I am certain that the title of this chapter will cause many an eyebrow to be raised, but it is necessary to understand what the Scriptures teach concerning a man having more than one wife in order to understand the topic of divorce, remarriage, and adultery. I feel as strongly the influence of the culture I am a part of as any man. There is ever a tendency to look upon issues with a very nearsighted focus. We expect that our experience is the same as all men in all cultures at all times, but we are far from the truth when we assume such things.
This teaching is focused upon a BIBLICAL concept of the marriage covenant. I am not seeking to declare that which is socially acceptable, nor the orthodox teaching of the hour. My desire is to know the mind of Yahweh, and to accurately disclose it. I am very much in debt to those who have been praying for me that I might have insight and understanding in these matters, for even as recently as yesterday afternoon, I had no thought about writing this particular chapter. However, after the Father divinely ordered my steps and conversation last night, I find that this is most certainly a part of this teaching that cannot be skipped over. To do so will lead to many erroneous conclusions.
In sharing some of these things with my daughter Kristin last night, she commented, “Dad, that is wacky!” What I will share is truly out of synch with the mindset of the culture we live in. Neither are these things taught in the church. I do not doubt, therefore, that some will experience a similar reaction to that of my daughter. I only ask that you test all that is shared here against Scriptures, taking the word of God as the measure of truth, rather than our common experiences.
Throughout the Old Testament we find that polygamy was practiced on a frequent basis. Polygamy can refer to either a man or a woman having more than one spouse, however, only a man was allowed to have more than one spouse in Scriptures. The woman who had more than one spouse was considered an adulteress, and under the Law of Moses the penalty for adultery was death by stoning. The first mention of a man with more than one wife is found as early as the fourth chapter of Genesis.
And Lamech took to himself two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other, Zillah.
There is nothing in this verse indicating whether this act of polygyny (a man having more than one wife) was approved, or disapproved by God. It is simply mentioned as a statement of fact.
One of the next mentions of a man having more than one wife is in the life of Abraham. When Sarah was barren, and advancing in age, she suggested to her husband Abraham that he take her handmaiden, Hagar the Egyptian, and go in to her to raise up offspring. Hagar, in this way became the wife of Abraham. Some may argue that Abraham having sexual relations with Hagar, did not make her his wife, yet the Scriptures reveal that women who entered into relationships with a man in this way were indeed considered to be the wife of the man.
Two generations after Abraham, we read of Jacob marrying two sisters, Leah and Rachel. Each of these sisters had a handmaid which they likewise presented to Jacob to raise up offspring. These handmaids were Zilpah and Bilhah, and the Scriptures name them as the “wives” of Jacob.
Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives.
We also read that Esau, the brother of Jacob, had more than one wife.
Esau took his wives from the daughters of Canaan: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah and the granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite; also Basemath, Ishmael’s daughter.
In these Scriptures we find that the practice of having more than one wife led to problems. Sarah became jealous of Hagar when Hagar began acting proudly upon bearing Abraham a son. Sarah treated Hagar harshly, and Hagar was later sent away with her son.
Although Jacob had not intended to marry Leah, being deceived by her father Laban, the fact that he took two sisters as wives led to great friction between them. The practice of a man marrying sisters was later forbidden in the Law of Moses, but the Law would not be given for another 400 years.
And you shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive…
It should be noted here, that even though the Law forbid a man to marry sisters, it did not forbid a man to have more than one wife. Indeed, the Law addressed various issues that arose from a man who should take more than one wife, thereby allowing the practice while setting up guidelines for its practice.
If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him sons, if the first-born son belongs to the unloved, then it shall be in the day he wills what he has to his sons, he cannot make the son of the loved the first-born before the son of the unloved, who is the first-born. But he shall acknowledge the first-born, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the first-born.
Throughout the history of Israel, after the Law had been given, we read of numerous examples of men having more than one wife. There is never any prohibition of the practice, though it often led to problems. We read of an Israelite from the tribe of Ephraim, a descendant of Joseph, who had more than one wife.
