By Julie Davis, Crosswalk.com
Marriage is one of the most beautiful gifts that God has designed for mankind.
It can be a platform for tremendous safety, as well as the vessel which exposes our most deep-seated sins. As we look throughout the Old and New Testaments, we see examples of marriages which highlight the good and broken qualities that emerge when two lives are joined together.
From the very first marriage in the Garden of Eden to those which exist today, no couple has existed devoid of mistakes, pain and mutual hurt. However, the God who designed this human relationship is capable of taking even our pitfalls and weaving them into a beautiful story of mercy and love.
Take a look at each of the following couples from the Bible. While their marriages are far from perfect, their stories provide truly beautiful inspirations to apply to our own relationships. As these examples will demonstrate, we have a God who is in the business of using messy people to accomplish glorious work.
1. Abraham & Sarah: Remain a Team
Beginning In Genesis 12, Abram (later called Abraham) receives a call from the Lord to leave everything that he and his wife Sarai (Sarah) have ever known and embark on a journey with a promise that makes little sense alongside their current circumstances.
Though they have no offspring and are well past the age of childbearing, God promises that a great nation will descend from Abraham’s family, and that it would be both the recipient and the source of immense blessing in the world. So, abandoning the security of familiarity, family, and homeland, Abraham and Sarah set out.
One uniquely inspirational aspect of this couple’s incredible story is how they operate as a cohesive team throughout the ups and downs of their journey. In the midst of fear and uncertainty, they remain unified. Sometimes this actually gets them into trouble: instead of trusting God’s timing, Abraham agrees with Sarah’s idea to use her servant Hagar as a concubine in an attempt to fulfill the promise of offspring through the line of Abraham.
Predictably, the times when they undermine God’s plan and seek their own security result in embarrassment, chastisement, hurt and discord. However, despite times of wavering, Abraham and Sarah are ultimately honored in the Scriptures for their faith to obey God’s calling without assurance or clarity of the future.
When faced with the discouragement of longing and the terrifying nature of an unknown future, it is so easy to slip into defense mode against your own spouse. It takes great trust, ultimately in God, for a couple to draw closer as they walk through trials.
Albeit imperfect, Abraham and Sarah’s example of sticking together and seeking the things above can inspire modern day couples to pursue the same convictions in marriage.
2. Priscilla & Aquila: Find Your Ministry
Mentionings of this Jewish couple are sprinkled throughout the Pauline letters in the New Testament, and for good reason.
Priscilla and Aquila travel, work, and serve together all over Europe in response to the Gospel. What makes their story so beautiful is how their ministry is born out of the unique skill set and circumstances that they have been given. Originally from Italy, Priscilla and Aquila providentially connect with Paul in Corinth when Claudius commands all Jews to leave Rome.
In Acts 18 we learn that they share a common vocation with the Apostle as tentmakers, and their relationship develops organically as the couple hosts and begins working with Paul. First teaming as spouses, then as co-workers, and now as ministry partners, Priscilla and Aquila accompany Paul to Syria and then later continue on to Ephesus.
Their ministry grows as they offer up their home as a meeting place for worship and empower and educate another ministry partner named Apollos. In many of Paul’s letters we see the immense impact that this couple has on the early church as he repeatedly mentions his affection and deep gratitude toward them.
Their story serves as an important example of how God’s kingdom can be expanded when couples open their hearts to the Gospel and employ their unique abilities as a platform for ministry. When they respond to God’s calling, Priscilla and Aquila do not scrap everything and begin a new career path, but rather allow God to infiltrate the work that they are already doing.
The Spirit uses their willingness and unique makeup as a family to build a ministry that becomes the what, where, and why of their work. In the end, their lives bring honor to God and impact both this world and the next.
3. Elkanah & Hannah: Care through Despair
Though this couple’s relationship is characterized mostly by dysfunction and misunderstanding, Elkanah and Hannah’s story of longing contains some beneficial lessons for any marriage relationship.
1 Samuel 1-2 follows the narrative of Hannah as she struggles with barrenness and deep yearning for a child. While Elkanah by no means appears as a picturesque husband (the fact that he has two wives is condemning enough), we see that he cares deeply about his love, Hannah. In an age when infertility often brought shame and rejection upon a woman, Elkanah shows her compassion and extra care.
