Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Top 10 Couples: A Book Review

A few weeks ago, we talked about the biographical method of Bible study, and how we can learn from the lives of Biblical characters and apply their lessons to our lives.   In preparation for our discussions about marriage, I read a book that takes that theory and applies it to couples.  In 
The Top 10 Most Outrageous Couples of the Bible: And How Their Stories Can Revolutionize Your Marriage, David Clarke takes a look at ten marriages in the Bible and what we can learn from them.  Some of the lessons are positive (you should do this in your marriage), and some are more negative (please don't do this in your marriage), and all of them have the advantage of being grounded in Scripture while still being applicable to our 21st century lives.  

In his section on "The Good and the Bad," Clarke has several chapters about Jacob and his two wives. He identifies the pattern of their relationship as "the wimp and the witch" and says it is alive today in many marriages.  I shriveled just a little when I read it because I recognized some witchy tendencies in myself. The witch is the woman who badgers and insults her husband, refusing to submit to his leadership.  Remember when Leah bought a night of sex with Jacob from her sister? Now, I'm not saying that I have ever bought my husband's services (no need, really), but I haven't always treated him with the respect that I am commanded to have for him.  Submission does not come easy for me.  The nice thing about this book is that Clarke doesn't just say "you should submit your husband;" he gives practical ways to begin doing it today.

"A truly submissive wife," he says, "does three things: she meets her husband's needs, uses one-way communication, and allows her husband to be the leader in the marriage relationship." He then breaks down how a wife can meet her man's needs.  One of them is to be respected, and we can meet that need by refusing to criticize, belittle, or nag him and instead praise him often.  Husbands also need physical touch, and we can meet that need more places than just the bedroom (although regular sex is also a requirement, see Monday's post). Frequent hugs, kisses, and massages all meet his need for physical affection too.  

So far, so good. I know that my husband needs respect and physical touch, and I know ways to meet these needs.  I don't always do it, but I know I should.  On the other hand, one way communication was one way of being a submissive wife that I had never heard of, but made a lot of sense once I did.  All one way communication means is that I need to tell my husband my views, thoughts and emotions about a topic and not expect an immediate reply.  How many fights would that have stopped in our marriage if I had known about it before?  Oh my. I am one who likes immediate feedback.  It never occurred to me that he might need a little more time to process what I have said.  One way communication doesn't mean he will never respond to me; it means I give him time to respond in the way that seems best to him without constantly nagging him.  The chapter goes into a lot of specifics of what this kind of communication looks like, but just the idea that I could give him more space was novel to me, and I'm putting into practice today. 

Jacob and his wives may fit the pattern of the witch and the wimp, but Mr. Clarke puts them in the section of the book with the bad AND the good.  At first, I was surprised. What could be good about that marriage?  

Commitment.  No matter how crummy the relationship could be, they all stuck it out.  Now, divorce was a lot less common in those days, but that doesn't mean he couldn't have left Leah with Laban when we went back to the land of Canaan or immediately abandoned her when he found her instead of Rachel in his tent the next morning!  After all, he didn't love Leah.  And Rachel's acerbic attitude earned her a place on the side of the road, but he stayed with her too.  Bigamy is not okay, but staying committed to your marriage no matter how bad it gets is the very definition of faithfulness.

There were times in the book that Mr. Clarke got a little too sexist for my tastes.  For example, in his chapters on Abraham and Sarah, his premise is that men make bad decisions in marriage because they are selfish and women make bad decisions because they get too emotional.  In my opinion, he laid it on a little thick with the "emotional woman" trope.  

Overall, though, the practical suggestions the author gives for strengthening our marriages based on the good and bad choices we see in Biblical marriages did outweigh any negatives in the book.  There's much more in it than I could hope to cover in a short review, from the good marriage of Mary and Joseph, to the bad of Lot and his wife, Mr. Clarke covers many things we can learn from the marriages God chose to share with us in the Bible. 


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