Richard A. Murphy
God is a covenant God, and He created marriage as a covenant. So before we can understand what marriage is, we need to learn what covenant is. Without the binding commitment of a covenant, a marriage is only a promise on paper, which moths and rust can destroy. (Matthew 6:19-20)
Once upon a time, in much of the world, including the land that is now the United States, the covenant was the standard form of agreement between two parties. It seems that as society became more civilized, we forgot how to act toward our fellow man, and our spouses too. Look at the modern marriage contract, complete with pre-nuptial agreement. After all, we can try it out, and if it doesn’t work, there’s no risk to anyone.
Whatever happened to that “till death do us part” stuff from the wedding vows? If marriage is to last long enough to truly become “one flesh” then there needs to be something more binding than a piece of paper to hold it together. When God appeared to Abram, He came to “…establish My covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant…” (Genesis 17:7). Everlasting covenant. What would make a covenant, or any agreement involving man everlasting?
In a covenant, the root concept is commitment. Commitment unto death. If you and I are in covenant, and you have a need, and I am able to fulfill it, there wouldn’t even be any thought about “Should I?” I would desire to meet the need even at the expense of not meeting my own needs.
Covenants are commonly referred to as “blood covenants.” That is because “cutting” (entering into) a covenant requires the shedding of blood.
Blood covenants are permanent because of the shedding of blood. There is something about blood that burns itself into our memory, in such a way that it can’t be erased. The blood burns into our memory a constant reminder of the covenant we entered into. There is no way we can conveniently forget our covenant partner.
It is a well known fact that without blood, it is impossible to live. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood…” (Leviticus 17:11). Remove the blood from any creature, and you have taken the life out of it. “…for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” (Leviticus 17:11). The blood-life offering, given on the altar, before God, washes away the sin, and reestablishes covenant with God. As Christians, this covenant sacrifice comes not from animals, “But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:19).
Covenants were created by God. The first mention of the word covenant is in Genesis chapter six, when God first spoke to Noah. However, this was not the first covenant that God established. Each dispensation has had its own covenant, starting with Adam. They don’t eliminate the former covenants, just add more of God’s grace to us.
Any covenant that God established with man was caused by His love for us, and our need for His intervention into our lives. In early cultures (the time of Abraham and Noah) mankind understood the covenant relationship, and could relate to God through it. People and families would enter into a covenant whenever a binding agreement was needed. Generally, if two families entered into a covenant, it would not be because of common strengths, but complimentary weaknesses. They would enter into the covenant in order to gain the strength of the other party.
In marriage, it is often said that “opposites attract”. This attraction comes from needs and weaknesses that the other party is able to fulfill. If we enter into covenant with someone who has the same strengths as we do, we gain nothing by the covenant.
Before we go any further, it’s important that we clarify something. When one enters into a covenant, they are joining into a relationship. Not just a superficial relationship either, but as deep and strong as two people are able to make it. This requires taking time to know your covenant partner. God entered into covenant with man. Therefore, He is jealous of our time with Him, time that we should desire to spend time getting to know everything about Him. He has spent the time to number the very hairs on our heads, (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7) it is only right that we reciprocate and learn to know Him.
Before two parties could enter this covenant, a lot of talking had to be done. You couldn’t just jump into a covenant. At least, not if you were very smart. To be able to fulfill the covenant relationship, you had to really know the other person. What their needs were, their likes and dislikes, and even how they did things. Most of all, it was important to make sure that your beliefs agreed. If one followed Jehovah, and the other Baal, then there wasn’t any common ground. How can you expect God to bless any relationship that is “unequally yoked”? It’s one thing if the unequalness happens after the fact, but something totally different when you blindly walk into it.
The other thing that needed discussion was the terms of the covenant. What was each person or family bringing into the relationship? What did they expect to get out of it? Who was going to be responsible for doing what? How were their financial needs to be met? These were all important issues, and if they weren’t settled up front, could cause major problems later.
