Polygamous relationships are not new. Too many of God’s mighty men and women were guilty of polygamy in the Bible.
In today’s world of anything goes, moral practices that would have offended earlier generations are now finding acceptance and are even being applauded. Society is rejecting traditional marriage and instead chasing after love in all the wrong places. One of these new solutions is polygamy. According to the 2020 Gallup’s Values and Beliefs poll, 20% of Americans find polygamy acceptable.
Polygamy in the Bible
As shocking as this statistic is, we have to keep in mind that polygamous relationships are not new. In fact, the Bible includes numerous such relationships including many among God’s mighty men and women. Of course, as we read their stories, we can’t help but notice the problems caused when men and women made up their own rules and disregarded the wisdom of God’s instructions.
From the beginning, God said that man shouldn’t live alone but needed a helpmeet. So He created Adam and Eve and made it clear what they were to do. It didn’t take long, however, for man to make his own rules.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”Genesis 2:24
Lamech Marries Adah and Zilah
In Genesis 4:19 we’re told that Lamech decided he needed two wives. Adah, the first wife, had two sons. Jabal, a shepherd who “was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.” (Genesis 4:20). His brother Jubal was a musician.“
Zillah’s son Tubal-Cain was “an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron.” (Genesis 4:22) He’s credited as being the first blacksmith and the founder of metalworking. She also had a daughter named Naamah who was know throughout the land for her beauty.
We see in the family of Lamech and his two wives a seeking for worldly success, but it came with a price. Lamech murdered a man and then wrote a poem about it.
The story of Lamech’s Wives can be found in Genesis 4:19-24.
Abraham and Sarah and Hagar
Abraham and Sarah started out as a couple in love, but when they got impatient waiting for God to bless them with a child, they took matters into their own hands. Sarah gave Abraham Hagar as a second wife. This was an accepted practice by the people of their day, but it was not God’s best for any of them.
Though it was Sarah’s idea, the moment Hagar got pregnant, Sarah got jealous. By that point, the damage was done, and they would all have to live with the consequences of what they’d done.
The story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar can be found in Genesis 16.
Rachel and Leah were two sisters, caught up in a web of deceit by their father’s scheme. Jacob met and fell in love with Rachel. He agreed to work for Laban, Rachel’s father for seven years in exchange for Rachel’s hand in marriage, but Leah was the older sister, and Laban wanted her married off first. So he tricked Jacob into marrying Leah then allowed Jacob to marry Rachel as well. This created a no-win situation for all concerned.
Leah lacked the love of her husband, but God blessed her with sons. Rachel had a loving husband but no children. Each wanted what the other had. In their efforts to compete against each other, they brought in their handmaidens as additional wives for Jacob. We can only imagine the bickering and fighting that existed among all the women.
The story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah can be found in Genesis 29-31.
Elkanah, Hannah, and Peninnah
Like Jacob, Elkanah had two wives. One he loved. The other bore him children. In Elkanah’s case, Hannah came first. He loved her, but she was barren. It’s for this reason, most likely, he married a second wife. Peninnah provided him children, and Elkanah loved her, but not in the same way he loved Hannah.
Though Elkanah was a good husband and father to Peninnah and her children, she wanted more. She wanted the love he gave to Hannah. Hannah, too, wasn’t content. She wanted her own child.
The story of Elkanah, Hannah, and Peninnah is found in 1 Samuel 1.
The Problem With Polygamy
1 Samuel 1:6 calls Peninnah Hannah’s rival. That seems to be a good description of polygamous marriages. The wives end up competing with each other, each longing for what the other has. And while it might have seemed like a good idea at first for the husbands, it could not have been pleasant for them constantly trying to please competing wives while caught in the middle of all the fighting.
So often we think we know better than God. We complain that His rules are restrictive and unrealistic, but God’s rules are given to protect us, not provoke us.