Polygamy, Part 3


Posted by Matt Postiff September 14, 2007 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Interpretation 

One of the tensions with my "no polygamy" stance is how to understand the Old Testament, where polygamy abounded. It is first mentioned in Gen. 4:19 where Lamech took for himself two wives. We see many men, including Abraham and Jacob, with multiple wives. Kings David and Solomon had a huge number of wives.

It should be noted first that God never specifically commands men to take multiple wives; rather, the teaching from the time of Adam is one man, one woman, and one flesh (Gen. 2:23-24). Second, it is obvious that God allowed polygamy, and that, good or bad, it accomplished certain things like allowing prominent men to have many children more quickly than they would have been able to have with one wife. It also resulted in intra-family rivalries (e.g. 1 Sam. 1:6). Third, though Exodus 21:7-11 regulates polygamy, this does not necessarily endorse it. Similar regulations were given to regulate or curb the sin of divorce (Deut. 24:1-4) but this did not change God's desire for marriage (Matt. 19:6). Fourth, God's allowance of David to have Saul's wives is simply that--an allowance which indicated a complete transfer of the kingdom rule to David (2 Sam. 12:8). In the midst of the rebuke given by God through Nathan, God is saying that He gave David everything he could ask for and then some, and then David was still not satisfied and wanted yet another wife from a man who only had one! Here is a clear-cut case when taking another wife was done so in adultery.

There is another problem with respect to the Levirate marriage institution which was used for the propagation of the family name and inheritance rights (Deut 25:5-10). The brother of the deceased could do the levirate marriage or not. Presumably if he were already married, then he would have two wives after taking his deceased brother's widow as his own. Fortunately for my position, we are not under the Mosaic Law today so I don't have to worry about this case in the present day as if it were legally sanctioned by God. But it is a legitimate tension in that God gave this as part of the Law and so in some sense endorsed it. I'm willing to live with that tension for now until I have time to think it through more fully. In western cultures, this is not a problem because polygamy is outlawed anyway. In other cultures where polygamy is legal, we should explore why is it used. Is it done for religious or pragmatic reasons? Is it tied to certain religious beliefs, as in Islam? Or is it related to the culture's view of inheritance, property transfer, and sustaining the family name? Or is it simply a way for men to indulge their sinful desires?

All of that may be somewhat less than perfectly satisfying, but I am trying to deal honestly with the Biblical text. What we can say without any doubt, gentlemen, is that God wants you to love your wife as yourself and enjoy her as the gift from God that she is. Solomon might say, "My son, keep my words. Don't look elsewhere to satisfy your desire for love."

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