Obeying the Abuser: Insights from Abraham and Sarah
One of the most difficult Scriptures for me to understand is this one:
1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV (1) Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, (2) when they see your respectful and pure conduct. (3) Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear– (4) but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (5) For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, (6) as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
I have especially had trouble trying to sort out this business of Sarah obeying Abraham, even calling him lord. Most of our readers have no doubt struggled with how to apply this part of God’s word in an abuse situation. And many have had it quoted to them, perhaps even by their “Christian” abuser, or at least by fellow Christians. One conclusion I have made is that the phrase “even if some do not obey the word” means simply that a woman finds herself married to an unbeliever. I don’t think it means that no matter how sinful and wicked and thus disobedient to God, she must submit to him.
But one of our readers made a comment this week about Abraham that really spurred on my thinking and I think that perhaps it has helped me come to an even better understanding of what Peter means here.
Sarah was married to Abraham. She submitted to him as her husband. But Abraham was Abraham. Not perfect by any means as we know, and yet listen to what the Lord Jesus had to say about him:
John 8:37-44 ESV
(37) I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. (38) I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
(39) They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, (40) but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. (41) You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father–even God.” (42) Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. (43) Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. (44) You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
John 8:56 ESV (56) Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
Yes, Sarah submitted to Abraham. Yes, Abraham was quite capable of sin, as Scripture tells us. But Abraham loved the Lord. Abraham knew Christ. Abraham did not try to murder the people of God. This is the kind of man then that Peter is talking about. Where in Scripture does the Lord tell a woman to submit to a man who is a child of the devil? Jesus didn’t. He called these Pharisees out and told them just what they were.
So if a woman is married to a man who has the spirit of Abraham, well perhaps then it is quite wise to show patience when he messes up. But I cannot believe that this Scripture or any other was ever meant to be used to force the spouse of a cruel, wicked person to remain in bondage to that person and be forced to obey their whims. Abigail didn’t.
Be certain to read the comments to this post. They give some really good additional insights.