God’s promise to a husband-wife union could be revealed through the husband or wife and will be fulfilled to them as a unit. Because the husband and wife are one, a promise to one is a promise to the two-in-one and will be fulfilled to them together. God interacts with husband and wife as one and illustrates the relationship through his covenant with Abraham-Sarah: a conditional promise to be God to all that worship and serve him.
We discuss God’s interaction with Abraham regarding his conditional promise to be God to all that worship and serve him. The promise was for Abraham-Sarah as a union, their descendants, and all humanity. However, God revealed the promise to Abraham as an individual. The context of the interaction enables an understanding of aspects directed at Abraham or Sarah individually and aspects directed at Abraham-Sarah as a union. God provides a message through the interaction: that his promise to a husband-wife union could be revealed through the husband or wife but will be fulfilled for them together as a unit.
Abraham understood the message but doubted the promise could be fulfilled for him and Sarah considering their age. He appealed for Ishmael in an apparent attempt to “help” God find a path to fulfillment of the promise [Genesis 17:17–18]: “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ … ‘Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!’” Then God clarified the promise: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him” [Genesis 17:19]. Thus, God explained to Abraham that the promise is for Abraham-Sarah and will be fulfilled to their descendants through a son of their flesh. He spoke to Abraham to convey a conditional promise for Abraham-Sarah.
It is perhaps easy to understand that the promise of a child to a husband or wife is a promise to the husband-wife union. However, we may need greater consciousness of the message to appreciate its other implications. Whether in regard to wisdom or knowledge, physical possession, child bearing, or any other areas of human need, God’s promise to a husband or wife belongs to the husband-wife union and will be fulfilled to them as an indivisible unit. They need to be functionally together and interact with God as one in order to receive fulfillment of the promise. They could lose the promise if one person should become greedy and seek to claim individual ownership of any part.
We discuss God’s interaction with Abraham as described in Genesis 17 to understand the message of the covenant as it relates to husband-wife interactions and relationships.
Abraham and Sarah sought to have a child through their maid Hagar because of anxiety about God’s promise regarding their offspring. They were old and losing hope of child bearing. Hagar conceived but tried to use the pregnancy to disrupt their relationship. They resisted her successfully, choosing their union over the possibility that the child of Hagar might be the key to their promised offspring expansion.
God promised Abraham and Sarah a great expansion of their offspring and blessing for them and all humanity through their offspring. As we discuss in a previous bible study under Husband-Wife Leadership from Abraham-Sarah, God spoke to Abraham alone but the promise was for Abraham-Sarah union. They were anxious about the promise because they did not have a child and were old and losing hope of child bearing. They explored the possibility of having a child through Sarah’s maid, Hagar, in accordance with their custom. Abraham impregnated Hagar as permitted under agreement with Sarah.
Hagar was to remain subservient to Sarah and bear the child for her according to their custom. But she displayed a different aspiration as she sought to displace Sarah from her husband’s love. However, Abraham and Sarah valued their union more than the possibility that Hagar was carrying the child of their promise. They resisted Hagar and sought to impose Sarah’s authority over her. But Hagar would not submit. She instead fled from the household.
The attempt to have a child through Hagar was a temptation that potentially could have disrupted the Abraham-Sarah union and maybe fulfillment of God’s promise to the union. They overcame the temptation because of their belief in the supremacy of their union. In this bible study, we discuss: (1) their initial succumb to the temptation because of anxiety to receive fulfillment of God’s promise; (2) their recovery to overcome the temptation because nothing mattered enough to them to disrupt their relationship; and (3) aspects of their history to understand they built their marital bond through longevity of several decades of respecting, honoring, and caring for each other.
Interactions at the call of Abraham illustrate God considers husband and wife as one and relies on husband’s leadership and effective communication with his wife to guide them toward his purpose. He spoke to Abraham alone about a mission and promise for his family and relied on him to share the information with wife Sarah to lead their unity of purpose and obedience to God toward accomplishing the mission.
We continue our study of God’s purpose for husband-wife interactions through a mini series on Abraham and Sarah. The biblical accounts of Abraham and Sarah are more often about God’s interactions with Abraham, which intertwine with Abraham-Sarah interactions to tell us about God’s view of their relationship, thus adding to understanding his purpose and expectations for husband-wife interactions and relationships. In a previous study on Adam and Eve (Union of Seamless Complements), we saw that God considers a husband and wife to be one and inseparable. We see more evidence through Abraham-Sarah interactions, based on God speaking to Abraham alone during most encounters when he provided instructions and promises directed at Abraham-Sarah family.
