Lessons From the Old Testament: The Case for Monogamy

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.

Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.

If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
(Genesis 4:19,23,24)

There is no statement of condemnation by God for the fact that Lamech takes two wives.  The author of Genesis is more subtle than that.  What we get is a depiction of the character of Lamech that leads us to believe that his arrogance extends to his marriages.  He’s a one-upper.  He even wants to one-up his father.  If dad was avenged seven times, he will be avenged seventy-seven times.  If a man wounds him, he is justified in killing him.  No eye for an eye here.

But the original pattern was established in the garden.  God made one woman for the man, one wife, not two or more.  Jesus tells us that this also establishes God’s ideal for no divorce (Matthew 19).  The New Testament apostles affirm monogamy as the ideal when they make the requirement for elders/pastors that they be only the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1).  The leaders must set the precedent for right living.

But throughout the Old Testament we see several individuals, especially some of our heroes to whom we look up, engaged in multiple marriages.   Jacob has two wives and a couple of secondary wives, Moses takes a couple of wives (Numbers 12:1), and with the advent of the kingship David and especially Solomon go a little crazy.  Undoubtedly they are making alliances through these marriages, especially Solomon.  But Moses had conveyed God’s standard in Deuteronomy 17:

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.  (verses 16,17)

Here God gives a reason for not multiplying wives for kings.  The alliances they make through their marriages will undoubtedly introduce pagan religion into their households.  And the case of Solomon proves God’s point.  Solomon begins to worship with his pagan wives according to their idolatrous religions.  He turns from Yahweh.  This is one of the ways the Bible tells us God’s that having more than one wife is not a good thing.

The other way the Bible does this is by showing us the practical problems created by polygamy.  For example, Jacob obviously favors one wife over another and the children of one wife over the others.  The disarray this introduces into his family is devastating.  There is constant competition between the wives and the kids suffer as well (see Genesis 29-35).  We see the same story in the lives of Elkanah and his wives Hannah and Peninnah.  The pain caused by the obvious favoritism Elkanah had for Hannah results in Peninnah using her own ability to have children to torment Hannah.

There are no good examples of polygamy in the Bible, no situations where polygamy is presented in a favorable light.  Though God does not come down hard on Jacob or Moses or David for having more than one wife, He does not condone it.  Are nations justified, then, in outlawing polygamy?  Nations can legislate however they desire in compliance with Biblical ideals.  It is in the best interest of their citizens not to allow polygamy.  The same difficulties seen in the Biblical accounts of polygamous marriages will be repeated in modern day marriages.  It is the hardness of men’s hearts that promotes multiple spouses.

However, you can bet that the appetite of many men (and not a few women) for multiple sexual partners and what some consider the benefits of having larger households with multiple spouses will lead citizens to appeal for polygamy to be allowed.  The Bible is a record of God’s best practices for human beings.  His love for us leads Him to tell us what is best for our lives and what leads to the greatest opportunity for blessing in our lives.  Monogamy is just such an opportunity.


3 thoughts on “Lessons From the Old Testament: The Case for Monogamy

  1. What evidence exists to prove that Zipporah was alive, or hadn’t departed as an unbeliever, at the time Moses married the Ethiopian woman in Numbers Chapter 12?
    A murderer…yes, a fugitive…certainly, but a polygamist,
    maybe not.

    I am pleased to see you writing regularly here again.

  2. Point well taken, Joe. A better example is Abraham, whose decision to take Hagar as a second wife had disastrous affects.

    And thanks for being pleased to see me writing here again. That is very encouraging.

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