A married man. In Israel a man who was engaged or betrothed was also spoken of as “husband” and the girl as “wife.” (Deut. 22:23, 24; Matt. 1:18-20) A man would betroth a woman or contract for future marriage by paying her father or guardians the bride-price or purchase money. (Ex. 22:16, 17) She then became his property. (Ex. 20:17) The word baʹʽal, meaning “owner, master,” applied to him, and the woman was called beʽu·lahʹ, meaning “owned as a wife.” (Gen. 20:3; Deut. 22:22; Isa. 62:4) To the ancient nation of Israel, Jehovah said: “I myself have become the husbandly owner [a form of baʹʽal] of you people.”—Jer. 3:14; Isa. 62:4, 5.
In patriarchal times the husband served as a priest and judge in the family, and throughout the Scriptures the husband and father was almost invariably accorded deep respect.—Gen. 31:31, 32; Job 1:5; 1 Pet. 3:5, 6; compare Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Esther 1:10-21.
A man, upon marrying a woman, brings her under a new law, “the law of her husband,” according to which the husband can make rules and regulations for his family. (Rom. 7:2, 3) He becomes her head to whom she should be subject. (Eph. 5:21-24, 33) This is a relative headship, rated third, in view of the superior headships of God and Christ.—1 Cor. 11:3.
In Israel, since the wife was considered part of the husband’s property, she evidently could not inherit his hereditary possession. It would thus pass on to his sons or daughters who, of course, were to respect her and take care of her until she should remarry, or until her death as his widow. If the husband died without offspring, levirate (brother-in-law) marriage could take place, and the firstborn son of this union would inherit the possession. (Deut. 25:5-10) Before the woman was taken in brother-in-law marriage she was looked upon as owning the property, at least as a temporary holder of it. When Boaz the kinsman of Elimelech married Ruth, he bought the possession of Elimelech from Naomi, and the child born through the marriage was considered the son of Naomi, being posterity raised up to the name of her dead husband Elimelech.—Ruth 4:3-10, 13, 17.
As stated at Numbers 30:10-15, a husband could affirm or annul a vow made by his wife. Verses 6 to 8 of this chapter also refer to this authority, but commentators differ as to the application of these verses. Some hold that the reference is to a single woman who makes a vow or a rash promise in her singleness and who thereafter is betrothed and married. Her vow or promise now comes to the attention of her husband and he makes a decision as to letting it stand or annulling it. The rabbinical view generally has been that the verses describe the situation with a betrothed woman who has come under her future husband’s headship but who is still living in her father’s house. (Compare verse 10.) Thus, their view is that the future husband could also affirm or annul vows made by the woman during that betrothal period. The text itself does not allow for any arbitrary conclusion as to the application.
Under the Mosaic law a man could divorce his wife, but she could not divorce him. He was required to give her a written certificate of divorce. (Deut. 24:1-4) Jesus Christ showed that such an arrangement for divorce in Israel was made as a concession out of regard for their hardheartedness. (Matt. 19:8) If, however, a man had seduced a virgin girl who was not engaged, she was to become his wife (unless her father refused to give her to him), and he was not allowed to divorce her all his days.—Deut. 22:28, 29.
Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Greek Scriptures stress that the husband should limit his sex relations to his marriage mate (Prov. 5:15-20), and that marriage must be kept honorable, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. (Heb. 13:4) During patriarchal times and under the Law, polygamy and concubinage were practiced by allowance from Jehovah, but in the Christian arrangement a man may have but one living wife. (Gen. 25:5, 6; 29:18-28; Deut. 21:15-17; Matt. 19:5; Rom. 7:2, 3; 1 Tim. 3:2) The only Christian ground for divorce is adultery, meant by the term “fornication” at Matthew 19:9. (See FORNICATION.) The husband, while head of the house, is, nevertheless, required to render to his wife marriage dues, sex relations, for “the husband does not exercise authority over his own body, but his wife does.” (1 Cor. 7:3-5) He is also responsible for the spiritual and material welfare of his family.—Eph. 6:4; 1 Tim. 5:8.
In view of the fact that the ancient nation of Israel was bound to Jehovah by means of the Law covenant, God was their “husbandly owner.” (Jer. 3:14) The apostle Paul speaks of Jehovah as the Father of anointed Christians, his spiritual sons, and of the “Jerusalem above” as their mother, indicating that Jehovah considers himself as a husband to this heavenly Jerusalem.—Gal. 4:6, 7, 26; compare Isaiah 54:5.
The headship of the husband places on him a weighty responsibility. While he is the owner of the wife, he has to recognize that she is precious in the eyes of God, especially so when she is a Christian. He is to love her as he loves himself, for she is “one flesh” with him.—Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6; Eph. 5:28, 33.
Jesus Christ is viewed as the Husband of the Christian congregation. (Eph. 5:22, 23; Rev. 19:7; 21:2) Husbands are to exercise for their wives the same loving care that Christ does for the congregation. (Eph. 5:25, 28-30, 33) They are to recognize that the wife is “a weaker vessel,” assigning her honor, taking into consideration her physical and emotional makeup and vicissitudes. This is especially important if the couple are Christians, being fellow heirs of “the undeserved favor of life,” in order for their prayers not to be hindered. (1 Pet. 3:7) Even if the wife is not a believer, this gives the husband no excuse for divorce or separation. Rather, he should dwell with her if she is agreeable to it and realize that he may help her to become a believer and also work toward the salvation of the children.—1 Cor. 7:12, 14, 16; see FAMILY, FATHER; MARRIAGE.