Before discussing how husbands mistreat their wives, let’s first give husbands motivation that will discourage them from doing so. There are two important reasons husband should avoid mistreating their wives:
- First, because the primary command for husbands is to love their wives as Christ loves the church. The husband who wants to obey God treats his wife well.
- Second, because they want to have loving, godly, spiritual wives.
First Peter 3:7 commands “husbands [to] live with [their] wives in an understanding way.” Two men in Scripture—Jacob and Elkanah—demonstrate what it looks like for husbands to disobey this command.
To learn what it looks like for husbands to mistreat their wives, watch the message I delivered at a Marriage God’s Way Conference, and/or read the blog post below…
Jacob’s Example of Mistreating His Wife
Jacob married two sisters, Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29:15–28), which in itself was part of the problem. You may ask why biblical patriarchs were allowed to have multiple wives, but polygamy in the Old Testament is descriptive, not prescriptive. It portrays the reality of that era but is not allowed for Christians today. We do not see God condoning polygamy, and whenever it took place in the Old Testament, it always caused serious problems. No biblical examples of polygamy are characterized by peace and harmony but rather by turmoil and strife.
Rachel was the more beautiful of the two sisters, and Jacob loved her the most (Genesis 29:17–20, 30). Seeing Jacob’s lack of love for Leah, however, God opened her womb and gave her a total of six sons and at least one daughter (Genesis 29:31–35). In that era, being infertile was a great shame for a woman, so you can imagine how Rachel was feeling:
Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die!”Genesis 30:1
Wives Mistreat Their Husbands When They Blame Them for Their Suffering
While we’re focusing on husbands, this account is instructive for wives as well. Not having any children might be terrible, but talking of dying because of it was rather melodramatic.
Second, consider whom Rachel holds responsible for her suffering—her husband. Was it really Jacob’s fault that she could not have any children? Clearly not since he had been able to have children with Leah. Instead of blaming Jacob, Rachel should have taken her problem in prayer to God.
Here is the application for wives. When you are:
- Suffering, do you hold your husband responsible?
- Upset, do you get upset with your husband?
- Having a bad day, do you make sure your husband—or the rest of your family—has a bad day, too?
Going back to Rachel, much of her anger stemmed from her sister Leah’s having children. Her anger was not motivated by something her husband had done but by her own sins: jealousy and discontentment. A wife reading this could ask herself: “Am I jealous of other women? Do I covet what they have? Am I discontent with my lot in life? Is it planting a root of bitterness in my heart as it did with Rachel?”
1. Husbands Mistreat Their Wives When They Respond in Anger
Despite Rachel’s outburst, Jacob had the opportunity to be a loving, sensitive husband. If he was familiar with 1 Peter 3:7, he should ask himself: “How can I dwell with my wife with understanding? How can I give honor to her, recognizing she is the weaker vessel? Part of her femininity is a desire to have children, so she has a reason to be upset. We are heirs together of the grace of life, so how would God have me treat her right now so my prayers will not be hindered? I know what I will say: ‘I am so sorry you have not been able to have any children. This must be really difficult. Let’s pray about this together.’” Instead:
And Jacob’s anger was aroused against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”Genesis 30:2
Other versions translate this even more strongly: “Jacob’s anger was kindled” (ESV). “Jacob’s anger burned” (NASB). Jacob’s words were true enough; he was not in control of whether his wife conceived and had children. But he was still wrong because of the way he responded.
When wives are upset and emotional, it can be tempting for husbands to get angry in return, but God commands “husbands [to] dwell with [our] wives with understanding.” A husband should consider why his wife is upset, show her compassion, and then pray with her and for her.
Elkanah’s Example of Mistreating His Wife
Elkanah also had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Similar to Jacob and his wives, Peninnah could have children, and Hannah could not, but what made Hannah’s situation even worse was Peninnah’s cruelty toward her:
[Hannah’s] rival (Peninnah) provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, that [Peninnah] provoked her; therefore [Hannah] wept and did not eat.1 Samuel 1:6-7
There is a difference and a similarity between Jacob and Elkanah. The difference is that while Jacob responded in anger, Elkanah tried to encourage his wife. The similarity is that, in the process, Elkanah ended up being as insensitive as Jacob:
“Then Elkanah her husband said to her, ‘Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?’”1 Samuel 1:8
Husbands, when your wife is upset, do not use Elkanah as a model! In this one verse he made three common mistakes husbands make.
2. Husbands Mistreat Their Wives When They Ask Insensitive Questions
Elkanah gave the impression that his wife’s hurt was not legitimate. He knew good and well why Hannah felt this way—because she was unable to have children. He asked insensitive questions that gave the impression that his wife’s hurt was not legitimate.
3. Husbands Mistreat Their Wives When They Try to Cheer Them Up
Elkanah tried to cheer Hannah up:
Like one who takes away a garment in cold weather, and like vinegar on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.Proverbs 25:20
Husbands should respond sympathetically by listening well and then saying, “I am so sorry. What can I do for you? Would you like me to pray for you, or read the Word with you?”
4. Husbands Mistreat Their Wives When They Respond in Pride
Elkanah made the king of all prideful statements: “Is not being married to me better than all the children you could have?”
What does it look like today for husbands to be like this? “You are one lucky lady. Think of all I do for you! Aren’t you glad you get to be married to me?”
As husbands, when our wives are upset, they want us to respond sensitively. This means responding to them gently and demonstrating compassion toward them when they’re upset.
Jacob and Elkanah were husbands who really did not understand their wives, as their terrible responses when Leah and Hannah were grieving demonstrate. Husbands, when our wives are upset, let’s make sure we do not respond to them like these men. Doing so ensures that we are disobeying 1 Peter 3:7.
Discussion Questions for Husbands and Wives
- Do you feel like your wife holds you responsible when she’s suffering?
- Do you feel like your wife is content with what God has given her, or does she covet what other women have?
- Can you think of three times you responded to your wife in anger, and how you should have responded instead?
- Can you think of three times you responded to your wife in pride, and explain how you should have responded?
- Are you more tempted to respond to your wife in pride or anger? What triggers your response of either anger or pride?
- Do you hold your husband responsible for your suffering?
- Are you content with what God has given you, or do you covet what other women have?
- Can you think of three times you feel your husband responded to you in anger, and explain how you wish he would have responded?
- Can you think of three times you feel your husband responded to you in pride, and explain how you wish he would have responded?
- What can you do to help your husband avoid responding in pride or anger?