A married woman. In Hebrew, ʼish·shahʹ means “woman” (literally, a female man) or “wife”; the wife was referred to as one “owned by a husband.” (Isa 62:4, ftn) In Greek, gy·neʹ can mean “wife,” or it can mean “woman,” whether married or not. Jehovah God provided the first man Adam with a wife by taking a rib from him and building it into the woman. She thereby became bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. She was the counterpart of Adam and was created as a helper for him. (Ge 2:18, 20-23) God dealt directly with Adam, and in turn, Adam passed on God’s commandments to his wife. By reason of his prior creation and his being created in God’s image, he had the priority as head and was the spokesman for God to her. His headship was to be exercised in love, and the woman as a helper was to cooperate in the procreative mandate issued to the pair.—Ge 1:28; see WOMAN.
After the sin, first of Eve, who instead of being a helper to her husband proved to be a temptress, and then of her husband Adam, who followed her in transgression, God pronounced judgment on the woman, saying: “I shall greatly increase the pain of your pregnancy; in birth pangs you will bring forth children, and your craving will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.” (Ge 3:16) Since that time, among many peoples of the earth the woman has indeed been dominated, often in a very harsh way, by her husband, and instead of being a companion and helper, she has in many cases been treated more like a servant.
Among the Ancient Hebrews. Among the ancient Hebrews the man was the head of the house and was his wife’s owner (Hebrew, baʹʽal), and the woman was the one owned (beʽu·lahʹ). Among servants of God the wife occupied a dignified and honorable place. Godly women of spirit and ability, while subject to their husbandly head, had much latitude and freedom of action and were happy in their place; they were blessed in being used by Jehovah God to perform special services for him. Examples among the many faithful wives of the Bible are Sarah, Rebekah, Deborah, Ruth, Esther, and Mary the mother of Jesus.
Wife protected under the Law. While the husband occupied the superior position in the marriage arrangement, God’s requirements were that he was to provide for and care for the family in a material and spiritual way. Also, any wrongdoings of the family reflected on him; consequently he had a heavy responsibility. And while he had greater privileges than the wife, God’s law protected the wife and gave her certain unique privileges, so that she was able to live a happy, productive life.
A few examples of the Law’s provisions involving the wife were: Either husband or wife could be put to death for adultery. If the husband was suspicious of secret infidelity on the part of his wife, he could bring her to the priest, for Jehovah God to judge the matter, and if the woman was guilty, her reproductive organs would atrophy; on the other hand, if she was not guilty, the husband was required to make her pregnant, thereby publicly acknowledging her innocence. (Nu 5:12-31) A husband could divorce his wife if he found something indecent on her part. This would likely include such things as showing him gross disrespect or bringing reproach upon the household or that of his father. But the wife was protected by the requirement that he must write out for her a certificate of divorce. She was then free to marry another man. (De 24:1, 2) If the wife made a vow that her husband thought unwise or detrimental to the family’s welfare, he could nullify it. (Nu 30:10-15) This, however, was a safeguard for the wife, keeping her from any hasty action that might bring her into difficulty.
Polygamy was allowed under the Mosaic Law but was regulated so that the wife was protected. The husband could not transfer the right of the firstborn from the son of a less-loved wife to the son of his favorite wife. (De 21:15-17) If an Israelite daughter was sold by her father as a servant and the master took her as a concubine, her owner could allow her to be redeemed if she did not please him, but he could not sell her to a foreign people. (Ex 21:7, 8) If either he or his son had taken her as a concubine and then married another wife, she was to be provided with food, clothing, and shelter, as well as the marriage due.—Ex 21:9-11.
If a husband maliciously charged his wife with having falsely claimed to be a virgin at the time of marriage and his charge was proved false, he was punished and had to pay her father twice the marriage rate for virgins and could never divorce her all his days. (De 22:13-19) If a man seduced an unengaged virgin, he was required to pay the marriage price to her father and, if the father permitted, to marry her, after which he could never divorce her all his days.—De 22:28, 29; Ex 22:16, 17.
While the position of the wife in Hebrew society was somewhat different from a wife’s status in Western society today, the faithful Hebrew wife enjoyed her position and her work. She helped her husband, raised the family, managed the household, and found many things of satisfaction and delight, being able to express her womanly nature and talents to the full.
Description of a Good Wife. The happy state and activities of the faithful wife are described at Proverbs 31. She is said to be of more value to her husband than corals. He is able to put trust in her. She is industrious—weaving, making clothing for her family, attending to the buying of household needs, working in the vineyard, managing a household with the servants, aiding others who need help, clothing her family attractively, even bringing in some income by her handiwork, equipping her family against future emergencies, expressing herself in wisdom and loving-kindness, and, through fear of Jehovah and good works, receiving praise from her husband and from her sons, thereby honoring her husband and her family in the land. Truly he who has found a good wife has found a good thing and gets goodwill from Jehovah.—Pr 18:22.
In the Christian Congregation. The standard in the Christian congregation is that a husband should have only one living wife. (1Co 7:2; 1Ti 3:2) Wives are commanded to be in subjection to their husbands, whether these husbands are Christian believers or not. (Eph 5:22-24) Wives are not to withhold the marital due, for as with the husband, so with the wife, she does not “exercise authority over her own body.” (1Co 7:3, 4) Wives are instructed to let their primary adornment be that of the secret person of the heart, producing the fruitage of the spirit, that perhaps through their conduct alone the unbelieving husband may be won over to Christianity.—1Pe 3:1-6.
Figurative Use. In a figurative sense Jehovah spoke of Israel as his wife by reason of his covenant with the nation. (Isa 54:6) The apostle Paul speaks of Jehovah as the Father of spirit-begotten Christians, and he speaks of “the Jerusalem above” as their mother, as though Jehovah were married to her for the purpose of bringing forth spirit-begotten Christians. (Ga 4:6, 7, 26) The Christian congregation is spoken of as the bride, or wife, of Jesus Christ.—Eph 5:23, 25; Re 19:7; 21:2, 9.