Here's the Plain Truth About OLD
Herbert W. Armstrong
You may be surprised to learn that Abraham was not a polygamist --
that David completely repented of it -- that God's legal statutes made
polygamy illegal in ancient Israel!
GOD DID NOT sanction polygamy in Old Testament times. Contrary to the
suppositions many have accepted, God FORBADE IT -- and PUNISHED for it!
Abraham Was NOT a Polygamist
Many people recall at once a few Old Testament instances of plural wives, and
ASSUME that God sanctioned polygamy. That assumption is absolutely false! God
has NEVER approved, nor made lawful more than one living wife for any man. Quite
the contrary, He FORBADE IT, even to the kings of Israel, and that by written
Abraham WAS NOT A POLYGAMIST. While Sarah, his wife, lived, he never married
any other woman.
Abraham had an illegitimate son by Hagar. But that was an adulterous SIN.
Although it renders it nonetheless a SIN, I think we can recognize extenuating
Sarah was barren. For a wife in ancient times to go childless was felt to be
a disgrace. It was Sarah, Abraham's own wife, who brought to Abraham her servant
handmaid, asking him to produce a child for Sarah by this servant woman. We can
imagine Hagar to have been attractive, and not necessarily lacking in voluptuous
charms simply because she was a servant. The temptation, under these
circumstances, at Sarah's instigation, might have been great. Certainly the very
invitation coming from Sarah would have made it harder to resist.
Abraham was a strong man. But the temptation appears to have been STRONGER.
ALL humans have sinned. Abraham was human. Abraham lied when he twice claimed
Sarah was his sister, fearing for his own life.
Abraham was not without sin. But neither this adultery, nor the two lies were
sins of the nature that springs from a wrong attitude of mind or heart. Abraham,
in his heart, was always OBEDIENT to GOD. There was no spirit of hostility or
rebellion. These sins were of the FLESH, under temptation -- not malicious or
rebellious sins of the heart. But THEY WERE SINS! God FORGAVE Abraham's sins of
spiritual weakness, committed under heavy temptation.
Nevertheless, we all must REAP what we sow -- even though God forgives our
sins upon repentance. God refused to approve this adulterous act of Abraham's.
He rejected the illegitimate son, Ishmael, from the birthright. This
transgression produced jealousy between the women. It resulted in trouble,
How many realize that even the Arab-Jewish strife over Palestine, today, was
brought on by this very THREE-CORNERED TRIANGLE, and the ensuing jealousy of the
two women, Sarah and Hagar, over the one man, Abraham? The Jews are the children
of Sarah, through Isaac, born later by a miracle. The Arabs are the children of
In Genesis 21:8-21 is the record of Hagar's departure from Sarah and Abraham.
God ordered Abraham to send away the concubine Hagar and her son, and Abraham
OBEYED. This was at the time Isaac was weaned. Abraham had, after this, no more
relations with Hagar, or his other concubine, Susanna, who is mentioned in the
ancient Austrian Chronicle -- see Genesis 25:6 where you will read that
Abraham's COCUBINES' sons were sent away.
Sarah's death is recorded in Genesis 23:1-2. It was after that (Gen. 25),
that Abraham married Keturah. This, of course, was a perfectly legal marriage.
THERE WAS NO POLYGAMY -- NO DIVORCE.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are termed, in both Old and New Testaments,
"the Fathers." Jesus Christ came to confirm the PROMISES made to
"the Fathers." The unconditional promises God made to Abraham were
repeated to both Isaac and Jacob.
Isaac Had Only One Wife
Isaac WAS NO POLYGAMIST!
There is no mention whatever of any wife for Isaac other than Rebekah. There
is no mention of any concubines, or of any act of adultery.
In Old Testament TYPES Abraham is the HUMAN type of God the Father. He is
called, in the human sense, the father of the faithful. In this same system of
types, Isaac is the type of Christ, the Son of God. And Isaac's wife, Rebekah,
is the type of the CHURCH, which is to marry Christ.
Did you ever realize this type similarity? Just as Rebekah had to become the
affianced bride of Isaac, and in a sense come to LOVE HIM, before she ever saw
him -- while he was still off in another land, so must we in God's true CHURCH
come to LOVE CHRIST, who is in a far country -- heaven -- without ever having
Now CHRIST will never have but the ONE WIFE. And, Isaac, being a type of
Christ, had only one wife. Apparently Isaac was spotless from sins of lust or
Isaac's wife, Rebekah, like her mother-in-law, Sarah, was barren. But Isaac
did not take things into his own hands and have children by her handmaids, or by
concubines. Neither did Rebekah do as Sarah had done, and resort to bringing a
servant girl to Isaac to produce a son for Rebekah in this proxy manner. Instead
of using human reason, taking things into his own hands, Isaac TRUSTED GOD!
"And Isaac entreated the Eternal for his wife, because she was barren:
and the Eternal was entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived" (Gen.
If only we could learn to TRUST GOD to work out our problems!
