So what are the duties of husbands? We have discussed what their orientation and demeanor toward their wives should be (masculinity), but this is all still theoretical unless we make a point of applying ourselves in close imitation of the Incarnation. What are the duties of husbands? We may divide them into two broad categories—protection and provision.
“And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses” (Neh. 4:14).
“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8).
These two texts provide us with two examples of husbands and fathers being given their marching orders. Husbands are called by God to protect their wives and families, and to provide for their wives and families. The context of the Nehemiah passage is this: on the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, the enemies of God gathered and threatened them. “But it came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth” (Neh. 4:7). The apostle Paul is dealing with the various obligations the church has to take care of people, and makes it very plain that the first line of provision lies with the family provider.
Protection From What?
So one of the fundamental duties that God assigns to husbands is that of protection. But protection from what? The first level in answering this question lies at the level of definition.
The protector must not be one that the protected needs protection from. If the guardian is corrupt, what is a wife supposed to do? This means that the protector must never himself inflict physical threats or harm, verbal threats or harm, or the pain of treachery and marital infidelity.
Second, the husband must protect his wife from physical harm, from local situations up to national. She does not need to believe him to have superhuman powers, or in any way invincible, but in order for her to be emotionally secure, she needs to know that in any threatening situation, he would be in between her and the threat, and that he would die before she did. This is the meaning of our text from Nehemiah, and it has many non-Gnostic ramifcations for how we bring up our boys.
Third, a husband must be vigilant to protect his wife from spiritual harm. This is what Adam failed to do in the garden, and what Jesus faithfully did do . A priest is one who guards and protects the sanctuary, and in this sense every Christian man is a priest in his home. “. . . for I have espoused you to one husband” (2 Cor. 11:1-4).
Provision of What?
But the same question arises when we talk about provision. What is the duty of a godly husband when it comes to provision? “If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money” (Ex. 21:10-11). This law is one of the restraints that God placed on the practice of polygamy during the times of the older covenant. But in the terms of that restraint, we can see what a biblical husband is called upon to provide for his wife. If a man cannot withhold any of these three things from his wife upon taking a second wife, how much more shall he not withhold any of them because he “slept in,” or “twisted his ankle”? The three things provided are food, clothing, and conjugal relations. Of course, all of these are not provided by the husband absolutely, but rather under the sovereignty of God.
Complete cupboards: a man is called by God to provide his wife with the food she needs to do what God has called her to do. He provides, and she manages. Remember that what we are dealing with is prioritization. This is not a command from God to every husband to “be rich.” Every household budget has certain non-negotiables—and the groceries fund should come right after the tithe.
Complete closets: a wife is the adornment of her husband, and so therefore it is important for the husband to adorn her. The desire to adorn is not to be dismissed as mere vanity. Of course it may become that, but the fact remains that God requires husbands to clothe their wives.
Complete union: this requirement is not just simply sexual in nature; it is also related to the biological purpose of sexual relations, which is the propagation of offspring. We know the Bible well enough to know that there are other purposes for sexual union (communion, and prevention of immorality), but this purpose remains.
More On Provision:
In Ephesians 5: 29, husbands are told to “nourish and cherish” their wives, as they do their own bodies. That means that husbands cannot mechanically provide for their wives in this way, as though God required nothing more of them than to be an ATM machine. The image of nourishing is an organic one—it is no mere book-keeping transaction. And the word for cherish literally means “to keep warm.” The husband cannot drop the grocery bags on the counter and say, “Here’s your stupid food.”
The requirement to clothe a wife is literally and practically to be applied, but it also provides us with a metaphor. A man is to protect, guard, keep, and provide for his wife because he is charged by God with the duty of keeping her warm. And that is precisely what the right kind of protection and provision do.