Why Polygamy Doesn’t Work
by Jacob Hudgins
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”(Matt 19:5).
The Bible does not specifically condemn polygamy (a man having multiple wives). Several passages strongly imply that it is not God’s will. Jesus quotes Genesis 2: “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate”(Matt 19:5-6). In marriage, two become one. Paul concedes, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband”(1 Cor 7:2).
Yet where the Bible reports in detail on polygamous marriages, it shows them as a disaster. Abraham takes Hagar in addition to Sarah, and a vicious rivalry develops between them. Jacob is tricked into taking Leah along with Rachel—and adds their maids Bilhah and Zilpah to the mix—and the result is a toxic environment. Leah cannot bear enough children to make her husband love her. The children of these unions grow to hate each other, to the point that they sell Joseph (beloved because he is Rachel’s child) into slavery. Elkanah’s wives Penninah and Hannah needle one another and cause great grief to Hannah. David’s multiple wives lead to hostility between the children—Amnon, Tamar, Absalom, Adonijah, and Solomon. The favored children are always those of the favored wife. This is to say little of Solomon’s glut of wives who turned his heart away from serving Jehovah.
The record shows us that in polygamous marriages, resentment builds. Inadequate attention is paid to all the different wives (and children). Rivalries inevitably develop between wives and between children.
Why doesn’t polygamy work? Polygamy doesn’t work because it’s not how God designed marriage. God intended marriage to be a union between two people. When we go against the grain of our design, we shouldn’t be surprised when our efforts fail miserably and are counterproductive. The biblical principles of marriage—two becoming one flesh, clinging to his wife, loving as Christ loved the church—do not allow for polygamy. God’s picture of a loving home for husband, wife, and children does not square with the scenes described above.
“‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body”(1 Cor 6:13-14). Paul speaks of what our bodies are “meant for.” It is folly to use what God has given in ways he did not intend. We could try to use a hammer as a screwdriver, but we shouldn’t be surprised when we end up with a mess on our hands.
God has a purpose for our speech (Eph 4:29), his church (Eph 4:11-16), our money (1 Tim 6:17-19), and our intellect (Matt 22:37). Our charge is to live according to our design.
Polygamy doesn’t work because God’s plan works and our “good ideas” don’t.