How to Fail a Wife
Learning Marriage from a Bad Husband
We might dismiss the first marriage as too extraordinary to be practically helpful. How could any ordinary sinful husband or wife today relate to those truly innocent newlyweds, with their perfect home in a flawless paradise? They enjoyed a fullness of peace and security and intimacy that’s now alien to the earth we’ve known.
Even for Adam and Eve, however, the honeymoon phase didn’t last long (at least when measured in verses). And we learn as much (or more) from their later failures as we do from their early obedience. As a young, often-failing husband, I find my imagination captured by the only sinless husband in history laying all he had on the altar of sin and compromise. His failures are foils of my callings, strange and dark inroads into what my marriage was meant to be — into what I was meant to be. His failures press our vague and comfortable ideas of what it means to be a husband into higher, less comfortable definition.
The more years I’m married, the more easily I can put myself in Adam’s fig leaves. His sins are unique for being the first, but they’re not all that different in kind or consequence. As it turns out, it’s a lot easier to be a bad husband than a faithful one, even in paradise. So what might we learn from that first bad husband? We’ll study their marital collapse in three stages.
When Temptation Came
The first verses in the single-most tragic chapter in Scripture don’t even mention the man. As a result, we might be led to think Adam was simply a supporting actor (perhaps even a victim) in this awful story. The reality, however, is that his seeming absence was his first great failure.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)
Satan knew how to attack a marriage. He knew that the surest way to undo the man, the marriage, and their brilliant mural of God and his people was to target the wife and seek to reverse the order of their callings. He undermines their matrimony by encouraging her to be the assertive head and him the yielding helper. So he goes after the bride. And where was Adam?
As we continue reading, we realize the husband was not, in fact, absent, but stood by quietly. In the same moment of temptation, he commits two of the most common sins of men: he fails to do what needs to be done (passivity), and he does what ought never be done (compromise). Notice how he finally enters the scene:
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6)
Adam was not off gathering food or herding lions while Satan snuck in to deceive Eve; he was there with her. His wife didn’t grab some fruit and run off to find him; she simply turned and held out her hand. He didn’t need her to relay all that was said; he likely heard every word. And yet he let her listen, and take, and eat. His home fell by a poisonous passivity. While it was Eve who listened (1 Timothy 2:14), who took what was not hers, and who prepared the forbidden meal, Adam stood by and let it all happen.
Just a few verses earlier, in Genesis 2:15, “The Lord God took the man” — the man, not the couple — “and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” — to guard it, preserve it, protect it. Jason DeRouchie unpacks this keeping: “[The husband] is to supply spiritual and physical food, and to ward off any spiritual or physical obstacles to the glory-filled global mission to which God called his family.” But when temptation came to his home, Adam failed to keep what God had entrusted to him. Instead of intervening, he tolerated and made room for him.
What kept Adam from stepping in and speaking up? We’re not told. I assume, however, that his temptations weren’t so different from the ones husbands like me face today. Perhaps it was pride. That’s certainly the weakness Satan aimed for: “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Perhaps it was fear, wondering what Eve might feel or say if he refused the fruit. Perhaps it was sloth, simply lacking the strength and resolve to resist and fight back. Perhaps it was a lust for power, longing to taste that one forbidden pleasure. Passivity grows in any number of soils, but as we see again and again, it always bears the same bitter fruit.
Adam wasn’t entirely passive, though. The three most haunting words, at least for husbands, might be these: “. . . she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”
The husband not only watched as his wife made war on God, but he grabbed a sword of his own. He knew full well what God had said. Again, just a few verses earlier, we read, “The Lord God commanded the man” — the man, not the couple — “saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:16–17). And yet he ate. The deceitfulness of sin made him deaf to the voice that had brought him from dust and breathed life into his lungs. Is anything more destructive and painful to a home than when a husband, who manifestly knows better, dives headlong into sin?
“The surest way for a man to protect the home around him is for him to guard the heart within him.”
And how many homes have crumbled because husbands failed to see temptation for what it is and call sin what it is? The surest way for a man to protect the home around him is for him to guard the heart within him. As husbands, we follow in the footsteps of the Bridegroom, who met Satan and his temptations in the wilderness after forty lonely, hungry days and yet would not bite. Not when the devil tried the same old line, “Did God actually say . . . ?” Not when he was hungry. Not for the glory of a hundred nations.