These items weren’t discussed from the viewpoint of what each expected to get, but rather, what each expected to give. Remember earlier, we said that a covenant was a relationship. We need to add a word to that relationship, it is love. We’ll discuss this more later on. But for now, just remember that true love is giving – not getting. So each party was looking for ways to help the other, while making sure that the needs of the whole were met.
When people enter into a true covenant they really need very few rules to go by. This is because the relationship is based on Haceed. The concept of haceed is so central to a covenant that it defines their lives. Every action that they take will reflect the haceed they have for each other.
What is haceed, you ask? Well, haceed is love. But, not love as we know it in this country. Not the, “I love my car, I love chocolate, and I love my spouse too.” I’m sure you’ve heard people say things like that. If I were the spouse, I wouldn’t put much stock in that love. Besides, people who say things like this probably love their car more than their spouse.
Unfortunately, haceed doesn’t really translate into English. We only have one word for love, where Greek, for example, has five; each meaning a different type of love. The best translation I have come up with is “an overwhelming desire to give of yourself, to the other person, for their benefit, regardless of the cost to yourself.”
Read that over a couple of times; it’s quite a mouth full.
Do you see where the priority is? It isn’t in self, but in the other person. Looking for ways and opportunities to meet their needs and desires. Looking for opportunities to give.
This type of love doesn’t exactly fit in with our “look out for number one” society. It’s a totally unselfish love. A totally giving love. A totally unconditional love. It requires 100%, all the time, no matter what.
When was the last time you saw someone be that giving of themselves? “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Laying down your life doesn’t only mean death, although dying for another can be an expression of haceed. Laying down one’s life is putting other’s needs and desires before your own. You see, love always gives.
When Jesus went to the cross, He gave 100%. We know from His own words that He didn’t want to go to the cross. But that wasn’t paramount in His life. He set aside His will for the Father’s. “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42) Haceed won out over his own desires. Jesus’ haceed for the Father, and God’s haceed for us.
Haceed is totally unconditional. “But God commandeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) There was no reason for God to love us, and we couldn’t do anything to give Him a reason to love us. Yet He, in His divine haceed loved us. Loved us so much that He was willing to go to the cross for us.
Since God is omnipotent, He knew He would have to go to the cross for us before He even created us. Yet He is so full of haceed for “God is Love” (1 John 4:8; 16), that He went ahead with creation. He knew the cost and was willing to pay it.
Unfortunately, we’ve lost this concept in our society. When the Bible was translated into English and other modern languages, there wasn’t a word to use for haceed. So, the translators substituted “tender mercy”, “grace”, or “loving kindness”. Those are actually rather wimpy translations. For instance: “His mercy endureth forever” (Psalm 136 – several places), doesn’t have anywhere near the impact as “His haceed endureth forever.”
In Greek, the word for haceed is “agape”. Jesus had to show His disciples what this word meant. Oh, yeah, they had it in their language, but nobody had seen it demonstrated.
When I started getting an understanding of covenant, I went looking through my concordance for the places where haceed should be. What an eye opener! Verses that I had read before came alive in a new and exciting way. I had never understood that my God had an overwhelming desire to give of Himself for me. Oh sure, I had heard He loved me, but not with this type of intensity.
God desires to show his haceed to us. As partakers in His covenant, He desires for us to show haceed toward one another, for Jesus said: “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. (John 15:12) The word for love here is “agape/haceed.”
Many of the parts to the covenant ceremony are included in our modern day marriage ceremony, without our even realizing it. For example, the covenant meal is the wedding reception, complete with the covenant partners feeding each other the bread (cake) and wine (champagne). We all laugh about how they smear the cake onto each other’s faces, ignoring the deeper meaning.
Since marriage is a covenant, it must operate in haceed. It is only when we begin to show haceed to our spouses that we begin to fulfill the terms of that covenant. We must die to self, just as Jesus did, and as Paul did, allowing God’s love to show through us. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Copyright © 1998 by Richard A. Murphy, Maranatha Life – Used by permission
Material in this teaching taken from “And God Created Sex” by Rich & Deborah Murphy, Copyright © 1997.
Image Credit: © Ambro | freedigitalphotos.net