Bible Stories for Young Adults


Polygamy - Is it Biblical?

The Old Testament speaks of numerous men, especially wealthy and powerful ones, who had multiple wives.  King Solomon outdid them all with some 1000 wives.  So, is polygamy something that God approves of?

He made marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman in the beginning.  The last prophet in the Old Testament re-confirms God’s original intentions saying, “And why one?  He seeks a godly offspring.  Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.”  Malachi 2:15

Memorize:  And why one?  He seeks a godly offspring.  Malachi 2:15

Perhaps  many know that Solomon was the son of King David who ascended to

the throne of Israel when David died.  Solomon was young at the time and

when the Lord appeared to him in a dream asking him what he would like to

have.Solomon replied that he wanted wisdom so that he could rightly lead and

judge his people.  The Lord was so pleased with Solomon's desire for wisdom

that he said, "Since you have asked for wisdom and not for long life or

wealth for yourself, not have asked for the death of your enemies but for

discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked.  I will

give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been

anyone like you, not will there ever be.  Moreover, I will give you what you

have not asked for -- both riches and honor -- so that in your lifetime you

will have no equal among kings.  And if you walk in my ways and obey my

statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long


Solomon did become a great and wise king.  He was the writer of many

Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.  People from all around came to him to hear his wisdom,  including the Queen of Sheba.  However, in order to have peace with

all the heathen kings around him, he added to his harem many daughters of

heathen kings who became wives of his.  The first of his wives was the

daughter of the Pharaoh king of Egypt, but he finally had a total of seven

hundred wives of royal birth from foreign nations and these women were idol

worshippers.  He also had three hundred concubines, which were wives of a

lower social status, not generally purchased with a bride price.  He married

these women even though the Lord had told Israelites to not intermarry with

these foreign women for they would surely cause one's heart to stray away

from the true God.  God had also specifically commanded that kings of Israel

were not to even have multiple wives, as was common among heathen kings of

that day. 

Solomon disregarded God's laws in these areas and his heart, once wise,  was

turned to foolishness.  His folly not only included worshipping the same

gods that these women worshiped, but he began to govern oppressively, taxing

his people greatly to pay for the lavish lifestyle he and his wives enjoyed.

One would wonder how a man could love one thousand women as Solomon did, but the Bible does say he "loved" them and "held fast to them in love."  Solomon evidently came to have a problem with lust and sensuality and his excesses were his undoing.  The Lord became angry with Solomon and raised up enemies against him.  He also said that Solomon's son would not reign over all of Israel, but would only get to rule two of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Solomon wrote his portions of the book of Proverbs when he was in his early

state of wisdom.  Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes when he was in a state of

backslidden spiritual depression. Depression?  In the eyes of the worldly,

Solomon had everything anybody could ever want --  wealth, power,

intelligence, wisdom, honor, fame, fine wine, and women galore.  Why would

such a man be depressed?  It was because his heart was turned away from God.

After expressing the idea that life is vanity and other similar statements,

the writer of Ecclesiastes concluded, "Now all has been heard; here is the

conclusion of the matter;  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is

the whole duty of man, For God will bring every deed into judgement,

including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil."  So after trying

everything in the world that most people think will make them happy, Solomon

finally concluded that the only thing worth living for is the Lord.

Since Solomon and other Old Testament characters were polygamists, does that mean that the Bible teaches that polygamy is acceptable?

First of all, God made for Adam one wife.  The original plan for marriage

was as God created it.  A man and his wife would become "one flesh."  (Gen.

2:24) The first polygamist mentioned in the Bible was Lamech (Genesis 4:19-24) and he was an evil man, a vengeful murderer.  He boasted of his conquest by murder and he challenged God to avenge him as he did Cain.

Noah and each of his three sons each  had one wife only and these eight

people were the only ones on the ark when the Great Flood came and destroyed the earth as it then was.  Though Lamech preceded Noah, all of Lamech's descendants were drowned in the Flood.  God had pronounced judgement on the whole world due to the fact that every imagination of their hearts were only evil continually.

