A Land Called Married

Isaiah describes the “marriage” between God and His people. Christians can learn much for our marriages as well.

My youngest daughter was fighting a virus that sapped her strength and made her miserable. Good movies brighten her mood, and soon we were enjoying the six-hour British Broadcasting Company (BBC) version of Pride and Prejudice. Based on a classic novel by Jane Austen (1775-1817), Pride and Prejudice mixes romance, social commentary, and morality, detailing the twists and turns of courtship and marriage among the daughters of the aristocratic Bennett family in early 19th century England. The movie poignantly reveals how vastly different society’s view of marriage was two hundred years ago.

In Isaiah 62, the Lord encourages His people, promising them future goodness and glory after their defeat and exile.  God uses the metaphor of Israel as His bride, telling His readers that their land would no longer be called “Desolate” but be called “Married” (v4). Most people in my experience would not juxtapose these two words, partly because “desolate” refers to a place “in bleak and dismal emptiness” and “married” refers to a relationship between two people. Isaiah 62 is not about human marriage per se, but neither is it about the physical land of Israel. Rather, it is about the restored relationship between God and His people. As such, it becomes a model of how human marriage under God can be, and should be.

To restate, Isaiah (740-685 BC) is talking about God’s “marriage” to His people, the Jews and those foreigners who served Jehovah. The prophet is not talking about the Edomites, Moabites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, or anyone else who did not belong to Him. Therefore, lessons that we learn from this passage apply to Christians, those who claim the name and live the life of Jesus Christ. Empowered by the Spirit, the Creator’s goodness is showered on His people. Parts of this essay may apply to others, but Isaiah’s words, and my words, are for God’s people.

This work will ask one question: What does it mean to live in right relationship with God and family? Poetically put, what does it mean to “Live in a land called Married?”

To be married is to have a new identity (Isaiah 62:2)

God promised to give His people a new name…a new identity. Israel did not choose it, but God chose it. It was not secret; a source of shame, but open; a source of pride. The people of God would glory in their new name, shouting it from the mountaintops so that all the world would know that they belonged to the Lord. Nations and kings who had hated Israel would now see her glory as the bride of the Almighty. Over the years in their relationship, God’s people become more like Him.

When a man and woman marry, the two unite and become one flesh (Mark 10:7-8). They no longer exist as they did before, as separate individuals, but now exist as one. Both identities change, and to symbolize the change and communicate it to the world, man and wife take the same name. Usually, but not always, the bride takes the name of her groom. The wider world acknowledges the new identity and refers to the couple by their married name. Over the years, husband and wife grew more like each other in personality, in tastes, in speech, in action, in habits, and even in thoughts.

Living in “A Land called Married” produces a new identity.

To be married is to have someone else delight in you, and for you to delight in someone else (Isaiah 62:4-5)

God delighted in His people Israel, just as He delights in His children through Jesus Christ. He loves us faithfully, but He also delights in us. God glories when His son takes two steps of spiritual growth, just like a mother glories when her infant daughter takes two steps. He rejoices in our victories, and thrills when we follow Him. Likewise, our Father wants us to delight in Him (Psalm 37:4).

In the same way, husbands and wives delight in each other. The groom thrills at the sight of his beautiful bride, who has labored to be lovely on their wedding day. She rejoices in his successes at work, and he exalts in her victories in the kitchen, or vice versa, or both, as the case may be. Man and wife know each other’s dreams, and support them. Soon the man and the woman delight in their children, and through the years those children learn to delight in their parents. Though there is work and pain in marriage and family, there is also delight.

The delight engendered by a godly marriage is not limited to family members alone. Friends, neighbors, and even strangers can join in the delight of a happy family. My family and I were traveling into Boston one morning in July via the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). It was crowded, so I sat on one side of the train while Nancy and the kids sat on the other. We talked across the aisle, and though it was not a “quiet car”, few other people looked at each other, much less spoke. I struck up a conversation with a woman sitting next to me. She was evasive at first, but we ended up having a very pleasant chat about the arts, something near to her heart. It was delightful. As we rose to leave, this woman told me, “At first I hesitated to talk to you, but when I saw your family, I knew it would be OK.” Nancy’s presence convinced her that I was not a predator, and when she saw that our family rejoiced in each other, she was able to join in our delight.

