Marriage in the Old Testament


Dr. John Hoole – July 10, 2016




In our last lesson, I presented to you the 8 customs typically found in a biblical Jewish betrothal and wedding process.  I will mention them now without much comment.


1.  The Covenant – from groom or his parents to the selected bride and her parents.


2.  The Cup – If agreed, both drink the cup of wine indicating acceptance.


3.  The Price – The price was dear, given to the parents of the bride-to-be.


4.  The Departure – Groom would give speech indicating he would return after the home he builds was finished.


5.  The Return – His coming would be accompanied by a shout and blowing the shofar.


6.  The Bridal Chamber – Groom would take his bride to his father’s home for the wedding, after which, they would enter the Bridal Chamber for 7 days.


7.  The Marriage Supper – at the end of the 7 days, the couple would emerge to the guests gathered for the feast.


8.  The New Home – After the celebration, the couple would go to the home the groom had prepared.



There should be no question that Christ has entered into all 8 of these customs with regard to His bride, the Church.  In Matthew 19, the Pharisees came to Christ to test him.  Before we read that passage, let me give you the setting, or background, for this occasion.


In Matthew 16, we find Christ and his disciples walking to the city of Caesarea Philippi.  This is late in the ministry of Christ with His disciples – probably within a few weeks of his crucifixion.  While in Caesarea Philippi, Christ shares some things with his disciples he had not shared previously.


Matthew 16:21 NKJV


21     From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.


After teaching his disciples several important principles, they begin walking toward Jerusalem.  As the bird flies, it is about 105 miles, but the pathways they took would be much greater.  For two or three weeks, Galilee is their base before moving further south.  One side trip is found at the beginning of Matthew 17, where Jesus selects Peter, James and John to go to the Mt. of Transfiguration.  While still in Galilee, Jesus tells Peter to cast in his hook, whereupon catching his first fish, he would find money in its mouth for taxes (Matthew 17:27).  He reminds his disciples that when He gets to Jerusalem, he would be betrayed and killed.


In Matthew 18, we find Christ teaching a number of other truths while they are still in Galilee.  In chapter 19, we find them leaving Galilee behind them.


Matthew 19:1-2 NKJV


1       Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.

2       And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.


We are told here that they cross the Jordan River to the east side.  This was typical for the Jews of that day.  The Jews would not travel directly south through Samaria.  We are also told there was a large crowd of people now following Jesus.  As they continued south, they may have gone through the city of Pella.  This city is not mentioned by name in the Bible, but the Bible does mention a group of 10 cities, called the Decapolis, of which Pella was one.


Not only was there a crowd following Jesus and they trek south, we are also told that among the crowd were some Pharisees.  And it is soon after crossing the Jordan River that these Pharisees try to test Jesus.  We have read Matthew 19:1 & 2.  Let’s read verse 2 again and continue.


Matthew 19:2-6 NKJV


2       And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.

3       The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?"

4       And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,'

5       and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?

6       So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."


When Jesus was asked about marriage and divorce, our Lord looked back past Moses all the way to the Garden of Eden (Matthew 19:4).  And the Institute of Marriage was created by God as a life-long commitment.


Regardless of when one dates the creation accounts in Genesis 1 & 2, they are clearly positioned in such a way that they serve as a foundation upon which much of the Old Testament rests.  As such, the depiction of marriage in these early accounts is central to our discussion. Several key themes pertaining at least indirectly to marriage seem clear enough in these accounts:


1. .Humanity consists of two necessary and equally important elements: male and female.


2.  Insofar as the total essence of humanity involves both male and female, a special relationship exists between a man and a woman.


3.  Both the male and the female are called to exercise dominion over the rest of creation (Genesis 1:28).


4.  God blesses this relationship and places within it the call to multiply.


5.  The marriage relationship between the man and woman is of such significance that it reduces other important relationships to secondary importance (note verbs like “leave” and “clave” with respect to the male and his parents, and remember the commandment ot “honor” your parents).


6.  This covenantal relationship between husband and wife results in “one flesh,” which is a union unlike any other that God has created.


