Popular "Bible teacher" John MacArthur exemplifies this presumption.
In his Study Bible MacArthur writes,
8:30,31 many wives. Gideon fell severely into the sin of polygamy, an iniquity tolerated by many but which never was YHWH's blueprint for marriage (Gen. 2:24). Abimelech, a son by yet another illicit relationship, grew up to be the wretched king in Judg. 9. Polygamy always resulted in trouble. (The MacArthur Study Bible, p.348, copyright 1997, Word Publishing)
MacArthur calls polygamy an "iniquity," faults Gideon for "the sin of polygamy," and calls polygamy and concubinage (Abimelech was the son of Gideon's concubine, Shoftim/Judges 8:31) "illicit" relationships. On page 37 of this same Study Bible MacArthur calls bigamy (having two wives) "open rebellion against Elohim" and a "violation of marriage law" (see MacArthur's footnote for B'reisheet/Genesis 4:19). The problem with this is, Scripture nowhere says any such thing (Mishle/Proverbs 30:5-6). When MacArthur maintains such heresy, he blasphemes (2 Timothy 3:2) Righteous men (e.g. Abraham, Caleb, Gideon, David, even Josiah, see MacArthur's footnote for 2 Kings 23:25), and teaches as doctrines the commandments of men (Mattithyahu/Matthew 15:8-9).
I. Polygamy Was Not Uncommon
As often as polygamy is recorded in Scripture, it is quite amazing how YHVH never condemns the practice. Both wicked men and righteous men were polygamous, and YHVH called neither to repent of it.
Lamech practiced polygamy (B'reisheet/Genesis 4:19). Avraham likewise had more than one wife (B'reisheet/Genesis 16:3-4; 25:6 "concubines"). Nahor, Avraham's brother, had both a wife and a concubine (Genesis 11:29; 22:20-24). Ya'akov was tricked into polygamy (Genesis 29:20-30), yet later he received two additional wives making a grand total of four wives (Genesis 30:4, 9). Esau took on a third wife hoping it might please his father Yitz'chak (Genesis 28:6-9). Ashur the father of Tekoa had two wives (1 Chronicles 4:5). Michael, Obadiah, Joel, Ishiah, and those with them "had many wives" (1 Chronicles 7:3-4). Shaharaim had at least four wives, two of which he "sent away" (1 Chronicles 8:8-11). Caleb had two wives (1 Chronicles 2:18) and two concubines (1 Chronicles 2:46, 48). Gideon had many wives (Shoftim/Judges 8:30).
Elkanah is recorded as having two wives, one of which was Hannah filled with the Spirit of Yahuwah (1 Samuel 1:1-2, 8-2:10). Dawid, a man after YHWH's own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22), had at least 8 wives and 10 concubines (1 Chronicles 1:1-9; 2 Samuel 6:23; 20:3). Shlomo, who breached both Deuteronomy 7:1-4 and 17:14-17, had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-6). Rehoboam had eighteen wives and sixty concubines (2 Chronicles 11:21), and sought many wives for his sons (1 Chronicles 11:23). Abijah had fourteen wives (2 Chronicles 13:21). Ahab had more than one wife (1 Kings 20:7). Yehoram had wives who were taken captive (2 Chronicles 21:17). Yehoiada the kohen gave king Yoash two wives (2 Chronicles 24:1-3), and Yehoiachin had more than one wife (2 Kings 24:15). Polygamy is mentioned several times over in the Bible and never once is polygamy condemned.
II. Polygamy Was Governed
Not only is polygyny not forbidden, but Yahuwah actually gave laws concerning its practice. For example, in Devarim 21 YHWH gave Moshe a law regarding a man who had two wives.
"If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, and they have borne him children, both the loved and the unloved, and if the firstborn son is of her who is unloved, then it shall be, on the day he bequeaths his possessions to his sons, that he must not bestow firstborn status on the son of the loved wife in preference to the son of the unloved, the true firstborn. But he shall acknowledge the son of the unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his." (Deuteronomy 21:15-17)
This law does not condemn the man who has two wives. It simply governs how he deals with the offspring.
Immediately before this passage, we find Devarim 21:10-14.
When you go out to war against your enemies, and YHWH your Elohim delivers them into your hand, and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall put off the cloths of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall set her free, but you certainly shall not sell her for money; you shall not treat her brutally, because you have humbled her.
Here YHWH makes no mention as to whether "you" are already married or not. He simply gives the Yisra'elites the permission to marry a captive girl and how to deal with her. This law applies to either a single man or a married man, and in its application of a married man, YHVH is giving permission for polygamy. In fact, this passage rests in that very context, because the very next statement after verse 14 is, "If a man has two wives, . . ." (Deuteronomy 21:15).