I Samuel 1:1-2
Now there was a certain man from Ramathaim-zophim from the hill country of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah… And he had two wives: the name of one was Hannah and the name of the other Peninnah; and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
Hannah, of course, would eventually give birth to Samuel, the great prophet of Israel. Another prominent mention during the time before the kings was of Gideon.
Now Gideon had seventy sons who were his direct descendants, for he had many wives. And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech.
It was during the time of the kings, however, that we see the practice of men having more than one wife at its greatest excess. A man who was made king would attain to a greater wealth than other men, and would be able to support a great household. Yahweh, foreseeing this, gave Moses instruction concerning kings, though Israel would not have a king until hundreds of years later.
“When you enter the land which Yahweh your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom Yahweh your God chooses… Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself…, neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself.”
Notice that each of these commands deals with excess, with the thought that excess in any of these areas will lead to a man turning his heart away from God. A king who has a great many horses will place his trust in his great army, rather in Yahweh to protect him. A man who is greatly increased in wealth will tend to become proud, resulting in an absence of a proper fear and humility before God. The man who multiplies wives, increasing them abundantly, will turn his heart away from pleasing God, to pleasing his wives, a situation that was demonstrated in the life of king Solomon.
We find in the Law delivered to Moses by Yahweh that the practice of a man having more than one wife was never prohibited. Rather, it was governed, in that certain instructions were given to establish guidelines for the conduct of a man who had multiple wives. Many who were declared righteous by Yahweh had more than one wife.
The Bible names the sons of David (and one daughter) that were born to seven wives. It also mentions that David had concubines.
I Chronicles 3:1-9
Now these were the sons of David who were born to him in Hebron: the first-born was Amnon, by Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; the second was Daniel, by Abigail the Carmelitess; the third was Absalom the son of Maacah, the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; the fourth was Adonijah the son of Haggith; the fifth was Shephatiah, by Abital; the sixth was Ithream, by his wife Eglah. Six were born to him in Hebron, and there he reigned seven years and six months. And in Jerusalem he reigned thirty-three years. And these were born to him in Jerusalem: Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon, four, by Bath-shua (Bathsheba) the daughter of Ammiel; and Ibhar, Elishama, Eliphelet, Nogah, Nepheg, and Japhia, Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet, nine. All these were the sons of David, besides the sons of the concubines; and Tamar was their sister.
Beyond this, David also had Michal, the daughter of King Saul, as his wife, but no children arose from the union, which is a profound parable in itself. In his old age, David also took the young maiden Abishag as his wife, though he was never sexually intimate with her (I Kings 1:1-4).
David did not transgress in taking any of these women as wives, other than Bathsheba. With Bathsheba David committed adultery, for she was the wife of another man. David did not put Bathsheba away after God confronted him with his sin, for by this time Bathsheba’s husband had been murdered. Therefore, she was no longer in an active state of adultery. She had only David as her husband.
It is very important to note that this is the reason David was able to keep Bathsheba as his wife. Had her husband Uriah been living, Bathsheba and David would continue in adultery as long as they were together. Yet through Uriah’s death, Bathsheba was no longer bound to a man and was able to marry David. Even though David conspired to put Uriah to death, when David repented and God put away his sin, the righteousness of Yahweh did not require David to put away Bathsheba as his wife. Indeed, Yahweh later blessed their union through the birth of Solomon, whom Yahweh named Jedidiah, “Beloved of Yah.”
That David, and consequently all other men who had more than one wife, were not considered transgressors for the sake of having more than one wife, is revealed in the words of God through the prophet Nathan when he was sent to confront David with his adultery and murder.
II Samuel 12:8-9
“I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more!”
What Yahweh is declaring here is that He had taken the kingdom, and all that goes with it, from Saul, and had given it to David. With the kingdom came the rule of all Israel and Judah, the wealth of the nation, and the ability to maintain a large house with many wives. Yahweh is not saying that He gave King Saul’s actual wives to David, for we have David’s wives named, and none of them are from among Saul’s wives. What Yahweh has declared is that He had abundantly blessed David by giving him those things that had formerly pertained to Saul, including a large house and many wives. If therefore, Yahweh has given these things to David, and would have given him more, we cannot judge the state of having more than one wife as a transgression of the will of Yahweh.
