Marriage and the Family - 9 - Heartbroken Homes (2)

Chapter 9 

Heartbroken Homes (2)

If communication was the nemesis in Nabal’s and Abigail’s marriage, and if children were the strain between Isaac and Rebekah, then competition and compatibility problems beset Jacob and his favorite wife.

The incident of Genesis 30 is well known Jacob has begotten children through Leah. In a fit of envy, Rachel exclaimed, “Give me children or else I die!” The Scriptures point out that this was because of envy. Her desire then had an unholy source; it was born of envy, a desire to have what another had.

Many a marriage has been shipwrecked upon the rocks of competition. Young couples marry; mortgage themselves and their futures, become indebted for material things, all with the view to having what others have. What they fail to realize is that it may have taken others years to get the very same things, which they in turn would like to get overnight. It is currently estimated that well over half of the divorces in the USA today have money problems as a major source of discord. Many times indebtedness occurs and each blames the other. Goals and priorities are not set; budgets are unheard of; gratification must be instantaneous; delay in having is looked upon as failure.

Couples contemplating marriage should discuss financial matters and have a clear understanding of their resources and limitations. We live in a society which is geared to credit buying and debt. The young believer especially must avoid this early in marriage.

Not only was her desire from a wrong motive, but her demand was in a wrong direction. As Jacob rightly answered, “Am I in God’s stead” She was blaming her husband instead of taking the circumstances from the Lord. How different were Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 25:21) who entreated the Lord and received fruit as a result.

Spouses look in the wrong direction at times, just as Rachel did. Husbands blame wives and wives in turn blame husbands, because they don’t have what others have. One accuses the other of poor budgeting; the other is blamed for failure to move ahead in the job. Soon a decision is reached for both to work and to defer the family until things are “better” financially. This is not a condemnation of women working; but it is a condemnation if it is just to keep up with others and have more material goods to call our own. Even the secular world and sociologists have taken note of the vast effects that women in the work force have caused. It has changed family life, society, and marriages.

Finally, in considering Rachel, it is obvious that her device for solving the problem was also wrong. In attempting to keep up with others, in accusing her husband of failure, she resorted to an expediency that really did not satisfy her. In struggling to have what others have, we learn to our loss that having does not satisfy. Even more tragically, the woman who cried, “Give me children or else I die,” received both parts of her threat. In giving birth to Benjamin, her second child, she died.

But Rachel and Jacob introduce an additional problem. Recognizing that some unique differences exist because of the multiplicity of wives which Jacob had, there were nevertheless some problems of compatibility between Rachel and Jacob. These are detailed for us in chapter 30:14-18.

Problems in the physical sphere do arise in marriage. Frequently they are the result of wrong expectations. Courtship with all of its emotional elements which are constantly being held in check gives rise to unrealistic expectations in marriage. The restraints are now withdrawn and couples expect immediate and permanent ecstasy. When expectations are not fulfilled, a spouse may withdraw and interpret this as a lack of “love,” a lack of the “real thing.” Reverse reasoning may lead one of the spouses to wonder if they are really  “in love,” equating the emotional experience with agape love.

Husbands and wives must display patience and understanding in this most intimate area of marriage. A husband would not accuse his wife of lack of love if she burned the dinner. A wife would not question the depth of her husband’s love if he failed in his first wallpapering job. Both would recognize the need for experience and time. Why be less patient in the most emotional, intimate and (contrary to popular press) least natural aspects of marriage. The physical response is a very individual one and both husband and wife must learn how to satisfy each other. It does not come naturally.

Moses and Zipporah

In the brief glimpse which we are afforded into the husband and wife relationship of Moses and Zipporah, there is an incident which reveals one of the great spoilers of marriage: compromise. We are not referring here to each giving a bit, relative to their own rights. It is compromise of principle that is involved here.

Look at the details for a moment. In the land of Midian, Moses finds a wife. God graciously grants them two sons (Exodus 4:20) while there. He is called by God to return to Egypt. He departs with his wife and sons; he stops by the way in an inn where the strangest conceivable event takes place. We are informed that the Lord met him and sought to kill him. Follow closely what ensues. Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son, not her sons. In frustration she casts it at Moses’ feet with the epithet, “A bloody husband art thou to me.”

What does all this mean? If circumcision was so important to God, why was only one son involved? It appears that Moses and Zipporah reached a family crisis with the birth of two sons. Moses, the Hebrew, doubtless argued for circumcision. To Zipporah, this was abhorrent. How was the problem resolved? By compromise. Obviously one son was circumcised to please Moses, and one was left uncircumcised to please Zipporah. Everyone was happy but God. In reality no one was happy. Her accusation to Moses proves that she was angry at the compromise and at being forced to be the circumcisor of her son.

There must be room for compromise in a marriage. The room, however, should involve amoral and non-scriptural issues. Compromise over the color of the wallpaper, but not over divine principles.

