Before answering the question, for a deeper understanding of this subject, I recommend that you read the article “Polygamy – Is It A Biblical Practice?“
The first deviation from God’s standard is seen in Genesis 4:19, when Lamech took two wives.
Lamech took two wives for himself: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other, Zillah.
There are no other examples of polygamy recorded from Shem to Terah, Abraham’s father (except in the episode in Genesis 6:1-7).
Deviations like this are found throughout the Old Testament, but that does not mean that God approved of this lifestyle or changed His standard from Genesis 2:21-24. On the contrary, the Old Testament supports monogamous marriage. For example, Proverbs 5: 15-23 teaches the same principle through the allegory “drink water from your own well,” which is a figure of speech used for sexual intercourse between a husband and wife.
Drink water from your own cistern, and fresh water from your own well. Should your springs overflow into the street, streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth. Like a loving doe and a graceful mountain goat, let her breasts satisfy you at all times, be exhilarated always with her love. For why should you, my son, be exhilarated with an adulteress, and embrace the breasts of a foreigner? For the ways of everyone are before the eyes of the Lord, and He observes all his paths. His own wrongdoings will trap the wicked, and he will be held by the ropes of his sin. He will die for lack of instruction, and in the greatness of his foolishness he will go astray. (Proverbs 5:15-23 NASB)
What’s more, an entire book from the Old Testament, the Song of Songs, is dedicated to celebrating the joy and desire to give yourself only to one person of the opposite sex, Solomon being the husband and the Shulammite being the wife, the two giving themselves to each other.
There is no permission for polygamy in the Bible. Usually those who support polygamy use the examples from the lives of Abraham, Esau, Jacob, Gideon, Jairus, Samson, Elkanah, Saul, David, Solomon, etc. But none of these examples present as a theological norm God’s decision for marriage. The Bible describes what these people did, but does not approve of the polygamy they practiced during their lifetime. Polygamy is contrary to God’s will and morality.
Proponents of polygamy refer to these four Old Testament texts that would allow them to take several wives at once: Exodus 21:7-11, Leviticus 18:18, Deuteronomy 21:15-17, and 2 Samuel 12:7-8.
In the text of Exodus 21:10 it is written:
If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. (NASB)
The whole text speaks of the laws of the treatment of Jewish slaves. The treatment of women sold as slaves was different from that of men sold as slaves. If the daughter who became a handmaid did not please her master, she had to be redeemed by her redeeming relative. If she was given as wife to the master’s son, she had to be granted family status. If the master married someone else, he had to provide his maid with three essentials for life: food, clothing, and shelter. “Her conjugal rights” here does not refer to sexual intercourse, but to housing and food.
Leviticus 18:18 says:
And you shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a second wife while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness. (NASB)
This text clearly tells us that incest is a sin and that a man cannot take a second wife as long as his wife is alive.
Deuteronomy 21:15-17 emphasizes the legalization of the right of the firstborn, whether he is the son of a beloved wife or one who is not loved.
And finally, the text in 2 Samuel 12:7-8 does not encourage polygamy. Neither of Saul’s two wives are mentioned in David’s list of wives.
Polygamy has never been God’s norm for marriage. God is a witness to the covenant of husbands and protects the wife who is treated unjustly (Malachi 2:14). Even Jeremiah had to rebuke husbands in his day who paid more attention to their neighbor’s wife (Jeremiah 5: 8).
Marriage is for life, and to understand this truth, I recommend the following Bible studies:
- Marriage Without Regrets
- Someday A Marriage Without Regrets
- How to Have a Marriage that Really Works
Translated by Didina Vicliuc