When Not to Submit to Your Husband

Is it ever appropriate for a woman to question her husband's judgment or to oppose his decisions when she believes he's in the wrong? If so, how does this fit in with Ephesians 5:22, where Paul says, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord?" Are there any biblical examples of wives who took this kind of stance?

Abigail comes immediately to mind. The Bible describes her as “a woman of good understanding and beautiful appearance.” She was married to a rich but foolish businessman named Nabal. Unfortunately, her husband didn’t share her capacity for wisdom and virtue. When David and his men were hiding from King Saul in the wilderness, they protected Nabal’s sheep-shearers and treated them kindly. Not unreasonably, they sent a message to Nabal requesting food and water in return for their services. Nabal rudely refused. Enraged, David was ready to respond with violence. But Abigail saved the day by taking matters into her own hands. She countermanded her husband’s orders and sent “two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep already dressed, five seahs of roasted grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs” to David’s camp. Perhaps even more significantly, “she did not tell her husband Nabal” what she was doing. Ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal so that he died, and Abigail became David’s wife. The writer leaves readers to draw their own conclusions. (For the full story, see I Samuel 25).

Another good example, though of a very different kind, is Queen Esther. Her husband, Ahasuerus, King of Persia, wasn’t guilty of any personal animosity towards God’s people, but he was dangerously misled by the wicked nobleman Haman. Working by deceitful means, Haman persuaded the king to issue a proclamation declaring that all the Jews in the Persian Empire should be put to death on a certain day. If Esther, herself a Jewess, had not risked her life by entering the royal presence uninvited and exposing Haman’s scheme, this decree would have been put into effect. The results would have been disastrous. Esther’s courage proves that devotion to God was her first priority. When it came right down to it, she chose to fear her Maker rather than man.

Meanwhile, Scripture also provides us with compelling pictures of a couple of women who should have spoken up against their husbands’ ill-conceived plans but failed to do so. Consider the wife of Achan. Achan was an Israelite serving in Joshua’s army. Contrary to God’s express command, he held on to some loot he had taken from the sack of Jericho and buried it secretly in his tent. His whole family, including his wife, must have witnessed this treacherous and selfish act. Unfortunately, not one of them had the courage to contradict him or call him to account. The result? The entire household suffered the terrible penalty of Achan’s disobedience. They were all put to death by stoning (Joshua 7:10-26).

The New Testament relates a similar incident. The Book of Acts tells us that Ananias, a member of the early church in Jerusalem, sold a piece of property and kept back part of the proceeds for himself. That in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, but he pretended to be donating the entire amount to the church. We are told that his wife, Sapphira, was aware of what he was doing. Did she tell anyone? No. Did she confront her husband? No. Did she advise him to abandon his foolish plan? No. Why did Sapphira choose to keep her mouth shut? Was she greedy and selfish like her husband? Or was she merely trying to be a good, “submissive” Christian wife? We don’t know. What we do know is that both Ananias and Sapphira were severely judged for having attempted to “lie to the Holy Spirit” (see Acts 5:1-11).

What’s the moral of these stories? There are probably several, but one of them is certainly this: a woman who genuinely cares about her marriage, her family, her community, her life, and her walk with the Lord does not necessarily “submit” mindlessly to every decision her husband makes. Her responsibility before God has to be her primary consideration in every circumstance.

If you’d like to discuss this subject at greater length with a member of our team, call us. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.


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Each for the Other: Marriage as It’s Meant to Be

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The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters

Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project

Christian Research Institute

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Christian Worldview

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