If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband's brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Yisra'el.
But if the man does not want to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate to the elders, and say, "My husband's brother refuses to raise up a name to his brother in Yisra'el; he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother." Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him. But if he stands firm and says, "I do not want to take her," then his brother's wife shall come to him in the presence of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and answer and say, "So shall it be done to the man who will not build up his brother's house." And his name shall be called in Yisra'el, "The house of him who had his sandal removed."
This passage requires the living brother to marry his brother's wife, and there is absolutely no statement whatsoever in regards to the living brother's marital status. He could be single, or he could already be married. The passage says nothing either way. All that is said is,
If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband's brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her.
If the living brother was already married, then we have here a command from Yahuwah for a man to have a polygamous relationship. If the living brother was already married, in order to obey YHWH, the man would be required to have more than one wife. If he refused to do so, he would be spit in the face and bear reproach (Deuteronomy 25:9-10).
Similarly, if a married man were to have sex with a virgin who was not betrothed, he would be required to marry her, and thus end up with another wife.
If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins. (Exodus 22:16-17; see also Deuteronomy 22:28-29)
Here again there is no specification on whether the man is married or not. Therefore, this law would apply to both a single or married man.
Another law regarding polygamy can be found in VaYikra 18:18. Here YHVH forbids, not polygamy, but rather the taking on of a rival sister while the other is still alive.
Nor shall you take a woman as a rival to her sister, to uncover her nakedness while the other is alive.
In other words, YHWH forbids a man to take his wife's sister as a wife for the purpose of rivalry.
YHWH also did not allow a man to marry a woman and her mother.
If a man marries a woman and her mother, it is wickedness. They shall be burned with fire, both he and they, that there may be no wickedness among you. (Leviticus 20:14)
These laws (Leviticus 18:18 & 20:14) do not prohibit polygamy, but rather they ban certain acts of polygamy. Just the same as we are commanded not to murder. However, under certain circumstances, a man's life may be taken (war, punishment, etc).
Finally, there is one passage in Devarim that some may think condemns polygamy, but, the truth of the matter is, it actually allows it. For the king, Devarim 17:14-17 places a very general limit to the practice of polygamy.
When you come to the land which YHWH your Elohim is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, "I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me," you shall surely set a king over you whom YHWH your Elohim chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Mitsrayim, to multiply horses, for YHWH has said to you, "You shall not return that way again." Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself.
This law is given for the king of the land. There is no such law concerning the common Yisra'elite. In other words, if a Yisra'elite were to multiply wives for himself, he would not be breaching this law or any other command from Elohim, because no such command exists. This law does not apply to everyone. It only applies to the king.
Now, does the law say the king cannot have more than one wife? No, it does not. In fact, please note there are three other things the king is not to "multiply for himself," horses, silver, and gold. Could he have a few horses? Certainly, David had at least 100 horses (2 Samuel 8:4), and in this, he did not disobey Yahuwah (1 Kings 15:5). Could a king have some silver and gold? Indeed, David had silver and gold (2 Samuel 12:30; 24:24), and he did not disobey YHWH (1 Kings 15:5). Likewise, could a king have a few wives? Yes he could. David had at least 8 wives and 10 concubines (2 Samuel 3:14; 15:16; 1 Chronicles 3:1-9), and was not disobedient against YHWH in doing so; as 1 Kings 15:5 says,
David did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.
As for a king who breached Devarim 17:17, Shlomo is the classic example. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Yet, even though Shlomo obviously multiplied wives to himself, YHWH condemns Shlomo, in particular, for his marriage of foreign women (1 Kings 11:1-2; Deuteronomy 7:1-4) and the resultant idolatry (1 Kings 11:4). Yahuwah mentions Shlomo's multiple wives (1 Kings 11:3), but the focus of YHWH's anger is upon Shlomo allowing himself to be seduced by his wives (1 Kings 11:9-10). The focus is not upon how many wives he possessed, but rather upon the marriage of foreign women and how they seduced him into idolatry.
Interesting to note in this polygamous context is the statement about Dawid in 1 Kings 11:6.
Shlomo did evil in the sight of YHWH, and did not fully follow YHWH, as did his father Dawid.
Even though Dawid had at least 8 wives and ten concubines, Dawid fully followed YHWH.
Polygamy was the pattern of Dawid's life. He practiced it unrepentantly. Those who claim Dawid sinned by practicing polygamy (e.g. MacArthur and company) unwittingly proclaim Dawid was of the devil, because 1 John 3:8 says, "He who sins is of the devil." Yet, that is contrary to the word of YHWH himself!
