5 Things We Can Learn from Biblical Marriages--Even Bad Ones



When you open the pages of Scripture to get a picture of what a “good” spouse looks like, the notion of finding a check list or definition is lacking. 

We know we are supposed to love each other, but does that mean have dinner on the table at 6 with the house tidy or does that mean take time to be a relaxed, happy wife when your evening family time begins? Or does it mean both? 

How to best communicate “I love you!” varies couple by couple and season by season! And I think that is why Scripture doesn’t spell out a checklist for us as spouses or parents. We are meant to lean into His word and the Holy Spirit’s leading and respond to life with Him, not a checklist.

For example, the Proverbs 31 is considered the model wife from Scripture. The passage describes that her lamp does not go out at night and later that she’s up working before dawn. I used to think that meant a good wife never stops working. 

I grew up hearing Grandma quote the old saying, “A woman’s work is never done, but a man’s work is from sun to sun.” So I figured a good wife was required to work herself into little bits of dust everyday. My husband does not prefer his wife utterly ragged with exhaustion!

But I would try hard to live up to this woman’s-work-is-never-done example laid out before me. Then a writer/speaker guest at our church said one, revolutionary thing I will keep tucked in my heart forever: this proverb most likely describes the seasons of a woman’s life, she didn’t do all this at one time. She didn’t do everything all at once!

God is the Lord of the Sabbath so it doesn’t fit with His character that He desires His daughters to slave away 24/7.

So at one time in her life, she needed to serve her calling and family by getting up super early. Other times, she was up late. She made things, she planted things, she tended crops and children. But it doesn’t mean that all happened in a day or even all in the same year. 

Her personal checklist for being a good wife changed over the seasons of their life together. And ours will too.

As for great models we can learn from, Scripture gives us beautiful couples to pattern our marriages after. But we are wise to look for heart, rather than checklists.

1. Aquila and Priscilla

Paul lived and worked with Aquila and Priscilla when he first came to Corinith. He formed a special bond with them that continued throughout their lives. Paul appears to have stayed with them the whole time he was in Corinth, however when more ministry funds came in, he was able to stop tent making and be fully devoted to ministry. Later, we see that Aquila and Priscilla come with Paul on part of his second missionary journey.

Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. Acts 18:24-26

While with Paul on his second missionary journey, Aquila and Priscilla saw a gifted, anointed man, named Apollos, who needed some more truth to his story. They took him aside and offered some more explanation. 

It also appears as though they might have been part of introducing him to the support of more of the body of Christ, who were part of blessing him on his way, just like they were with Paul. 

It is vitally important for all of us, with or without gifts of leadership, to find our place tucked into the fold of God’s design and fellowship. And Aquila and Priscilla helped further the Gospel by helping this younger Christian grow and go. 

Since they came along with Paul and he lived with them in Corinth, we could make a guess that they had precious, ministry-supporting hearts.

As for the marriage tips we can take away from them, we don’t exactly know who did the dishes or bathed the dog. We just know they were a special couple who worked well as a team and were noted for their faith. 

They supported Paul and also gave their lives to the continuance of the Gospel. We don’t know the details of how they became this dynamic duo, but we see that marriage can be a powerful team and that it honors the Lord uniquely and impressively when it is!

Marriage pattern: Great marriages have their hearts focused on God and His kingdom purposes! This is perhaps the single most foundational principle for a fulfilling marriage!

 2. Zachariah and Elizabeth

“… an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth...” Luke 1:12-14

Elizabeth and Zachariah were another precious New Testament couple. Both were described as righteous. 

We also see they were a couple that was actively seeking the Lord. I can only imagine the awe and wonder they felt as the watched God unfold His faithfulness to them by granting their heart’s desire and giving them a son so late in life! The Lord used Zacharias and Elizabeth to encourage Mary the mother of Jesus during her pregnancy. 

Elizabeth and Mary were related and Elizabeth becoming a mom at such a seasoned age was a sign for young Mary.

Marriage pattern: Great marriages don’t have “everything” the couple wants (Zachariah and Elizabeth had longed for a child and were both so old Zachariah didn’t even believe the angel when he came to tell them about their future son!) but they have the Lord because they have sought Him and His ways together - and He is their joy and contentment. 

(My husband and I have lived these words, the empty spaces in our marriages are absolutely meant to be filled with the Lord, yet the process is often deeply difficult for us as we walk through them!)

Watching God’s plan and faithfulness unfold in Zacharias and Elizabeth’s life was a powerful encouragement to Mary. Our marriages, even our places of unfillfillment, can be used by God to encourage those around us!

