The question on the practice of polygamy in Bible times has intrigued nearly every Bible reader. Some are sure that polygamy was a wrong practice but find it difficult to understand and explain this custom that was commonly seen in the Old Testament times—even among God’s people! Others feel that it was permitted then, but was done away in the New Testament times.
An amazing truth unfolds as we proceed. God works out His way amidst chaos and confusion. We see God’s method of saving people, as we look deeper into the mystery of polygamy.
The Consistent Word:
The truth of the Bible is simple and clear. God never commanded anyone to have more than one wife. Throughout Scripture we see the consistent Word of God, even in regard to this issue.
Look at the first man, Adam. God gave him one wife, Eve. God commanded them to fill the earth with their children.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it. (Genesis 1:28)
Though God told them to be fruitful and multiply, God did not give Adam more than one wife for an easier way of multiplying and replenishing the earth! This makes it very clear that it was not God’s plan for man to have more than one wife, even in a sinless environment.
The first one to have had more than one wife was Lamech. He was the seventh from Adam, in Cain’s line.
And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. (Genesis 4:19)
Lamech is the father of polygamy!
On the other hand, the seventh from Adam, from Seth’s side, was Enoch, who walked with God and was translated to heaven (See Hebrews 11:5). This is an interesting parallel running from two streams—one, earthward, and the other, heavenward.
Barely 1500 years after creation God decided to destroy the entire world because of the terrible sins that prevailed over the entire human race. Only one family—Noah’s—was found righteous before God. Apart from the sins of crime and violence, there was this disregard for the purity of marriage too. The Scripture declares:
That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man. (Genesis 6:2, 3)
On the other hand, Noah and his three sons followed the model that God had set in the beginning. All these men were married and they had only one wife each. It is written:
Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark. (Genesis 7:13)
Noah and his wife, and their three sons and their wives—eight people—were saved during the flood. Peter wrote about the number of people who survived the flood.
The longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. (1 Peter 3:20)
God reminded man always:
God constantly reminded His people about monogamy, which was His will for all.
To the kings of Israel He said:
Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away. (Deuteronomy 17:17)
To the Bishop of the church God said:
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife. (1 Timothy 3:2)
If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God. (Titus 1:6, 7)
To the deacons the command is:
Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. (1Timothy 3:12)
To everyone, Paul wrote, about loving one’s wife (and not wives):
Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. (Ephesians 5:33)
The Psalmist wrote about a blessed man—the man who fears the Lord. “Wife” is in singular.
Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD. (Psalm 128:3)
Even Solomon, before he transgressed the rules, wrote under inspiration about one’s wife.
Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. (Proverbs 5:18)
Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD. (Proverbs 18:22)
During the time of prophet Malachi there was a departing from the rule of marriage that God setup. God rebukes His people:
Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. (Malachi 2:14, 15)
“The wife of thy covenant” is made “one” with the man. But the man “dealt treacherously” with her. Our Lord Jesus, too, emphasized that in marriage—the one where God is involved—it is only two who are joined to become one, and not three or more. He said:
Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matthew 19:4-6)
Paul repeats what the Master said:
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. (Ephesians 5:31)
And to the Corinthian church Paul wrote:
Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. (1 Corinthian 7:2)
The will of God regarding marriage is clear throughout the Bible—in the Old and New Testament—but man in his desire departed from that will time and again. Even great men of faith faltered and had multiplied wives. In the subsequent chapters we shall look at these godly men and their family lives.