There’s been many discussions on this over the years. I think it’s an interesting topic, but have never really officially written on it before. Most topics have never really handled the situation(s) in context of the totality of Scripture. I’m going to go through most of them.
God and Jesus
Matthew 19:3 Some Pharisees came to [b]Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to [c]divorce his wife for any reason at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7 They *said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8 He *said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to [d]divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 And I say to you, whoever [e]divorces his wife, except for [f]immorality, and marries another woman [g]commits adultery[h].”
Jesus when commenting on divorce brings up the topic from Genesis 2 from the beginning: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
The question was not about polynyny, but I think we can easily and reasonably infer that God intended and created marriage for one man and one woman (and no divorce).
Deuteronomy 25:5 “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall [e]assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. 7 But if the man does not desire to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to establish a name for his brother in Israel; he is not willing to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ 8 Then the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. And if he persists and says, ‘I do not desire to take her,’ 9 then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall [f]declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ 10 In Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed.’
This is only one of kinsman redeemer laws. The most prominent example where this was followed in the OT was Ruth. The most prominent example where this was not followed is probably Onan, Judah, and Tamar (although this was before the Law was given). Polygyny in this case is permitted in order to ‘redeem’ the line of the deceased.
I’m not going to reference the rest of the kinsman redeemer verses here (see the link above), but the overall context is that polygyny is permitted in order to ‘redeem’ the line of the deceased. The husband who had to take his brother’s wife also had obligations such as to redeem his property (if it was sold to another), raise the child, avenge the kin if he was unjustly killed, and so on.
It’s more about filial responsibility than being able to take another wife. In other words, benevolence to your relatives (e.g. love your neighbor).
H1350 — gâ’al — gaw-al’
A primitive root, to redeem (according to the Oriental law of kinship), that is, to be the next of kin (and as such to buy back a relatives property, marry his widow, etc.): – X in any wise, X at all, avenger, deliver, (do, perform the part of near, next) kinsfolk (-man), purchase, ransom, redeem (-er), revenger. Total KJV occurrences: 104
It’s interesting that “redeemer” literally means “next of kin.” When Jesus is referred to redeem us, it is in the context of the second Adam due to the nature of the first Adam’s sin.
Deuteronomy 21:10 “When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, 11 and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, 12 then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and [g]trim her nails. 13 She shall also [h]remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go [i]wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not [j]mistreat her, because you have humbled her.
The circumstances around allowed polygyny make it beneficial for both the husband and the wife in this circumstance. The husband receives another wife who is also able to help with the household. The wife is either a widow or unprotected virgin in a time of war.
The Wisdom of the Lord in this case is a full month of seeing a woman at her most unattractive: with shaven hair, trimmed nails, and mourning. (Insert dumb Marilyn Monroe quote: “But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”). I suspect that most men after seeing this would not want to marry the woman, and the Law specifically explains that if he doesn’t want her after that she is to be freed and not mistreated.
Hillary Clinton’s quote has been dissected many times because it ignores the literal deaths of many thousands or even millions of men like in the case of World War 2. But there is some ‘truth’ to it as well.
The experience that you have gone through is in many ways comparable to what happens with domestic violence. Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat. Women often have to flee from the only homes they have ever known. Women are often the refugees from conflict and sometimes, more frequently in today’s warfare, victims. Women are often left with the responsibility, alone, of raising the children. Women are again the victims in crime and domestic violence as well. Throughout our hemisphere we have an epidemic of violence against women, even though there is no longer any organized warfare that puts women in the direct line of combat. But domestic violence is now recognized as being the most pervasive human rights violation in the world. Here in El Salvador, according to the statistics gathered by your government, 1 in 6 women have been sexually assaulted and the number of domestic abuse complaints at just one agency topped 10,000 last year. Between 25 and 50 percent of women throughout Latin America have reportedly been victims of domestic violence.
Women who do not have the protection of men — either fathers, or husbands, or potentially brothers — are at high risk of being exploited by slavery, rape, or other atrocities during war time. In these cases, polygyny benefits both parties.
Relating war to domestic violence is quite dumb though.
Regulations against mistreatment
Deuteronomy 21:15 “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other [k]unloved, and both the loved and the [l]unloved have borne him sons, if the firstborn son belongs to the [m]unloved, 16 then it shall be in the day he [n]wills what he has to his sons, he cannot make the son of the loved the firstborn before the son of the [o]unloved, who is the firstborn. 17 But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the [p]unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that [q]he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn.
