Q&A Multiple Wives

Q: Why is it that Abraham, David and Solomon can have several wives and concubines yet God says not a word about them. 1 and 2 Kings continually says "And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord." Then it will refer to some type of idolatry. Why does this never occur when the kings were having numerous wives and concubines?

A: The whole idea of polygamy in the bible is something a lot of people today struggle with because they associate it with adultery. The bible never condones a "Big Love" attitude, but in regard to Abraham, God had lots of other things to work on him with…and the law wasn't given for another few hundred years.

The bigger, and harder, questions are the ones dealing with David and Solomon. In 2 Samuel 12:7-8 it actually says that God gave David's wives to Solomon when he became king. The wives of any deceased king, were normally entrusted to the protection and care of his successor. Otherwise a later marriage to a king's widow might give the second husband a legal claim to the throne. (This was the reason [in 1 Kings 2] Solomon was so alarmed by Adonijah's proposal to marry King David's youngest wife, Abishag, that Solomon killed him for the request).

The rule was that once a woman became a king's consort (whether as queen, secondary wife, or concubine), she had a right to retain that status even though her royal husband had died. His successor would "take her" over. They almost never had sexual relations with them as that would be considered incest. Most (but not all) of David's wives would have come from Saul, most (but not all) of Solomon's wives would have come from David.

Technically speaking, and the Jews loves to technically not break the law, when a man took a second wife he bound himself to her just as much as the first wife. No matter how many wives Solomon had, they were all just as much Mrs. Solomon. The concubines were, in the same way, an exclusive obligation for the man to cherish, support, and provide for in every way. This was a far different matter than entering into illicit relations with another man's wife (as when David does this God is VERY displeased).

The encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties says it like this: "The fact of the matter was that while polygamy was contrary to God's intention and ideal, nevertheless, because of what Christ called "the hardness of men's hearts" (Matt. 19:8), it was tolerated--especially in the case of a political leader whose dynasty would fail if he produced no son by his first wife. A state of civil war might well ensue from such a situation, with resulting bloodshed and disruption to the state. "

I think that cultural acceptability had a lot to do with it as well. I think the Jews, in time, grew to a better understanding of God's will in regard to the blessing of marriage. It is seen that from the time of the return from Babylonian exile onward, there is no reference to polygamy among God's people to be found in any of the later books of the Old Testament.

When Christ comes, monogamy was the rule among the Greeks and the Romans as well as among the Jews. Jesus pointed out that In Genesis 2 monogamy was God's will for man. One man, one woman, one flesh.

In summary, I will quote an interesting thing written by Norman Geisler (Ethics: Alternatives and Issues pages 204-5):"There is ample evidence, even within the Old Testament, that polygamy was not God's ideal for man. That monogamy was His ideal for man is obvious from several perspectives.
God made only one wife for Adam, thus setting the ideal precedent for the race.
Polygamy is first mentioned as part of the wicked Cainite civilization (Gen. 4:23).
God clearly forbade the kings of Israel (leaders were the persons who became polygamists) saying, `And he shall not multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away again' (Deut. 17:17).
The saints who became polygamists paid for their sins. 1 Kings 11:1, 3 says, `Now King Solomon loved many foreign women...and his wives turned away his heart.'...
Polygamy is usually situated in the context of sin in the O.T. Abraham's marriage of Hagar was clearly a carnal act of unbelief (Gen. 16:1 f). David was not at a spiritual peak when he added Abigail and Ahinoam as his wives (1 Sam. 25:42-43), nor was Jacob when he married Leah and Rachel (Gen. 29:23, 28).
The polygamous relation was less than ideal. It was one of jealousy among the wives. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (Gen. 29:31). Elkanah's one wife was considered a `rival' or adversary by the other, who `used to provoke her sorely, to irritate her...' (1 Sam. 1:6).
When polygamy is referred to, the conditional, not the imperative, is used. `If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights' (Exod. 21:10). Polygamy is not the moral ideal, but the polygamist must be moral."