This leads us to make a distinction in that which is considered adultery for a woman, and adultery for a man. A man does NOT commit adultery by having more than one wife. A man commits adultery by having ANOTHER MAN”S WIFE. This is always the definition of adultery for a man in Scripture.
And you shall not have intercourse with your neighbor’s wife, to be defiled with her.
If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman…
A woman, on the other hand, is always considered an adulteress if she has more than one husband. She is also considered an adulteress, if while married to a husband, she has sexual relations with a man other than her husband.
For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress…
Due to the influence of the culture we live in, and the absence of an understanding of divine government, and of male and female roles as determined by God at the time of creation, I know that stating this matter in this way will provoke a strong emotional response among some Christians. Yet, we are called to “rightly divide the word of God.” In doing so we must agree that Yahweh permitted a man to have more than one wife, while He did not ever permit a woman to have more than one husband.
When one “rightly divides the word of God” they will understand that a man can have more than one living wife and not be considered an adulterer in the eyes of God. Such a man is not even considered a transgressor. Yet the man who has just one wife may be an adulterer, for if the woman has previously been married to another man who is yet living, both the woman and the man who takes her as wife are in a state of adultery.
The reason Yahweh allowed men to have more than one wife, while not allowing women to have more than one husband, pertains to their creation.
I Corinthians 11:8-9
Man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.
I Corinthians 11:7
Man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
Man was created to be the image and glory of God. As such, man fulfills a role in the creation that is patterned after His creator. God may have multiple worshipers, and may be in spiritual union with many men. Yet man cannot have many gods. If a man takes to himself a god other than Yahweh, he is declared to be an idolater. Idolatry is everywhere throughout Scriptures compared to adultery.
Moreover, Yahweh said to me, “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then declare to them their abominations. For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. Thus they have committed adultery with their idols…”
When Yahweh first spoke through Hosea, Yahweh said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry, and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking Yahweh.”
Even as the man was created to be the image and glory of God, and man can have only one God, without any exceptions, so it is between the man and the woman. The woman was created for man. Woman is the glory of man as man is the glory of God. Woman can only have one husband, even as man can have only one God. There can be no exceptions. If a woman has more than one husband she shall be called an adulteress even as a man who takes another God besides Yahweh will ALWAYS be an idolater.
Yahweh speaks in very similar terms of His jealousy toward man, and a man’s jealousy toward his wife. One is patterned after the other.
You shall not worship any other god, for Yahweh, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God…
This is the law of jealousy: when a wife, being under the authority of her husband, goes astray and defiles herself, or when a spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife, he shall then make the woman stand before Yahweh, and the priest shall apply all this law to her. Moreover, the man shall be free from guilt, but that woman shall bear her guilt.
Yahweh considered it a righteous thing for a man to be jealous of his wife. A man was righteously angry if his wife went astray and defiled herself by having sexual relations with another. The penalty for such a transgression was death.
Lest some should say this seems unfair, they should note that this is a perfect parallel to the man who defiled himself by joining himself to an idol. Yahweh was righteously indignant for man to do such a treacherous thing. The penalty for idolatry was the same as the penalty for adultery. The man who joined himself to another god would be put to death.
This point must be established in order to understand the issues of divorce, remarriage and adultery. A man was never considered an adulterer for having more than one wife, and this is true to this day. He is only an adulterer if he has taken to himself another man’s wife. This has been true from the beginning of the creation, and it has not changed during the church age. As long as the creation remains, the patterns established in the creation will continue unchanged.
In the New Testament, there is no condemnation of Christian men having more than one wife. The practice, however, is prohibited if a man desires to serve in a position of leadership in the church.
I Timothy 3:2-3
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money.
I Timothy 3:12
Let deacons be husbands of one wife…
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
These instructions about the appointment of overseers, deacons and elders were only necessary because there were men in the church who had more than one wife. Some men were living with more than one wife. Others had divorced a wife and taken another, and were therefore the husband of more than one living wife. In both cases, God viewed them as having more than one wife. In neither case was this considered adultery, or even fornication, for as we have observed, man was never forbidden to have more than one wife.
