What causes the most pain, disappointment, frustration, sorrow, anger, anxiety and aggravation in the lives of individuals today? I suppose someone might say "illness" and that is certainly a problem of no small nature. Others might suggest finances, and no doubt money problems impact huge numbers. But it would be hard to argue against the idea that "relationships" and in particular "marriage" problems constitute a significant portion of the pain and problems people experience in life.
My point is simply this: there is enough evidence that our culture is frustrated with our modern approach to marriage and relationships. Something is broken. It's at least worth a look at what the Bible says about marriage to evaluate if maybe...just maybe...we are doing something wrong. I'm not suggesting that following certain "rules" will ensure a perfect marriage. But on the whole, it is at least possible that God's plan for marriage has been twisted and obscured, and that this is behind many of the troubles we experience.
John Murray spends about 40 pages in his book, Principles of Conduct, covering many of the Biblical principles related to God's plan for marriage. We might think it strange that a book on "ethics" starts with marriage. What does marriage have to do with ethics? But this approach reminds us that, from a Biblical perspective, marriage was God's idea. Therefore, to approach it in any way that is contrary to His design, is an unethical way to live. When we take an institution of God's and re-design it for our own purposes, then we are in violation of His pattern for life, which is the very definition of unethical.
In Murray's review of Scripture about marriage, he starts with a few episodes found very early in the history of the world as recorded in the Bible. Scholars call it the "patriarchal" period. And he shows that we find hints that certain ethical standards for marriage were understood by people from the very beginning.
Digamy or Polygamy (Genesis 4:19). The Scriptures record that a man named Lamech "took 2 wives." This fact is recorded along side the fact of his boastful murder of another man. Murray concludes, I think rightly, that "the desecration of marriage is complementary to the vice of violence and oppression [p. 46]."
Mixed Marriage (i.e. believers marrying unbelievers) from Genesis 6:1-3. Murray offers insight on a passage which has confused many. It is the text which speaks of "the sons of God saw the daughters of men" and they married them. Some have thought this referred to some sort of strange marriage between angels and mankind. But Murray argues it is simply an expression to indicate marriages between the Godly and the ungodly. He concludes "When the interests of godliness do not govern the people of God in the choice of marital partners, irreparable confusion is the result and the interests, not only of spirituality, but also of morality, are destroyed [p. 46]."
Murray shows that the natural, healthy and God-given desire for sex is to be managed within certain boundaries established by God.
Other episodes from this period in Biblical history also highlight certain well-understood principles of marriage.
Joseph and Marriage Integrity (Genesis 39:9) - Joseph refused to sleep with his master's wife, even though she urged him. He understood that this would be a sin in God's eyes, saying "how can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?"
The rape of Dinah (Genesis 34) - The sons of Jacob took vengeance (not that this act was condoned) on those who raped their sister. The point is that it was clear, even then, that such a violent act forced upon another, was inconsistent with sexual purity.
The king of Gerar (Genesis 20:2-18) - The foreign king understood that taking another man's wife was improper. It is an ironical passage. Here Abraham was to blame, for saying that Sarah was his "sister" and not his "wife." But this goes to show that the sanctity of the marriage relationship was not something merely understood by God's people. In fact, in this case, the ungodly actually understood that principle better than Abraham himself.
Parent's concern for the marriages of their children - Murray points to the lengths that Abraham went to help secure a godly wife for Jacob, and he mentions how Rebecca was burdened by the "mixed" marriage of her son Esau to Hittite women. These passages just further illustrate that these parents understood the difference between a "good" marriage and one that was in violation of God's design.