The patriarchs Abraham and Jacob did not choose polygamy for themselves.  In Abraham's case, his wife Sarah wanted him to have a child by her handmaid

Hagar because she was barren and past childbearing age.  She wanted Abraham to have descendants.  So Abraham took Sarah's advice and had a child by Hagar, but this was clearly not by the Lord's direction, and the child by

Hagar became such a nuisance to Sarah's child born 13 years later, that

Abraham,  at Sarah's plea, sent Hagar and her son Ishmael away.  Before

that, there had been conflicts between Sarah and Hagar because Hagar grew

proud that she had borne Abraham a child and Sarah had not.  So polygamy

causes problems between wives and children of the wives.

From the line of Abraham, we see that Isaac married only one wife Rebekah

and she had twins, Jacob and Esau.  Esau was not a godly man.  In fact, Hebrews 12:16 says he was a godless fornicator who did not care about

spiritual things.  Esau chose two wives, Hittite women, who were a source of

grief to Isaac and Rebekah.  (Genesis 26:34-35)  Rebekah was so depressed she wanted to die because of these wives of Esau  (Genesis 27:46.)  She felt her life would not be worth living if Jacob ended up marrying such ungodly women also.  When Esau found out that Jacob was being told to not marry a

Canaanite, but to go to get a wife from his mother's family, Esau then took

an additional wife who was a daughter of Ishmael, and thus a granddaughter

of Abraham.  (Genesis 28:8-9)

Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah by Leah's father.  With a veiled bride,

Jacob could not see that the woman he was marrying was not the younger

daughter of Laban whom he loved.  The next morning, after the marriage was

consummated, Jacob awoke and was shocked to see that the woman he'd slept with that night was not Rachel, but Leah.  Jacob was angry that his

father-in-law had tricked him, but then  Laban gave him Rachel also, as long

as he would work for him an additional seven years.  Since Leah was bearing

children and Rachel was barren, Rachel followed Sarah's example and gave her handmaid to Jacob so that she could claim those children, but this made Leah do the same with her handmaid.  So it turned out that Jacob had four wives, or perhaps one may call them two wives and two concubines.  We don't know that Jacob approved of polygamy; he was swept into it by women who were in a race to have the most children.  Polygamy did cause problems between wives and the children of the wives as well.

Outside of King David and King Solomon, there are scattered cases of

polygamy.  The Judges Ibzan and Abdon (Judges 12:8-13) apparently were

polygamists since Ibzan had sixty children (surely not by one wife!) and

Abdon had forty sons.  The wicked King Ahab of Israel was a polygamist who

had seventy sons, but he had "great men" who reared them, acting as their

father. (II Kings 10:6)  King Jehoichin of Judah had a number of wives also.

Other kings may have had multiple wives since when a king's son became king,

it was also mentioned which woman was his mother.  Also, Samuel's father,

whose name was Elkanah, had two wives, but these wives did not get along

well either.  (! Samuel 1:1-8)

When David took Abigail as his wife, she was a widow who needed protection.

His first wife Michal, King Saul's daughter who was won as a dubious "prize"

when David killed the giant Goliath, had been taken away from him by Saul

and given to another man after the jealous Saul turned against David.  David

also married Ahinoam and four others while he was in Hebron.  Saul's wives

came under David's protection and provision upon the death of Saul when

David was crowned king. Presumably, these also became his wives.  ( 2 Samuel 12:8).  However, David's taking Bathsheba as his wife was clearly a case of adulterous lust. He must have hoped that his constituents would have viewed his taking Bathsheba upon the conspired death of her husband to have been his way of protecting and providing for a widow, but God knew the truth.

Women in that era of history were seen to be dependent upon a man, whether

husband, father, brother, or adult son for protection and provision.  (Older

widows often looked to adult sons to help them survive.)  Women  felt deeply

distressed when their only male protector died.  Mary and Martha in John 11

were very upset that their brother Lazarus had died, as was the widow of

Nain who lost her son that Jesus raised up both Lazarus and the widow's son

from the dead. (Luke 7:11-17) The New Testament tells younger widows to

remarry, and older widows are to be taken care of by any living male

relative.  Only if a widow over the age of sixty has no such family member

is she to be put on the church roll for help.  (I Timothy 5: 3-16)

So it is possible that polygamy came into a culture because of a dearth of

males lost to war or disease or famine.  Surviving males took the women

without a male protector as wives.  However, the number of a man's wives,

for a wealthy male, often became more like a trophy case.  In Muslim

countries that allow polygamy today, the middle class males generally stick

to one wife.  Only the wealthy and poorest have more.  The rule for a

polygamist is as it was in the Bible.  Each wife would have her own house.