Sadly we can sometimes agree on the former issues and not on the latter. There should be no compromise relative to clearly revealed principles from God. Zipporah reluctantly, but finally obeyed God. In doing so, she virtually blames Moses. Neither partner came out ahead. Both lost.

When differences do arise over scriptural things, they must be resolved together in the presence of God. When Paul was dealing with Euodias and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2, not a marriage relationship I know, but grant me this liberty), he does not take sides or suggest compromise on a middle ground. He advocates being of the same mind in the Lord. Submit all differences to the principle of the Lordship of Christ and take what comes from that even if it means loss (Philippians 4:5).

Job and His Wife; Hannah and Elkanah

I almost hesitate to mention these worthies as being guilty of failure. There is little if anything which can be said against them.

There is, however, an incident in both marriages which reveals a lack. When Hannah was mourning over Israel’s condition and her lack of a son to give to God, Elkanah did not realize the depth of her sorrow and wondered why Hannah was so grieved. He actually took it personally, as though somehow Hannah wanted a son more than a husband.

When Job was going through his severe trial, which his wife shared in large measure, she advised him to “curse God and die.” Elkanah was guilty of a lack of sensitivity to his wife’s need. Mrs. Job was likewise culpable of a lack of support to her husband in this hour of need.

This reflects back upon the basic differences in men and women. Men tend to be short on sensitivity to others; we fall into the trap of taking the emotional lows of our wives personally.  Women likewise fail to support and nurture the fragile “ego” of their husbands, responding only on an emotional level.

Abram and Sarai

Heartache and sadness marred Abram’s marriage because of a collapse in headship. This is something further away from God’s ideal than even compromise. He abdicated his role as head and allowed his wife to make decisions. In Genesis 16, the long trial of barrenness finally wears upon Sarai, and she suggests a way for Abram to have children through Hagar. Abram harkened to his wife’s advice. Envy, hatred, bitterness, and strife were born into the home as well as the child, Ishmael. When Sarai complains that Abram should never have listened to her bad advice to begin with, Abram again resolves the problem by giving his wife the responsibility for decision making, “Thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee.” In other words, you take over and do as you please.

The immediate and long-range tragedy from this shortsighted advice is familiar to every reader. Although Sarai was out of place, the ultimate blame lies with Abram for abdicating leadership.

In every sphere of life, we are accustomed to a central authority. Without it we become insecure and ill at ease. Few would wish to enter a city or state in which there was no one “in charge.” We all know that the natural tendencies of men must be kept in check by the consciousness, and at times the presence, of authority.

In a similar manner, headship must be maintained in a family if all is to be in order and harmonious. Its absence will lead to an “every man doing what is right in his own eyes” condition. This is equivalent to nothing being right or wrong. Whatever the challenge and whatever the cost, a husband must maintain headship according to divine standards.

David and Michal

   This tragic marriage witnessed what has been the deathblow to many relationships. As David returned from the house of Obed-edom with the ark, we are told that he danced before the Lord with all his might, girded with a linen ephod. Michal who is discerningly called Saul’s daughter, not David’s wife, saw him and despised him in her heart. When he returned to his house, she verbally attacked and berated him.

It is clear that Michal loved the manly warrior of 1 Samuel 17 and 18, exalted to be king in 2 Samuel 3, but the pious, humble man of this chapter is beneath her dignity and pride. She is rightly called Saul’s daughter. She obviously had a love for externals, place, accomplishment and honor. She exaggerates in her condemnation of David, charging him with uncovering himself before the handmaidens as he danced. Scripture clearly says he was dressed with linen ephod. She degrades him verbally by scorn and ridicule. She attacks him at his most sensitive point, his self esteem. Her attack was meant to destroy. Were David anything less than a spiritual man, she might well have succeeded.

Michal’s behavior illustrates some especially important dangers in discussing differences. She attacked David. When a problem or difference surfaces, never attack the spouse; always attack the problem. Face it honestly, being aware of why it bothers you. Seek for solutions, not simply majoring on the problem.

Marriages rise and fall on mutual esteem and trust. Guard jealously these values. Eschew anything which would introduce the opposite into your marriage.

Hosea and Gomer

The ultimate strain upon any marriage is seen in the heart rending story of Hosea and his wayward wife, Gomer. Infidelity is the worst stress which a marriage can be called upon to endure. What is most remarkable in this scriptural incident is that the problem does appear to have been all one sided. The fault lay squarely upon Gomer and not in any measure upon Hosea.

The great lesson to be learned here is the kind of home to which Gomer returned. It is remarkable that the three prodigals in our Bible all met the same thing at the front door. 

In closing this article with Gomer and Hosea, I am not so much pleading for a solution to the hurt of infidelity, as a solution to all the hurt and misunderstandings which occur in a marriage. In this closest of all human relationships, there is great potential for problems. It is almost axiomatic that the more potential good there is in something, the more potential evil there is if things go out of control. The fence which surrounds marriage, the foundation which upholds it, the atmosphere which pervades it, must include this type of love which can forgive without reserve or condition.