In the press for same-sex marriage (claimed by some that faithful, same sex relationships are not mentioned in Scripture and therefore okay), we find ourselves bombarded by the next wave of polyamorous relationships that seek legal status as well. Among them is polygamy. Utah already had their statute struck down by the court to pave the way for legalization. And then there are those who claim, Polygamy is Biblical... Well, if you mean it can be found in the Bible, then yes, it is. But that does not say much.
Homosexual acts (unequivocally condemned in Old and New Testament Scripture) are not at all uncertain within the Biblical record. Polygamy, well, that is a different story. Certainly this was not part of God's creative design or intent for marriage, but it does appear that He tolerated the practice. Some of the greatest biblical patriarchs had numerous wives. God does not appear to punish them for this alone but seems to work within the circumstance for the larger benefit of His people Israel.
The Scriptures do teach against polygamy but less in the clear language of law that prohibits than the comparative view that displays positively what marriage is as God has given it in creation and how man's attempts to improve or alter man's design have produced consequences less than salutary for man or woman. Polygamy does not have a great track record and has lead to serious trouble God's leaders and His people. Departing from God’s plan and purpose always leads to trouble and this is even more true when we consider the subject of marriage.
God said, It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper comparable to him (Gen 2:18). Though it hardly needs to be pointed out, “helper” is singular, not plural, and the clearest statement of God's intention is one man and one woman. After sending forth Adam to name the animals and thus teaching the man that animals are not suitable companions and he is, indeed, alone, God puts Adam into a deep sleep and fashions Eve from his rib (cf Gen 2:21). Scripture tells us that a man shall “cling” or cleave (Hebrew = דָּבַק = dabaq) to his wife (singular, not plural), and the two (not two because there were only two but because the design of marriage was for two -- not three, four, or more) of them shall become one flesh (Gen 2:24). God then bestowed on them the character of His own love and gave to their life together the potential to create (in the same way God's love is creative) and then commended them to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28).
Polygamy was a common thing in the Old Testament, at least among the kings and patriarchs. There is no record that this was the widespread or even occasional practice among ordinary folks in the Old Testament. Another blogger has conveniently listed the occurances:
- Lamech (a descendant of Cain) practiced polygamy (Genesis 4:19).
- Abraham had more than one wife (Genesis 16:3-4; 25:6, some are called concubines).
- Nahor, Abraham’s brother, had both a wife and a concubine (Genesis 11:29; 22:20-24).
- Jacob was tricked into polygamy (Genesis 29:20-30) and later he received two additional wives, making a grand total of four wives (Genesis 30:4, 9).
- Esau took on a third wife to please his father Isaac (Genesis 28:6-9).
- Ashur had two wives (1 Chronicles 4:5).
- Obadiah, Joel, Ishiah, and those with them “had many wives” (1 Chronicles 7:3-4).
- Shaharaim had at least four wives, two of which he “sent away” (1 Chronicles 8:8-11).
- Caleb had two wives (1 Chronicles 2:18) and two concubines (1 Chronicles 2:46, 48).
- Gideon had many wives (Judges 8:30).
- Elkanah is recorded as having two wives, one of which was the godly woman Hannah (1 Samuel 1:1-2, 8-2:10).
- David, had at least 8 wives and 10 concubines (1 Chronicles 1:1-9; 2 Samuel 6:23; 20:3).
- Solomon, who breached both Deuteronomy 7:1-4 and 17:14-17, had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-6).
- Rehoboam had eighteen wives and sixty concubines (2 Chronicles 11:21), and sought many wives for his sons (1 Chronicles 11:23).
- Abijah had fourteen wives (2 Chronicles 13:21).
- Ahab had more than one wife (1 Kings 20:7).
- Jehoram had multiple wives (2 Chronicles 21:17).
- Jehoiada, the priest, gave king Joash two wives (2 Chronicles 24:1-3).
- Jehoiachin had more than one wife (2 Kings 24:15).
So, is polygamy Biblical? Yes. It is mentioned. It was tolerated. It was a dysfunctional sidetrack of God's orderly plan. It spawned violence, resentment, hate, apostasy, and even murder. Was it God's plan? No. For Jesus recounts the hardness of the heart that gave birth to another aberration not part of God's creative intention, divorce, and gives us both God's design and God's allowance of that which resulted from the hardness of man's heart. Have you not read, that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate (Matt 19:4-6).