Our study of Abraham-Sarah interactions is divided into four parts in order to focus enough on some of the details. We learn through the four-part series that God considered Abraham leader and representative of the Abraham-Sarah union (therefore, family). Secondly, he considered them as “one in God” such that his promise to one is a promise to the union and any commitment from one is a commitment from the union. Although subtle and at times easy to overlook, the lesson about God relating to Abraham-Sarah as one appears central to his relationship with them. He spoke promises to Abraham that were really promises to Abraham-Sarah and got commitments from him that really were commitments from the husband-wife union.
He gave directions to Abraham, spoke promises to him, and received commitments from him: all on behalf of Abraham-Sarah union. His communications with Abraham applied equally to Sarah as if he spoke to Abraham-Sarah when he spoke to Abraham. For example, when he instructed Abraham to relocate to “a land I will show you” [Genesis 12:1], he was calling Abraham-Sarah to a mission. Abraham’s responsibility to obey God included effective communication with his wife so they could work seamlessly together to accomplish the mission.
The biblical account of Adam and Eve conveys an understanding that God created marriage to combine a man and woman into a union of fitting complements, well suited to fulfill the purpose of representing him among all creation. We learn from his judgment of their disobedience that God holds a man and wife in inseparable responsibility to obey him. Both will incur punishment for an act of disobedience. However, he judges them individually when they disobey and assigns each separate responsibility for his or her punishment.
We study the account of Adam and Eve to understand God’s purpose for marriage as a union of fitting complements well suited to fulfill his purpose for human beings. He created Adam first to fill the purpose but decided that Adam alone was inadequate. He declared that Adam needed a comparable helper from within in order to fulfill the responsibilities of representing God among other creations. Therefore, he created Eve as Adam’s comparable helper so the two together will be adequate to fulfill God’s purpose for humans.
The creation account includes their initial life in the Garden of Eden, disobedience to God in eating from the forbidden, and punishment and removal from the initial “Garden of Eden” environment to the current life that we know. He pronounced a specific punishment for each after they disobeyed him. We learn from his judgment of their disobedience that God holds a man and wife in inseparable responsibility to obey him. Both will incur punishment for an act of disobedience. However, he judges them individually when they disobey and assigns each separate responsibility for his or her punishment.
We discuss the account of creation to understand the broad but clear statement of God’s purpose for people, he created Adam to fill the purpose, and later created Eve as a fitting complement for Adam because he found Adam inadequate alone to fulfill the purpose. Further, we discuss the disobedience and punishment to understand he held them jointly and inseparably responsible for obedience but punished them individually so each can manage his or her punishment separately.
Samson-Delilah interactions provide important principles for a man or woman seeking marital love and wondering whether to press on or withdraw from a proposed relationship. Samson was determined to win Delilah’s love despite confronting strong negative indications against a marital relationship with her. All she wanted was to spy on him for enemies that sought to neutralize his leadership of Israel. He ignored the danger signs against seeking her love, because he thought he could win her over by giving in without compromising his core belief. He eventually succumbed, broke his covenant with God, but did not win Delilah’s love.
Samson was born in covenant that endowed him with special capabilities and specific mission to begin delivery of Israel from Philistines. He was dedicated to God and to the mission from conception. As a symbol of his commitment, his hair would not be shaved or cut [Judges 13:5]: “For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” He grew up with extraordinary strength that struck fear on the Philistines. He could stand up to them, was always successful against them, and was promising as leader to free Israel from Philistine rule. The Philistine rulers had no answer to him.
Then they saw an opportunity. Samson loved a Philistine woman named Delilah that did not love him. The Philistine rulers persuaded Delilah to pretend to be interested in him so she could gain access to spy on him. They would pay her handsomely for information that enabled them subdue Samson and end his leadership of Israel [Judges 16:5]: “The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, ‘See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.’”
Although Samson had sufficient information to understand the woman was spying on him, he continued to seek her love, trying to deceive her by giving in somewhat without revealing the secret that she wanted. However, she eventually wore him down: “With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it” [Judges 16:16]. He succumbed and revealed the secret of his extraordinary strength. Delilah took advantage as soon as she could [Judges 16:19]: “After putting him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him.”
