Ancient Israel was an agrarian tribal society living in what we now call the Levant. The Law of Moses was specifically suited to that people, that time, that place. The New Testament pointedly says we are not obliged to copy their lifestyle, but to learn from their choices in context.
That is, we are commanded, and equipped, to discern their approach to life. We can pick up on their awareness of reality and human nature after the Fall. We are supposed to understand the wisdom of their choices and make similar choices for ourselves in a different context, to face the same problems they sought to handle.
In ancient Israel, it was common for husband and wife to be 10 or even 20 years different in age. Men didn’t normally get married until they were near 30 (or later), and girls were married off to such men not long after menarche. While there are no hard numbers, we do know that menarche came much later in life for them than it does in the West today.
We also know that their society kept men and women largely separated from each other socially, except within the family setting. And we know that their was none of that age-peer concentration that pervades our modern situation. Their culture flowed across generations without a trace of the alienation we see in our world today. And individual’s whole experience of life was mostly constrained within their own kin, since most villages were populated by a single clan. All of your neighbors were likely cousins, and marriages were arranged by your clan elders who had contacts outside the village.
Today we have none of that. The pattern of matching for marriage that they followed would be asking for trouble in our world. Think about the substantial differences a couple would have to overcome just in daily living. What kind of car would you drive, if any? What sort of music would you prefer to hear on that car’s radio? What movies would you have watched? What differences would there be in common daily expressions? How would you deal with the mutual contempt programmed into backgrounds from different generations? For the average “peasant” of our day, those issues would likely cause friction that simply did not exist in Ancient Israel.
We can’t plunge into this morass and simply ape the habits of historical biblical life. We have to be aware of the factors behind the choices they made and apply that understanding to a world totally alien from those particulars.
The best answer is to build a parallel society with a more biblical culture in terms of something more consistent with biblical assumptions about human nature. The vast majority of America today carries a whole raft of assumptions about reality that are a blatant rejection of divine revelation. What we have now is the long tail of the uncivilized Germanic tribes who invaded a dying Roman Empire. Our social mythology is the heedless mixture of those two ancient inputs into Western Civilization. If we do not make ourselves aware of the massive differences between what that is versus what made up Ancient Israel, we will never even understand the Bible, much less what it demands of us in our world today.
The solution is to start with that awareness and building a separate culture, a society that starts from the assumption that there is a significant distance between what we have and what ought to be. At this point in our journey, a major focus is just getting people across that huge gap of differences so they can begin to build afresh. There is no way to build without first establishing that foundation.
Building good biblical marriages is mostly a miracle right now. I can tell you mine is working exceptionally well, but I seriously doubt anyone else can repeat my formula. I broke all kinds of social rules, in part because I was already driven by some radically different assumptions that my world called “fantasy.” Since then I’ve followed a radically different path and we are still together and in love 40+ years later.
But my children didn’t adopt very much of my orientation on life, despite my best efforts. Far too much of their education and acculturation wasn’t in my hands. There was no social framework I could use to help shape their social conditioning. Their marriages aren’t turning out that well because I was hindered by custom and law from passing on my understanding of life.
Thus, the only people who learn from my mistakes and successes are random strangers whom the Lord brings into my life. Yet we know that there are people out there even today who are able to pass their own culture on to their children despite living in a alien societies. We need to examine how they do that with an eye to Biblical Law. Otherwise, this whole thing will rest on random miracles of people God brings into our little association. That is not how Biblical Law was designed to work, and it’s not conducive to establishing the fullness of shalom.
I am in no position to suggest what ages couples should be. The audience I can reach includes virtually no young men feeling the pull to find a wife. Unless they are moved by God to be receptive, even those few would struggle to accept my advice. I’d be forced to counsel a significant delay that may not register well with them, but the delay would be necessary to absorb a biblical orientation before seeking a wife. In other words, we do not yet have a biblical community in which to incubate such a radically different orientation.
Instead, we are at the point where we can just begin to propose such a community and pray with all our might that God opens the door to make it happen somewhere in the future. It took Moses 80 years of life just to get where he could understand what was required. We shouldn’t get in a rush, but we should take it seriously or people will never find the vast treasures of shalom that God has granted to those who live by His Word. But with so much work ahead of us, we can’t afford to delay putting our hands to the task.