A Case of Mistaken Identity

Long ago a wealthy man left his estate to go on a journey. His father and grandfather were wealthy real estate heirs, but the estate eventually created a conflict between the man and his brothers. Rather than stay and fight, he decided it was time to leave town. As he planned his departure, he dreamt of his childhood heroes. As a boy he heard stories about a kind and wealthy uncle who lived in a neighboring country. He never met this famous uncle he heard so many stories about, so he rose early to head out, telling his mom it was time for him to see the world and meet more of the family. Fearfully and reluctantly, his mother agreed and packed him some supplies for the journey.

After weeks of visiting the towns of his childhood stories, the young man arrived at a small city he recognized from his parent’s descriptions. Merchants and traders recognized him as a traveler and welcomed him in to see their wares. Amidst their displays the man’s gaze fell upon a beautiful young lady walking by with her sister. Her radiant blue eyes summoned his attention. “Who is she?” One trader quickly replied as if the question had been asked a hundred times. “She is the daughter of a wealthy local man. But good luck! He doesn’t let her out of his sight.” “Where is her father? I must meet him at once.” The trader saw the young man’s insistence and figured it may be entertaining to oblige. “I will bring you at once.”

Arriving at a house outside the city, the trader introduced the young man to a slightly weathered but regal looking older man he called “Aho.” The older man was kind and open to the inquiry about his daughter. He noticed the young man was strong, smart and capable. “Where are you from?” Aho inquired. “I am from the west, I came on this journey to discover new lands and to find a wife.” After a brief discussion about Aho’s journeys west when his own family divided their inheritance, the two men simultaneously came to a stunning revelation. Aho was the uncle the young man heard about as a child.

After sharing a meal and many stories, the two sisters arrived home. As Aho introduced the young man his eyes locked with the younger and there was no mistaking it, their fondness for each other was impossible to ignore. Interrupting the awkwardness of the moment for the older sister, Aho announced “welcome to your new home. Let me show you where you will be sleeping.” After showing the young man to his room, Aho made a proposal. “Stay here and work with me for a while, and I will grant your request.”

The work was hard, but the young man excelled. Everything he touched prospered. Aho began to realize if the term was short, he would lose both his daughter and his newfound protégé. “Stay a while longer” became his reply to any inquiry about the younger daughter. Finally, one day Aho posed a question to the young man. “Do you have the customary dowry to take her hand?” “Uncle Aho, I only have the clothes I came with and the labor from my own hands,” the young man replied. “We shall make an arrangement then. You continue to stay here and work with me and I will keep an account for you. When the account reaches the dowry amount, we shall have the wedding.” Not having anywhere to go, the young man complied. He learned long courtships were customary in this new culture, so he learned patience and chose to humble himself. The hope of marriage to his beloved carried him through the hard days.

Years passed and the family grew wealthier, the young man was no longer as young. And his patience finally wore thin. Aho knew he couldn’t hold him any longer without giving in to the requests. “You have now earned enough. Next week you shall have her hand.” After all the time and hard work, the young man’s dreams were finally coming true.

The marriage celebration was a traditional one. Lots of wine, music and dancing, but the groom could not see his bride to be. She was with the women until the time of her unveiling. Per their tradition, her veil would be removed at consummation. If he could have skipped the celebration he would have. All he wanted was his beloved. The hope of this moment had carried him through seven years of labor and now the moment was here.

Perhaps you know how this story ends? If you’ve followed the clues, you may recognize our young man is Jacob. He is about to have the wool pulled over his unsuspecting eyes. The bride in the chamber was not the one he worked and hoped for all those years. Dismayed, he would have to confront Uncle Aho about his betrayal. The negotiation would not go well. He would be coaxed into another seven years of labor to earn the hand of his beloved. He was unaware that his own uncle used a technicality in their customs to exploit him. The Bible doesn’t give us much color on the actual discovery in the bed chamber, but it must have been something!

The story of this switcheroo brings us to some important questions as we struggle to answer questions about the true bride today. She has been veiled to the world and Yahshua has awaited His reward. Satan has played the part of the uncle, where legal technicalities have been used to exploit both bride and groom and delay the consummation. The wait has been long, but perhaps all is actually happening according to plan? Jacob’s own struggle would shape his character. Uncle Laban’s opposition was part of the plan of God to mature Jacob “heal catcher” from a deceiver into a firstborn and heir of the estate. In inheriting the name Israel “ruling with God”, God’s plans for Jacob later came into focus.

Perhaps His plan is now on display in a larger fashion? If so who is this beloved bride? The modern Israeli state? The institutional church? Anyone carrying the name “Christian”?

The question beckons an answer, but is it possible there has been a great mix up? Does the Bible actually define, foretell or warn us about a swaparoo? Like looking into old Uncle Laban’s scheming eyes, should we be wary of a plot? Since we haven’t yet seen an unmistakable rise of Christ’s beloved, perhaps we should explore the question further.

Hope in a Pre-Arranged Marriage?