Living in “A Land called Married” helps to bring delight.

To be married is to be secure, and to help make others secure (Isaiah 62: 6-8)

The first step in security is to not be alone. As the Preacher said, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11)? In the ultimate promise of security, God guaranteed that He would always be with His people (Matthew 28:20).

The second step in security is to be defended from the trials, and through the trials, of life. The Lord protected His beloved people from many of the difficulties that plagued neighboring nations, but He also sustained them during tough times. Israel had been ravished by enemies, from the Assyrians to the Babylonians, but now God promised to make her secure. He promised to put “watchmen on the walls” and “never give His beloved’s grain to her enemies (Isaiah 62:6-8).” In the person of Jesus, the Lord purchased our eternal security at the cost of His own death.

Husband and wife help make each other secure. The very presence of another person meets a fundamental human need. Wisely dividing labor between man and woman ensures that money will flow in, that such money will be cleverly spent, and that necessary tasks will be done within the family. The strengths of each partner balance the weaknesses of the other, and the couple together is far more accomplished, more interesting, more stable, and more Christ-like than either of them could be separately. I provide a decent living for Nancy and our children, and she ensures that our physical needs, from lunches to laundry, are met. She makes our lives colorful, beautiful, warm, and precious. Nancy enchants our home, and life would be gray and cold without her.

The extended family adds security to the couple. In many cultures they arrange marriages between compatible young men and women, which despite modern sensibilities, is not only valid but is sometimes even preferable to “love marriages.” Parents provide guidance, resources, and contacts to help the young couple succeed. Among the Eumbo people in Angola, a man’s paternal grandmother or aunt becomes the instructress to his fiancé, helping with the wedding ceremony and teaching her how to be a good wife.[1] Similar things happen in every other culture.

Marriage between a man and a woman also provides long term security, as they can have children. Aging, decay, disease, and death are inevitable – no one can support himself forever. In Judah (8th century BC) and in England (early 19th century AD), there was no social security, no Medicare or Medicaid, and none of the other things that allow us to live alone and imagine that we are independent. The immediate and the extended family, perhaps along with a few friends, were the only support for people in age and in sickness. Naomi had to rely on Ruth, and ultimately Boaz, to care for her in her later years (Ruth 1-4).

Even with these modern tools of government, security is impossible without the family. There are not enough houses or apartments, home nurses or health aides, educators or drivers, to accommodate all of the chronically sick and aged. One of the biggest problems we faced working among the poor in Memphis TN was broken families, and the inability or unwillingness to help each other. Government is not enough.

Living in “A Land called Married” helps to bring security.

To be married is to gain approval, opportunity, and social status (Isaiah 60, 61, 62)

Isaiah uses the metaphor of God and His bride, Israel, throughout his book. The land is characterized as desolate, empty and without people. As a result, it was atypical and inferior to other nations. In Isaiah 60 and 61, God promises Israel that their “sons and daughters would return from afar” and “their offspring would be blessed.” The Lord talks of foreigners flocking to their lands and of nations serving Israel. Jerusalem would be a “praise in the earth (Isaiah 62:7).” All of these blessings would happen only when the relationship between God and His people was restored. The grace of the Almighty would flow when they lived in a land called “married”.

In every major culture in the world throughout all of history, almost all adults have been married. In fact, most cultures expected or even forced their young people to marry, so vital it was to the survival of the clan, the tribe, the village, or even the nation. The Puritans of New England expected all young people to marry and have children. Only in the past century have mores so changed as to make marriage optional, or even discouraged, as it often is now in the West.

Marriage has historically enhanced social status. In Pride and Prejudice, the silly 15-year-old daughter Lydia elopes with Wickham, a scoundrel. After her father and several other men force Wickham to marry her, the new couple visits the Bennett estate. As they enter the house, Lydia steps in front of her older sister and says, “now that I am a married woman, I go in front and you walk behind me.” In The Music Man, the Widow Paroo sings to her daughter Marian “When a woman’s got a husband and you’ve got none, why should she take advice from you?” For most of history, married woman have ranked higher than single ones in their societies.

