“Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah.” Genesis 25:1 NIV
Whatever you may think of the furore around same sex marriages, there is huge precedent in the Scripture for polygamy and if we stuck to the Old Testament patriarchs we wouldn’t have too much trouble arguing for its return. Joseph Smith did exactly that of course very successfully within Mormonism. So many of the men in the Bible took more than one wife, and the richer they were, the more they had, as though women were indeed chattels, possessions, trophies. Solomon in his wisdom had over 300 wives and concubines, but more often than not, it was two or three.
The trouble caused was endless and deeply painful, and quite clearly patriarchal, for there are no instances of women taking more than one husband. It begins, as every mistreatment of a human being or animal, with those with souls being taken for things. In Genesis 2, when the human being (“ha’adam”) is created male and female, Adam and Eve recognise one another as equal halves, as one flesh, neither one subordinate to the other.
Under Mosaic Law, adultery and coveting of another man’s wife are both such important rules for living that God gave two of the ten commandments over to them.
But when a people or an entire gender become seen or defined by those who enforce the rules as less than, other, lower down, not as human, they can be used, manipulated, abused, downtrodden, and even made to partake in their own oppression. If it serves the purposes of men, women can become disposable, replaceable or even part of a collection. More offspring, more pleasure, more variety, more power, these are strong motives to bend or break God’s moral code.
But over and over again we also see the pain and confusion of women feeling as though they need to compete for the love of their husbands. That was never part of the plan. It leads to a smaller existence for both man and wife, than God wanted for us. Thankfully, monogamy has long been the accepted norm in western society, but there are far more “open relationships” and certainly serial relationships now, and in many other cultures, such as tribal Africa, it is still commonplace for a man to take more than one wife as a sign of status. I come at this from my own cultural and religious standpoint of course, and I am sure a lot of those wives are happy and would defend the system. But I see from the biblical accounts that this causes deep jealousies and competition between women, often sisters, and that seems humiliating and wrong from my belief that men and women were made for equal partnerships.
How can it be right for a male chief to take a teenage bride in addition to the wives he already has? What possible hope is there for the redemption of God’s Edenic plan for two halves to become one where that kind of inequality is ingrained and implemented? There will always be a Leah who is heartbroken, a Peninnah who is jealous, a Hannah who feels less than whole, an Abigail (clearly David’s equal) who deserves better than to simply become another of the King’s concubines.
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