Jacob’s family interactions highlight inability of a man to love multiple women equally and potential to extend unequal love to the children and, thus, jeopardize positive family relationships. His unequal love for wives and children led to hatred of Joseph by older brothers and a tragic event in the family. Joseph’s brothers plotted to kill him in Dothan as he visited to check on them and their flock. However, kindly interventions by Reuben and Judah changed his sentence from death to enslavement and thus launched him onto his Egypt mission.
The life of Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob (also known as Israel), illustrates potential tragic family interactions resulting from polygamy as well as God’s grace in using an adversity to launch a positive change in a person’s life.
His life story begins with interactions with senior brothers (half-brothers, from the same father but different mothers) that hated him: partly because they believed he “stole” their father’s love and partly a manifestation of intra-family rivalry passed to them from their mothers. The hatred culminated in a tragic event that could have ended his life. However, the tragedy triggered a sequence of events in Joseph’s life that ultimately led him to the highest administrative position in Egypt. There he had an opportunity to retaliate against his brothers. However, he did not retaliate. Instead, he put them through tests to verify their repentance so he could forgive and reconcile with them. By doing so he cleared the way for fulfillment of God’s promise to their fathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) to lead them to a foreign land where they will multiply and prosper before returning to the Promised Land.
In a previous bible study under Joseph Called to Mission, we focus on Joseph’s life as an illustration that God could use adversity to bring about a positive change for a person. Joseph’s mission to Egypt started with his tragic experience in Canaan: almost like burning part of a rocket to launch it into higher orbit. His brothers first threw him into a dry well, where he languished until they changed their mind about killing him and instead sold him as slave to merchants travelling to Egypt. That is, God used the adversity brought to Joseph by his brothers to “launch” him into his Egypt mission.
The current bible study focuses on understanding the tragic events among Jacob’s family in Canaan as the product of seeds of discord that Jacob sowed inadvertently through polygamy.
Jacob became a polygamist by responding to circumstances that arose before him regarding marriage and marital relationships. His marriages sowed seeds for family expansion but also of discord that threatened healthy interactions within his family. Thus, Jacob’s polygamy formed the foundation for fulfillment of God’s promise but also exposed features of such family structure to enable an understanding of the issues of polygamy applicable to present day husband-wife interactions and relationships.
Interactions within Jacob’s family provide opportunity to understand various issues of polygamy. Jacob found himself a polygamist by responding from the heart to circumstances before him regarding marriage and marital relationships. He loved one woman, his uncle’s daughter Rachel, and worked hard to fulfill his part of an agreement to satisfy the dowry requirements by serving her father Laban for seven years as a shepherd. However, on the wedding day he was deceived into wedding her senior sister Leah. He remained determined to marry Rachel. The girls’ father appealed to him to complete the wedding process with Leah and marry Rachel as well thereafter. Jacob accepted. He fulfilled his dream of marrying the woman he loved but also honored her senior sister’s right to wed first. He accomplished these by marrying both sisters, the older before the younger.
Later, as Rachel’s hope of having a child with Jacob began to fade, she offered her maid Bilhah to Jacob: “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her” [Genesis 30:3]. Jacob accepted and had two male children with Bilhah. Leah became jealous of Rachel’s success with Bilhah and offered her maid Zilpah to Jacob. He accepted the offer as well. The two maids became his wives in addition to Leah and Rachel. He married Leah, Rachel, and Bilhah because of his love for Rachel. He married Zilpah to extend to Leah the same opportunity that he extended to Rachel.
Thus, he became a husband of four wives because of responding positively to circumstances that arose in his relationship with Rachel. He became an incidental polygamist, thus sowing seeds for the family expansion that God promised his grandfather Abraham. Furthermore, his polygamy sowed seeds of family discord that initially threatened to derail fulfillment of God’s promise of prosperity but ultimately became a vehicle to convey fulfillment of the promise. Thus, Jacob’s polygamy formed the foundation for fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham but also exposed features of polygamous relationships to enable an understanding of the issues of polygamy applicable to present day husband-wife relationships.
We discuss Jacob’s polygamy in a two-part study. First, in the current study, we examine his becoming a polygamist by responding positively to circumstances that arose before him regarding marriage and marital relationships. Also, we examine how his polygamy sowed seeds for family expansion as well as seeds of discord that threatened healthy interactions within the family. In the second part, we examine the unhealthy family interactions and relationships that resulted from his polygamy and triggered events that initially threatened the family but ultimately led the family to multiply and prosper.