Why was polygamy so prevalent amongst Israelites in the Old Testament and was it condoned by God?

Thank you, @Kevin_Hurst for your input. A situation in which someone who is already embroiled in a polygamous situation wants to become a Christian has definitely been a new one for me to think over. After my initial posts, I started to think along the same lines as Kevin and Sean @SeanO concerning the situation, that after becoming followers, these individuals would hopefully desire and need to surrender to God’s truth concerning their situation and be willing to make changes.

LaTricia @LJan, a holier-than-thou attitude doesn’t have anything to do with a Christian brother and sister correcting another with the truth of God’s Word on a matter. It has everything to do with self-righteousness, and self-righteousness comes out of pride. Self-righteousness sets its own truth, standard, and reasoning up against the the corrective truth of God’s Word for someone’s situation and judges everyone who doesn’t fall in line with that. We are called to love, but with love comes responsibility. Far from warning believers that because they, too, are sinners, they should not be correcting other believers, the Bible says quite the opposite. In Ephesians 4, it points out that part of the responsibility we have as believers is to put off lies and speak truth to one another. We are not to refrain from speaking God’s truth into someone’s situation. In both Timothy and Titus, God tells us through His Spirit-inspired author that all Scripture is useful for rebuking and correcting. Proverbs 27:5-6 makes it clear that correction, indeed, rebuke, is better from a friend than a thousand kisses from an enemy. Truth without love is brutality, but love without truth is a comforting lie that thwarts the spiritual growth of those to whom we seek to minister. We cannot minister to others if we are not willing to speak God’s truth into their situation. Prayer is definitely a part of ministering, but God’s Word does not limit us to prayer in these situations…or any situation, necessarily, for that matter. Discipleship definitely requires the Holy Spirit’s leading and a gentle but firm hand, though.

Added to this, we cannot advocate encouraging people to live in sin (and one could argue that is not what is going on, but it has become clear that it is) based on, “We are all already all messed up and in need of God’s grace, anyways.” Romans 6:1-4 makes this quite clear, saying that God’s grace is not to be used as an excuse to justify continuing to willfully live in sin. If we are in a situation that we know goes against God, we are not to reason our way out of it despite knowing God’s truth. We are to surrender to God’s Truth and make the necessary changes in order to align our lives with it. We can say the situation is complex, and because of our feelings for others, it is. However, God’s truth about the situation and the answer to it when truth is applied is not complex.

Last, when we are conversing with people, as I’ve learned in both my secular counseling classes and my spiritual care courses I’ve taken, the number one rule of thumb is not to assume how people (especially people who are reading and have not even participated) feel. It is unwise and fails to acknowledge the fact that we could not possibly know that without someone telling us. When we state that we “know” how someone feels without their telling us, that “truth” is merely coming from our perception and previous experience in dealing with this subject, and we are unfairly projecting that onto others. Furthermore, to put words in someone else’s mouth simply because we don’t like what they are telling us is twisting the truth of what is really happening. While the writer has the responsibility of clearly communicating meaning and tone, the reader has the responsibility of measuring his/her perception honestly, making sure to self-monitor for how he/she is feeling. We can only do that when we are being honest with ourselves about where we are at in our emotions and thoughts. I would advise that before responding, to take a step back, dig into the Word, and pray in the Spirit. This will help keep our conversation and responses seasoned with salt and be the examples of Christ we ought to be.

I am praying over this, and I will post a very thorough article someone wrote in to Crosswalk on polygamy in the Bible in a subsequent post. Please note that I am not recommending Crosswalk itself as a source, but the person who wrote the article seems to be fairly knowledgeable on this.

Praying over the hearts and minds of all involved in this situation.

In the peace and love of Christ,

Lindsay

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This “happened” to be in my email yesterday :). It’s long but very informative.

Agapeo,

Lindsay

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Hi @SeanO,
As follow-up to this thought, I was wondering why is there this distinguishing factor between the children? As a 20th century woman, I am thinking every child should have equal rights. However, as an Indian woman, I somehow find it acceptable or rather natural, that girls aren’t usually included in their parents’ will either. Do you know of any background to this during those times?

