When you think of polygamy, what do you think of? The Mormons? Islam or Muhammad? Maybe you think of Big Love?
If you are a Christian, though, I want to give you something else to think of when the subject of polygamy comes up. You see, our minds shouldn’t be instinctively drawn to the world, its false faiths, and its entertainment, when there are loftier subjects to focus on.
Our thoughts should gravitate to the Scriptures, to those men throughout the history of our faith which lived out their lives with multiple wives, some with two or three, others with wives numbering in the hundreds.
I want to introduce you to these men.
For simplicity, I’ll present this list alphabetically. Also, I will from now on be referring to these men with the more correct term polygynist. Polygyny is the practice of one man having multiple wives; it is a type of polygamy.
After him Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. 14He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys, and he judged Israel eight years.
Alphabetically, we get to start our list with a man, Abdon, who isn’t explicitly said to be a polygynist. However, due to the large number of children he is said to have had, it is possible that multiple wives bore these children to him.
But Abijah grew mighty. And he took fourteen wives and had twenty-two sons and sixteen daughters.
You should read the rest of chapter thirteen to get the full picture of Abijah; when you do, you’ll come away with the distinct impression that God was on his side.
You’ll find out that while Abijah was ruling over the kingdom of Judah, the Jeroboam and the kingdom of Israel rose up against them. Jeroboam and his men stood under the careful, watchful protection of their golden calves and idols; Abijah and his men rose up under the watch, care, and protection of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
And what happened? “God defeated Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah” (v. 15). Later on, we’re told that the “rest of the acts of Abijah, his ways and his sayings, are written in the story of the prophet Iddo.”
Despite all that we’re told about Abijah, it is telling that we’re never given a hint of disapproval regarding his having multiple wives.
Abram / Abraham
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. 2And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife.
Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah.
The ESV Study Bible says of Genesis 16:3, “While the OT records occasions when particular individuals have more than one wife, such instances are almost always fraught with complications and difficulty. The taking of multiple wives is never encouraged in the Bible and usually arises out of peculiar circumstances.”
I wonder if the authors of that note have paid much attention to marriage in general: even monogamy is “almost always fraught with complications and difficulty.” That’s just the nature of human relationships!
Did any of those polygamist unions found in the Scriptures end in divorce? What about today’s monogamous marriages? I’m willing to bet that monogamous societies have a much higher rate of divorce than do polygynous ones. Why that is, I cannot say for certain.
In any event, Abraham had at least three wives — two of which for certain were concurrent. An additional curiosity of this family was that Abraham’s taking of a second wife the idea of Sarai, his first wife.
That is a curiosity because it shows a great lack of self-centeredness on the part of Sarai; she knew the promise that Abraham would have children despite his age, and feeling as though the promise could not be fulfilled in her, she arranged for her own servant to be Abraham’s second wife, so that the promise could be fulfilled through her.
The study Bible notes that polygamy is never encouraged; notice here, though, that the angel of the Lord intervenes to mend the relationship between Hagar and Sarai but in no way expresses any sort of disapproval at the polygynous unions between Abraham and the two women (vv. 9–12)!
Ben-hadad the king of Syria gathered all his army together. Thirty-two kings were with him, and horses and chariots. And he went up and closed in on Samaria and fought against it. 2And he sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel and said to him, “Thus says Ben-hadad: 3‘Your silver and your gold are mine; your best wives and children also are mine.'”
We aren’t given details regarding these marriages, just that they exist: Ahab, king of Israel, had multiple wives, and a disapproving word from the prophets or God Himself cannot be found.
Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women in the palace that belonged to King Ahasuerus.
Ahasuerus’ situation, like Abdon‘s, is a bit speculative. Were all the women wives of Ahasuerus? Or was it just the palace that belonged to the king rather than the women in the palace? I’m not knowledgeable in Hebrew grammar, and the English translation is a bit ambiguous.
In any event, we know that Ahasuerus was married to Vashti, and that later, she would lose her royal position to Esther (ch. 2). Were both women concurrent wives of Ahasuerus?
Whatever the situation, at the very least we can be certain that no disapproving words regarding polygynous marriages are spoken by God or His prophets.
Ashur, the father of Tekoa, had two wives, Helah and Naarah;
Appearing in a much longer list of the descendants of Judah, we are told simply that Ashur had two wives. No disapproval. No stated need for repentance.
Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them.
I admit that Belshazzar isn’t the best possible example, but he is a “biblical polygynist” nonetheless.
We are told of his drunkenness, of his idolatry… things which elsewhere are revealed to be against the Law of God.
That Belshazzar had multiple wives, though? That was a common practice among many cultures, just as it is today, and there is no sign that the practice of polygyny violated the Law of God.
We can infer that when Ben-hadad would take Ahab‘s wives, he would take them to be his own wives.
Caleb the son of Hezron fathered children by his wife Azubah, and by Jerioth; and these were her sons: Jesher, Shobab, and Ardon. 19When Azubah died, Caleb married Ephrath, who bore him Hur.
