One of the questions I get asked a lot about God Behaving Badly is why didn’t I talk about this issue (e.g., homosexuality) or this passage (e.g., the flood). I received an email recently from Sandra, who enjoyed God Behaving Badly, but asked a great question about polygamy.
I do however wish that under the chapter on sexism that you would have addressed the role of polygamy. Especially where God tells David through the prophet that he would have gladly given him even more wives in confronting David about taking Bathsheba. I can’t help but feel as though women were prized as virgins but men could sleep around and of course I cannot imagine having a husband on Monday, Wednesday & Fridays, while my sister or aother woman had him on Tuesdays and Thursdays! If it were not for the David passage I could dismiss it as God’s people acting pagan, but that does not seem to be the take by Nathan. Any advice?
I spent yesterday with a group of about 30 pastors and leaders from the Church of God, General Conference near Harrisburg, PA. Over lunch I read them an excerpt from Sandra’s email and told them to discuss it over lunch. As I walked around the lunch area I overheard some good conversations. Here is my paraphrase of three of their insights:
First, about polygamy in general, it was considered the duty of a man who was well-off to have multiple wives in order to provide for more people, almost like social security. So, it’s not just that women were objects or possessions, but that a man that could afford to care for more people should do so as a social obligation. (I need to think more about this, but I think it has some validity.)
Second, in 2 Sam. 12:8, the phrase that Nathan tells David “and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more” does not need to be limited to more wives. I think that’s a reasonable assumption given the context, but in addition to wives, God has just told David that, 1) he anointed him, 2) he rescued him from Saul, 3) he gave him the house of Israel and Judah. While it seems like more wives is implied, it’s possible that God is just saying he would have been willing to give him other things, perhaps like what he does to Solomon in 1 Kings 3–wisdom, riches, long life, etc.
Third, God was accommodating himself to what happened with kings back then. God had set up the ideal in Gen. 2–one man, one woman in a lifelong committed relationship. But he was willing to allow them to follow non-ideal patterns of their day. A bit like he did with the monarchy and the temple. Neither of which was his idea, and later he destroyed the temple and cut off the monarchy. It’s pretty clear from the story of Solomon, and Deut 17:17 that many wives is a bad thing, even for kings.
How would you have responded to Sandra’s question?