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HI @LJan,
By the time, I have read this thread, I still have not completed going through all of the replies. It amazes me to see how the Spirit has worked in you to reach out with the gospel to the people in your community, who are in polygamous relationship.
I think, although I may be completely wrong, I can see where the struggle is between what you are trying to convey versus what @SeanO and @CarsonWeitnauer. Please let me know if I am thinking wrong, but these are my thoughts as follows.
I do know it is difficult to tell someone who is new in Christ, coming from a background of polygamous relationship, that this is not the design of the Creator. But at the same time, I am also thinking, if I had to be in a polygamous relationship and have kids in the process, if someone told me this truth, then what would be my next step. I am an Indian, so I can also understand how as a woman, that could put me in a situation where it could be difficult for me to walk out of my husband’s house with kids and have no source of living or family support. And as a man, who is transformed by Christ (again from an Eastern perspective), I would think he would have difficulty saying that I am going to divorce all of them and fend for themselves, just because it does not fit the design.
So, I was wondering, could you share in your own experiences, if any man or woman was able to tell you, that they have had conviction from the Lord to leave that polygamous relationship? And I was also wondering, is this what you meant when you said that our Lord sorts things out in the end?
Please do share your thoughts, I am really eager to learn your perspective. :slight_smile:

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Yes @RiniAndrews, you’ve summed up my thinking and position in a manner that I agree with. It’s easier to be on the outside looking in from a perspective where the matter of polygamy hasn’t touched a person’s life in anyway whatsoever neither by experience or by culture. While academically I’m an art historian, I consider myself more of a culturalist - I take many things into account because of this as well as because of my own experiences in life, and usually things aren’t so black and white for me, accept the gospel and salvation. My first priority is conveying the gospel, yet even in that I have to get my opening. For me, this looks like relationship building or establishing some level of a comfortable rapport. And yes, the conviction to actually dissolve the union is something that I see as between God and the individual(s) involved in the union. Me constantly saying, “Well, this isn’t what God intended from the creation. I think you need to leave - get your kids and leave,” is pointlessly me for two reasons in my estimation: 1) I’m not involved in the union, that’s a deep discussion that needs to happen for those within the union and provisions need to be made should the decision be to dissolve the union; 2) I’m not financially capable of providing for anyone and I can’t make sure no one gets lost in the shuffle of a dissolving union. While the church I attend is very caring, it’s in the midst of changes and a shifting culture, so I can’t even say that I’ll be able to provide resources for help in a transition. I do my best to pick and choose my battles; and I also do my best to count the cost of my involvement as well as what I’m able to commit to. This is why I make the personal decision to lift people and their situations up in prayer and trust God to sort things out - whether that’s laying the conviction on their heart; providing resources; or something else, I trust Him to sort it out and make things happen.

To this day, not any of those I know in a poly union who are believers have dissolved the union; of course I don’t know what the future holds, but this is how it is for the duration. However, I know far more who aren’t believers and are in poly unions. I continue to pray for all and pray with some of the believers.

I hope this gives you more insight into my thinking and position.

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@RiniAndrews There is one case of daughters receiving inheritance in the OT (more below), but it does not apply to us today. I think this question of inheritance may not always be simple or straightforward. God always protects the weak and vulnerable and does what is just / right. What that looks like in a specific culture and even in a specific situation of inheritance might be different.

In terms of women and their place in society, I believe we see God did some very countercultural things in the New Testament that show us God’s heart for women.

  • both men and women are made in God’s image
  • after His resurrection, Jesus appeared first to women in spite of the fact (or perhaps even because) they were not considered legitimate witnesses
  • there were women among Jesus’ followers and who served in the Church
  • in a culture in which women were considered property, Paul instructed men to love their wives as their own bodies and said that mistreating their wives could result in God not hearing their prayers

OT Daughters of Zelophehad

We have to remember that the laws about inheritance in the OT do not apply to us - they only applied to Israel as a nation. But we do find a story where, when there were no sons, the inheritance was given to the daughters of Zelophehad. Again, for us this passage is descriptive not prescriptive. It does not teach us what we should do, but does show how God handled this unique case among the ancient Israelites.

Numbers 27:1-7 - One day a petition was presented by the daughters of Zelophehad—Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. Their father, Zelophehad, was a descendant of Hepher son of Gilead, son of Makir, son of Manasseh, son of Joseph. 2 These women stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the tribal leaders, and the entire community at the entrance of the Tabernacle.[a] 3 “Our father died in the wilderness,” they said. “He was not among Korah’s followers, who rebelled against the Lord; he died because of his own sin. But he had no sons.4 Why should the name of our father disappear from his clan just because he had no sons? Give us property along with the rest of our relatives.”

5 So Moses brought their case before the Lord. 6 And the Lord replied to Moses, 7 “The claim of the daughters of Zelophehad is legitimate. You must give them a grant of land along with their father’s relatives. Assign them the property that would have been given to their father.

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“To this day, not any of those I know in a poly union who are believers have dissolved the union; of course I don’t know what the future holds, but this is how it is for the duration. However, I know far more who aren’t believers and are in poly unions. I continue to pray for all and pray with some of the believe” (sorry about this, I can’t seem to navigate through IT technicalities, unable to quite so decided to copy paste your statement :sweat_smile:)
In response to your above reply, I was wondering, when you tell people about God’s idea of marriage, what are the usual kind of reactions you get? Do they feel something like, “I want to follow the Lord but I can’t just leave my family”? Have they expressed something like that? If so, then how do you usually go about answering this? If this is not the reaction, then what is the typical one?
I understand your response to my question. Thank you for taking the time out to reply.

