Solomon, it is said, had 1000 wives (700 wives and 300 concubines). Again, nothing but trouble came from this. Scripture says,
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women. … He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-6).
The tolerance of pagan religious practices encouraged by these wives, along with other policies, led to great hostility and division in the kingdom. Finally, after Solomon’s death, the northern kingdom of Israel seceded from Judah. There was never a reunion and both kingdoms were eventually destroyed by surrounding nations.
Lurking in the mix of this mess is polygamy. Once again, the lesson is, “Don’t do polygamy.”
Abraham’s dalliance with his wife’s maid Hagar, while not strictly polygamy (more adultery, really), also leads to serious trouble. Hagar bore Ishmael at the behest of Abraham’s wife, Sarah. But Sarah grew cold and jealous of Hagar and Hagar fled (Gen 16). She eventually returned and gave birth to Ishmael. Later, when Sarah finally bore Isaac, Sarah concluded that Ishmael was a threat and had to go. She had Abraham drive Hagar away (Gen 21).
Ishmael went on to become the patriarch of what we largely call the Arab nations. Isaac’s line would be the Jewish people. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Polygamy, once again, lurking behind a whole host of problems. Don’t do polygamy.
So the Bible does teach on polygamy and, through stories, teaches us of its problematic nature. We ought not to be overly simplistic when interpreting these stories, as if to say that polygamy was the only problem, or that these things never happen outside polygamous settings. But polygamy clearly played a strong role in these terrible stories.
It would seem that in the Old Testament God tolerated polygamy, as he tolerated divorce, but nowhere did He approve of it.
In Matthew 19, Jesus signals a return to God’s original plan and hence prohibits divorce. For he says, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, unless the marriage is unlawful, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matt 19:8-9). He also says, Have you not read, that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate (Matt 19:4-6).
Back to Plan A – So, whatever one may argue with regard to the Old Testament’s approach to marriage, Jesus makes it clear that we are going back to Plan A: one man and one woman in a stable, fruitful relationship of mutual support.
And thus the Scriptures do teach against polygamy. Even if it was tolerated, God taught them through bitter experience, “Don’t do polygamy.” It is trouble with a capital ‘T.’
This article first appeared at Community in Mission. It is reprinted here with kind permission.