Only the wealthiest can afford more than one home.  But the poor man will

put up any old cardboard shack for each of his wives.

A common error in thought today is that a bigamist would have two wives in

bed with him at the same time.  This is clearly perversion.  Some of the

polygamists living today are practicing perversion, even if we did

not admit that polygamy itself is a perversion.  Other polygamists  may not

sleep in the same bed with two wives at one time, but they will have all their

wives and children living with them in one house with problems easy to imagine.  Leah and Rachel in the Bible each had their own tents.

So, since some Old Testament characters practiced polygamy, when did it end? When did it become unlawful for a man to have more than one wife?  After the Babylonian captivity, multiple wives became a thing of the past because God's order under Ezra the priest was that some 113 Israelite men put away their foreign wives that they had brought in from Babylon (Ezra 10).  The prophet Malachi made it clear at that time that the Israelites had broken faith with the wife of their marriage covenant -- their first wife.  The people did not know why God was not pleased with their offerings.  They had married the daughter of a foreign god, (Malachi 2:11) and this is why God was angry.  "It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.  Has not the Lord made them one?  In flesh and spirit they are His.  And why one?  Because he was seeking godly offspring.  So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.  'I hate divorce,' says the Lord God of Israel. " (Malachi  2:14-16)

In the New Testament, about 500 years after Malachi, Jesus made it clear

that God's design for marriage is monogamy, because he refers to the

creation of marriage between Adam and Eve to show that divorce, which

contributes to serial polygamy, was not in the original design, but came

about because of sin.  (Matthew 19:3-9)

Polygamy was not in the original design of marriage either.  Just as Moses

allowed a certificate of divorce  if one should find "uncleanness" in his

spouse, so he made a few regulations about polygamy also.  (This was about a

thousand years before Ezra and Malachi.)  For example, a man was not to

marry both a woman and her sister while both were still living (Leviticus 18:18).

Also, if a man took a second wife, he was not to diminish to the first wife

her provisions, but he had to continue to support her in the manner to which

she was accustomed.  (Exodus 21:10)  Moses also set a few regulations about

slavery, which existed in the culture of that day, but this does not mean

that God's original design in the Garden of Eden was for slavery to exist.

The civil laws of Moses were designed for that particular culture in that

day but the moral laws of God have been in existence since man was created

in Eden.  His conscience was clear in Eden and the moral law was in the

heart of Adam , but the moral law came also in external written form after

sin entered the world.   

Finally, as the Christian church spread into all the world, it touched

cultures where polygamy was practiced, so a new believer in Christ who

already had multiple wives could be in the church, but the practice of

polygamy was stamped out within one generation because the epistles of Paul

forbade any polygamist from becoming an elder or deacon in the church.  (I

Timothy 3:2,12; Titus 1:6)  People tend to follow their leaders, and that

may be why that in the laws of Moses, some 1600 years before, God had

commanded that the kings of Israel not be polygamists.  (Deuteronomy 17:17).

Today we are seeing more and more news items about polygamy.  The territory

of Utah was denied statehood until its Mormon inhabitants agreed to outlaw

polygamy.  But now will there be a change in marriage laws?  With more and

more Muslims coming into the United States will our laws have to change?

The Koran and Muslim law allows a man to have up to four wives. The revered

prophet of Islam, Mohammed, had more than that, but he was "special" as

Allah allowed him to have as many wives as he wanted.

What is best for a nation?  Whoredom, monogamy, or polygamy?  What is best

for children?  What is best for a marriage?


1.  What are your comments on the last paragraph of questions?

2.  Solomon's women caused him to lose his wisdom.  Do you think having

multiple sex partners can cause anyone to lose wisdom?

3.  In what ways was Solomon's lack of wisdom made manifest?

4.  In the case of Abraham and Jacob, their wives had something to do with

their taking slave women as concubines.

Has anything like this happened in America?

5.  Name some notable Old Testament Bible characters who had only one wife.

Why do we not read of men in the New Testament having multiple wives?

6.  Serial polygamy is practiced all over America today.  What is serial


7. What role did the masculine sense of providing for and protecting women

play in the development of polygamy?

8.  Why do middle class men in Muslim countries not generally have  multiple


9.  What was the turning point in the Old Testament when polygamy was

stopped among God"s people?

