Let us unravel the mystery of polygamy that was practiced in the Old Testament; and let us see why it was done, and why God allowed it, and why He still took them and used the patriarchs to proclaim His name.
For example, look at Jacob. Jacob was the worst among the Patriarchs, most cunning. Jacob was the son of Isaac, and Isaac was the son of Abraham. God, throughout Scripture, has been declaring—“I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6; Mark 12:26).
In Genesis, we have the story of Jacob recorded. He had four wives and 12 sons from all his wives (See Genesis 29, 30, 49). His sons are important because they are the 12 tribes of Israel who have the covenant promise. These 12 children were from the same father but from 4 different mothers!
In Revelation chapter 21 we see John beholding New Jerusalem in heaven, and he describes the holy City. He writes:
Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21:11-14)
In heavenly Jerusalem there are 12 gates, and on each gate a name is written. The names are those of the children of Jacob, the 12 tribes of Israel! On the foundations of the wall are the names of 12 apostles of the Lamb. (Of course Mathias replaces Judas. And one of the children of Israel, Dan, is also replaced by one of the sons of Joseph, Manasseh, for apostatizing).
The names inscribed there convey the gospel message of how God saves!
This city of God has been there from ages past. When did God write these names? Surely not after the Jacob’s children were born, or after the 12 apostles were selected. It was there from the beginning. Talking about the city, Jesus said:
In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14 2:3)
He did not go to build mansions; He went to prepare a place in those mansions that were previously there. All the names on the gates and on the foundations were already there, obviously!
Angels would have looked at the gates and the foundations, and at the names, and probably would have wondered and asked God as to whose names they were? None of the angels would have had these names (as all have a unique name, I am sure). None of the intellectual creatures of the other worlds have these names too. God would have answered these inquiring minds thus—“Hold on, it is the mystery of the gospel that has been hid since the foundation of the world!”
It was getting unfolded slowly. When Jacob’s 12 sons were born, and when he was naming them, one by one, by the inspiration of God, the angels would have immediately realized that these are the people! And they would have looked at God and said—“Now we understand!”
They would have watched closely the lives of these 12 men and the life of Jacob and his 4 wives—and would have been puzzled! God was actually unfolding the gospel to them (and to us).
He was trying to say to them, “I am going to save people who have spoilt their names, who have a terrible history, whose parents have had great faults”. God was trying to teach, through symbolism, how He is going to save people in His kingdom.
When we look at Jacob and his children, we might feel like questioning God—“How could You accept Jacob and his children and write their names in heaven’s gate?” And God would reply—“That is the way I am going to save people; that is the only way!”
Look at the father of faith, Abraham, for instance. He had two wives initially—Sarah and Hagar. We know their story as recorded in Genesis Chapter 16. Look at how the great apostle, Paul, connects the two wives of Abraham and their children to the spiritual level.
For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. (Galatians 4:22 to 5:1)
Paul calls it an “allegory”. It was symbolizing something to come. You see, even the patriarchs marrying more than one wife—Abraham marrying Sarah and Hagar in this instance—were a shadow of the Gospel, of how God was going to save people!
All of us have had bad histories. If we question God regarding the patriarchs and their family lives, God would plainly tell us—“If I didn’t accept them, neither can I accept you! For all have sinned!”
“God so loved the world”, the Bible says. But that does not mean He loves the things people in the world do. The names of the children of Israel on the gates of Heavenly Jerusalem is the mystery of the gospel of how God saves people—in spite of their terrible backgrounds, their evil histories, and even though some are born into the world in not the pattern that God willed. Yet God accepts them when genuine repentance is seen. Jesus told Nicodemus:
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17, 1 8)
The whole world, without Jesus, stands condemned. But with Jesus, whatever the history, does not matter. “Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). That soul that believes is not condemned. His history does not make a difference. The blood of Jesus cleanses it all! God accepts them as His own sons. Paul wrote:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (Romans 8:14)
Jacob, His wives, His sons, and all those who have lived such lives were not condemned; not that their acts were accepted, but when people turn to God He accepts them because there is no one righteous, no not one.
We should be thrilled and happy to know that we serve the God of Jacob! Jacob means a deceiver, a cheat. But Jacob got converted. Remember him wrestling with the divine Being? God testified of his conversion:
And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. (Genesis 32:28)
Jacob then said:
For I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved. (Genesis 32:30)
That is where God changed his name from Jacob to Israel. When we come to Him God does not chase us away, He accepts us just as He accepted Jacob. He is not calling the righteous, but sinners to repentance. That is the gospel. Jesus said:
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. (John 6:37)
All these patriarchs and prophets were human beings just like us, having strange complications. Their histories were no better. James, talking about Elijah the great prophet of the Old Testament, wrote:
Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are. (James 5:17)
They were just like us, they faulted greatly, but they bounced back.
All sins can be forgiven except the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost. (See Matthew 12:31). Murder, adultery, idolatry or breaking of any of the Ten Commandments is not the unpardonable sin. Polygamy is also not an unpardonable sin. The scar remains nevertheless; it cannot be revoked. If a person steals, he has to restore and ask for forgiveness. But if one kills, life cannot be restored; and that is where God also forgives when genuine repentance is seen.