Living in “A Land called Married” helps to bring opportunity and social status.

To be married is to have children, thus serving your society over more than just your own generation.

The Creator of the World considers children one of His greatest blessings. Therefore, the ability to create children within marriage is one of His greatest gifts. Children are a blessing that He spreads widely among people, even those who do not claim His name. Most every culture considers them a sign of God’s good favor. In the millennia before safe and reliable birth control, married people had little control over the number of children they had. Couples who feared the Lord generally wanted those they got.

  1. Children provided physical security to the family, clan, tribe, village, town, city, region, and nation.
  2. Children contributed to both supply and demand in the economy.
  3. Children created children who created children for succeeding generations.

To be sure, many children died in childbirth or infancy. Some parents did not want many children, so they killed some of their offspring through abortion or exposure. The aged and infirm often suffered a similar fate.

Several years ago I had a single, male, coworker in his mid-fifties. He had never married or had children, and was a little cantankerous. After a spirited discussion, he said, “but I need to be nice to you, as you have five children, and I need them to pay my social security when I retire.” For all of history, married couples provided the workforce to run the economy and the future families that would sustain the nation long into the future.

Living in “A Land called Married” produces children who sustain their society throughout its history.

Objections

My purpose here has been to examine Isaiah’s teachings in chapters 60-62, determine what it means that the “the land of Israel” (the people) are “married to God”, and extrapolate how Christ-filled marriages look today. Everything written above is a generalization. Many marriages between Christians, and even some Christ-filled marriages and Christ-filled people are exceptions.

  1. Couples often do not acknowledge their new identity

It is not that they do not have a new identity – they have it because God gives it – whether they like it or not. Rather, couples sometimes refuse to live in their new identity. They thus negate a marvelous gift from a marvelous Lord.

  1. Married people, even Christians, do not always delight in each other, and children often do not delight in parents.

If we first delight in God, then we will be able to delight in others. If not, we won’t. It takes time and discipline to delight in others, as we are inherently selfish.

  1. Married people, even Christians, do not always feel secure.

Our ultimate security, and our immediate security, is in our Father in Heaven. Every marriage is tense sometimes. Some, even between professing Christians, are dangerous. On the whole, marriage provides security, as God designed.

  1. Some Christians never get married.

The Lord has especially gifted some of His favorites with singleness. Nehemiah and Daniel were probably both court eunuchs, neither marrying nor having children. Nonetheless, they certainly served God mightily. Hildegard of Bingen and thousands of monks and nuns like her have been “married to Christ” and the Lord has blessed them. Isaiah 56 promises that the Lord will give a name “better than sons and daughters” to faithful eunuchs and foreigners (vv 3-5). Our Gracious Father loves all of His children and blesses them in accordance with their faithfulness, but He does not use everyone the same way.

  1. Some Christian couples are unable to have children.

People without children can be a blessing to their world into perpetuity as well. Some of the greatest people of the Bible had no spouse or children. Even in the modern day, childless philanthropists like Milton Hershey have honored thousands of others with their resources.

I freely concede the validity of these objections. Life is complicated, and often heartbreaking. Loving and dedicated people fail in marriage, cannot have children, and struggle in every area of life. Perfection and glory will only come on the other side of the great, dark, river of death. Nonetheless, these exceptions do not invalidate the rule. Isaiah’s words about being “married” to the Lord powerfully apply to Christians today. And for all of our failures, our loving God still works everything for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Conclusion

The prophet Isaiah spoke of “A Land called Married” in which the perfect relationship of God and His people would be restored. For human couples who know and love the Lord, “Living in a land called Married” provides a new identity, encourages delight, helps with security, meshes individuals with their greater society, improves their social standing, and supports their nation for generations to come.

[1] Weddings, Dating, and Love Customs of Cultures Worldwide, pp 42-43

 

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