How Does A Marriage Die?

(Hosea 13:1-3) Models of Marriage Counseling–Part-IV-D

A marriage dies in the same way a nation dies. Remember that the marriage of Hosea and Gomer is an actual event that is used to typify a nation in its relationship with God. So, when the relationship between God and the nation dies, in like manner, the marriage fails. Hosea lays out a three-phase death process.

The first phase is to die in spirit

A nation dies in spirit when it exchanges the worship of God for the worship of idols (13:1). A marriage dies in spirit when it follows this pattern; God-consciousness wanes and is deliberately silenced. I am thinking of a counseling case (one of many, really) that illustrates this. The wife was raised in an exceptional church and attended one of the best Christian schools, K-12. She went off to college, drifted, and then deliberately dropped out of regular church attendance, leaving her Bible to collect dust. The husband was raised in a country church with enthusiasm and inadequate teaching. He went off to college and did not see the church again until they walked down the aisle. Like Israel, God visited them with troubles, but rather than genuine repentance (14:1-3), there was occasional repentance (6:1-3). The worship of God was replaced with materialism, sex, and pride, and the spirit of the marriage died.

The second phase is the death of the soul

The end of the nation’s soul is observed in lowering moral standards and accelerated corruption in government and business. Crime, both crude and sophisticated, increased. People’s faith in people erodes, so there is no trust in the government or society. A cursory reading of the history of Israel reveals an ever-downward spiral toward the death of the nation (13:2).

So, it is with marriage. The components of the marriage relationship differ, but the reality is the same. The dimensions of marriage that contribute to the death of the soul of that relationship include growing neglect, personal satisfaction at the expense of the mate, diminishing communication while increasing things like carping, backbiting, lack of forgiveness, and a growing bitter spirit.

Destruction of the essence is the third component.

In the same way, the destruction of the nature of marriage, trust, and intimacy precipitates the failure of the marriage. Contemporary America is a good example of observing a nation die. In the past seventy-five years, there has been an aggressive whittling away at the Constitution by Liberal professors who have made their claims sound sophisticated and humane. They have transformed this foundational document into a dynamic, culturally adaptable document that condones the downward spiral. This same picture can be seen in Israel. At one point, the Book of the Law was lost in the temple. So, it is with marriage. The concept of marriage as a covenant with God established between a man and a woman has become an easily broken cultural contract, with no one taking the blame. Today’s statistics show an almost equal number of dead marriages in the church as those worldwide. The landscape is strewn with broken marriages. Boyce observes: “This is what Hosea refers to in the third verse.

He has spoken of the death of the spirit of the nation…

He has spoken of the present moral decline…

He looks …to the eventual disappearance of the body.”1

Implementation Process in Counseling

So, how do we apply this message extracted from Hosea in marriage counseling? Let me suggest several ways.

  • First, master these three components to lead your counselee(s) through this death spiral.
  • Second, develop each point from your reading and experience. Be able to illustrate them from popular culture and the Bible.
  • Third, identify with your counselee by retelling their story, demonstrating how they have been killing their marriage.
  • Fourth, engage them in repentance, including verbalizing their confession to God and each other by helping them seek forgiveness and fleshing out what forgiveness is.
  • Fifth, develop homework applicable to help counselees reverse course. (For example, see my book, Thirty-Seven Biblical Strategies for Making Marriage Joyful (Available August 2023 by Illumine Press)

Addendum: Three Phases of Divorce Busting Hosea 12:2-14

As seen in chapter 4, God prosecutes his case formally against Israel (Ephraim). Here, in these five verses addressed to Judah is similar language. Judah was not as advanced in its demise, but God warned them of their sinful drift through the prophet. The prophet uses the declared end of Israel to appeal to Judah to repent. To address the issue, he points to the life of Jacob and his spiritual journey to offer the hope of change. He recalls “Jacob the taker,” “Jacob the wrestler,” and “Jacob, the submitter.” The lessons from Jacob’s life provide an analogy for divorce busting.