I love weddings.  Perhaps your experience has been different, but I’ve experienced them as bringing out the best in people.  As the aroma of fresh cut flowers fills the air and the beautiful environment heightens both senses and emotions, something more significant draws our souls into the moment.  The presence of HOPE.

Engaged couples plan their big day for years and spend small fortunes making them memorable, but hope is what makes a wedding.  Cultures come together, dividing lines fall, and people stand together and agree that it is good for two lives be merged as one.

Dressed in their best and present with anticipation, guests experience weddings as a mystical banquet of sorts.  Together all are participants in a celebration that echoes deep into the soul of every attendee. The wedding ceremony is unmistakably a tradition of ritual and covenant that has stood the test of time.

At the cross-section of beauty and mystery is the merging of two souls.  As loved ones witness the promises exchanged, Jesus’ participation is also felt “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). This is His design. For two to create a family, to multiply and to fill the earth. We agree the plan is good, even if we miss the mystery hidden in it all.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.’” Ephesians 5:31-32

This mystery was the very purpose of creation. The earthly marriage is God’s design of a type and shadow of His ultimate union. He gave it all to ensure this will happen. It is the final cry of His heart in John 17 just before being to the cross and ushering in the closing act of the previous age.

“…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me… that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me… and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” John 17:20-26

Jesus’ words are clear. Unity is our destiny. No word God speaks becomes void. He doesn’t simply “hope” things, He speaks things. When He spoke “let there be light” there was light. Light didn’t have a choice of whether to shine forth, it just followed the command. We don’t have a choice about this union, it will simply be.

We now live in a time between the Word and its fulfillment. After its fulfillment faith will not be required. But faith is required in this space between. True faith is to believe God before the completion or outcome of a promise. He accounts that to us as righteousness. Without this faith, it is impossible to please God.

By questioning the necessity of marriage, we partner with an adversary who hopelessly tries to stop an outcome that is inevitable. God has welcomed us into the mystery through the covenant of marriage, but when its value is denied or its commitment is broken, the mystery of union tears away the hope written on our hearts. So undoubtedly marriage is a target of the divider.

In spite of the brokenness and attacks we’ve all seen in marriage, the evidence of hopefulness is still found on the faces I see at weddings.  Even in our age of “progress”, many still believe two people can make and honor a lifelong commitment.  The institution has prevailed regardless of the world’s move against it.  We still believe honor will prevail in the vows exchanged, and that each couple can make it.

We still pause our lives, travel great distances and block out distractions to do what has become the hardest of tasks in modern society: be present.  The baggage of relational challenges, weight of despair and tyranny of the urgent is set aside in honor of the ceremony. We attend, and forsake all else, to witness a miracle and experience a mystery.

When we look at marriage in the context of the story God is telling throughout history, part of the veil is lifted.  We see that the mystery goes far deeper than a ceremony.  God’s purpose in marriage was established right from the beginning.  In the most foundational of stories, God officiates creation’s original wedding.

The man said “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. Genesis 2:23-25

Adam describes real intimacy which was made possible by the absence of shame.  The two became one.  Two personalities, two histories, two futures, two beings joined together for the very first time.  The meaning of Adam’s name is “to make” or “earth” and Eve’s is “life.” Adam and Eve were called to make life on the earth. They were formed and joined by God, who blessed them as their original parent.  

Jesus expanded on the original account

“…they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate Mark 10:8-9.

He designed and blessed a process that makes us more like Him by becoming one. The design has permanence because each union foreshadows ours with Him. If this be true, then it must be tested to be proven so.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Genesis 3:1

The truth about God’s heart for them and their union was quickly called into question. If your marriage was attacked right from the start, you’re not alone. Satan opposed the original marriage, and every union since. His job is to test what’s true. In the testing, God’s children learn and mature. What is true will survive and stand in the end. You see, the story of the bride is about the ones who overcome.

The promises for her are displayed in Revelation 2 and 3 are available for all to see. Even the adversary and his counterparts have been able to see them for over 1,900 years.

“I will give them (those who overcome) a white stone with a new name written on it…I will give authority over the nations…They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy…I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.” Revelation 2-3

Pure beginnings, purified through trials, and a glorious outcome. The bride, her journey and ultimate destiny seems to be the focal point of God’s chosen narrative. Many questions arise. How far can the adversary go to disrupt this outcome? Or better question, has God allowed him a place in the story to test, refine and purify His chosen? What else is God speaking to us through the mystery of marriage and its opposition?  Why and how has the celebration and ceremony of two becoming one been preserved throughout the ages?  

God’s chosen story, recorded through history and in the Scriptures brings us answers. Echoes of his desire for union sing throughout His Word and world. The Law, the prophets, and the stories of Jesus Himself give us details of what’s ahead.  The culmination of our destiny is a very real happily ever after, but currently we find ourselves locked in the battle between God’s words and their ultimate fulfillment.

The Mystery of Marriage

The anticipation was high. Months of planning all coming together in the final moments before the big event. As concerns about the caterer’s last-minute snafu’s faded away as more and more guests filled the backyard of grandma’s farmhouse. The home had been in the family for three generations but Stephanie was the first of the Jones clan to get married there.

