Multiple Wives In The OT?

Discussion in 'OT Historical Books' started by E.R. CROSS, Feb 10, 2018.

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  1. E.R. CROSS

    E.R. CROSS Puritan Board Freshman

    Greetings brethren,

    I have not studied this topic, nor heard it spoken of before.

    Why was the OT practice of having multiple wives such a regularity? Why was it acceptable? Why was it accepted? Why did otherwise godly men have multiple wives?

    It doesn't strike me as other sins that befell OT saints, for it seems to almost be the norm, and not something looked at as sinful and in need of repentance from.
  2. Matthew1344

    Matthew1344 Puritan Board Freshman

    I hope this turns into a good convo. I would really like to nail this one down. I’m going to ask my pastor tomorrow.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  3. LilyG

    LilyG Puritan Board Freshman

    The insight that makes the most sense to me addresses the "present crisis" for those who marry in 1 Cor 7, realizing the magnificent depth and scope and fundamental change that Christ's first coming inaugarated.

    For a brief explanation, my pastor recently addressed this issue, here (between about the 24-28 minute mark):
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2018
  4. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    It was seen as safeguarding the covenant line. Men sought extra wives not for the reason of satisfying their sex drives (perhaps excepting David per Bathesheba and Abigail) but for many children, which meant stability and power.
  5. E.R. CROSS

    E.R. CROSS Puritan Board Freshman

    Was it not sin, though? I am obviously missing something, because it seems to be glaring sin, yet normalized and nearly unmentioned.
  6. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I question the premise: that having multiple wives was "regular" practice. Israelite royalty (and others) took multiple wives, and in this way they showed how much "like the nations around" they were. They mirrored the status symbol acquisitions--including women--that pagan kings and others did.

    More often than not, when we see multiple wives in the Bible story, the situation is not positive. This expedient doesn't tend to "pan out" as whatever solution to a problem it is believed it will. At the very least, there are new and intractable problems that come up.
  7. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Probably, but not all sins are equal. It wasn't as bad as burning your child before Moloch. And it wasn't as bad as fornication. Stupid, perhaps, but not as bad.
  8. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    The Old Testament never explicitly calls polygamy sin in the OT. God even portrays himself as a polygamist in figurative language. But it is clear that it was not the ideal for marriage. From this we conclude that it is sin, but not as great as many other sins. I would argue the sin of divorce is even worse when done for reasons not specified in Scripture.
  9. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    I believe it was always sinful to have a plurality of wives, although God dealt patiently. The Hebrew Kings were the worst offenders which was rebellion against their own law:

    "Neither shall [the king] multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself."

    Solomon's wives did just what Deuteronomy 17:17 warned against.

    The NT doesn't institute a new law against polygamy, it only brings further clarity to marriage as it was intended to be.
  10. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    The verse in Deut. is warning that a king's many wives--always political alliances--would mean that they would turn his heart towards other gods, which is what happened.

    But if that verse is to apply en toto, and you take someone who has two godly Hebrew wives, then the verse doesn't make any sense.
  11. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Yes, I agree that this verse is not absolute proof against OT polygamy, although the institution of marriage in Genesis seems to be one of monogamy which is certainly further clarified in the NT.

    We can also look at polygamous examples in the OT and likely agree that they were never good situations, riddled with strife and other problems, not to mention that due to the high number of children that often would proceed from these relationships, the involvement of the father was not sufficient (think David's mess of a family).
  12. Antipas_14

    Antipas_14 Puritan Board Freshman

    I could be way off, but could it be similar to what Jesus says “And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.” (Mark 10:5). In the same way, God permitted polygamy among his people for a time, except in this case there was no law written, rather, he withheld the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin on this particular sin. That’s just how I have argued this in my mind for a few years, I accept if I am way off base, I’m still a bit of a rookie.
  13. E.R. CROSS

    E.R. CROSS Puritan Board Freshman

    I really don't know. There is a lot more "seems like," and "I think," type of answers than most topics on this forum. I understand that we can see how polygamy has negatives and downfalls, but surely there has to be more than that?
  14. Ben Zartman

    Ben Zartman Puritan Board Freshman

    Another complication is that God clearly used a plurality of wives to bring about His OT covenant people: never is it suggested that Jacob's four wives were wrong for him to have, and all the children that he engendered became the patriarchs of the twelve tribes. After being deceived in the matter of Rachel and Leah, his holding out for Rachel as well seem something that God blessed, as He blessed nearly everything he did while with Laban.
    I wonder though, if his haggard "few and evil" statement to Pharaoh might have been more chipper if he'd only ever married Rachel.
    But all the OT accounts I read of polygamy certainly raise more questions than answers.
  15. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    A couple things:

    1. In the institution of marriage itself, it says:

    "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."