Ephah also, Caleb’s concubine, bore Haran, Moza, and Gazez; and Haran fathered Gazez.
Maacah, Caleb’s concubine, bore Sheber and Tirhanah.
At least two concurrent wives plus some concubines, and there is no sign that this wasn’t a normal, expected, healthy family structure.
The study Bible notes mentioned above said that polygyny was never encouraged; how is portraying something as perfectly normal not at least implied encouragement?
David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife.
When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the Lord who has avenged the insult I received at the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from wrongdoing. The Lord has returned the evil of Nabal on his own head.” Then David sent and spoke to Abigail, to take her as his wife.
David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and both of them became his wives.
And the sixth, Ithream, of Eglah, David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron.
And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David.
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.
Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him.
David is the most significant man on this list thus far; not only was he the king of Israel, he is also the penman behind hundreds of chapters of Scripture.
And he was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).
Make no mistake that there was sin in David’s life. He committed adultery, and murdered to get away with it. He was as human as the rest of us, yet he was highly favored by the Lord.
And he was a polygynist.
It’s easy enough to attribute David’s problems to some sort of insatiable lust, but the Scriptures do not point us in that direction.
On the contrary, 2 Samuel 12:7–8 (quoted above) and the surrounding context show that David rebelled against the Lord despite having multiple wives. The Scriptures go so far as to say that God Himself gave David multiple wives and that, if they were not enough, He would give David even more!
Does God sin? Can iniquity be found in the Almighty? Does God change?
Keep in mind that the ESV Study Bible said that the Scriptures never encouraged polygyny. What does it have to say about God giving multiple wives to David? “There is no other record of David marrying Saul’s wives, but he was certainly in a position to do so.”
Basically, they avoid the issue. When confronted with undeniable, incontrovertible evidence that polygyny is an acceptable practice, rather than admit such, the editors of the study Bible sidestep the issue. I hope you won’t make the same mistake.
The sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz. 12(Timna was a concubine of Eliphaz, Esau’s son; she bore Amalek to Eliphaz.) These are the sons of Adah, Esau’s wife.
We are only told the name of one of Eliphaz’s wives, but what we are not told is that God disapproved of his family structure. We must not read into the Scriptures disapproval where none in fact exists.
There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Eliju, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. 2He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
The study Bible actually makes sense in its handling of this passage, so I’ll let it speak on it: “Probably Hannah was Elkanah’s first wife, since she is named first. Presumably he married Peninnah because Hannah was barren; lack of an heir was a major problem in the ancient Near East, as in many other societies. Taking a second wife was one way to try to solve the problem (Gen. 16:2), as was levirate marriage. Elkanah’s pedigree suggests that it would be important to him to have an heir to continue the family and also that he was prosperous enough to afford a second marriage.”
If marriage was the only legitimate avenue of fulfilling the command to procreate, then how much more does polygyny allow this command to be fulfilled? We saw this sort of thing earlier in the case of Abraham; so that he may have a child, Sarai encouraged him to take Hagar to be his second wife.
Seems to me that polygyny is in fact an encouraged alternative to remaining childless. Curious, no?
When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite.
Multiple wives with no disapproval. Noticing a pattern yet?
The sons of Ezrah: Jether, Mered, Epher, and Jalon. These are the sons of Bithiah, the daughter of Pharaoh, whom Mered married; and she conceived and bore Miriam, Shammai, and Ishbah, the father of Eshtemoa. 18And his Judahite wife bore Jered the father of Gedor, Heber the father of Soco, and Jekuthiel the father of Zanoah.
Verse 17 lists the sons of Ezrah with one wife; verse 18 details his family with his Judahite wife (or as some translations render it, his wife Jehudijah).
Family details aplenty, but not a word of divine disapproval.
Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives.
This passage doesn’t mince any words: Gideon had many wives. Plain. Simple. Unpunished.
List Source: Polygamy in the Bible: Polygamy Really Is Biblical!
What comes to your mind when you think of polygyny? If this post was successful, you’ll now think of any of a number of men from the Bible. Perhaps most significantly, you should think of David, who not only was a man after God’s own heart, but was also a man to whom God gave multiple wives with the promise of more if desired.
I fully recognize that polygyny is a foreign concept to many people today, and overwhelmingly it is seen as a step below homosexuality — if we allow gay “marriage,” there will be nothing to stop polygamy and so on. Feminists will claim that allowing a man to have multiple wives, especially using language such as “take wives” or “gave wives,” is supposedly harmful to the women involved. Egalitarian folks will claim that it is unfair for a man to be allowed multiple wives if a woman cannot have multiple husbands.
Yet we mustn’t allow our beliefs about marriage to be colored by the culture around us without first having a firm grasp of what the Scriptures teach about marriage. Only after affirming what the Scriptures teach about marriage — polygyny is okay, divorce is despicable, adultery and fornication are sins, etc. — can we allow ourselves to adopt certain cultural traditions — the marriage ceremony, honeymoon, and so on — without compromising the foundation laid by the Scriptures.
Featured image: The Wise & Foolish Virgins by Peter von Cornelius