They had overcome so much during their engagement. Derek and Stephanie seemed destined for break up after Stephanie’s fling with her ex-boyfriend. Derek was patient and kind, but a guy could only take so much. He stood by Stephanie during the dark hours of the battle for her identity. The stress of planning the wedding seemed to bring everything to the surface. Shame and a marred self-image had been covered up by the excitement of meeting Derek, graduating from college and rising in her new career in interior design.

Stephanie couldn’t understand why Derek wouldn’t leave her as her “yuk” became visible for all to see. He stood by and patiently listened to her shift wildly between thoughts and emotions, many directed at him. Derek had insight. He held on the words He heard the Holy Spirit speaking early in their courtship. “This is the one.” “She is a gem. A treasure in my hand. Stand by her and watch her shine.” Derek also knew the pain of her parent’s divorce would have to be dealt with. He realized money couldn’t cover the pain her heart must have felt as her dreams were shattered in middle school as her Mom and Dad walked away from their vows.

Derek’s patience was otherworldly. When others would have walked away he only pressed in more. Following insight from the Spirit, he realized only love could extinguish the arrows pointed at Stephanie. He was determined to be resolute in his love and unquestioning of his decision to propose. After one of the darkest nights, just months before the wedding Derek got a clue from the Spirit as Stephanie pushed to end their relationship. He simply heard “rejection wants rejection.” At that point Derek realized Stephanie was under the influence of something that did not want love for her, but loneliness. Identifying his enemy, Derek pressed on with a strategy that would soon bring excitement and anticipation to grandma’s farmhouse. 

Moved by a vision of the joy of the wedding day set before him, Derek engaged in what he could only call “love warfare.” It was a 21-day assignment to win back his beloved from the clutches of another. His aim was to break her enemy’s goal of exclusion and isolation by loving, accepting and pursuing her like never before. Derek choose to give up food until Stephanie was free. Every day he woke up saying “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” He wrote and hid notes she would uncover on her daily path, he surprised her with her favorite coffee at work, he brought her meals in the evening, but most importantly he prayed and gave her space. He knew what God spoke and believed God was able to accomplish it. Somehow, someway everything would come together. His prayer was unusual. “God this is up to you. I am standing by her as you said, now I’m asking you to do your part.” Day after day he found creative ways to surprise her and day after day he prayed the prayer of faith. He believed God and held God to His promise.

As if the heavens shouted in response. On the night before the 21st day of Derek’s commitment, Stephanie had a dream. On the dream she was on a horse. Not just any horse, but a black stallion. The stallion was out of control. Unlike the horses she helped train on grandma’s farm, this one was unwilling to submit to her prompts and commands. As she made one last effort to pull the reigns and shout, the horse took off for the nearby forest. Fear immediately set in. Knowing she couldn’t navigate the ride or command the horse’s attention, she faced the decision to jump off and certainly break her bones or stay on for certain death. As she dropped the reigns and prepared her launch a loud voice boomed “STOP.” The horse screeched to a halt as she surprisingly found the reigns back in her hands. The voice continued: “BE STILL.”

As Stephanie arose on the 21st day she was struck with the gravity of the dream. She couldn’t think about anything else. Eating nothing and skipping her morning coffee, she drove past work and continued miles down the road until she found herself at the old grove where she used to walk and talk to God. As if being thrown back in time, Stephanie found herself alone, quiet with God and asking questions. “What was that dream about?” Not hearing an audible voice respond, she pressed on “and who am I?” “Why don’t I want to get married to Derek?” Question after question poured out of her. Instead of getting frustrated at the lack of response, she decided to sit down by an old oak tree. Enjoying it’s shade and the late morning light finding it’s way through it’s branches, she found her attention fixed on the extensive root system of the tree. A voice rose up in her heart. “Stephanie. Do you know the meaning of your name?” She knew the thought wasn’t her own. She opened her phone and quickly looked it up. It simply said ‘crowned in victory.’ She wondered why God would lead her to this, but strangely it started to make sense of the dream and everything else. Years before she had a fall from a horse that led her into a coma in the intensive care unit. She was awakened on the 7th day and deemed miraculously healthy with no residual effects. Not until this time did she consider God’s hand on every detail of her life. Her naming, that accident, meeting Derek and an ultimate outcome of wearing a victor’s crown.

She immediately called Derek. “Honey, it’s me.” “I don’t really know what to say but I love you and I can’t wait to get married on the 29th. If you will still have me it would be my dream to have you for the rest of my life.”

Derek and Stephanie’s story is written on many of our hearts. Whether we can see it or not, God has orchestrated the events of history to lead to an ultimate outcome. Regardless of our isolation, rejection, or feeling of abandonment, He seeks us out and draws us in, one by one. The outcome is better than our mind’s can conceive.

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22

We shall all awake from our comas. We have sought for life, but we have not found it until He makes us truly alive. It’s a type of “alive” our senses have not known and it’s what we’re made for. No matter how things look today there shall be a wedding. It’s the story God has telling from the beginning of time.