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Polygamy: Why did God allow it in Old Testament times?

Gary Googe Mar 05

A more basic question about this is to ask why God permits sin of any kind? It is because when He created man, He gave him free will by which he was free to make decisions of any kind.  Furthermore, a robot has no ability to love.  God wanted a creature who would have the capacity for such, one who could respond with faith and even love of his own free will.  We see that throughout the Scriptures.

Deuteronomy 6:4-6

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: [Emphasis added]

God sending a Savior for sinful man is the greatest of all manifestations of God’s love.  His love is directed toward all mankind, not just some. Therefore, this includes all polygamists.

Romans 5:6-8

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. [Emphasis added]

Such love should bring forth a response of love from all of us.  For no one has ever loved us as He does.  I assure you there will be many in Heaven who were once polygamists having even died as one.  Of course, that’s like saying there will be many who were sinners who will be in Heaven.  The fact of the matter is that there won’t be anyone in Heaven [apart from Christ] who didn’t live a sinful life here on Earth, even men like the apostle Paul.  We have his own words on that.

Romans 7:18-19

18 For I [Paul] know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will [THELO = the desire] is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.

His desire was to live consistently without sin, but such proved to be impossible even for him.

19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. [Emphasis added]

Only very self-righteous people fail to admit their personal identification with such a statement.  Even some preachers have mistakenly thought that Romans 7 describes only the life of an unbeliever, but such is not the case.  Again, as much as one may desire not to sin, we all, without exception, do.  In some cases, even the sin of polygamy is committed.

The first thing we need to know about this is that God “allows” all kinds of things, but that doesn’t mean He sanctions or somehow endorses them.  There’s no official permission or approval of polygamy given anywhere in the BibleFrom the time of creation to now the divine design of things has been one woman for one man, not multiple wives

The man in Scripture that probably set a record in having multiple wives was Solomon.  We are told that he not only had 700 wives but also 300 concubines.  Men may fantasize and think this was a wonderful situation, but it was not.  The Bible tells us that Solomon was a miserable man for most of his life and having multiple wives contributed to it greatly.  Happiness was never a part of his adulthood until he was an old man and got his thinking on this and more turned around.  We have the record of some of his last words.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. [Emphasis added]

For the most part, the book of Ecclesiastes is the book that tells us of Solomon’s misery.  1 Kings tells us of one of the main causes.

I Kings 11:1-11

1 But king Solomon loved many strange [foreign] women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites:

Of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love.

And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.

For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.

For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.

And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did David his father.

Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh [for idolatrous worship], the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon.

And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods.

And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice,

10 And had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the Lord commanded.

11 Wherefore the Lord said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant.  [Emphasis added]

You’ll find a whole chapter about this man in my book called Discovering God’s Rich Blessings In Times Of Suffering.  If ever there was a man that “had it all,” it was Solomon.  He possessed every temporal thing people typically think would make someone extremely happy.  But such was not the case then and isn’t now either.  Despite what people typically think, temporal possessions are not the means to a wonderful and purposeful life.

But having said this about Solomon, didn’t King David have multiple wives too? Scripture indicates that he had seven wives and many concubines.  What are we to think of this? How is it that David is thought to be the superior man of the two spiritually?

Then we also have the case of King Saul who preceded David.  Saul didn’t have “a heart for God” like David.  Despite his personal failures, David loved God and His Word.  There were certainly times when he allowed his sinful nature to get the best of him [as we all do], but he nevertheless had a love for God that Saul apparently never had.

Acts 13:22

22 And when he had removed him [King Saul], he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave their testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will. [Emphasis added]

Here we have God’s statement that overall or for the most part David was an obedient believerLike the rest of us, he had his times of failure, but that was not the pattern of his life as it was for Saul.  We can and should all strive for a completely sinless life, but such will never be the case for any of us.  Personal sin is an ongoing factor in the life of every believer.  If a believer honestly thinks it’s not for them it is only because of their limited understanding of sin. As I first heard it put over fifty years ago, the closer one comes to a bright and shining light, the more one becomes aware of his need for a bath.  All of us could use “a bath” at any point in our lives.  This is always why you should never be surprised at the sinfulness of people you know.  Like you, all people sin!

King David was a man who sinned.  Scripture tells us all about it, but he was a man who understood and applied the principle of grace.  He had learned as we all should that God is gracious.  We’d all be in trouble if He wasn’t.

Exodus 34:6

And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, [Emphasis added]

Psalm 86:15

15 But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth. [Emphasis added]

Such words should be encouraging to all of us.  These are His attributes that none of us need to forget.  David clearly understood all this. We are all prone to great failure, but our God is truly merciful.  The best place to see that is at the cross where Jesus Christ paid the penalty for all our sins.

2 Corinthians 5:19-21

19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added]

More and more I’m realizing how self-righteous people ignore this passage and its practical application for all of us in so many ways. There’s not a sin you will ever commit that was somehow overlooked at the cross of Christ.  It was there that He was judged and paid the penalty for all of them.  Let us all gain and maintain peace of mind by knowing and believing this wonderful truth.


The broader question is to ask why God allows sin at any time.  Furthermore, to say that He allows it is not to say that He sanctions it.  He certainly didn’t approve of it, but He obviously did allow it.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, if He had made us all a bunch of robots, doing only those things He desired, we’d not have the ability or capacity for love.  Again, to use the same analogy, a robot is incapable of love.  But we find that more than anything else, that’s what God desires of us—our love.  That is why we see His commands for it in Scripture.

Deuteronomy 6:5

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. [Emphasis added]

Then we see Jesus’s quote of this in the time of His earthly ministry.

Matthew 22:36-38

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment. [Emphasis added]

The beauty of this is that it is something anyone can do.  Even as new and immature believers we can have a love and appreciation for God and our Savior Jesus Christ.  We just need to work toward showing it by our love and obedience to His words to us.  As we study those words, we’ll learn more of all the many reasons we should love God and strive to serve Him faithfully.

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