“Will God allow me to divorce my lazy husband who refuses to work and provide for me and our children?” This is a question many Christian wives ask. If a man fails to provide for his wife and children does God consider this a breach of the marriage covenant allowing for a woman to divorce her husband?
As I have stated in the first two articles in this series on divorce (“Why does God allow divorce” and “Does the Bible allow divorce for adultery?”) – some allowances for divorce are gender specific, and failure to provide is a gender specific reason for which God allows divorce.
God allows divorce for a husband’s failure to provide
In the book of Exodus God gives a woman these rights that are due her, and if her husband fails to give her these three things she is to be freed (divorced from him):
“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.” – Exodus 21:10-11 (KJV)
Here Moses’s states that there are three critical duties a husband has to his wife – he must provide her with food, clothing and duty of marriage. The English phrase “duty of marriage” is a translation of the Hebrew word “ownah” which literally means “conjugal rights” (right to sex).
If a man did not provide these three things to his wife – he had to free her. We will discuss denial of sex as a cause for divorce in a separate upcoming post. For this post we will looking at a man’s duty to provide for his wife, and failure to do so being considered a breach of the marriage covenant and grounds for divorce.
Someone might ask – “Why would a man free his wife even if he was not providing for her physical needs as God commanded?” While the woman could not free herself – her male relatives or the elders of their town could force a man to give his wife a bill of divorce and free her if he was neglecting to provide for her with food and clothing (and shelter would be included with clothing).
Is God saying if a man loses his job his wife can divorce him?
No. What God is talking about here is not momentary failures of a man to provide for his family. Some men may lose their jobs (either because of their own failure, or no failure of their own) and this temporary loss of provision does not warrant divorce. In fact some men may go through some temporary times of depression if they lose their job and a wife needs to be patient with her husband and build him back up.
Some couples may agree that for a temporary time while a man is finishing college to provide a good life for his family, that his wife may be the primary source of income during this time. Again this is temporary and for the ultimate purpose of him becoming the primary provider and her being able to step down from that role.
What I believe God is talking about here is a man that chronically fails to provide, he hates working and looks for any way not to work. He will allow his family to starve and it does not bother him, or he forces his wife to work while he sits in laziness doing nothing. This is the type of man God is targeting in Exodus 21:10-11.
Is there a difference between “failure to provide” and “laziness”?
While often times the sin of laziness is directly linked with a man failing to provide for his family this is not always the case. A man may have inherited wealth, or earned wealth from a business he owned many years ago and sold. Some men can live their entire life off their savings. So this man could be lazy – sit on a couch all day, play video games and eat Cheetos. But if he provides food, shelter and clothing to his wife and children through his accumulated wealth (rather than working a job) he is still providing and thus meeting this requirement of marriage.
Does this mean laziness on the part of a husband is acceptable before God? Absolutely not! God says in the book of Proverbs:
“How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?” – Proverbs 6:9 (KJV)
Our minds and bodies were not meant to lay around on a couch all day. Rather we were designed by God to be busy (both men and women) – God wants us to be ambitious.
But there are certain sins which God considers to be breaches of the marriage covenant, and other sins while still being terrible and wrong, do not breach the marriage covenant and therefore do not warrant divorce.
Does God allow a man to divorce his wife for laziness?
No – a husband may not divorce his wife for laziness, but he may discipline her for it as her head and authority. Just because a man is expected to be the primary provider, this does not free a wife to sit on the couch all day either. God expects both men and women to be busy.
Proverbs 31 tell us this about the excellent wife:
“She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” – Proverbs 31:27 (KJV)
“I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.” – I Timothy 5:14 (KJV)
If a woman is failing to keep the home, failing to cook meals or failing to adequately care for the children a husband could discipline his wife by removing her access to his income and him directly providing the food and other necessities himself. I even once heard of a husband shutting off the cable TV so his wife could not watch her favorite shows (because of her laziness).
What about if a husband is disabled?
God only expects us to do what we are able to do. If a man is truly disabled then his wife may have to step into that primary provider role. What we are talking about here is an able bodied man that refuses to work and provide for his family.
God is clear in Exodus 21:10-11 that a woman is to be freed (allowed a divorce) from a husband that refuses to provide her because in doing so he has breached the marriage covenant.
On a personal note this is one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen – and I have seen it up close and personal with some of my relatives and other acquaintances. It disgusts me to see men get laid off from their job, and purposefully sit on a couch playing video games and watching TV collecting unemployment checks for months before finally looking for work in their last month of unemployment. It disgusts me when a man sits on a couch and has his wife go out and work and provide. It is different if he is disabled, but when an able bodied man refuses to work I believe we ought to follow God’s Word in I Thessalonians:
“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (KJV)
Source: TRF_Mr_Hyde at https://www.flickr.com/photos/scottchene/7702773622/in/photostream/
Used under Creativecommons license 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/