If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married. – Deuteronomy 24:5
This is one of those kooky verses that we don’t understand in modern America, so we just jettison it like old apples. “It has no use or application to me”, we might say--then we just rumble on with our overactive “Christian” lifestyles. We really like to do this, especially with the Old Testament: There is no prophecy, proverb, or command that we can’t easily throw aside based on the fact that it’s, after all, the Old Testament, and “didn’t Jesus come to make the Old Testament obsolete?” Well, no. Of course not- Jesus came to obliterate the law, or even more specifically, to replace the system that says justification before God is due to the observance of the law. So observing many laws (Anybody rest one day a week? Anybody avoid taking the LORD’s Name in vain?) is not wrong; it’s the looking for right standing before God through observing those laws that Jesus came to destroy...
Back to the verse. There are all kinds of things that God tells us in the scriptures that are just “laws of living”: they’re God’s Owner’s Manuel for how to be a successful, well-working human being. And this is one of those laws. Let’s observe what exactly the verse says:
1) When you marry, the rules change. This should be obvious enough, but lots of people don’t take this on board. People assume that they can go on with their guys’ nights, spending in a way that only considers yourself, throwing your dirty jeans wherever, scheduling yourself the way you used to, etc. Oh contrare! Entering into any covenant is a death and a rebirth. That means your old way of life, your old identity, your old patterns- they all DIE. Isn’t it funny the first time you’re referred to as a fiance? Or as a husband or wife? Yeah, that’s a new label for you, because your identity is changing. It’s a huge thing to undergo, and the Bible says it takes some time. EVERYTHING is up for re-negotiation. That doesn’t mean you’ll never have a guys’ night again; it just means that you can’t assume your old life is going to continue, with the minor addition of a new person along for the ride!
2) New Marriage needs new margins. The verse says that the man is not to go to war, nor have “any other duty” laid on him. Wow! Okay, this means that IF THE NATION IS AT WAR (does that sound like kind of an emergency? Uh, yeah. It does), even THEN, the husband is not to go away and join the fighting. Wow. And there is to be no other duties laid on his head. Okay. To us, this means that we’re to avoid any new stresses or weights added to a new marriage. Did we mention that you’re struggling with a new identity and lifestyle? That’s a SIGNIFICANT adjustment, and the invenstment in that personal transformation will pay off for generations. The Bible says, give that transition some time. Avoid taking a new job, moving to a new city, or taking on volunteering roles (however good they may be! It could be feeding the poor or helping out at your church or any kind of great, selfless stuff… but the Bible says this isn’t the time. You’ve got bigger fish to fry), where at all possible. Make room for each other.
3) Bringing happiness to each other is a learned skill. It feels indulgent, maybe, to devote an entire year to “bringing happiness” (another translation of this verse is “learn how to please…”), but that’s such a necessary, foundational skill of marriage… and of family life in general! Books like The Five Love Languages or His Needs, Her Needs are all about this learning process- loving one person is NOT the same as loving another person. So the Bible actually dictates that there be a period COMMITTED to the study of loving your new spouse. It’s kind of awesome of God to demand that we do this, huh?
So besides encouraging people to say NO to good-looking opportunities that will introduce stress and responsibility into a young marriage (at least for the first year), we recommend a couple of other things too:
1) Try to get away monthly. Go camping, find a B&B, go stay with relatives- just get out of the grind of normal life and get away together. Take that time to review your vows, talk about your marriage and relationship, and how’s it’s going with the year’s gold to “learn how to bring happiness”. What am I doing well? Where can I improve? Etc. This is the most important relationship of your life, and will determine the lives of, potentially, thousands of people who come behind you. It’s worth the investment.
2) Work your way through marriage books, attend a marriage conference- just make marriage your hobby for the year. Find a helpful blog or podcast, meet up with another young couple, find a mentor couple to guide you, etc. Just make Making A Great Marriage job one for this year.
3) Use this first year to get your finances in order and create healthy habits that you’ll follow for a lifetime. That includes giving, savings, and good spending (spending on stuff that matters, like relationships and memorable experiences, but saying no to stuff that doesn’t, like chasing fashion or tech trends). Talk through all these things as often and as thoroughlly as possible. What better time to work through these really important issues than your “off year” of marriage?
4) If there are past abuse, sexual, or illness issues, deal with them. Get counseling. Find a prayer group. Get physical therapy. Again, this year is for YOU- you’re laying a strong foundation for the family God is buildling through the two of you. Don’t put off wholeness in body, soul, or spirit. Invest in each other and in your marriage.
I can’t think of a better investment in this first year than to pursue one another’s health, wholeness, and happiness. Being able to believe that “my spouse really wants my good, more than money or success or knowledge or anything else” is a powerful trust-builder that, again, will pay off for the rest of your lives (and for the duration of your family lineage!). Go to school on this wonderful provision God gives us in the scriptures, and protect this precious first year. Don’t let undue pressures creep in on your new marriage- knowing that fostering its health is the wisest move you can make.