It is important for us to see how Jesus answered the Pharisees’ question.  He answered their question about divorce by giving them a brief lesson on marriage.  I am convinced that people are confused about divorce because they are also confused about marriage.  Jesus says that before we can talk about divorce, we need to talk about God’s original will and plan for marriage.  He intended it, and still intends it, to be a one-flesh commitment for life.


What Is Marriage?


Marriage traditions in Biblical times were very different from today.  Marriage was neither a religious nor a civil matter, and the couple was considered married when they were betrothed to each other.  However, once married, the laws and customs of the time strongly prohibited adultery and provided physical and financial protections for the spouses and their children.  Let’s look at a few Scriptures.


Leviticus 18:20 NIV


20     Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor's wife, and defile yourself with her.


Leviticus 20:10 NKJV


10     The man who commits adultery with another man's wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.


Deuteronomy 25:5 NKJV


5       If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband's brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her.


In today’s world, it is the legal marriage that provides similar protections.  Merely having sex or living together does not provide the legal protections for spouses and children that the biblical model of marriage provided.




In Biblical times, marriages were commonly arranged by the parents of the bride and groom  The parents sometimes allowed their children to have a say in the choice, but frequently they did not.  The Scriptural evidence seems to show considerable variations and fluidity.  No biblical law required parental involvement in selecting a mate for a child.


Here are several occasions in Scripture which show parents taking a dominant role in the process.


ISHMAEL Hagar, the mother of Ishmael chose the wife for her son.


Genesis 21:21 NKJV


21     He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.


                   Hagar was an Egyptian and chose a wife from within her own family or tribe.


Abraham actually entrusted Eliezer, his head servant, to get a wife for his son, Isaac.


ISAACGenesis 24:1-4 NKJV


1       Now Abraham was old, well advanced in age; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.

2       So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, "Please, put your hand under my thigh,

3       and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell;

4       but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac."


         (Eliezer was from Damascus and is named in 15:2)


In other occasions, the sons played far more strategic roles and were heavily involved in choosing a wife..


SAMSONWe know Samson had a say in the selection of his wife.


Judges 14:1-2 NKJV


1       Now Samson went down to Timnah, and saw a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines.

2       So he went up and told his father and mother, saying, "I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife."


         Although Samson had a say in who his wife was to be, it still took his parents to cause it to happen.


ESAUGenesis 26:34-35 NKJV


34     When Esau was forty years old, he took as wives Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite.

35     And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah.


Esau chose a wife outside their family tree, and it grieved his parents, Isaac and Rebekah.


Here are a few other things about marriage we can learn from Old Testament Scripture.  As a normal practice, dating and courtship did not precede marriage.  It seems to be an anomaly for people not to marry.  The Lord never instructs any women in Scripture not to marry.  He did, on a case-by-case basis, tell a man not to marry.


Jeremiah 16:1-2 NKJV


1       The word of the Lord also came to me, saying,

2       You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place.


Yahweh was going to judge the land and its people, and did not want Jeremiah’s wife and children to endure that.  Marriage was the norm for both men and women, but God made an exception for Jeremiah.


Genesis 2:18: It is not good for man to be alone.


Proverbs 18:22:He who find a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the LORD.  Yes, marriage was the norm.


Marrying Foreigners


Another common assumption pertaining to marriage in the Old Testament is that the Israelites were often forbidden to marry foreigners.  Marrying inside one’s group or family was normative for Jews.  To a great extent, this has been the pattern for the Jews throughout their history.  A moment ago we read that Abraham wanted a wife for Isaac from the family line.  This preserves group identity and often safeguards religious traditions.


The Old Testament does include many example, however, of marriages between Israelites and foreigners.


Joshua 23:11-13 NIV


11     So be very careful to love the Lord your God.

12     "But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them,

13     then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you.


And in the book of Judges, we read how the Israelites did not heed that warning.


Judges 3:5-7 NIV


5       The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.

6       They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.

7       The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.


Most of the prohibitions by God about this issue were focused on the Canaanites that were living in the land when the Israelites conquered their promised land.  Moses had instructed the Israelites, just prior to Joshua leading them into the land.