We can see that this is the case of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel prior to the Law being give. The Lord blesses Leah with many sons because she was unloved. The general concept that is underscored here is that favoritism is bad. This concept is also promoted in the NT — Rom 2, Eph 6, Col 3, James 2.
Exodus 21:10 If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her [j]food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. 11 If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.
This is the regulation of provision that is also referenced by Paul in 1 Timothy 5:8 “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
David and the Law
2 Samuel 12:7 Nathan then said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your [e]care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon.
10 Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in [f]broad daylight. 12 Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and [g]under the sun.’”
This passage is interesting because it has been used to defend polygyny, but the text doesn’t say that. The text specifically states that David was given his master’s house and his master’s wives for his care. Who was the master? The master is obviously Saul, the former king of Israel. David did not actually marry any of Saul’s wives, and we know that he takes care a large portion of his household including Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan. Inheriting the ‘house’ of the old king was seen as the legitimate right to kingship.
On the other hand, we know that both David and Solomon had many wives for themselves. Those that we know of are: Michal, Abigail, Bathsheba, Ahinoam, Maacah, Haggith, Abital, and Eglah and potentially more 2 Samuel 5:13 “And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David.” We know that Solomon took 300 wives and 1000 concubines.
Deuteronomy 17:14 “When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’ 15 you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses, one from among your [l]countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your [m]countryman. 16 Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never again return that way.’ 17 He shall not multiply wives for himself, [n]or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself.
H7235 — râbâh — raw-baw’
A primitive root; to increase (in whatever respect): – [bring in] abundance (X -antly), + archer [by mistake for H7232], be in authority, bring up, X continue, enlarge, excel, exceeding (-ly), be full of, (be, make) great (-er, -ly), X -ness), grow up, heap, increase, be long, (be, give, have, make, use) many (a time), (any, be, give, give the, have) more (in number), (ask, be, be so, gather, over, take, yield) much (greater, more), (make to) multiply, nourish, plenty (-eous), X process [of time], sore, store, thoroughly, very. Total KJV occurrences: 224
God predicted that Israel would want a king for themselves in Deuteronomy, which comes to pass in 1 Samuel 8. God also specifically warns again multiplying horses, wives, and silver and gold lest the heart of the king turn away from God Himself. I suppose the irony is that this actually happened with both David and Solomon as well.
Obviously, multiplying wives to yourself is in the form of many wives. Only famous and powerful men, such as a king of Israel, could command and provide for many wives. The same is true throughout history. God strictly forbids this.
As Paul tells us, the Law is for Law Breakers.
1 Timothy 1:8 But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers 10 [f]and [g]immoral men [h]and homosexuals [i]and kidnappers [j]and liars [k]and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.
The very fact that the Law must regulate such behavior is because of selfishness opposed to the two great commandments:
Matthew 22:34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, [n]a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and [o]foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.
There are certain circumstances where polygyny is permitted, and from these passages we can draw a few conclusions:
- God intended that marriage be one man and one woman. Jesus confirms this.
- Polygyny is a benevolence to the deceased relatives’ household in the form of a Kinsman Redeemer.
- Polygyny is to be beneficial to both parties in a time of war. If not, then the captive woman is to go free without any mistreatment.
- Any man in a polygamous relationship cannot mistreat or show favoritism to any wife, and he must provide for all of them.
- A king is not allowed to multiply wives as it is strictly forbidden according to the Law.
This leads to the conclusion that the totality of Scriptures infer that marriage should be between one man and one woman. Polygyny is only permitted in extremely extenuating circumstances (e.g. relative died, war) and must be beneficial to both parties (e.g. child to continue the lineage, raising the child, provision, no mistreatment, no favoritism). Famous, rich, powerful [kings] should not multiply wives as it will lead them astray from God. Also, if there are laws against it then Christians should obey the law of the land (Romans 13, 1 Tim 2, Tit 3, 1 Pet 2, Hebrews 13, etc.).
Finally, the ironic part about a topic like this is that [Christian] women often get disgruntled with they hear the word polygyny and assert that it is selfish for men. This is false. In reality, the vast majority of women wouldn’t marry a man who already has a wife unless she were reaping major benefits out of the situation anyway (e.g. fame, power, provision, etc.). This is another one of those “blame men for being selfish while women are innocent victims” instances that have become so prevalent in the Necropolis. It takes two to opt into a marriage.