Abraham, Jacob, Solomon and many others had more than one wife. They had to go through all the consequences of their mistakes. Imagine the heart of Abraham beating for Hagar and for his son Ishmael when quarrel erupted in his peaceful family because of the two wives (see Genesis chapter 16). Similarly Jacob also had a lot of problems. But God still accepted them because it couldn’t be undone.
He wrote the names of the twelve tribes on heavenly gates just to show us that He is saving people from all backgrounds of life, even though people commit certain things that cannot be undone! He says, “I am the God of Jacob”, most of the time in the Bible, because we are all like Jacob. He wants to give us hope!
A real Jew:
Let us look at an important point here before we proceed. Paul is talking about a real Jew. He writes:
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. (Romans 2:28, 29)
Paul clearly said that a Jew is not a literal child of Abraham, but the spiritual child of Abraham is a Jew. Attentively now listen to this discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus began:
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. (John 8:32-39)
Jesus continues further:
Ye are of your father the devil. (John 8:44)
He told the literal children of Abraham that their father was not Abraham, but the devil. A Jew is not one outward but one inward. Anyone who does not believe in Christ is not a Jew but a gentile! Paul also wrote:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28, 29)
The truth is clear. The children of Israel are not the literal Israelites, but spiritual Israel scattered all over the world. These are the true Israelites in God’s sight. Anyone belonging to Christ is the child of Abraham, and is an Israelite, and has the promise of Abraham fulfilled.
Revelation 7 talks about God’s last days’ saints, the living saints, 144,000 in number. It states:
And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. (Revelation 7:2-4)
Remember, “He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly…but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly”. It is spiritual Israel that John writes about. He continued:
Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand. (Revelation 7:5-8)
God’s people, who are alive at the coming of Jesus, are all the children of Jacob, in the spiritual sense. In what way? We have all had strange histories, like Jacob and his children had. But thank God, He did not cast away Jacob and his children, although they were born from 4 different mothers. God is telling us—“As I accepted Jacob and his 12 children, in spite of all their histories, I will accept you too. Your names will be written and retained in the book of life just as I have written their names on the gates!”
Thank God for Jesus who divided history! It is His story that changes us from Jacob to Israel, from a deceiver to an over-comer, from a cheat to a faithful one.
Jacob went through a time of trouble, wrestled with the divine Peron, and overcame. Our life is no better than his. God has to send us, also, through a similar experience as that of Jacob. It is called “Jacob’s trouble”, because we have Jacob’s problem, Jacob’s character, one way or the other! Jeremiah writes:
Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. (Jeremiah 30:7)
It is a prophecy of last day’s saints, who will go through a time of trouble such as never was. Daniel too recorded about this trouble. He wrote:
And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. (Daniel 12: 1)
This trouble is the time of “Jacob’s trouble”. Before Jacob returned to his father’s house he had this terrible experience. We too, before we reach our heavenly Father’s house, we will have “Jacob’s trouble”, and a supernatural deliverance as Jacob had; for we are all in the category of the 12 tribes of Israel from God’s point of view!
The four wives of Jacob also symbolize the four corners of the world. From North, South, East and West God will gather His children to His eternal Kingdom.
Thank God we serve the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. They had their weaknesses, but they overcame them. God so loved them that He took them back. And it is written:
Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God.
The God of Jacob is our refuge and strength.
The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee. (Psalm 20:1)
God will defend us, but not our sins, when we come to Him in repentance.
Nowhere has God commanded the practice of polygamy. But when His people practiced it, He permitted it, but disciplined them.
BUT ONE MIGHT SAY: The very fact that God permitted polygamy indicates that He intended it to happen. Well, that logic is not sound. For instance, look at the story of our first parents. Did God command Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden? No! But when our first parents chose to sin He did not stop them, but loved them and made a way of escape through His Son. Man had to suffer the consequence nevertheless. Similarly the patriarchs were permitted to choose what they wanted but they had to bear the consequences!
God likes to save and not destroy. Polygamy was not an unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit. This sin could be pardoned but the consequences couldn’t be undone.
All those things that happened in the Old Testament were written down for our admonition, Paul says—to give us hope. They were the shadows of the gospel. God allowed the Holy Spirit to write down these histories, just to teach us the gospel as to how God saves His people.
God was trying to teach us that we have salvation in Jesus in spite of all that has ever happened. Paul wrote:
Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)
Those who have gone to the “uttermost” can be pulled back. Thank God we serve the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. God invites, cleanses, and accepts us just as we are. He is able to save us by His power.
Thank God for the gospel in symbolism that was portrayed in the married lives of the patriarchs. What hope it gives to a hopeless soul!
God is going to unite Himself with us in oneness on that great wedding day—the wedding of the Lamb!
That is the truth about Polygamy. Christ accepting people from all backgrounds of life, and not casting them away; rather gathering them into His own body for the symbolic marriage on that grand day! What an awesome God we serve! If He does not do what He does for humanity, none would be saved! Paul said:
For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. ..This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:30, 32)