    "Wife" is singular.

    When Paul summarizes this passage (Eph. 5:31), note the difference bolded:

    "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."

    "Two" people is the inspired understanding of the OT passage.

    2. Elders are to exercise many good fruits (Titus, Timothy). The idea is not that only elders are required to bear fruit, but rather they are to be good examples of godliness to which all Christians should aspire. Drawing an OT/NT line which says that the fruits of the Spirit were different from OT to NT is a very problematic assertion, not to mention this argument would make polygamy the only change in what constitutes "good fruit." Rather, if we see continuity in godliness through time, there is no reason to argue that what was lawful in the OT is now unlawful in the NT.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2018
  16. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    God also blessed the fruit of Judah and Tamar, Christ coming from their line! Does this justify her harlotry and his willful seduction?

    The end does not justify the means...
  17. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Several things to keep in mind:

    1) Westminster tradition clearly teaches a gradation of sins.
    2) Not every stupid thing in the world is a hard and fast sin.
    3) I simply think that with the Caananite sex magick going on, and melting babies to Moloch, God wasn't that bothered with polygamy.
  18. Von

    Von Puritan Board Freshman

    When I look at the polygamy-issue, I often wonder which issue in our modern age is a similar "blind-spot" as it was to the patriarchs. I think there are certain sins in certain ages that is, due to the hardness of peoples hearts, so intertwined with culture that it is impossible for the christian partakers of that culture to discern their errors.
  19. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    It might be our extreme wealth. The average Westerner eats better than medieval kings and nobility.

    Last time my family went through Luke 16, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, my daughter pointed out that we are more in danger of being like the Rich Man than like Lazarus. We have the poor literally sitting outside our home sometimes.
  20. Ben Zartman

    Ben Zartman Puritan Board Freshman

    Those things were clearly condemned, and we know that God often brings good out of the most awful situations, but we're talking about polygamy specifically and whether it, considered in itself, was sinful.
  21. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Men justify themselves, they justify their actions by declaring: "There wasn't any other way..." to do something that for its own sake is good. We answer: the ends do not justify the means.

    But when we say that, we don't (we can't!) always wipe out the end that was gained, without creating new and possibly worse problems than obtain by living with the end and its consequences.

    Jacob's plural marriage is a prime example. God used Laban's deceit to bless Jacob. That in no way makes Laban any less of a snake. God blessed Jacob with family by Leah, six sons and a daughter; clearly God chose better for Jacob than he did for himself in this department. And Jacob accepted the outcome as preferable to whatever rejecting it would have done.

    Jacob went ahead and married Rachel too; Laban gave her away also (and I don't think he was thinking of anyone else' good but his own). Jacob's lack of contentment made him too eager. God used it all, but that doesn't mean he ever changed his mind on marriage.

    Rachel makes a chattel of her maid; Leah is tempted to imitate her; Jacob falls in line with this counsel (like his grandfather). Again, the results are turned by God to a good end; but it might easily have ended like David's unhappy family. Deciding what is right based on whether God uses it for blessing or curse pretty much misses noting how often God "subverts" expectations in the Bible, and in our own lives.

    That is why we have to look to prescription rather than description for determining our course. If God only ever blessed the right, and the righteous; only allowed the wicked to fail and have adversity in this life--among other things, the world would look very different.

    Scripture paints the first mentioned polygamist, Lamech of Cain, as an evil man. In fact, this behavior is the first sin mentioned after the murder of Abel (the second sin in the Bible after the fall and all that came with it). It is a perversion of the original order of creation.

    Levirate-marriage ("giving" offspring to a dead brother) is an ancient form of social-security. Whether there were or could be had better solutions under other conditions in ancient times, this was a solution that God sanctioned. But perhaps this was a provision that was then stretched into a loophole that someone could drive a semi-truck through.

    When a new king like David came into Saul's position, God said "I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom," 2Sam.12:8. Whether David took those wives for himself carnally, they became his responsibility. Absalom certainly abused his father's harem (2Sam.16:21-22). But the point in the case of David is: what happens to such wives if the king does not assume care of them? They probably die, or go into prostitution.

    Sin complicates things. Its ripple effects harm generations, not just one person. And later on, we find we're justifying some lesser fault as a means to ameliorating those effects.
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  22. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    I thought that the admonition of Paul towards people deciding to now become married or now was dependent on the current situation of his day, as that Rome was now officially starting to crack down upon Christians, and that would cause really bad problems for one seeking to take on the burden of a family in that circumstance?
  23. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    many times it was a sign of authority and power and wealth to have many wives, as as a ruler, way to secure peace treaties and economic relationships, which was main reason for many of the wives of Solomon one would think.
    Think Jesus answer to this would be allowed due to the hardness of the hearts of mankind, and Paul answer would be that God overlooked such things in the past, but now after time of Christ, does not anymore.
  24. Ben Mordecai

    Ben Mordecai Puritan Board Freshman

    Multiple wives were never explicitly permitted by God. When he created marriage, it was to be between a single man and woman for life so that mankind couple multiply and fill the earth and so that he could model the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5). The first person mentioned in the Bible to take it upon himself to have multiple wives is Lamech from the line of Cain, the same man who boasts in his violence.

