by Burk Parsons
I have a good friend who thinks I am too old-fashioned. Through all the years we’ve known each other, he has never ceased to remind me of his observation. And while I certainly try to maintain an age-appropriate outlook on life, I must admit that my old-fashioned tendencies too often get the best of me. Although it does not seem old-fashioned to me in the least, when asking for a woman’s hand in marriage, I still think it is appropriate for a man first to speak with the father of the woman he hopes to marry prior to speaking with the woman.
I recall the occasion on which I spoke with my father-in-law about having his daughter’s hand in marriage. Although the conversation was somewhat awkward for both of us — I never having had such a conversation before, and he having the first conversation regarding his oldest of five daughters — we said all that we knew to say to one another. I told him I would do everything it takes to support and love his daughter, no matter how much I had to work. He asked many questions, and I apparently responded with all the right answers. Then, at the end of our conversation he looked deep into my eyes and asked the simple question: “Do you love her?” To which I responded, “Yes.”
Though his question was straight forward and to the point, as he looked at me intensely he was certainly trying to communicate something far beyond the scope of his simple question. In essence, he was communicating the weight of the agreement we had just reached regarding his daughter’s hand in marriage.
As I reflect on that conversation and the wonderful relationship I have had with my father and mother-in-law ever since, I am reminded of the covenant that exists not only between myself and them but the covenant that exists between myself and the Lord. It was as if my father-in-law had said to me, “Young man, you better keep your word, or else you’re going to have to deal with me. Although I am not able to be with you everywhere you go, the Lord will keep His eye on you to make sure you love and care for my daughter as you said you would.”
Although the conversation that took place between Laban and Jacob, recorded in Genesis 31, was different than the conversation I had with my father-in-law, there is one thing the two conversations have in common. They both recognized the reality of the Lord’s sovereign direction and accountability in the covenant of marriage.
In the covenant Jacob made with his father-in-law, Laban, Jacob took a stone and established it as a pillar, marking the place where the covenant was made between them. Laban recognized the importance of the stone, saying, it is “a witness between you and me today” (v. 48). Laban then proclaimed to Jacob these words: “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight. If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me” (vv. 49–50). Laban’s statement is fascinating. It reveals not only his right, albeit “old-fashioned,” understanding of marriage but his right understanding of the character of God. Laban’s theology was accurate insofar as he understood that God was omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent (everywhere present). He also understood that God does not take covenants lightly — especially the covenant of marriage, which so many couples in our day and age treat like a contract that can be torn up at any given time.
Laban held Jacob to his word by holding him accountable to God. Laban made it absolutely clear that God would be the supreme agent in holding Jacob to his word. In his commentary on Genesis 31, John Calvin comments, “Laban commits to the judgment of God, for vengeance, whatever offense either of them should be guilty of against the other in his absence; as if he would say, ‘Though the knowledge of the injury should not reach me, because I shall be far distant, yet the Lord, who is everywhere present, will behold it.’ Which sentiment he more clearly expresses afterwards, when he says, ‘No one is with us; God will be witness between me and thee.’ By which words he means, that God will be a severe avenger of every wickedness, though there should be no judge upon earth to decide the cause.”
Calvin’s explanation is right to the point as he retells the conversation between Jacob and Laban in his own words, saying, “I shall be far distant, yet the Lord, who is everywhere present, will behold it.” Even though Laban would not be with Jacob everywhere he went, Laban knew that the Lord is omnipresent and therefore the ultimate one to whom Jacob would be accountable.
Inasmuch as we understand doctrinal truths about God, we understand the practical realities of living before an omnipresent and omniscient God. For whether or not we fully understand how God is omnipresent and omniscient, we are faced with the reality of His presence and knowledge wherever we go. We cannot escape His presence, nor can we fool Him with our lies. Therefore, the Lord holds us to the covenants we have made. He holds us accountable as He holds us to our word, and not only does He hold us to our word but He holds Himself to His own word. He is always faithful to us, loving and cherishing us even in our sickness and health, as long as we shall live and through eternity.
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