Questions From Readers
● Jehovah allowed polygamy among the Jews, but not among Christians. Has God’s morality changed?—J. P., U.S.A.
No, God’s morality has not changed. It has always been perfect, and it still is. Moses, knowing of the marital arrangements that God permitted then, was moved to say about Jehovah: “Righteous and upright is he.” (Deut. 32:4) Though God allowed temporarily a marriage relationship that he does not now allow, his righteousness is as evident today as it was in the days of Moses.
Frequently when persons hear or read that polygamy was tolerated in ancient Israel or among Hebrew patriarchs they form notions of God as winking at loose sexual practices. They imagine that Jehovah condoned or encouraged promiscuity. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Why, one of the Ten Commandments forbade a man to have sexual relations with another’s wife. And on penalty of death God prohibited incest, bestiality and sodomy.—Ex. 20:14; Lev. 18:6-23.
We must keep in mind that God did not institute polygamy. The first one mentioned in the Bible with two wives was Lamech, the boastful descendant of Cain. (Gen. 4:19-24) No one practicing polygamy survived the Flood, for Noah and his sons each had one wife. Later, when God dealt with the post-Flood patriarchs he had not yet given extensive laws on human behavior, including marriage. In some instances a man took a secondary wife in order to produce offspring because his wife was barren, as Abraham did at the urging of his wife Sarah. (Gen. 16:1, 2) Yet, it is noteworthy that many times in the Bible where polygamy was involved, there was unhappiness or trouble, as with Sarah and Hagar, Hannah and Peninnah, as well as Solomon’s wives.—Gen. 21:9; 1 Sam. 1:1-6; 1 Ki. 11:1-6.
Hence, with the background of a patriarchal society, when Jehovah accepted the Israelites as his national people polygamy already existed to some extent, though it appears that monogamy was much more common throughout Israel’s history. Acknowledging polygamous marriages that already existed, God gave very stringent laws to regulate and control things. Quite contrary to the charge that God disrespected womanhood and marriage, he enacted highly moral legislation to protect the rights and privileges of the original wife as well as of any secondary wife and her children. (Deut. 21:15-17) Consequently, even though Jehovah did not forbid polygamy, he definitely urged love and respect in marriage, and forbade sexual immorality. His moral standard was righteous, perfect.
Jesus made a significant point on marriage in Matthew 19:8, 9. About the fact that divorce was allowed under the law that God gave through Moses, Christ said: “Moses, out of regard for your hardheartedness, made the concession to you of divorcing your wives, but such has not been the case from the beginning. I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.” Evidently, just as with divorce, God made the concession of tolerating polygamy, yet bringing it under strict regulation.
This might be compared to God’s permission of the “superior authorities,” the worldly governments. Jehovah did not institute them in the beginning. But they do exist and it is not yet God’s time for removing them. So he gives his servants directions as to how they should conduct themselves in relation to this arrangement that he is allowing for a time.—Rom. 13:1-7.
Just what is the Christian stand on polygamy? Is it permitted, or has God’s period of tolerating it passed?
Before making the comments quoted above, Jesus drew on Genesis 2:24, saying: “A man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.” (Matt. 19:5) God gave Adam just one wife. The pattern was that the TWO, not three or four, would be one flesh. Plainly Jesus was directing his followers to return to God’s original way for human marriage, a man’s having only one living wife. Under inspiration the apostle Paul showed that this is the correct understanding. In 1 Corinthians 7:2, he wrote: “Let each man have his own wife and each woman have her own husband.” And he directed that an appointed servant in the congregation was to be “a husband of one wife,” demonstrating the standard for Christians.—Titus 1:6; 1 Tim. 3:2, 12.
God thus brought to a close the period of concession as to the marital arrangement. He simply returned matters to what he instituted in the beginning. There was, then, no change in God’s morality—it remained perfect. And Jehovah continued to oppose sexual immorality. He consistently viewed it as despicable and deserving of severe punishment.—Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 5:9-13; 6:9, 10.
As we have seen, under both arrangements—when he temporarily permitted polygamy and under the Christian system, when he requires monogamy—Jehovah has opposed looseness and sexual immorality, and has encouraged restraint, love and respect in marriage. Moses had spoken of Jehovah as “righteous and upright.” Christ and Paul also referred to Jehovah as righteous. (John 17:25; Rom. 3:26) And we today have good reason to concur with them, knowing that God has been consistent and perfect in morality.