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It Happened, but It Wasn’t Holy or Helpful – Biblical Teaching Against Polygamy

G. Burkhardt CC

Msgr. Charles Pope - published on 07/20/15 - updated on 06/08/17


2.
Gideon had many wives (Jud 8:30) and by them many sons. Scripture tells a story of terrible violence and death that results from these many sons by different mothers, all competing for kingship and heritage.

Now Gideon had seventy sons, his direct descendants, for he had many wives. His concubine who lived in Shechem also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelech. At a good old age Gideon, son of Joash, died and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. Abimelech, son of Jerubbaal (i.e., Gideon), went to his mother’s kinsmen in Shechem, and said to them and to the whole clan to which his mother’s family belonged, “Put this question to all the citizens of Shechem: ‘Which is better for you: that seventy men, or all Jerubbaal’s sons, rule over you, or that one man rule over you?’ You must remember that I am your own flesh and bone.” When his mother’s kin repeated these words to them on his behalf, all the citizens of Shechem sympathized with Abimelech, thinking, “He is our kinsman.” They also gave him seventy silver shekels from the temple of Baal of Berith, with which Abimelech hired shiftless men and ruffians as his followers. He then went to his ancestral house in Ophrah, and slew his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal (Gideon), on one stone. Only the youngest son of Jerubbaal, Jotham, escaped, for he was hidden (Judges 9:1-5).

At the heart of this murderous and internecine conflict was polygamy. These were brothers who competed for kingship, power, and inheritance; brothers who had little love for one another since they were of different mothers. Abimelech’s loyalty was not to his brothers, but to his mother and her clan. Thus he slaughtered his brothers to win power.

Among other lessons in this terrible tale is the lesson of chaos and hatred caused by polygamy. It’s as if to say, “Don’t do polygamy.”


3.
King David had at least eight wives (Michal, Abigail, Ahinoam, Eglah, Maacah, Abital, Haggith, and Bathsheba) and ten concubines. Trouble erupts in this “blended” (to say the least) family when Absalom (the third son of David), whose mother was Maacah, sought to overcome the line of succession and gain it for himself. When his older brother Chileab died, only his half-brother Amnon stood in the way. The tensions between these royal sons of different mothers grew very hostile. Amnon raped Absalom’s sister Tamar, and Absalom later had Amnon murdered for it (
cf 2 Sam 13).

Absalom fled and nourished hostility for his father David. Eventually he sought to overthrow his father’s power by waging a rebellious war against him. Absalom is killed in the ensuing war and David can barely forgive himself for his own role in the matter (2 Sam 18:33).

But the family intrigue isn’t over. Solomon would eventually become king, but only through the intrigues of his mother, Bathsheba, David’s last wife. As David lay dying, his oldest son Adonijah (son of David’s wife Haggith), the expected heir (1 Kings 2:15), was acclaimed king in a formal ceremony. But Bathsheba conspired with Nathan the Prophet and deceived David into thinking that Adonijah was mounting a rebellion. She also reminded David of a secret promise he had once made to her that Solomon, her son, would be king. David then intervened and sent word that Solomon would be king. Adonijah fled, returning only after assurances of his safety by Solomon. Yet despite those assurances Adonijah was later killed by Solomon.

Here, too, are the complications of a messed up family situation. Sons of different mothers hating each other, wives playing for favorite, securing secret promises, and conspiring behind the scenes. At the heart of many of the problems was polygamy. Once again the implicit teaching is, “Don’t do polygamy.”

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