    The thing that makes polygamy difficult biblically is that there were so many opportunities to rebuke people for taking multiple wives, but God didn't do it, despite still rebuking them for other reasons, including sexual reasons. Even when David takes Bathsheba, he is rebuked primarily on the grounds of his theft and murder from Uriah rather than the sexual deviancy of voyeurism, lust, and compulsory sex. We can still understand that David's sin was sexual by doing good systematic theology, but it seems odd that God would not rebuke any of the patriarchs for polygamy.

    The internal logic of polygamous marriage at the time was to generate heirs. If you are limited to the offspring you can produce with a single wife, you have a 5-10 kid upper limit. For each extra wife, you can expand just that much faster. In tribal structured government, and when dealing with ruling dynasties this is a big deal.

    Israel should have had faith that God would provide them with the heirs they needed and that he had promised without going beyond the boundaries that God set for marriage.

    Nevertheless, this appears to be one of those issues that God made an accommodation for something that he still considered sinful, just like the issue of divorce. Jesus called divorce sinful, Moses merely required a certificate of divorce. The Mosaic regulation was still from God, but it merely mitigated the damage of divorce since divorce proceeded from the hardness of their hearts. In the New Covenant, Christians are given a heart of flesh, which means that we are not subject to the law of God as a Covenant of Works but as the Law of Christ. Therefore, while the ritualistic and cleanliness laws have become obsolete, the moral law has become more exacting. The hardness of heart is no longer a valid excuse for merely putting limits on sinful behaviors like divorce.

    Likewise, my conclusion is that polygamous marriage is something that God overlooked for a season despite being contrary to his design, but for Christians, it must be abstained from. This also can give us instructions on how to respond to situations of polygamous marriage in the mission field. They can be considered true marriages that should not be broken apart in order to satisfy repentance, but marriages that should not be repeated and perpetuated any longer. Contrast this with illicit marriages like homosexual marriages which should, in fact, be broken apart to satisfy repentance.
  25. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)


    You said: "Multiple wives were never explicitly permitted by God."

    But Deut. 25 lays out the law of the Levirate marriage: “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her."

    Thus God even commanded a situation that demanded polygyny at times. This was a requirement even when the brother already had a wife.
  26. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    It probably more accurate (and the case of Ruth tends to bear this out) to identify the Levirate marriage law as opportunity (regulated) to do a kindness, rather than a strict obligation. Just as divorce was permission (regulated) to take one's freedom, rather than a demand.
  27. Ben Mordecai

    Ben Mordecai Puritan Board Freshman

    Pergamum, you are right there is explicit permission/commandment for doing the duty of the brother-in-law, but I think this actually fits in with the same general point. One of the reasons that people did not want to go into their late-brother's wife is because they are essentially perpetuating heir for their brother, rather than themselves. That was Onan's motivation for spilling his seed. He wanted to lay with his brother's widow but didn't want to give him an heir. Presumably, on strictly economic terms, this is a raw deal since the biological father would probably have economic responsibilities to the child but not have his legacy. It's considered a good deed because it is generous to your brother's legacy and the child would serve the widow in her old age.

    My understanding is that the widow did not become the wife of the brother-in-law, but the understanding is that it would be the same as if the deceased man had fathered a child wife his wife right before he died.
  28. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)


    It seems she became a wife of the brother. Otherwise, God would be encouraging fornication. I would like to research this more.

    does anyone know more about the Levirate marriage?
  29. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    It's one of those questions that will have to wait for heaven. We cannot recreate the entire ancient world or even this one scenario; at best we can speculate as to how this social-order functioned in society back in time.

    I think there is just some debate about what sort of lasting relationship the sexual bond consisted of. It wasn't fornication, regardless. But it may not have been more than a one-time duty, either, at least formally. But, for a time at least, the levirate husband had to provide for the woman (and her child) like an ordinary wife and family.

    This is a reasonable explanation for the "so-and-so" of Ruth ch.4 declining to put his own inheritance "at risk." He decided he could not take care of his own, AND take care of another woman and her child until that child grew into its mother's caretaker.

    The office of goel, kinsman redeemer, as we glean the data from the OT, seems to have covered three basic areas: 1) legal, esp. the avenger of blood; 2) marital, esp. levirate marriage; and 3) economic, esp. buying back a poor brother out of servitude.
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