There are a few texts that we need to consider before we close, to root out all doubts concerning this “puzzling” topic. We need to have a closer look on certain towering personalities in the Bible who had plural wives.
You will notice that they pierced their hearts and their married lives, and God did not lead them into it.
The father of the Jewish race had a beautiful God-given wife, Sarai, or Sarah as she was later called. From the beginning Abraham had a little problem regarding his wife. When he went to Egypt during the time of the famine he lied to the Egyptians. This is what he told his wife:
Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee. (Genesis 12:13)
For a moment he forgot by whose power he was preserved. It was God who led him thus far; but he lost focus and decided to use his “wisdom” to save himself and his wife. In the process they landed in a mess!
He loved his wife dearly—and how they would have loved to have a child of their own! Abraham was one of the richest men alive. But what would that matter to him if he went childless. The God of heaven, actually, promises a child, and a great posterity:He that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:4-6)
Abraham waits for ten years, but nothing happens. He is now 85 years and his wife is 75. Probably God forgot His promise? Or God tried his best but Sarah’s womb was beyond function? They both reason out things day-after-day. Finally they “realized” that God needed some “help”. They would have recollected and tried to analyze the exact words of God to Abraham. And they thought they solved the puzzle. God said Abraham would have a child. But by whom he would have it was not mentioned! There they go!
Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her.
(Genesis 16:1, 2)
Polygamy was anyway a common practice of that time, they reasoned out; so the society will have no problem in this union. But were they doing the will of God? Abraham, instead of listening to God:
Hearkened to the voice of Sarai. (Genesis 16:2)
Isn’t that the same way in which Adam, the first man, fell? Listening to the voice of his wife, instead of God’s! What a great consequence the sin of Adam had on the whole human race! And what a great consequence the sin of Abraham had on the whole chosen race! Many of his descendents followed his example and pierced their hearts and their family lives.
The next time God appeared to Abraham was when he was ninety-nine years old—that was after fourteen years as far as the Scripture record goes. And the first thing God uttered was a rebuke and an admonition:
And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. (Genesis 17:1)
Because he faltered the word came, “Be thou perfect”. And the contents of this chapter are the repetition of the earlier chapter - the birth of the promised child. God makes it very clear to him that it is through his wife Sarah the promised seed would come.
And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. (Genesis 17:19)
Look at the troubles this holy pair invited. An Egyptian handmaid is now Mrs. Abraham! She is all excited about her future and starts to snub Sarah, the real wife of Abraham. There is confusion and heated exchanges everyday. She begets a child and the trouble bubbles. Both the women are to be blamed - Sarah for suggesting this earthly idea of second marriage to her husband, and Hagar for taunting her mistress. The record declares:
And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. (Genesis 16:4)
Sarah realizes her mistake, but blames Abraham for it. She becomes desperate.
And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee. (Genesis 16:5)
The threefold family breaks. Hagar is forced to leave home with Ishmael her son. Abraham is heartbroken; He is feeling for his little boy. What heartache, what sorrow, what pain!
The great rule is clearly recorded by the apostle Paul:
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (Galatians 6: 7, 8)
They sowed to the flesh and were reaping to the flesh. Therefore Abraham had to cut off the foreskin of his flesh, and of every male thereafter was told to do so, as a constant reminder of this faithlessness shown.
Look at how the angel of the Lord addresses Hagar – not as Abraham’s wife:
And he said, Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. (Genesis 16:8, 9)
The above verse clearly indicates that God did not join Abraham and Hagar in marriage. It was Sarah who joined them.