3. Joseph and Mary

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” … And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him… Matthew1:20, 24

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.” …And Mary said, ‘Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:30-31, 36

From both accounts of Scripture that tell this story, we see Mary and Joseph as two people who were righteous and set apart for their unique callings. 

Yet these callings weren’t ever part of their plans for their own lives, they were sacrificial acts of devotion and obedience to God. 

Their special tasks also didn’t set them apart from trials or griefs. Bethlehem was over crowded during the census and Mary delivered her first child in a barn, that really isn’t part of any parent’s birth plan! 

Herod set out to kill all the boy babies and Joseph, warned by an angel in a dream, got his young family up to flee for Egypt in the middle of the night. When Jesus was ministering, people often sort of threw in his face the fact that he was just a carpenter’s son. 

While there’s a long list of reasons they said that, we know that Jesus was indeed, from the simple and probably modest financial background of a family of carpenters. God had placed a special, eternal destiny on this couple, yet that didn’t remove them from the daily difficulties of being human!

Marriage pattern: When life turns your plans inside out (like delivering a baby in a barn because there’s nowhere else to go or fleeing in the middle of the night with your child to save His life or suffering the grief of seeing your precious Son tortured to death) they chose faith and an attitude of service. 

Life is messy and hard. Choosing to cling to faith and service to God’s purposes can make or break a marriage.

4. Hosea and Gomer

“I will betroth you to Me forever;

Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,

In lovingkindness and in compassion,

And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord.” Hosea 2:19-20

Hosea was married to Gomer and the whole experience was an unusual circumstance. The Lord had called Hosea to marry someone who would be unfaithful as a picture of how Israel had been unfaithful to Him.

While most of us don’t have this particular calling on our lives, his devotion, forgiveness, and love to his wife despite her failings characterizes Christ’s love for us and can be an inspiration to us.

Marriage pattern: Love and forgive the many (often lesser) grievances we experience in our marriages. 

While Hosea and Gomer’s situation was unique and not one that needs repeating, God’s forgiveness, pursuit, and love for His people are qualities that our marriages are meant to illustrate. We won’t shine with forgiveness in our relationships without something to forgive.

A pursuit after the heart of our spouse won’t be demonstrated if stuff doesn’t potentially from time to time come between us. These virtuous qualities don’t shine in the easy seasons of life and marriage, they show themselves when it is hard.

No marriage is perfect. Hopefully you aren’t married to a Gomer or a Nabal. 

But their stories give all of us hope that despite the weakness or failings in our marriages, God can still shine through! He can still use us! And perhaps He will specifically use us because of those hurts and weaknesses!

Whether you are waiting for an answer, watching your plans turn upside down, pressing in to find the Lord’s high calling in the midst of mundane life happenings, or struggling through pain in your marriage, the Lord has a good plan. He has great hope and purpose for your family! 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

5. Abigail and Nabal

Marriage is beautiful and joyful when it fulfills its designed purpose of reflecting God’s character and love. We appreciate the examples of couples who give 100% to this goal and both individuals serve God and one another sacrificially. 

We are inspired by the marriages that go even further by serving others together. But we also know that it isn’t always like this. And Scripture speaks to the realities of life through a number of “good” spouses in bad marriages. 

“But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, ‘Behold, David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master, and he scorned them… Now therefore, know and consider what you should do, for evil is plotted against our master and against all his household; and he is such a worthless man that no one can speak to him.’

Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves of bread and two jugs of wine and five sheep already prepared and five measures of roasted grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded them on donkeys…

When Abigail saw David, she hurried and dismounted from her donkey, and fell on her face before David and bowed herself to the ground. She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the blame… Nabal is his name and folly is with him; but I your maidservant did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent. 1 Samuel 25:14, 17-18, 23-26

Abigail was married to Nabal, whose name literally means fool

He was nasty and arrogant and those qualities nearly got him killed. She intervened to save his life. Despite his reputation, she lived out of her own identity and calling--she was a woman of grace and wisdom. 

She did not let his issues rob her of being the woman she was meant to be. Eventually, the Lord relieved her and she became a wife to King David. 

Marriage pattern: You are not shackled to your spouse’s behavior as a dictator of your perspective or attitude. Abigail challenges all of us to act out of God’s calling on our life, rather than our current circumstances. And yes, these words are much easier said than done. But it doesn’t make them less true even when they are hard. 


April Motl is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist-deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, being a wife, and serving at church, she writes and teaches for women. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Nankimstudio

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