to set up, to erect, used of the act of judging.” It also has the meaning of, “constant certainty of action, and the ability to reach decisions.” We can see modern similarities to the word “umpire.” In practicality, the word “mishpat” can be interpreted by not only an act of judging, but to perk up the ears to listen, discern what the situation is, and then help people make right decisions. In your life you have the assurance that the Lord will, with constant certainty of action, work on your behalf. He is always ready to help you with the difficult decisions of life. How often are we ready to just “tell people” what they should do? The key here is the ability to listen. We will never develop intimate relationships with others if we do not cultivate the ability to listen. Men should be ready and willing to help their wives and children, but the American mindset of judgment needs to be replaced with a willingness to listen and help make the difficult decisions of life. What people often need is not someone to tell them what to do, but help them see the choices that lie before them. We need to encourage them to enlist the aid of God in making the difficult decisions of life and do as He would have them do. Our families and friends should be able to count on us whenever there is a need. We are to, with constant certainty of action, come to their aid.

We are told that God also betrothed them in lovingkindness. The Hebrew word translated lovingkindness is chesed, which is normally translated mercy or grace. It means, “to have an eager and ardent desire, as well as to have zeal towards, love and kindness.” One of the strongest elements of chesed is kindness. The type of kindness that is being spoken of here is a kindness that is truly motivated by love, looking toward the best interests of the individual to whom the chesed is directed. The type of kindness that is referred to by chesed eliminates fear. It speaks of consistency in approach. God always has our best interest at heart, and we are safe with Him. In a marriage or family relationship, the ingredient of kindness is important because it is the ingredient that encourages communication. It tells the other person that no matter what, you are safe with me. When a person does not have to worry about being put down, ridiculed, made to feel inferior or insecure, communication will not only be encouraged but will flow uninterrupted. Chesed always wants what is best for the other person. It is not selfish and manipulative. It is not controlling. Often marriage becomes a contest of who will get the control. If a marriage is truly echad (one) and if that marriage relationship forms the weaker partnership in a covenant relationship with God, it is the Holy Spirit that should have the control. This one characteristic of God’s betrothal alone could, if consistently practiced, change our marriage relationships, the relationships with our children, and those around us. It is interesting that in marriage relationships where chesed is manifest, the question of submission never arises. Chesed means that you deal with others in respect. If chesed is flowing in a relationship, competition ceases and preference is given to the needs of the other.

The next characteristic of God’s betrothal is mercies. This is the Hebrew word racham and it means, “to love, to be soft. The primary idea is cherishing, soothing, and a gentle emotion of the mind.” The noun form of the word means, “womb.” When we see marriage and family relationships that are intimate, we always see this quality of gentleness present. They are gentle with one another’s feelings. This does not mean that they walk around on eggshells, but rather that they are careful with what they say and how they say it. Racham conveys the idea of protection, nourishment, and comfort. So many relationships today are characterized by everything but gentleness. We know what it is like to be around those whose words are harsh and demeaning. In Ephesians 4:31-32 Paul says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be you kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” We are to be useful, virtuous, manageable, mild, and pleasant as opposed to harsh, hard, sharp, and bitter. Intimate relationships cannot be built in the presence of anger, malice, bitter words, and hateful actions. Being manageable really means learning to manage ourselves. It is being able to manage the way that we speak to one another. Intimacy cannot be built in the presence of harshness because it breeds fear. Racham also means that we do not get frustrated with one another even when we have to assist them with a problem more than once. Sometimes people have to talk through problems several times to see a clear course of action.

The next quality of God’s betrothal is faithfulness. The word translated “faithfulness” is the Hebrew word ’emanah. The root of this word is ’aman and it means, “firmness, security, to prop, to sustain, to support, to support with the arm, and to carry a child.” Aman also conveys the idea of permanence and “steadfast endurance.” Intimate relationships should add stability and security into our lives. Even as God desires that we live secure in the fact that He will always take care of us and that He will never leave us or forsake us, we should make sure that those that we love feel the same in their relationship with us. Intimacy will never be formed in an environment of insecurity. Far too often in marriage the word divorce is used. It is used as a threat to manipulate and control and strips the relationship of aman. The Lord wants us to crawl up onto His lap and stroke His face. He wants to protect us, support us, and bring us to the place of stability and security. He wants us to know that we can count on Him no matter what we face. Should we be any different with our family? Should we be any different with those that are in relationship with us?

The passage concludes with the statement, “and thou shalt know the Lord.” The word translated “know” is the Hebrew word yada’ and it means, “to get to know, to be acquainted with, to know by experience, to become intimate with.”10 If we want to grow in our relationship with the Lord, this passage tells us that we need to become acquainted with the characteristics of God’s betrothal. We need to know Him as the God who betroths us forever in righteousness. He does not change. You can put your weight on Him and He will not move out from under you. He is consistent and you do not have to walk on eggshells around Him. We need to know Him as the one who betroths us in judgment. He is always ready to listen to us and help us make the difficult decisions of life. We need to know Him as the one who betroths us in lovingkindness. He deals with us in kindness and He wants to eliminate fear from our lives. We also need to know Him as the one who betroths us in mercies. He deals with us in gentleness. He is never harsh with us. Even when He corrects us, He does so with grace and mercy. We also need to know Him as the God who betroths in faithfulness. He desires that we become stable and secure in our relationship with Him. As our knowledge of God grows and deepens, we learn these attributes of His nature and character.

(This article was first published on the Tishrei Web site “familyrestorationmagazine”)