polygamy

When God Endorsed Polygamy

We often find God acting as if he supports things we know, by other means, that he does not. For example, though his ideal was monogamy, it’s clear in the biblical narrative that, once God decided to permit men to acquire multiple wives and concubines, he was not above bearing the sin of his people by donning the mask of a deity who actually approves and even celebrates these things. To illustrate, in the course of Nathan chastising David for his affair with Bethsheba and for murdering her husband Uriah, the Lord is depicted as saying through the prophet Nathan:

I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more (2 Sam. 12:8).

Yahweh here wears the mask of the deity who blessed David with multiple wives—indeed, with the wives that once belonged to his “master,” Saul—implying that Yahweh was the one who took them from Saul. Along the same lines, when it was time to announce David’s punishment, the Lord is depicted as saying through Nathan:

Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight (2 Sam. 12:11).

Stooping to work within the culturally-conditioned and fallen framework of polygamy, and stooping, as well, to work in accordance with the system of immediate rewards and punishments that was the hallmark of God’s covenant with Israel, the Lord is portrayed as the one who was going to curse David by taking his wives and giving them to another man so that they would be raped “before [David’s] eyes” and “in broad daylight.” If we did not know better, these texts would lead us to conclude that Yahweh was a deity who not only had no problem with polygamy, he also had no problem using women as objects to “bless” favored men and to punish wayward men by having them raped in broad daylight!

While the author of this passage clearly embraced this barbaric conception of God, we who enjoy the full and complete revelation of God in Christ should suspect that something else is going on.

With our eyes fixed on Calvary, we must interpret this passage with the same depth perception of faith we have when we confess the crucified Christ to be the definitive Word of God. In this light, we may accept the portrait of God being enraged by David’s heinous sin to be direct revelation, for it is perfectly consistent with the revelation of God in Christ. But the same cannot be said of the violent and misogynistic actions that are attributed to this angry God, for it is simply impossible to imagine Christ causing women to be raped and publicly humiliated as a means of punishing their wayward husband. To this extent, therefore, this text should be understood to reflect the author’s culturally-conditioned, pen-ultimate perspective on God, which the humble God of covenantal love was nevertheless willing to step into as he “breathed” through him.

This does not mean that I deny that these women were tragically raped or that I otherwise assess this narrative to be fictional. I accept that this authoritative narrative intends to be treated as historical. It’s simply that I believe that in light of the cross, we must assess this narrative’s theological interpretation of how God was working through these events to reflect a penultimate perspective of God and to therefore function as an accommodating mask of God, depicting God as approving of activities, and engaging in activities, that he in fact finds repugnant. Yet, precisely as a mask, this narrative’s depiction of God is a shadow of the cross that points to a humble, God of cruciform love who is not above taking on an appearance that mirrors the fallen barbaric state of his people rather than that reflect his true, beautiful nature.

Image by Keoni Cabral via Flickr.

Related Reading

A Brief Theology of the Trinity

“The economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity.” This is the maxim introduced by the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner that should shape our discussion of the Trinity. It is simply a short-hand way of saying that since the way God is toward us in Christ truly reveals God,…

Topics:

On Biblical Inerrancy

Matthew Kirkland via Compfight In this essay, Peter Enns explains his views on Biblical inerrancy and the complexities encountered as evangelicals attempt to define the term. From the essay: Speaking as a biblical scholar, inerrancy is a high-maintenance doctrine. It takes much energy to “hold on to” and produces much cognitive dissonance. I am hardly…

Podcast: Overflow Episode 1 — Dust, Flashlights, and Heathens

Dan and Brianna tackle some tough questions: —Is it okay for Christians to be cremated? —How can we preach from the OT with authority? —What should a Christian academic know in a secular school? http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0320_overflow_1.mp3

Christus Victor Atonement and Girard’s Scapegoat Theory

Many of the major criticisms of Crucifixion of the Warrior God that have been raised since it was published four weeks ago have come from folks who advocate Rene Girard’s understanding of the atonement. A major place where these matters are being discussed is here, and you are free to join. Now, I have to…

How the Church Fathers Read the OT

After the completion of the New Testament, the church fathers developed theology in their increasingly Gentile post-apostolic church in such a way that many of the distinctively Jewish features of the NT’s use of the OT diminished. However, this was not the case with regard to the Christocentric interpretation of the OT that was so…

Does God Have a Dark Side?

In the previous post, I argued that we ought to allow the incarnate and crucified Christ to redefine God for us rather than assume we know God ahead of time and then attempt to superimpose this understanding of God onto Christ. When we do this, I’ve argued, we arrive at the understanding that the essence…