Nabal Is No Abraham

“Wives, subject yourselves to [your] own husbands, as to the Lord, because a husband is head of the wife, as also Christ [is] Head of the assembly, and He is [the] Savior of the body. But even as the assembly is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the assembly and gave Himself up on its behalf” (Ephesians 5:22-25; underlining mine).

“Likewise, ye wives, [be] in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation [coupled] with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward [adorning] of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But [let it be] the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, [even the ornament] of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. [other translations read “terror” instead of “amazement”–CD]Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with [them] according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Peter 3:1-7; underlining mine).

Certain inconsiderate persons have (perhaps from time immemorial) found this sort of subjection and obedience commanded by God the Holy Spirit to be, shall we say, problematic. Please note how Peter uses the example of an UNBELIEVING husband. Consider the following hypothetical scenario:

An unbelieving, petty, peevish, overbearing husband demands that his wife do something she finds distressing. 1 Peter 3:1-7 could apply to a believing woman who is married to a peevish, petty, overbearing husband (e.g., Nabal and Abigail in 1 Samuel 25). With this hypothetical, 1 Peter 3:1-7 gives the instruction that the overbearing fool Nabal, be won by the behavior/attitude/deportment/conversation of Abigail. 

This hypothetical Abigail’s willingness to be in subjection to the petty and peevish Nabal is due to Ephesians 5:22-25 and also to possibly convert Nabal by observing her conduct (“won by the conversation of the wives”).

Continuing with my hypothetical example, 1 Peter 3:6 speaks of the possibility that Abigail might be fearful that her giving deference and submitting to Nabal in this matter of distressing peevishness will result in being treated EVEN WORSE. Now Nabal is no Abraham, but the general principle is that Abigail ought to emulate Sara’s subjection and obedience, and to not be “afraid with any amazement” (1 Peter 3:6).

Here are some comments from Ezekiel Hopkins (I’m not promoting Hopkins as a true Christian, but I think that some of these comments are helpful and well put). Hopkins:

A Motive to obedience. It is done to the Lord. And though, through the froward and peevish humours of the husband, they may have no other encouragement to observe and obey him; yet to the conscientious wife this will be encouragement enough, that the Lord will accept and reward her obedience: her Heavenly Husband, Jesus Christ, will account it as a service done unto Him. For marriage being a type of our mystical union unto Christ, He especially is concerned that the duties of that relation be performed so as to bear some proportion to that spiritual mystery.

2dly. A Direction how to perform it. It must be as to the Lord. She must obey her husband, not only with a design of pleasing him, but the Lord Christ. For, were it not that God commands it from them as part of their duty and obedience to Him, it might sometimes seem very fit that humoursome and self-willed men should be crossed; and that those, who have no other reason but their will, should fail of that observance and obsequiousness, which they tyrannically expect. But then consider, it is not the husband only that commands, but the Lord; and the wife must eye His sovereign authority through the authority of her husband: and then it will appear that though there be no necessity in what is required, yet there is a necessity she should perform what is required.

3dly. The words import likewise a limitation of her obedience. The wife must submit and obey, but in the Lord, and as to the Lord: that is, only in lawful things, wherein, by her obedience to her husband, she may not offend against God. And, excepting this, in all other cases the wife is absolutely bound to obey the will and commands of her husband, to the utmost of her power.

It is true, he abuseth his authority, if he command things unnecessary and unfit; but yet neither her unwillingness to perform them, nor her judging them inconvenient to be done can excuse her or exempt her from the obligation that lies upon her of a ready obedience: nothing can do this, but the unlawfulness or impossibility of what is enjoined.

[1 Peter 3:7 admonishes husbands to dwell with their wives “according to knowledge.” The husband might consider whether or not he is heeding this admonition in commanding things unnecessary, unfit, or “other things…contrary to her humour and inclination.” –CD]

In all other things, although they be never so contrary to her humour and inclination, she is bound by the Law of God and nature to obey; and to submit, if not her judgment, yet at least her practice to the will of her husband: whether she think it fit or unfit to be done, so long as it is not unlawful, unless she can meekly persuade her husband to revoke his command, she is obliged to perform it.

Otherwise, when the Apostle commands wives to be subject to their husbands in everything, it would signify no more than in everything which they think fit: and this certainly is no greater a subjection than every husband would readily yield to his wife; and falls infinitely short of the Apostle’s intent, who requires this subjection of the wife to the husband in everything, as the Church is subject unto Christ; which, certainly, is not in everything she [the Church–CD] thinks fit; neither ought she to take upon her to judge or reject His laws, but to fulfil them.

This, therefore, is the first and most comprehensive duty of a wife, subjection and obedience” (Ezekiel Hopkins; underlining mine).

Some excerpts from John Calvin on 1 Peter 3 (same thing here with Calvin: not endorsing him as a true Christian, but as a very helpful commentator):

“He proceeds now to another instance of subjection, and bids wives to be subject to their husbands. And as those seemed to have some pretense for shaking off the yoke, who were united to unbelieving men, he expressly reminds them of their duty, and brings forward a particular reason why they ought the more carefully to obey, even that they might by their probity allure their husbands to the faith. But if wives ought to obey ungodly husbands, with much more promptness ought they to obey, who have believing husbands.” [On 3:1]

“For minds, however alienated from the true faith, are subdued, when they see the good conduct of believers; for as they understood not the doctrine of Christ, they form an estimate of it by our life.” [3:2]

“He sets before them the example of pious women, who sought for spiritual adorning rather than outward meretricious ornaments. But he mentions Sarah above all others, who, having been the mother of all the faithful, is especially worthy of honor and imitation on the part of her sex. Moreover, he returns again to subjection, and confirms it by the example of Sarah, who, according to the words of Moses, called her husband Lord.” [3:5]

And are not afraid. The weakness of the sex causes women to be suspicious and timid, and therefore morose; for they fear lest by their subjection, they should be more reproachfully treated. It was this that Peter seems to have had in view in forbidding them to be disturbed by any fear, as though he had said, ‘Willingly submit to the authority of your husbands, nor let fear prevent your obedience, as though your condition would be worse, were you to obey.’ The words may be more general, ‘Let them not raise up commotions at home.’ For as they are liable to be frightened, they often make much of a little thing, and thus disturb themselves and the family. Others think that the timidity of women, which is contrary to faith, is generally reproved, as though Peter exhorted them to perform the duties of their calling with a courageous and intrepid spirit. However, the first explanation is what I prefer, though the last does not differ much from it.” [3:6]

“Hence the admonition of Peter is not in vain, that the husbands ought to cohabit with them as with a weaker vessel. Part of the prudence which he mentions, is, that the husbands honor their wives. For nothing destroys the friendship of life more than contempt; nor can we really love any but those whom we esteem; for love must be connected with respect. 

Moreover, he employs a twofold argument, in order to persuade husbands to treat their wives honourably and kindly. The first is derived from the weakness of the sex; the other, from the honor with which God favors them. These things seem indeed to be in a manner contrary, — that honor ought to be given to wives, because they are weak, and because they excel; but these things well agree together where love exists. It is evident, that God is despised in His gifts, except we honor those on whom He has conferred any excellency. But when we consider that we are members of the same body, we learn to bear with one another, and mutually to cover our infirmities. This is what Paul means when he says that greater honor is given to the weaker members, (1Co_12:23;) even because we are more careful in protecting them from shame. Then Peter does not without reason command that women should be cared for, and that they should be honored with a kind treatment, because they are weak. And then as we more easily forgive children, when they offend through inexperience of age; so the weakness of the female sex ought to make us not to be too rigid and severe towards our wives.” [3:7]