Why then, did the apostle Paul give as a requirement for spiritual office that a man must have only one wife? The reason is that the man is a role model for the church, and as a role model he must exercise self-control and moderation in all things. A man was not declared a transgressor to have more than one wife, but the man with more than one wife demonstrated an inordinate attention to earthly matters that was not suitable for one who would stand in a spiritual office. The apostle elsewhere speaks of marriage as being a distraction to pure devotion to God.
I Corinthians 7:32-34
But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided.
If you look at the context of Paul’s words concerning qualifications for elders and overseers, you will observe that the issue of moderation and self-control is predominant. Paul says a man must be “temperate,” which is to say, “showing moderation,” and this statement immediately follows his instructions regarding having one wife. A temperate man, demonstrating moderation, will not seek to have many wives. His focus will be upon the things of God rather than the things of the world.
The apostle Paul then goes on to speak of other areas in which those who are leaders in the church must demonstrate moderation, including their attitude toward drink, toward money, and in their abstaining from an excess of anger.
A Christian man does not commit adultery by having more than one wife, but his interests are divided. He must consider how to please his wives, as well as how to please God. The more wives he has, the less able he is to devote himself to spiritual things.
I do not doubt that what has been stated here, namely that a Christian man is permitted to have more than one wife, will appear to some as error. The society we live in exerts a very strong influence upon our thoughts and opinions. What I am setting forth is a Biblical world view, not a present day world view. There are many discrepancies between current practice and values and the word of God, and these differences extend even to the church. The church has abandoned the admonition to “rightly divide the word of God.” The members of the church judge many things by the counsel of their own souls.
Whether the church and society recognizes it or not, polygamy is practiced by a great number of people in Western society. Polygamy, by God’s definition, is the law of the land in America. How is this so? Western society condones divorce and remarriage. The numbers of divorced and remarried people is very high, indeed the number of people practicing serial polygamy in the West exceeds those practicing polygamy in other societies where it is an acceptable custom.
In the eyes of God, a man and woman who are married and then divorce, are yet married. The only thing that can terminate the marriage is death.
Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.
Paul is speaking here of the Law of God, not the law of man. The Law of God says a man and woman who have entered into the covenant of marriage continue in that marriage as long as they both shall live. Though the laws of the nations today declare otherwise, we must agree with God. Therefore, any man who divorces, and then takes another wife while his first wife yet lives, is a polygamist. If the second wife has never been married, then he is only a polygamist, and not an adulterer. Yet, if she was formerly married, and her spouse is living, the man and the woman are both polygamists and adulterers. This is the teaching of the word of God.
Keep in mind, a man being a polygamist, though looked upon as a great transgression in many societies today, is nowhere condemned by God. The Law of God provided guidelines for men who took more than one wife, but never forbade them from doing so. A man may be a Christian today and have more than one wife, but he cannot be an elder, overseer, or deacon. These positions require a devotion to God that is not possible when a man has multiple wives to care for, nor is he demonstrating a pattern of moderation and self-control.
We see then, that in God’s eyes the nations we live in (I live in America) have declared polygamy to be legal, and many men (and women) are practicing polygamists. They have married more than one spouse, and these spouses are living. We must judge things as God judges them. Whereas the Law of God permitted a man to have more than one wife, it never permitted a man to have another man’s wife, yet man’s government permits this today.
I know that many will ask, “Well what about Christ’s words in Matthew?”
“But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
The question arises, “Is not a man, or woman, allowed to divorce a spouse and marry another, if their spouse has been unchaste? Are they therefore NOT considered adulterers if the spouse violated the marriage covenant by having sexual intercourse with another?” These questions will be answered later in this series.
It is necessary to lay one foundation stone at a time in order to “rightly divide the word of God” and arrive at the mind and counsel of Yahweh. We laid three stones thus far: Understanding blood covenant; Understanding the body as the temple; and Understanding the lawfulness of a man having more than one wife. The fourth foundation stone to be laid will be Understanding that the soul is in the blood.
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