Topical Tuesday: Sister Wives, OT Style
We continue our spring series of Topical Tuesday posts, where you pick the topic (i.e., ask a question) and I ramble on and on until I think I’ve answered it. Or until you put your foot through your computer monitor. Whatever.
Want to ask a question about anything – ministry, theology, life in general? Comment here.
Anonymous asks: David and Solomon both had hundreds of wives and concubines. The OT seems to simply state this as a matter of fact rather than a sin while in the NT marriage is clearly between one man and one woman for life. Bad always seems to come of polygamy in the OT so why is it not more strongly opposed in the Old Testament scriptures?
First of all, I seem to get a lot of questions from Anonymous. I’d like to meet that guy someday. (He also came up with a lot of quotes that I like.)
So Anonymous, we have to start by affirming the obvious: a lot of Old Testament relationships were jacked up. These people made the folks on Jerry Springer look like the cast of The Waltons. Lot’s daughters got him drunk and slept with him. Abraham tried to pass off Sarah as his sister (that only works in Arkansas). Jacob thought he married one girl, but woke up the next morning with her twisted sister.
And that’s just in Genesis. Don’t get me started on Hosea.
But then we have to look at God’s design and direction vs. the reality. The design was one man and one woman for life (Genesis 2:18-24). The direction we see God continually steer his people in was that of monogamous marriage: there were always consequences that went along with multiple wives (and forgetting multiple anniversaries was just one of them).
The reality was that people had the freedom to choose, and they rebelled against God’s plan. What we see in the Old Testament is a cultural reality: as populations grew and tribal culture increased, men took several wives into their clan. Just because OT characters exemplified a characteristic doesn’t mean that it’s one we’re to emulate. (If that’s the case, Rahab gives credence to prostitutes everywhere.)
While God may have tolerated their actions, it doesn’t mean that he approved or ordained their actions. Throughout the Old Testament, God used people who were liars, adulterers, murderers, and lawyers*. He called David a man after his own heart, and yet David is one of the shadiest kings / husbands / fathers in history.
We see the covenant of marriage move into the New Testament much the way other Old Testament practices did…through progressive revelation**. As people learned more about the character and nature of God, it changed their character and nature. People who understood the new covenant of the cross typically understood a new framework of life. That applied to marriage, parenting, work ethic, generosity, and so much more.
It works the same with us. When the cross is our center, it changes us. It changes the way we view life. It changes the way we live life.
But if you insist on multiple wives, it might just mean a shorter life. Especially if you forget too many anniversaries.
*My apologies to the murderers for lumping you in that sentence.
**Special thanks to my very smart friend Eric Stortz for helping me with that term.