Deuteronomy 7:3 NIV


3       Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons,


There were some people groups which God allowed for intermarriage.


Deuteronomy 23:7-8 NKJV


7       You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land.

8       The children of the third generation born to them may enter the assembly of the Lord.


I think we can say that Scripture warns against the dangers of intermarriage, while recognizing the possibility of it under various circumstances and guidelines.  There are several more verses that illustrate the dangers of marrying foreigners.


Nehemiah 13:25b-27 NIV, referring to the children of Ashdod, Ammon and Moab, said:


25b   I made them take an oath in God's name and said: "You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves.

26     Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women.

27     Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?"


Intermarriage was still an issue during the time Christ was on earth.  The Israelites would not associate themselves with the Samaritans, who lived between Judea and Galilee.  The Samaritans were considered half-breeds – part Jew and part something else.  They had intermarried and were looked down on by the Jews who hadn’t intermarried.  This was the reason people traveling from Galilee to Judea would travel on the east side of the Jordan River.  They wanted nothing to do with Samaritans and avoided going through Samaria.


Marriage and Israel’s Prophetic Future


Another striking thing is the prophetic literature in the Old Testament, and how marriage imagery is used to describe Israel’s relationship with Jehovah.  Hints of such imagery appears in the 3rd commandment mentioned in Exodus 20.


Exodus 20:4-5 NKJV


4       You shall not make for yourself a carved image — any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;

5       you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,


Here, God is referred to as a “jealous God.”  This is a phrase that certainly involves marital connotations.  Forsaking God in favor of idols is associated often with forsaking one’s marital vows, and serves to reinforce both the absolute importance and permanence of the marriage relationship.


We see this type of wording in the writings of the prophets.


Jeremiah 3:1 NKJV


1       They say, 'If a man divorces his wife, And she goes from him And becomes another man's, May he return to her again?' Would not that land be greatly polluted? But you have played the harlot with many lovers; Yet return to Me," says the Lord.


Isaiah 62:5 NKJV


5       For as a young man marries a virgin, So shall your sons marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you.


These are but two of many Scriptures that equate spiritual waywardness and idolatry to marital unfaithfulness.  Both Ezekiel 16:8 and Malachi 2:14 speak of Israel’s relations to God as a marriage.  No prophet, however, makes greater use of marriage imagery to make his point as does Hosea.  Both his marriage to Gomer, a “woman of harlotry,” and the resulting events underscore certain themes about marriage that were of great significance to Israel.


Here are but a few things we can learn from Hosea’s writings.  Hosea’s life and experiences with his wife are illustrative of God’s relationship with Israel.


1.  Marriage is far more than a contract of ownership, and the wife more than property.


Hosea 2:16 NKJV


16     And it shall be, in that day," Says the Lord, "That you will call Me 'My Husband,'  And no longer call Me 'My Master,'


Notice the sharp distinction made here between “husband” and “master.”



2.  Marriages are worth defending and protecting, even at significant sacrifice.


Hosea 3:1-2 NKJV


1       The Lord said to me, "Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes."

2       So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.


The book of Proverbs and other wisdom Scriptures give at times a glimpse of marital hardship.  But the dominant theme throughout centers on the joy and richness of marriage.  For every proverb lamenting the horror of living with a quarrelsome and complaining woman, there are countless descriptions of blessed marriages.  Here are but a few.


Proverbs 5:18 NKJV


18     Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice with the wife of your youth.


Proverbs 12:4 NKJV


4       An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, But she who causes shame is like rottenness in his bones.


Proverbs 18:22 NKJV


22     He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the Lord.


Proverbs 19:14 NKJV


14     Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers, But a prudent wife is from the Lord.


The writer of Ecclesiastes, long known for his ability to see the dark side of any situation, sees in marriage considerable possibilities for joy and satisfaction.


Ecclesiastes 4:9 NKJV


9       Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor.


And he further develops the advantages of intimacy between two rather than solitude in the verses that follow (vss 10-12).


