Monday, September 1, 2008

Polygamy and Other Relationships

There are all sorts of firsts in the book of Genesis. Not just the creation of things and life, but firsts of behaviors and motivations and relationships. There was no such thing as husband before God gave Eve to Adam, and no such thing as wife. There was no such thing as father or mother until they bore their first children, and second generation human beings were the first to understand what it means to be a daughter or son, brother or sister. These are the relationships that define how human beings behave with one another. Eventually as the population sprawled into distant relatives, the relationship of a friend received its meaning.

I'm interested by the relationship of husband and wife. Now, God created Eve specifically for Adam; her form, her heart, her mind, the passions of her spirit and the strengths and weaknesses of her character, all designed to compliment those of Adam. They were meant to unite as one by their design and there was little ambiguity in their relationship to one another - as simple as a nut and bolt.

But as they multiplied and their generations of offspring spread throughout the earth, I wonder how the process of choosing a mate evolved. I wonder if, or for how long, multiple "wives" or partners was the acceptable practice. I also wonder if this was by God's design for a time. Moses refers to Eve as Adam's wife (Gen, 2:25) and the next reference to a "wife" is Cain's (Gen. 4:17). After the introduction of Eve, it is assumed that by man's nature and the desire of his heart he will "leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). If a man is to find a wife and become one flesh with her, it makes sense that the role of "wife" is referred to only in the singular, for how can a man become one with more than one?

But by the seventh generation of human beings, "Lamech married two women, Adah and Zillah" (Gen. 4:19) - the first occurrence of polygamy in scripture. I thought for a moment that maybe he had two wives because the first had died at some point, but in verse 23 he speaks to both at once.

In the very next chapter we learn that Lamech is the father of Noah - only one generation previous to the flood. Now, we know the flood was God's reaction to man's thorough wickedness and sin, so we shouldn't assume that the people of Lamech's generation were still close to their creator. The were obviously living lives of disobedience and distance from Him. According to Noah's genealogy, Lamech died only five years before the flood. I think he's very likely to be among those who brought pain to God's heart at the time Noah was instructed to begin building the ark.

I wonder, was Lamech's polygamy a contributing factor to God's displeasure with man? And not just Lamech's, but that of any other man on the earth who had taken multiple wives. Isn't polygamy contrary to God's design? I've got some reading to do yet, but I think I'll wrestle with this throughout scripture. I think of David; the man after God's own heart, who had concubines and I-don't-know-how-many wives. How can that be? I also think of one of Paul's letters in the new testament, which mentions that any leader in the church should have but one wife. Does that infer polygamy was a generally acceptable practice among the Jews who had recently been converted?

This will have to be a point I revisit.

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