Thanks for the reply. This is me being humorous. When I read your account about the daughters of ZeloPhehad, I was wondering if I have read the same Bible as you ‘coz I don’t recall reading this account ever. :sweat_smile:

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@RiniAndrews Haha - yes, I’ve had that same experience before - there are some stories that we don’t ever hear from the pulpit. This is probably one of them :slight_smile:

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Responses can vary at any given time, just like when discussing other matters responses can vary. If someone was to tell me that they won’t or can’t leave their family, I get that. I’m not going to be mad with them. I’m not going to abandon them either. I’m also not going to needle them to do so. I will continue to encourage them to draw near to God, to continue learning, to be sure in their salvation (if they’re a believer). I am relieved to say that I’ve never experienced a person being defensive, which to me is a signal that at least they’re hearing what’s being said.

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You asked; “…how do you usually go about answering; I want to follow the Lord but I can’t just leave my family?” Well I think of what Jesus said; “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My [disciple." Luke 14:26. This is speaking directly to any relations which may lead one away
from loving Christ!
Jesus is telling us here that we need to be willing to give up whatever it takes in order to be His disciples. We have to make the sometimes hard or uncomfortable decision to stand firm in our commitment to be obedient to our faith. If it is separation between ourselves and others, then that is just the cost of being a disciple. But remember, Jesus also said: *“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” Matthew 19:29.

Paul said; *“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

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How do you answer one who ask about the population of women being large than that of men thus if each man got one wife then there would still be many more women without husbands. What is Gods plan for them?

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Hello @Vincent! Good question! While I am not sure about this piece of fact, but let’s assume it’s true. I think that in the past that would have been crucial. Women didn’t work or earn money and they depended on men to support them financially. Nowadays, women are empowered, educated and can earn their own living. So, a bit of that tension is relieved. But from the emotional aspect of it, I think we weigh so much on marriage than what it already weighs. In some societies, marriage is viewed as a societal privilege or a predetermined path for all individuals to take. Some women or men might correlate their marital status to their worth and meaning. Sam Allbery addressed this as an issue even inside our churches and how our activities are directed towards couples. I guess he recently authored a book on the matter. We are not embracing singleness as we are supposed to. While marriage is beautiful and blessed by God, it’s not the only valid interaction we are to experience with our fellow human beings. Single people can find emotional fullfilment through intimate friendships, the body of christ, doing what they are passionate about and leading a meaningful life. I get the implication of what you are saying and I agree that the world is not that fair. Although we sometimes long for a life partner, and due to many inconveniences, we might not get to find that partner. But we shouldn’t make compromises. At many times, I have to remind myself, ‘God’s design is both perfect and good. Trust it’. And we as followers of Jesus, we should follow him not our desires or needs. He will be able to sustain me. Trying to bend the rules or fullfil the needs in some other way, will not only fail to fullfil them, but will ultimately damage us. Simply because we are designed this way. We always have that urge to eliminate need, but Paul teaches us that he has learned to live with it because His grace is sufficient.
Let me know Vincent if what I said makes sense to you or responds to your concern.

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@Vincent this is actually a question that is asked frequently, and in non-Christian conversations, it’s asked in regards to women finding a suitable partner. There are any number of factors that may lead to a higher ratio of women to men and not just the case being that women may out number men physically. Personal preference also contributes to the choice pool as well. Like, it’s not enough that a man is male - that’s just a start. If 2 out of 10 men are drunkards, non-believers, and engages in criminal activity - that makes the pool to choose from even smaller.

So, what about the women who, at present time, aren’t able to choose from the pool of eligible men, what is God’s plan for them? I don’t know. I don’t know what God’s plan outside of what’s explicitly stated in the bible is for anyone. Life is far more complex than figuring out an point A to point G course that we want to be very direct. For example, I know a woman who was single until she was in her 50s … yep, her 50s. She met her now husband at church, they courted for just over a year, and now they’re married and have been married for the past 4 years or so. There were twists and turns that led to her eventually getting married. And if it had not been for a divorce and some other things in his past, there wouldn’t be a marriage in her present - at least not with him. Apparently, this was a part of God’s plan for her. This plan wasn’t cut and dry.

She desperately wanted to marry and wanted companionship. That was a deep longing on the inside of her in spite of all she poured into her ministry for Christ. Very sweet and compassionate woman who gave of herself in so many ways. I’m grateful that she and her hubby met and have a life together. Her singleness was for a season - regardless of how long that season was, it didn’t last for her entire life. It’s the same with any other person.

We have the freedom to choose if we want to be partnered or not. We have the freedom to choose a partner we’re compatible with. Some people choose to be single, some people choose to partner. Neither is better or worse than the other, yet both come with their own set of challenges.