Polygamy in the Bible - A Sordid Tale
Off the top of my head, here are some of the stories about polygamy in the Bible:
- The first polygamist, Lamech, calls a family conference so he can boast about his inordinate vengeful violence. He’s clearly not a nice man (Gen 4:19-24).
- Jacob has two wives and two concubines, a situation which creates family heartbreak, envy and, ultimately, attempted murder (Gen 29-37).
- Gideon has many wives and many sons (Judges 8:30). This results in civil war and wholesale slaughter in Israel (Judges 9).
- David has a seemingly insatiable appetite for women. He has many wives (2 Sam 5:13), and in the end steals another man’s wife and murders him (2 Sam 11-12). The resulting, big family was not a happy one: they ended up committing incestuous rape (2 Sam 13) and rebellion which almost destroyed David’s kingdom (2 Sam 14ff).
- Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. They led his heart away from the Lord, and led to the break-up of his kingdom (1 Kings 11:3-4).
The stories tell the story all by themselves, don’t they? Polygamy, according to the Bible, is a disaster.
Furthermore, there are other pretty clear indications in the Bible that polygamy is wrong. The Bible begins with an explicit affirmation that marriage is between one man and one woman (Gen 1-2), an affirmation which is later confirmed by Jesus himself (Matt 19:4-6). There are, furthermore, laws limiting some of the worst effects of polygamy (Deut 21:15-17). And then, in the New Testament, Paul’s command to Timothy that church leaders must be, alongside exemplars of other moral virtues, “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2, 12; cf. 1 Tim 5:9) implies that polygamy is not a desirable thing.
Sure, the Bible accepts that polygamy (like divorce) is one of the realities of a sinful world, and seeks to regulate it to some extent. But that all needs to be understood within the bigger picture of the Bible’s story: God’s salvation of a sinful humanity through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus. Within this story, polygamy isn’t an example to be emulated. Rather, it’s an example of the many bad things Jesus rescues us from.
Go read it all.
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