Looking for Love in the Bible

What we can learn from Scripture’s complicated couples

When people start reading the Bible, they sometimes assume all the characters they meet there (or at least the good ones) are exemplary. Well, they are, but what kind of examples do they set for us? Even the most faithful figures in Scripture slip up.

Perhaps in your ministry, you’ve scoured the Bible for good role models in matters of marriage and romance. Then you know: it’s hard to find good ones. But we do find an assortment of flawed lovers—much like us, and the people we lead.

Madam, I’m Adam

The end of the Bible’s second chapter presents an image of deep intimacy between Adam and Eve. Bone of bone and flesh of flesh, they were naked and unashamed—until sin entered the picture. Then the blame game began.

Many modern couples live in a tension between Genesis 2 and 3—cleaving to each other one moment and clawing at each other the next.

Sis-Boom-Bah

Call it sibling rivalry. Call it bait-and-switch. Jacob comes to town and meets two sisters—and the Bible is strangely external in its description of them—almost as if we’re looking through Jacob’s eyes. “Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful” (Genesis 29:17 NIV). Jacob fell madly in love with Rachel, worked seven years to win her hand, enjoyed a festive wedding, and “when morning came, there was Leah!” (v. 25). He had married the wrong one. Oops.

Polygamy was fairly common in that culture. Scripture doesn’t judge Jacob for also marrying Rachel, his beloved. But it still seems like a really bad idea to marry two sisters.

Sibling rivalry continued in that family, creating a culture of jealousy and discord for generations to come.

The Bachelor

At first glance the romance of Ruth and Boaz seems dreamy. Wealthy bachelor scans his fields and asks about the young widow gleaning there. World-weary mother-in-law gives Ruth tips on flirtation. And then there’s some weird stuff with feet.

We often find this with Scripture, don’t we? Just when we’re relating to a timeless story, we run into details that are firmly rooted in a particular culture—and mysterious to the modern reader. Ruth “uncovers the feet” of the sleeping Boaz and lies down there. Boaz awakens and spreads his garment over her. The next day Boaz conducts a business deal that essentially gives him the “rights” to Ruth, and it’s sealed by the removing of a sandal.

Is this a love story? Maybe. But the greater story might be that Ruth, a foreigner, marries into the Israelite culture and ultimately becomes a foremother of the Messiah (Matthew 1:5).

Princess Bride

Michal, daughter of the troubled King Saul, was in love with the young warrior David. She became a pawn in the long-lasting chess match between these two leaders (1 Samuel 18:20-29). Given in marriage to David, she was later taken away from him, then reclaimed by David once he had attained the throne. She bravely helped David escape from her raging father at one point, but much later she sourly rebuked David for dancing immodestly (2 Samuel 6:20).

Young love is sometimes choked by the thorns of this world. External pressures can do irreversible damage. Is that what happened here?

Hosea, Can You See?

God asked the prophet Hosea to marry a “promiscuous woman” (Hosea 1:2, NIV). He did, and—big surprise—she was unfaithful to him. The prophet’s pain is evident in the book that bears his name, and it mirrors God’s own suffering over his errant people.

“How can I give you up, Israel? How can I abandon you? . . . My heart will not let me do it! My love for you is too strong” (Hosea 11:8).

Hosea’s experience raises many questions for us, but through his pain we see a new side of our Lord, the one who longs for us and laments over us. And we look forward to the wedding feast at the end of time, where tears are wiped away—perhaps even God’s own tears.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Everyone!

Love is tough stuff. The merging of two unique people, with all their passions and peculiarities, is difficult enough, but then add temptation, family discord, cultural pressure, infidelity, or other challenges—and it can become a battle zone.

We don’t need to exalt a biblical ideal of marriage as a state of perpetual bliss. People know better. And they might just feel unnecessarily guilty about being . . . well, normal. Couples have problems. The Bible does not teach us otherwise.

Yet it also teaches us that God gives grace and strength. He shows us how to forgive and how to sacrifice. He helps us handle the pressure. He leads us into a deep and enduring love.

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Randy Petersen
Randy Petersen

Randy Petersen is Director of Scripture Engagement Content for American Bible Society. Writer of more than sixty books and hundreds of church curriculum lessons, he has also served churches as a Bible teacher, small-groups coordinator, drama director, preaching consultant and softball pitcher.

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