And in Ecclesiastes 9:9 NIV


9       Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love…


I should also make mention of the Song of Solomon.  In it there is the celebration of the sheer and nearly overwhelming joy of love between and man and a woman.  While Genesis 1:28 links closely the marital relationship with childbearing, the Song of Solomon says virtually nothing about procreation.  For the writer, Solomon, marriage is far more than a means to an end, far more than a channel for replenishing the earth.  Marriage is in and of itself the source of joy and delight.


Marriage ceremony and feast


Various ceremonies and feasts accompanied the wedding day at different times in history.  But it does not appear to have been performed, sanctioned or blessed by religious officials.  As far as is known, there was no exchange of marriage vows.  That was covered by the acceptance of the matrimonial covenant they both signed.  The marriage was neither a civil or a religious matter, but religious obligations came as a result of the wedding.




I should be evident even to the casual reader that the paradigm of one man and one woman, is challenged by examples of men who married multiple wives.  We have not such example of a woman marrying multiple husbands.


Although plural marriage was never officially condoned, God apparently tolerated it in ancient times.  His first mention of marriage I in Genesis 2:24, where He said, … a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.  This sets the standard of one man, one woman, one life.


It is obvious that in Israel, allowance is made for multiple wives, although such a situation is never specifically encouraged or celebrated.  In fact, almost all passages in the Bible that speak about multiple mates, there existed hardship and much tension.  I earlier read Genesis 26:35, where we are told that Esau’s choice of a foreign woman was the source of grief for Isaac and Rebekah.


At the beginning of the book of 1 Samuel, we are told of a man named Elkanah, an Ephraimite.  He had two wives – Hannah and Penninah.  Penninah had children, but Hannah did not.  Elkanah loved Hannah the most and of what he had he gave her a double portion.


We read in verse 1:6:


6       And her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the Lord had closed her womb.


In the New Testament, the standard was emphasized.  From Ephesins 5 we learn that the Lord views marriage as a model of His relationship with the church.  Paul taught that a husband should love his wife just as the Lord loved the Church, giving himself completely up for her to make their relationship his number one priority.


Do you know what a Levirate marriage is.  A Levirate marriage is where a man will take his brother’s wife after his brother has died if she up to that point has not had a son..


Deuteronomy 25:5 NKJV


5       If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband's brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her.


If the first brother does not have a son with her, the third brother must take on the obligation.  It does not say that the obligation transfers to the next brother who does not have a wife already.  And when a son is finally born to the woman, he becomes the heir of her original husband.


Now, we all know that Solomon had many wives and concubines.  To be exact, he had 700 wives and 300 concubines.  Solomon was greatly blessed of God during his life, but did God ever approve of his multiple wives?  Let’s look at a couple of Passages of Scripture.


Deuteronomy 17:14-19 NKJV


14     When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, 'I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,'

15     you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.

16     But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, 'You shall not return that way again.'

17     Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself.

18     Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites.

19     And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes,


Do you see the many ways in which King Solomon disobeyed the Lord?  Solomon was to keep this statute before him daily.  He had more gold and silver than can be imagined.  He had huge numbers of horses.  I believe this greatly displeased the Lord.


1 Kings 11:1-9 NKJV


1       But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites — 

2       from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, "You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods." Solomon clung to these in love.

3       And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.

4       For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David.

5       For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.

6       Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not fully follow the Lord, as did his father David.

7       Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon.

8       And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.

9       So the Lord became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the Lord God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice,


God was not pleased with Solomon because of many wives.  And wherever there were multiple wives, trouble brewed and there was great commotion.


In the Bible, trouble always followed multiple wives.


         Sarah and Hagar  (Isaac and Ishmael)

         Rachel and Leah – Jealousy; Joseph betrayed and sold

         David – Amnon rapes his half-sister, Tamar

         Solomon – His many wives cause him to turn away from God.


In the New Testament, the pattern of one man, one woman, was re-emphasized.  The relationship between husband and wife was to be modeled after Christ and the Church.  The phrase, “the two shall be one flesh” is used multiple times in the New Testament.  The Bible makes it clear that God intends marriage to be between one man and one woman.