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If he takes another wife to himself, he must not hold back her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. Bible

“clothing.” In this context, “clothing” also included housing whenever possible. Truly poor people often had to sleep outdoors in their clothing (Exod. 22:25-26), which then were both their clothing and their shelter. In this context of a man providing for his unwanted wife, he could not just give her clothing but not shelter if he could afford it—that would never be God’s heart in providing for the woman—so “clothing” here includes clothing and a sheltered place to sleep at night.

“marital rights.” The Hebrew word is `onah (#05772 עוֹנָה) and it occurs only here in the Old Testament, which has generated some scholarly debate about its meaning. However, from ancient times it has been understood to mean the sexual intercourse that occurs in marriage and was considered a wife’s right, and there is no solid lexical or logical reason to doubt that conclusion. Sexual intercourse with her husband was the only way a woman could have children, and children were absolutely necessary for a blessed life in the biblical world. The only reliable plan for old age and for protection in the biblical world was to have a large family (Ps. 127:4-5). This was so much the case that a barren woman was considered cursed.

Children were extremely important to women in the biblical world and the ancient world in general. Abraham’s wife Sarah was so upset about being barren she told Abraham to have intercourse with her slave girl so she could have children through her (Gen. 16:2). When Jacob’s wife Rachel was barren she expressed her feelings to Jacob and said, “Give me children or I will die” (Gen. 30:1). When Naomi’s husband and two sons died, she told the people not to call her Naomi (“Pleasant”) but to call her “Mara” (“Bitter”). When Samuel’s mother Hannah was barren before giving birth to Samuel, she refused to eat, wept, was bitter in her soul about it, and her husband’s second wife provoked her about it (1 Sam. 1:2-10). Part of the blessings pronounced upon Israel if they would obey God and His law was that no one would be barren (Deut. 7:14). One of the great reasons for praising God was that He makes barren women become “the joyful mother of children” (Ps. 113:9). As we see in Exodus 21:11, if a husband refused to have sexual intercourse with a wife, God allowed her to leave him.


Commentary for: Exodus 21:10