Tormented by the provocation of Elkanah’s fruitful wife, Peninnah, Hannah reaches the pit of despair with weeping and refusal to eat. Elkanah goes to her and responds, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8).
Although his tact could use some real work, Elkanah moves toward his wife in her pain, rather than rejecting and ridiculing her like Peninnah and the rest of society at that time. His attempts to fix Hannah’s sadness were unsuccessful, but his instincts were right in loving her, seeing her pain, and reaching out.
In response, Hannah rises and eats, and finally turns in desperate prayer to the only One whose care and love are sufficient to heal a mourning heart. This story shows us that even good things like the love of a spouse or the joy of a child are incomplete sources of comfort for a soul that is downcast.
However, just as Elkanah showed up for his wife and offered what care he could, we too can move toward our spouses in their despair. God takes our meager love and uses it to nudge His children toward Himself.
4. Zechariah & Elizabeth: Prioritize God’s Plan
The Gospel of Luke opens with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, a godly couple whose life of trust and faithfulness set them apart from the crowd.
Like many others, they struggle with infertility. And yet despite this hardship, they are both commended for being “righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” (Luke 1:6)
For this couple, the rightful ordering of priorities emerges as a theme. They choose to live outside of the city of Jerusalem as a choice of piety which was unique to the priesthood at that time. While barrenness was considered rightful means for divorce back then, Zechariah and Elizabeth stay together and turn to God with their longing for a child.
Later, while awaiting the arrival of their own child who was miraculously conceived well past the age of childbearing, Elizabeth immediately responds with joy and belief in the coming Savior as she welcomes the newly pregnant virgin Mary into their home. Even the choice of their baby’s name was an exceptional demonstration of faith in the mighty plans that God had in store for their long-awaited son: while it was customary to choose a name from within the family line, Zechariah and Elizabeth together affirmed that they would name him John, in accordance with the instructions of the angel who foretold of his birth.
As a result of this couple’s faith, the mother of Jesus is encouraged and bolstered, the community around the priesthood is moved with awe and wonder, and a precedent is set for their son who grows up with a calling to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)
When we choose to trust in God’s plan, regardless of how crazy it seems, God is glorified and the kingdom is impacted for good.
5. Hosea & Gomer: Love Relentlessly
The last couple on the list tells the story of one of the most surprising and broken marriages in all of Scripture, yet it points to the heart of the Gospel. In this account, God calls the prophet Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman named Gomer.
She repeatedly commits adultery and even sells herself into prostitution. Counterintuitively to reason, God tells Hosea to purchase her back and restore their marriage (Hosea 3:1).
The purpose of this undoubtedly painful and humiliating calling is to paint a prophetic picture of God’s relationship with the nation of Israel. As Israel continually chases after false gods, the true God allows the nation to suffer consequences, yet promises that His love and mercy will prevail in the end.
Just as Hosea does toward Gomer, God will move toward Israel, redeem her, and love her again (Hosea 2). Ultimately, the Father promises to send Christ, the Redeemer, to satisfy justice and restore the broken relationship between Himself and all who believe.
While this wild story of undeserved love is not prescribing that all couples stay married regardless of infidelity or neglect (there are other places in scripture that address Biblical grounds for divorce), it is pointing to the motivation behind our unconditional love for our spouses: God’s unbroken love for us. Because God loved us when we were unlovable, we can move toward our spouses as a response to God’s love, regardless of their reciprocation.
Our Bridegroom takes the broken things of this world and makes them new. He transforms our wretchedness into hope. So, believer, learn from these marriage stories of fallen people, but look foremost toward our unfailing God. He is the One whose pursuit is relentless, and Who empowers our marriages with a mercy that heals and a love that restores.
By His grace, may your marriage be a glory to Him and a source of restoration and light for all.
Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Alejandro Avila
Julie Davis is a retired ballet dancer-turned-homeschool mom of 3 young daughters. Her passion is for walking alongside fellow believers and reminding them of the grace and power of the Gospel in their lives. She loves to ponder and laugh at the adventures of life and motherhood via her Instagram and blog. Julie and her husband George live in Richmond, Virginia and enjoy hosting friends, getting outside, and sipping on moderately priced bourbon.