Our homes and churches need husbands and fathers who refuse to abandon God’s word, even if their wives, children, and friends come to lead them away.
After Sin Happened
After Adam and Eve ate from the tree and fell into sin and shame, the Lord came calling, and when he did, he came first, as we should expect, for the husband.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8–9)
When God asks him what happened, Adam shifts the blame everywhere but himself, even casting accusations back at God. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). She gave me the fruit, and you gave her to me, so who could blame me?
I imagine any man who’s been married for long can relate to the seduction of self-pity — wanting to preserve our name and honor while the house is on fire. How deceitful is sin if we can be convinced to blame God for sin? And yet Adam does. And we do, in our own ways. We feel bad for ourselves about this or that and begin to make excuses for our failures.
The point was not that Eve should take no blame (to her credit, she owns her part, verse 13); the point was that Adam should take the first and greater blame. He, not she, was called to keep. Faithful husbands step up and take responsibility in crisis and defeat. They don’t go looking for excuses or scapegoats. They know that judgment always begins with the head of the home. So they first remove whatever they can find in their own eyes (Matthew 7:5), and then they do all in their power to correct, restore, and protect the family. When sin happens in the home, the husband takes responsibility — not meaning he accepts all blame, but that he accepts his part of the blame and then, more importantly, owns how the family responds to it.
If Satan can convince a husband that his marital problems are all rooted in her sins, he’s removed the walls of their home and opened them to all manner of spiritual attack. Yes, the woman, not the man, was deceived, but Scripture says sin entered the world through the man, not the woman (Romans 5:12).
Before Temptation Came?
We can’t say much about the space and time between the last verse of Genesis 2 — “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” — and the first verses of Genesis 3 — “Now the serpent . . . said to the woman” (Genesis 3:1–2). Had Adam already failed by letting Satan in at all? We don’t know how the devil invaded the garden or how he got an audience with its queen. We do know that God had charged the king to keep — to forbid and withstand all threats.
However Satan slipped in, we know that keeping a marriage and home in a world like ours, corrupted by sin and brimming with temptation, begins well before temptation comes. We know that many temptations can be avoided altogether because Jesus teaches us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13) — not just lead us through temptation, but keep us from it altogether. Don’t let his awful lies touch our ears. Husbands and fathers are one great means to this kind of protection. We make sacrifices to stand on the spiritual walls of our homes, monitoring the unique threats and needs that emerge in our marriages and parenting, and then taking decisive, costly action when they do.
“Being a husband means standing guard before serpents come.”
How many husbands today, like Adam, have lowered our guards and let temptation invade and live freely in our homes? How often have we let Satan’s lies go unchallenged — or worse, undetected? Being a husband means standing guard before serpents come.
This keeping, however, means not only keeping evil out of the home, but kindling and cultivating good within it. Spiritual protection always involves teaching and encouragement.
Guardians of the home don’t just stand on the wall, scanning the horizon for shadows; they also fill the walls with light. They know that a family’s best defense is a deepening and expanding joy in God, that some of the best keeping happens through consistently reading, sharing, praying, marveling, serving, and singing. After all, Adam and Eve didn’t eat because they got hungry, but because their eyes had grown dim toward God. John Piper says,
Swallowing forbidden fruit is bad. But it is not the essence of what happened here. The moral outrage — the horror — of what happened here was that Adam and Eve desired this fruit more than they desired God. They delighted more in what the fruit could be for them than in what God could be for them. Eating was not the essence of the evil because, before they ate, they had already lost their taste for God. He was no longer their all-supplying life and joy. They preferred something else. That is the ultimate essence of evil. (“The Ultimate Essence of Evil”)
Part of a husband’s charge to guard the home, then, is to do what he can to foster the kind of delight in God that gladly rejects whatever Satan offers. Joy guards our wives and children from temptation and delivers them from evil.
Husbands, we have a high and weighty calling — and with it, a higher and stronger God to help in time of need. Like Adam, we’ll inevitably fail as husbands. Unlike Adam, we now know where to find forgiveness for our failures and the daily strength to love our wives and families faithfully. So when temptation comes, we step in and defy Satan head on, taking as much of his fire as we can. After sin happens, we take responsibility before God and lead the family in sorrow, confession, and repentance. And before temptation comes, we keep a big, satisfying vision of God before our families — through family worship, through informal conversations, and perhaps most of all, through our own contagious joy in him.