On average, men have shorter life expectations than women. Widows are therefore more common than widowers. In biblical times, widows rarely had the means to support themselves and their children.
The following example shows a common situation: ‘A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves.”’ (1 Ki 4:1)
Fortunately this particular occasion had a happy ending: ‘So Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” And she said, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors – empty vessels; do not gather just a few. And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones.” So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured it out. Now it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another vessel.” So the oil ceased. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest.”’ (2 Ki 4:2-7)
But most widows in the Bible had to rely on other options:
- If a widow was young, then remarrying was the primary way to regain protection and provision for herself and her children. If she was childless, then her husband’s brother was encouraged to marry her to provide her deceased husband with children
- If a widow was an older woman, then she would most likely depend on her family, possibly her married children, to care for her
Romans 7:2-3 says, ‘For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.’ The only thing that can break the marriage bond, in God’s eyes, is death.
Although the Bible most frequently addresses women whose husbands have died, instead of husbands whose wives have died, the same rules apply: a widower is also permitted to remarry.