JACOB: One Wife After Conversion
Jacob is a name that means "Supplanter". It was God's will that
Jacob receive the birthright instead of his older brother Esau. But in his
earlier life Jacob did not rely on God. He took the matter in his own hands,
aided and abetted by his mother.
As he stole the Birthright from Esau by unfair means, and received Isaac's
blessing by a lying deception, so his father-in-law, Laban, deceived Jacob.
Laban supplanted Jacob's PROMISED and LOVED wife, Rachel, with his elder
daughter Leah. Leah was foisted on Jacob by fraud. According to God's marriage
laws, Jacob could have rejected her -- put her away as soon as he discovered the
deception. In that event, he would never have been truly married to Leah -- God
would not have bound them as one flesh. But when Jacob accepted her as his wife,
she became his ONLY true wife, in God's sight, as long as they both lived.
But Jacob was not yet converted. He leaned to his own understanding. He did
not seek wisdom from God, nor did he seek to OBEY God. He did what seemed right
to him, in his own selfish interest. So Jacob lived in polygamy with two wives,
and also had children by their two personal maids.
But you read of Jacob's conversion in Genesis 32:24-30. He then put idolatry
out of his household (Gen. 35:2-4). God appeared to him, changed his name to
ISRAEL ("Overcomer", or "Prevailer with God"), and
re-confirmed the PROMISES. Then God took Rachel, his second wife (Gen. 35:19),
leaving only his first and true wife, Leah.
So, following his conversion, Jacob had but his one original wife. Jacob had
repented. He lived no more in polygamy after his conversion.
A Worldly Custom
It is of course true that it was a worldly custom, in patriarchal times, and
in the days of the Kingdom of Israel, for kings and wealthy men to take plural
wives. A harem was one of the symbols of royalty.
But God FORBADE polygamy for the kings of Israel.
Here is God's LAW respecting polygamy by Israel's kings:
"When thou art come unto the land which the Eternal thy God giveth thee,
and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king
over me, like as all the nations that are about me .... Neither shall he
multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away" (Deut. 17:14, 17).
It is spoken of as "THIS LAW" in verses 18 and 19.
Israel's first king, Saul, had plural wives. But in this he disobeyed God and
followed the custom of the kings of the worldly nations around Israel. It was
SIN. It was not approved by God.
David REPENTED of Polygamy
David had several wives. But after his tremendous sin of taking Bathsheba and
having her husband murdered, David repented, in real heart-rending repentance.
And he never repeated the sin. Very few seem to realize what actually happened.
See II Samuel 12:9-12. "Now therefore," said God (Verse 10),
"the sword shall never depart from thine house; BECAUSE THOU HAST DESPISED
ME, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife." Notice,
David despised GOD -- not merely the commandment of God, as in Verse 9, but also
the very PERSON of God! He did it by taking this woman as his wife. Therefore
the sword was never to depart from his HOUSE.
The HOUSE OF DAVID, at that time consisted solely of these plural WIVES, and
his children. This was a tremendous, super SIN. God was meteing out tremendous
superpunishment. Now notice the next verse:
"Thus saith the Eternal, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out
of THINE OWN HOUSE ...." His own house included his wives and children.
WHAT evil? God has just said the SWORD will now come upon his house his family.
God continues: ".... and I will take thy wives before thine eyes and give
them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this
Notice this was to be done in the sight of THIS sun -- before that very day's
sunset. God continues: "For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this
thing before all Israel, and before the sun." The Septuagent Version
translates it "THIS sun" here, as in the preceding verse. So a
neighbor or neighbors defiled David's wives publicly, in the open sun that very
day -- ravished them. God said "I will take thy wives before thine eyes and
give them unto thy neighbor." This was done publicly that very day.
But at that point, David repented. All that is mentioned, in this particular
text, is: "And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the
Eternal" (Verse 14). But you will read of David's private prayer of
repentance to God in the 51st Psalm -- the prayer of a really broken and
contrite heart. It was REAL repentance. David TURNED FROM polygamy.
The next words in this text in II Samuel 12 are: "And Nathan said unto
David, The Eternal also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die."
However, the son to be born of this adultery was to die.
Even Concubines Put Away
Do you see what God did? He meted out to David a tremendous punishment -- God
took all his wives, leaving Bathsheba only. With David's first and only
legitimate wife, Michal, probably dead (see II Sam. 6:23), God also had cleared
the way for Bathsheba to become the legal wife of David. Apparently this was
done, that she might be the mother of Solomon, through whom God was to keep His
unconditional, dynastic promise to David -- a forefather of Jesus Christ -- and
a prophet used in writing thee Bible.
After that David was away from Jerusalem. But, returning there were ten
concubines (his former harem). Here is what David did with them: "And David
came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines,
WHOM HE HAD LEFT TO KEEP THE HOUSE, and put them in ward, and fed them, but WENT
NOT IN UNTO THEM. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in
widowhood" (II Sam. 20:3).
