See Part 1 for the backstory…
Question: “So, does this mean it is OK to have multiple wives but just not in our country due to the “law of the land” but not God’s Law?”
You are not completely correct in that we obey do the ‘law of the land” and yes it was not against God’s Law per se, however, polygamy was contrary to God’s ideal.
Given polygamy is the belief/practice of having more than one wife at one time, although not explicitly forbidden in Scripture as a general practice, it is violates the covenantal framework of the Bible established at creation. The question has a “right vs. wrong” feel to it and I believe that is the wrong way to look at the issue of polygamy in the Old Testament. The reader must understand that the Old Testament was written around a covenantal point of view and not a simple “right vs. wrong” outline that we in the West tend to favor. It is vital to consider that the stories of the people in the Old Testament did not chronicle everything about Israel’s relationship with God (all their accomplishments and all their failings), but revolves around the various covenants made between God the Father and His people.
There are, arguably, seven covenants in the Bible:
1. The covenant with Adam – Gen. 1:28; 2:15–16; 3:15–19
- Before the fall—that he could remain in Eden as long as he obeyed. This was conditional.
- After the Fall—that God would someday send a Savior. This was unconditional.
2. The covenant with Noah – Gen. 8:21–22
- That the earth would not be destroyed by water again.
- That the seasons would continue until the end. This was unconditional.
3. The covenant with Abraham – Gen. 12:2–3, 7; 13:14–17; 15:5, 18; 17:8
- That God would make Abraham the founder of a great nation.
- That God would someday give Palestine forever to Abraham’s seed. This was unconditional.
Note: It can be argued that this will be enjoined via the final victory that Christ has through His church in the eternal state.
4. The covenant with Moses and Israel on Sinai – Exod. 19:3–8; Lev.26; Deut. 28
- That Israel could have the land at that time to enjoy if they obeyed.
- That Israel would forfeit all God’s blessings if they disobeyed. This was conditional.
5. The covenant with David – 2 Chron. 13:5; 2 Sam. 7:12–16; 23:5
- That from David would come an everlasting throne.
- That from David would come an everlasting kingdom.
- That from David would come an everlasting king. This was unconditional.
6. The covenant with the Church – Matt. 16:18; 26:28; Luke 22:20;Heb. 13:20–21
- That Christ would build his Church with his own blood.
- That all the fury of hell would not overcome it but it would overcome the very gates of hell.
- That Jesus would perfect all the members of his Church. This was unconditional.
7. The covenant in which all repenting sinners will be saved through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ in the cross and evidenced through His resurrection. This is the New Covenant spoken of by the Old Testament prophets – Jer. 31:31–34; Isa. 42:6 Deut. 1:1–9; Heb.8:7–12
- That God would bring Israel back to himself (it is arguable as to whether this is speaking purely of the church or a yet to be realized and combined saving of a large portion of Jews in the end times as well).
- That He would forgive their iniquity and forget their sin.
- That He would reach and teach Gentiles.
- That He would establish them in Palestine forever. Seemingly this has begun by being placed “in Christ” and it is through the efforts of Christ that the eternal state will establish Jew and Gentile on the new earth. This was unconditional as part of the Gospel of Jesus (See Titus 1:1–2; Heb. 13:20).
It is incredible to realize that Jesus completely fulfills all the conditional covenants and unconditional covenants made between God the Father and His people.
Because God was dealing with the people of the Old Testament primarily in relation to His covenant(s), He allowed certain behavior to occur at different times that was not ideal or His will – “perfect,” “decreed,” however you might express the concept of God’s “lesser” (Augustine, Edwards) will. Put another way, God chose to record the “big ticket” items that really affected His covenantal relationship/standards. Therefore, we must understand that God does not condemn every wrong decision an Israelite might do individually (e.g. polygamy) because His view was more centered on His particular agreement (covenant) at a specific time with Israel as a whole.
In Part 3, I will expand this thought more through the teaching(s) of Jesus related to marriage in general and, in particular, how this “covenantal framework” relates to the issue of polygamy.