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

The Twist that Reframes the Whole Story

Many people read the Bible as if everything written within it is equally authoritative. As a result, people read it along the lines of a cookbook. Like a recipe, the meaning and authority of a passage aren’t much affected by where the passage is located within the overall book. The truth, however, is that the…

What is omni-resourcefulness?

Question: What do you mean when you refer to God’s omni-resourcefulness? Can you support this with Scripture? Answer: I and others use the term omni-resourcefulness to highlight a feature of God in Scripture that the classical theological tradition consistently overlooks. Part of the greatness of the God of the Bible, we argue, is that he…

Friday Lights: The Bee

Ever heard of The Babylon Bee? It’s a satirical site, sort of like The Onion for Christians. Several of our readers pointed out this site to us, and we loved this entry on an adult coloring book of the imprecatory psalms. It forces you to think through the ways we uncritically accept the violence of some…

Does Jesus’ Abandonment on the Cross Destroy the Trinity?

In my previous blog I argued that Jesus’ experience of God-forsakenness on the cross was genuine and that, as a matter of fact, there was a genuine abandonment of Jesus by the Father on the cross. In fact, I am convinced that a good deal of our theology hangs in the balance on our affirming…

The REAL Problem with Divine Violence in the OT

As I mentioned in my previous blog, while I will continue to offer video-blogs responding to questions that come in, I’m also planning on sprinkling in reflections based on my forthcoming book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God, over the next couple months. Today, I just want to state what I consider to be the real…

Revolting Beauty

In this sermon clip, Greg shares the story of how foster parents entered into the pain of a severely abused child and demonstrated compassion rather than judgment when she displayed puzzling and revolting behaviors. This moving story illustrates the way that God enters into our sin and our curse on the cross, and gives us…