Divorce buster one

This comes from the story of his birth. Remember that he came from the womb holding on to his brother’s foot. He was named Jacob as a result. His name means “heel grasper.” He tended to see himself as the second string and therefore developed a hardened heart. He was always figuring out how to get what he deserved. Sometimes his name is taken to mean “supplanter” as a result.

So, the first phase of divorcing busting is helping a person see that, in most instances, the hardened heart demands– it has its way–that is at the root of the issues in the relationship. This echoed Jesus when he said, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.” In other words, they were angry because the wife was not giving them what they wanted.

Divorce buster two

This comes from the story of his wrestling match with God. As I read this story, it is more of the same. Jacob is going to get from God what he wants. However, God touches that hip and leaves him with a constant reminder that God wrestled him to the ground. God also changed his name to Israel, meaning he has struggled with God and has been overcome. Jacob leaves this encounter as a different man. The second step in divorce busting encourages people to wrestle with God until God changes their hearts toward Him, His covenant, and the mate.

Divorce buster three

This is seen in the Bethel experience. Jacob was here before when he had the vision of the ladder. He was his old bargaining, demanding self on that occasion. Now he comes to Bethel to hear from God and be instructed by God. Hosea is pointing Judah toward mimicking Israel’s surrender when he writes,

So you, by the help of your God, return,
hold fast to love and justice,
And wait continually for your God.

Hence, our third step in divorce busting is directing our counselees to consciously rely on God by surrendering their wills to God, holding fast to God’s love and mate, and treating one another justly.

The Hope of Repentance and Restoration (Hosea 14:1-9)

Hosea closes in chapter 14 with precise instructions for repentance and follows these with the promises of God to a repentant nation. Remember, Gomer and the adulterous marriage represent that nation represents the relationship between God and Judah. So, when we look at the promises given to a repentant nation, we look at promises given to marriage. The hope is seen in three contracts.

While this is the closing message of the prophet, it may well be the means of giving hope to a couple in which adultery has occurred.

First, he will heal their drifting—apostasy (4).

In other words, he will forgive their waywardness and cure their natural tendency to drift from him. A man or a woman who sins against a mate has done so because they engaged the works of the flesh even though they have experienced the new birth and “all things have become new.” They have imbibed the culture and poisoned their thinking. God promises to heal this drifting.

Second, he will love them freely, turning away his anger (4).

This love was pictured so vividly in the book in the story of Hosea and Gomer. Hosea loved her. He sought her and repurchased her in her most miserable state of being stripped naked on the slave auction block. Her dignity was destroyed. Her sense of value dissipated. Her usefulness was squandered. She becomes the symbol of love deployed to the undeserving in her misery. She becomes a picture of the church, a body of dead idolaters loved and redeemed. And so, she becomes the picture of a multi-adulterous mate received through the God-like love cited by Paul in Ephesians 4:32.

Third, he will restore their vitality (5-7).

The verbal pastoral pictures utilized by the prophet would be fitting subjects for a believing painter.

  • The growing blossoms like a lily depicted a restored beauty (see Joel 2:25
  • The sending down of roots like the cedars of Lebanon represents the restoration of strength (Isaiah 40:30-31)
  • The splendor of the olive tree represents value. The oil of the olive tree was a highly valued comity (Matt. 25:21)
  • The fragrance of the cedars of Lebanon delights the senses. Its only value was that of giving pleasure (2 Cor. 2:14-15)
  • The three figures of 14:7 depict abundance (John 15:5, 16)
  • The luxuriant cypress is God’s “I am” promise. You need no idol (14:8)2

The prophet closes with both encouragement and warning applicable to the nation and marriage.

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;
    whoever is discerning, let him know them;
for the ways of the Lord are right,
    and the upright walk in them,
    But transgressors stumble in them.

1 Boyce, p 105.

2 Boyce pp 113-114

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