10. Though neither polygamy nor slavery were intended institutions when God

created man, why would He have given civil laws to Moses concerning these


11.  How was polygamy effectively stamped out in the Christian Church as it

spread throughout the world?

Dig Deeper

1.  Read I Kings 3:1-15;  When the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream and

he was told to ask for anything, what did Solomon ask for?  Why did he ask

for this?  Where was Solomon when he had this encounter and why was he

there?  What are we told to ask God for in James 1:5?

2.  Read I Kings 4: 20-28  Describe the emotional and physical status of

the people of Israel under Solomon's rule.  Describe the amount of food and

other supplies that Solomon required every day to run his government and

private life. 

3,  Read I Kings 4:29-34  Describe the greatness of Solomon's wisdom.

4.  Read I Kings 10:14-29.  According to this passage, Solomon made wealth

by some activities of his own (rather than just by taxing the people.)  What

were they?

5.  Read I Kings 11:1-13  How did Solomon get into idol worship?  Describe

the stages of his progressive involvement in idolatry.

6.  Read I Kings 11:14-25.  Name the two adversaries that God allowed

Solomon to have. 

7.  Read I Kings 11:26-40  Who are Jereboam and Ahijah?  Why do you think

Solomon tried to kiil Jereboam, the same man he'd once commended because he did his work well?

8.  Quickly run through the book of Ecclesiastes.  Write down at least five

ways the writer, whom we presume to be King Solomon, shows his despair.

How do you think a king like Solomon could have felt this way? 

9.  Read Deuteronomy 17:14-20 and tell how Solomon disobeyed this

"constitution" for Israel.

10. Read Genesis 2:24.  How could polygamy interfere with the "one flesh"

status?  Could God have created Adam with multiple wives if God wanted to?

Compare to Malachi 2:14-16.  How might polygamy interfere with the purpose

God has for marriage as seen in this passage from Malachi?

11.  Read Genesis 4:19-24.  Who was Lamech and what can we see about his

character in this passage?

12.  Read Genesis 26:34-35. 27:46, 28:8 and Hebrews 12:16.  What did Hebrews 12:16 passage call Esau?  Why were Isaac and Rebekah so upset with Esau's wives? 

13.  Read Judges 12:8-14.  Who were the judges who had so many children?

Presumably this number was by more than one wife.  Why would having so many children make it difficult to produce a godly seed?

14.  Read II Kings 10:6.  Why do you think "great men" were needed to rear

Ahab's sons? 

15.  Read I Samuel 1:1-8.  What problems did polygamy pose for Hannah ?

16.  Read I Timothy 5:3-16.  What is the New Testament plan for "social

security" of widows?

  1. 17. Read Ezra, chapter 10.  In order to set the newly  re-formed nation of Israel

on the right track, what had to be done in regard to the multiple wives who did not worship the Lord?  This list of men who had taken these wives is in verses 18-44. There were 113 such men.  Compare this number to the number of men of Israel listed in Ezra, chapter 2.  In verse 64 it says the whole assembly numbered 42,360 so 113 men with wives they had to send away was only one man in about 375.

  1. 18. Read the New Testament qualifications of church officers in I Timothy 3:1-13  and Titus 1:5-9.  Would a polygamist qualify as a church officer? 

King David’s dying instructions to his son Solomon, the new king, was to follow God’s laws.

I Kings 2:1-4

In answer to Solomon’s request for wisdom, God gave him greater wisdom than any man on earth, as well as riches and power and fame.

What caused him to act as a fool and fall into idolatry?

God’s plan for marriage -- that there would be one woman for one man -- was instituted at the beginning of creation. 

Jacob, left, was tricked by Laban into marrying both of his daughters. 

Genesis 29: 13-30

Abigail, a wise and beautiful widow, became David’s wife, since Old Testament men often took widowed women as wives for their protection and provision.  (I Samuel 25)

Hagar is brought to Abraham by Sarah his wife because Sarah was barren.

Genesis 16

The Lord asked Solomon in a dream what he wanted more than anything.  I Kings 3:1-15

Elkanah had two wives.  Hannah, right, had no children, but Peninah tormented her because she did have children. 

I Samuel 1:1-8

Ezra the priest leads 113 men of Israel to repent of their having taken heathen wives in addition to the covenant wife of their youth.  Ezra 10