III. Polygamy Included Concubinage
Some today may think that concubinage in the Scriptures was a form of an immoral sexual relationship similar to having a personal mistress. Webster's Third New International Dictionary gives this kind of a definition for "concubine" as one possible meaning.
concubine . . . b: a woman who cohabits with a man without being his wife: MISTRESS (p. 472, copyright 1986, unabridged)
The Hebrew word for concubine is (pilegesh), and it is used for an illicit sexual relationship, but only once.
For she lusted for her paramours, whose flesh is like the flesh of donkeys, and whose issue is like the issue of horses. (Ezekiel 23:20)
Here in Ezekiel 23:20, the Hebrew word for concubine is translated "paramours." A paramour is an illicit sexual lover indeed, and the context of this passage supports this translation. It is speaking of a woman with her male immoral partners (paramours). The "concubines," so to speak, are male here, not female.
With Ezekiel 23:20 excluded, every time pilegesh is used it speaks of a female concubine that is married to her male partner. Keturah is called Avraham's concubine in 1 Chronicles 1:32, but in Genesis 25:1 she is called Avraham's wife. Dawid's ten concubines are indeed called concubines, but they are also called his wives by YHWH Himself (2 Samuel 12:11; 16:21-22). In Shoftim/Judges 19 & 20 the Levite's concubine "played the harlot" (Judges 19:2) and left "her husband" (Judges 19:3).
She is called a concubine in Judges 19:1, 2, 9, 24, 25, 29; 20:4 and 5, yet at the same time, her male partner, the Levite, is called "her husband" in Judges 19:3 and 20:4. Moreover, the concubine's father is called the "father-in-law" (Judges 19:4, 7, 9), and the Levite is called the "son-in-law" (Judges 19:5). Clearly, concubinage is displayed as a marital commitment.
So, what is the difference between a "wife" and a "concubine"? Wives are free, concubines are not. Scripture portrays concubinage as the marriage of a slave girl. Note VaYikra 19:20.
Whoever lies carnally with a woman who is betrothed to a man as a concubine, and who has not at all been redeemed nor given her freedom, for this there shall be scourging; but they shall not be put to death, because she was not free.
Betrothal depicts marriage (Devarim 28:30), and here in VaYikra 19:20 we have the marriage (betrothal) of a slave girl to a man. Being a slave, she is called a concubine, and for this immoral act she is not killed as a free woman would be (Devarim 22:23-24), "because she was not free."
In Shoftim, the concubine's husband is twice called "her master" (Shoftim 19:26, 27). Other concubines are identified likewise. Bilhah, Ya'akov's concubine (B'reisheet 35:22), whom Rachel gave to him for a wife (B'reisheet 30:3-4), was a slave (B'reisheet 35:25 "maidservant"). Likewise, Zilpah was a slave-wife (B'reisheet 35:26; 30:9). Marrying a slave girl was not only practiced; it was legislated in the law of Elohim as well.
And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her. And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money. (Shemot 21:7-11; see also Devarim 21:10-14)
Notice it does not say, "He cannot take another wife." It says, "If he takes another wife." Here we have another law concerning polygamy and it is not forbidden.
Although some today may view concubinage as an evil deed, Leah, in the Scriptures, viewed it as part of that which pleased YHWH.
And YHWH listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Ya'akov a fifth son. Leah said, "YHWH has given me my wages, because I have given my maid to my husband." So she called his name Issachar. (B'reisheet 30:17-18)
Leah had given Zilpah, her slave, to Ya'akov as a wife because she perceived that she had stopped bearing children (B'reisheet 30:9). Yet, she continued to pray for more sons. Yahuwah heard her plea ("YHWH listened to Leah"), and Leah understood this to be a reward from YHWH for giving Ya'akov a concubine.
IV. Polygamy Today
In the beginning YHWH indeed formed one man and one woman and the two became one flesh (B'reisheet 2:24; B'reisheet 1:31; Mark 10:6-8). Whether it be in a monogamous marriage or a polygamous marriage, the two still become one flesh. However, polygamy is NOT illegal in the U.S! What is illegal is Bigamy. (Having "state-reconignized" civil unions with more than one person at a time) Besides, in cases where polygamy is COMMANDED, do we obey the state or YHVH? (For more on this, please see the posts "To Whom are you married" and "Marriage Covenants")
The man becomes one flesh with each of his wives. We know this by the fact that even if a man has sex with a harlot, he nonetheless becomes one flesh with her (1 Corinthians 6:16). Therefore, the two becoming one still applies to each union in a polygamous marriage.
Mishle/Proverbs 18:22 says, "He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from YHWH." It's a good thing to find a wife, and who's to say it's an evil thing to find more than one? Elohim doesn't say any such thing, and neither should we!