When Wives Should Confront Their Husbands
and Why Their Husbands Should Listen
and Why Their Husbands Should Listen
But God said to Abraham, Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called (Genesis 21:12).
At a recent wedding reception in Ontario, Canada, Sue and I were seated with a Jewish businessman and his wife who are quite orthodox in their faith and fluent in Hebrew. We had a great time discussing O.T. Scripture and I decided to ask them a question concerning what I had read in the Chumash, a well-known Jewish commentary, about the phrase ezer neged in Genesis 2:18 that is translated “helpmeet” in the KJV and “helper comparable” in the NKJV.
We Have Gotten it Wrong About the “Helpmeet”
The Chumash, which is widely used in Jewish homes and synagogues, carries comments on the Torah by Jewish rabbis and teachers, both ancient and modern. Written by people for whom Hebrew is their native tongue, the Chumash says neged literally means “against,” and that God literally said he would make the man a “helper against” him. The Chumash commentators go on to say;
Many have noted that the ideal marriage is not necessarily one of total agreement in all matters. Often it is the wife’s responsibility to oppose her husband and prevent him from acting rashly, or to help him achieve a common course by questioning, criticizing, and discussing. Thus the verse means literally that there are times a wife can best be a helper by being against him (The Chumash, Stone Edition, 13).
I told this couple with whom we were seated about this reading in the Chumash and asked their opinion of its meaning. They confirmed that the word, indeed, means “against.”
I then recalled how I had learned in my own studies in Genesis, with Gentile sources, that neged means “corresponding to” and that it expresses a picture of two people standing face to face. This was in line with comments of another Jewish friend who said that neged carries the picture of two people standing “nose to nose.” I also recalled that the Hebrew word translated “helper” in Genesis 2:18 is ezer and is commonly used in the Old Testament of God being the “helper” of humanity (Susan Hyatt, In the Spirit We're Equal, 236-37).
Through all this, it was becoming very clear that the “helper” God creates in Genesis 2:18 is not a mild, meek “yes dear” sort of person who never challenges or expresses an opinion. I was beginning to see the truth of the Chumash that the helper God was making was a strong and equal individual who has the right and responsibility to confront her husband.
In contemplating on this original meaning of Genesis 2:18, I was reminded of two examples from Scripture, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. In one case, the wife confronting the husband was affirmed by God and it actually helped him fulfill God’s will for his life. In the second case, the wife did not confront her husband and, as a result, both lost their lives. The former case concerned Sarah and Abraham and the latter case concerned Ananias and Sapphira.
Sarah Confronts Abraham
In the Old Testament Sarah confronted Abraham over his passive and tolerant attitude toward Ishmael’s destructive behavior toward Isaac. She was very insistent that he get rid of Hagar and Ismael. Abraham was reluctant to do so and the Scripture says that Sarah’s demand was very displeasing to him.
Nonetheless, God took Sarah’s side and said to Abraham, Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. (Genesis 21:12). It was not a matter of who had authority over whom; it was a matter of what was right in the situation and in this situation Sarah happened to be right.
We can be thankful that Sarah was a true ezer neged and confronted her husband in that situation for he was wrong. We can also be thankful that Abraham was “man enough” to listen to Sarah and respond to her demand, for much was at stake in that situation, both for them and their posterity.
Sapphira Should Have Confronted Ananias
In the New Testament Luke tells about a man named Ananias who sold a property and decided he was going to give a portion of it to the church but tell the church he was giving it all (Acts 5:1-11). Luke says, his wife, was aware of what he had concocted. But, instead of confronting him, she put herself in agreement with him, i.e., she submitted to him.
When Ananias brought the money into Peter, Peter discerned the lie and confronted Ananias about his hypocritical scheme. When Ananias heard Peter’s words, he fell over dead and was immediately taken out and buried.
Three hours later Sapphira came in not knowing what had just happened to her husband. Peter asked her if they had sold the property for a certain amount. When she said, “yes,’ Peter replied, How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who buried you husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.
At that moment Sapphira also fell over dead and was taken out and buried next to her husband. Think about it! Here is a situation where two lives could possibly have been spared if the wife, instead of going along with her husband, had confronted him and stood against him and his evil scheme.
This story also shows the fallacy of the popular teaching that God works exclusively through delegated authority, and that it is our duty to submit to the authority even when they are wrong. Not so! God held Ananias and Sapphira equally and individually accountable for their actions. He is also holding each of us accountable for our actions, for as Paul says in II Corinthians 5:10, For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
It’s Time to Break with TraditionYes, our marriages must consist primarily of mutual love, support, and encouragement. But because we are all fallible and prone to shortcomings, there are times we need to be confronted by the person closest to us, which should be our spouse. Tradition has given this right to the husband, but not to the wife. The Bible, however, is clear on this matter. The wife has the right—and responsibility--to confront her husband and the husband has the responsibility to listen to his wife.
Eddie L. Hyatt is an author, historian and Bible teacher who believes the body of Christ must be mobilized based on individual gifts and callings, not on gender. He derived this article from the book, In the Spirit We're Equal, authored by his wife, Dr. Susan Hyatt, who is president of God's Word to Women and GWTW College. In the Spirit We're Equal is presently out of print but is available in the Kindle format from Amazon.