Just as David kept the ten concubines "in widowhood" -- that is, he
had no relations with them, for they had been defiled -- so he put away his
other wives (II Sam. 19:6) BECAUSE THEY TOO HAD BEEN DEFILED by a neighbor (II
David had truly repented. He practised polygamy NO MORE! When David was
becoming old, he went "fully after the Eternal" (I Kings 11:6). He was
"a man after God's own heart," because his heart was right. He did
repent. He had been a warrior. In his younger life he went after many women. He
had sown his wild oats. BUT HE REPENTED!
His heart turned to GOD. His life's race ENDED in victory -- he "went
fully after the Eternal." It is not the one who starts out with the biggest
burst of speed, but the one who finishes first AT the END of the race who wins
His son, Solomon, started out righteously, unselfishly, relying on God. But,
"when Solomon was old," he had seven hundred wives and three hundred
concubines it must have been a record harem. And his wives turned away his heart
from God, and to their idols.
It was SIN! Regarding it, God's Word says: "Solomon did EVIL in the
sight of the Eternal" (I Kings 11:6).
There was polygamy in ancient Israel. But it was SIN! God CONDEMNED it -- He
never condoned or sanctioned it. They reaped what they sowed.
What GOD Joins in Marriage
Also Israelites practiced what God had forbidden -- divorce and remarriage.
On this, Jesus said: "Moses (NOT GOD) because of the hardness of your
hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not
so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for
fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth
her which is put away doth commit adultery" (Matt. 19:8-9) GOD has NEVER
legalized divorce and remarriage. It is not allowable today.
Jesus said, in this same connection: "Have ye not read, that he which
made them at the beginning made them male and female?" Notice, Jesus was
dating this from the BEGINNING. And God NEVER CHANGES! "And said, For this
cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and
they twain shall be one flesh?" Notice, a man shall cleave to his WIFE --
NOT WIVES. And they TWO -- not he and several wives -- shall be one flesh.
"What therefore GOD hath joined together, let not man put asunder"
(Matt. 19:4-6). It is what GOD joins together. That is the definition of
MARRIAGE. God does not join together one man with plural women! Any woman a man
may "marry" according to man's codes, in addition to the wife GOD
joined him to, is NOT his wife, so long as his real wife lives. Any additional
women, whether in polygamy, or by divorce one at a time, is plain ADULTERY! GOD
never joins the second, let alone the additional "wives." They are NOT
truly wives -- they are adulteresses, and the man becomes an adulterer. THIS
BREAKS GOD'S LAW. IT IS SIN.
Jesus thus put us straight on monogamous marriage.
God made ONE wife for Adam -- not a harem! He started the human family out as
He ordained they SHOULD go -- a family of ONE man and ONE wife!
And, remember, God gave this absolute COMMAND regarding future kings of
Israel -- telling them they must not do as the pagan nations around them (whose
kings had their harems): "NEITHER SHALL HE MULTIPLY WIVES TO HIMSELF!"
Saul, Israel's first king, DISOBEYED that command. He let demons take hold of
God deposed him, and put David in his place. David started out in polygamy,
but God punished him. HE REPENTED thoroughly, and he finished his reign with his
ONLY living wife. Solomon finished his life in polygamy and idolatry -- and God,
in punishment, rended the KINGDOM away from his son, Rehoboam.
GOD DID NOT CONDONE POLYGAMY! He PUNISHED those who practised it! It was
ALWAYS SIN! It is SIN today!
Hosea and other prophets constantly dwell upon the thought of monogamous
marriage as being a symbol of the union of God and His people, and denounce
idolatry as unfaithfulness to this spiritual marriage-tie.
Christ to Marry ONE Church
The marriage relationship, in the New Testament, is the type of the
relationship between Christ and God's Church.
The worldly churches are MANY. Those who claim the NAME Christian -- Roman
Catholic, Greek Orthodox Catholic, hundreds of Protestant churches -- all claim
to be, combined, the Church which Christ started. They seem to believe, somehow,
that when Christ returns to earth to marry His church, that Jesus Christ will be
a POLYGAMIST -- that He will marry HUNDREDS of Churches -- have HUNDREDS of
WIVES! THEY ARE WRONG!
Jesus Christ will marry but ONE Church -- the True Church of GOD -- and all
these worldly churches will be on the outside looking in!
Listen! "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the
marriage of the Lamb is come, and His WIFE (NOT WIVES) hath made herself
ready" (Rev. 19:7).
One of the qualifications for a Minister in GOD'S Church is that he have only
ONE wife! No POLYGAMIST may be a Minister of Jesus Christ in His True Church!
Here it is: "A bishop (elder, overseer, preacher, minister), must be
blameless, the husband of ONE wife" (I Tim. 3:2). Likewise, a man may not
even be a deacon if he has more than one wife (Verse 12).
Let us, then, understand it once and for all! Polygamy is a SIN. God condemns
it! It is ADULTERY! IT HAS NEVER BEEN APPROVED OR CONDONED BY GOD AT ANY TIME,
IN PATRIARCHAL DAYS -- IN OLD TESTAMENT TIMES -- OR NOW, TODAY!