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Does God Approve of Polygamy?
Did not such men as Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon of pre-Christian times have more than one wife? Yes, but how does the Bible portray that arrangement? It reveals the friction and strife that arose in the families of Abraham and Jacob as a result of the practice. (Genesis 16:1-4; 29:18–30:24) Later, God’s Law included this directive to each king: “He should . . . not multiply wives for himself, that his heart may not turn aside.” (Deuteronomy 17:15, 17) Solomon disregarded that statute by marrying over 700 wives! Tragically, Solomon’s heart did indeed turn aside from Jehovah because of the bad influence of his many wives. (1 Kings 11:1-4) Clearly, the Bible paints a negative picture of polygamy.
Still, some might wonder why God chose to tolerate polygamy among his people. Consider: Have you ever temporarily tolerated a piece of furniture though it needed to be replaced, perhaps reasoning that it would prove impractical or disruptive to remove it for now? Of course, God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our own. (Isaiah 55:8, 9) Yet, we may discern some practical reasons why he tolerated polygamy for a time.
Remember that in Eden, Jehovah promised a “seed” who would ultimately destroy Satan. Later, Abraham was told that he would father a great nation and that the foretold Seed would come from his family line. (Genesis 3:15; 22:18) Satan was determined to prevent that Seed from arriving. He was thus bent on destroying that ancient nation of Israel. He often seduced Israel into sin so that the nation would lose God’s favor and protection.
To counter the attacks, Jehovah repeatedly sent his prophets to warn his people when they veered from righteous standards. However, he knew in advance that his people would often fail to obey even the most basic of commands, such as the one against idolatry. (Exodus 32:9) If they would struggle to obey so basic a law, how would they fare with a law against polygamy? With his perfect grasp of human nature, Jehovah saw that it was not yet the time to forbid that practice, which was already long-established in those days. Had he done so, Satan would have found a very easy means of seducing Israel into sin.
God’s temporary toleration of polygamy had other advantages. It helped the nation to grow rapidly. The larger population helped to ensure the nation’s survival until the time of the Messiah. Polygamy may also have provided a measure of protection for some women, giving them shelter and a household in dangerous times.
Keep in mind, though, that Jehovah did not originate this practice. He tolerated it for a limited time, while strictly regulating it to prevent abuses. (Exodus 21:10, 11; Deuteronomy 21:15-17) When Jehovah chose to end the practice of polygamy among his worshippers, he used his own Son to reaffirm the marital standard set in Eden. Jesus thus forbade polygamy among his followers. (Mark 10:8) Then, this truth became even clearer: The Law of Moses was fine in its time, but “the law of the Christ” is even better.—Galatians 6:2.