In our study of Samuel we have come across something that maybe you’ve found disturbing…polygamy. What do we do with that? We’ll here’s both a shorter and longer answer.
What do with do with Polygamy? (Shorter Answer)
When reading the Scriptures and you come across polygamy, it’s helpful to keep these three things in mind:
Original Design: We see from the very beginning God has defined marriage as one man and one woman (cf. Gen. 1-2); and when marriage is spoken of positively, this original design is referenced (e.g. Matt. 19; Eph 5; 1 Tim. 3). As far as I know, polygamy is never spoken of favorably in the Bible.
Descriptive Vs. Prescriptive: We have to remember what type of literature we are reading – historical narrative; as such, we need to differentiate between descriptive (explaining events that took place) texts and prescriptive (commanding things to do) texts. In Samuel most of the events we read are descriptive – that is, the narrator is simply telling us what took place. So we can no more say polygamy is right simply because it was recorded as happening any more than we can say adultery is right because it was recorded as happening (cf. 2 Sam. 11).
Polygamy Brings Disaster: As we see time and time again, polygamy brings destruction. Just keep reading the story of those who practice polygamy – it does not turn out well; it’s as if the narrator is showing polygamy always leads to destruction because it was against God’s original design.
What do with do with Polygamy? (Longer Answer from The Briefing)
[In a recent interview] Christian leaders were being asked about their opposition to proposals to redefine marriage, and were discussing the Bible’s view of marriage. At one point, the interviewer asked a question which is often brought up in these contexts: Doesn’t the Old Testament condone polygamy? There was, of course, a question behind the question: Since the Old Testament says polygamy is OK, why should we listen to it on any moral issue?
Why did this interviewer think the Old Testament condones polygamy? Clearly he’s expressing a common point of view. Where has it come from? I reckon it stems from the fact that a lot of people in our world don’t really know what the Bible is about. A large number of people (maybe as a result of ineffectual communication by Christian teachers) think the Bible–and especially the Old Testament–is just a list of moral commandments, along with some stories to give us examples of how to be good. So when they do get around to reading the Old Testament, they read it with this moralistic framework in mind. And they find quite a few stories where the lead character is a polygamist. Furthermore, they don’t find any explicit commands that say “Thou shalt not commit polygamy”. So, since they are assuming that the Old Testament is just a book of moral commandments and morality tales, they conclude that the Bible says polygamy is OK.
The problem, of course, is that the Bible–even the Old Testament–is not really a book of commandments and morality tales. The Bible does of course contain commandments, and lots of narratives. But hardly any of the narratives are about morally upright heroes who keep God’s commandments. Most of the narratives are about God’s actions and plans to save immoral human beings. Most of the human characters in Bible stories (even some of the most faithful ones) are morally dubious at best; in fact, many of their activities are downright sordid. You’re not supposed to read these stories as direct examples for your own life; you’re meant to read them to understand God’s actions in the midst of a tragic human history.
It is true that the stories will also teach us something about God’s moral order. But we don’t usually discover this moral order simply by reading the stories as if they were straightforward examples to emulate today. Like many good stories, the Bible’s stories can communicate deep moral truths without needing to resort to explicit commandments. Indeed, stories are often more morally powerful when there is no explicit moralising. Think of a movie like Schindler’s List, a powerful story telling us about one of the darkest moments in Western history. Now imagine, at the end of the movie, as you’ve been hit with the human horror of the holocaust, just before the credits, a commandment comes up on the screen: “The director would like to point out (in case you missed it) that you should not be racist.” Not only would this be unnecessary, it would destroy the power of the story.
Something similar happens when it comes to the Bible and polygamy. Sure, the narrators never pause to say, “Oh by the way, please, don’t be a polygamist.” But why should they? The stories make the point all by themselves. As Peter Jensen–one of the interviewees in the TV segment I linked to above–pointed out, stories about polygamy in the Bible, time after time, result in disaster. Off the top of my head, here are some of the stories about polygamy in the Bible:
- The first polygamist, Lamech, calls a family conference so he can boast about his inordinate vengeful violence. He’s clearly not a nice man (Gen 4:19-24).
- Jacob has two wives and two concubines, a situation which creates family heartbreak, envy and, ultimately, attempted murder (Gen 29-37).
- Gideon has many wives and many sons (Judges 8:30). This results in civil war and wholesale slaughter in Israel (Judges 9).
- David has a seemingly insatiable appetite for women. He has many wives (2 Sam 5:13), and in the end steals another man’s wife and murders him (2 Sam 11-12). The resulting, big family was not a happy one: they ended up committing incestuous rape (2 Sam 13) and rebellion which almost destroyed David’s kingdom (2 Sam 14ff).
- Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. They led his heart away from the Lord, and led to the break-up of his kingdom (1 Kings 11:3-4).
The stories tell the story all by themselves, don’t they? Polygamy, according to the Bible, is a disaster.
Furthermore, there are other pretty clear indications in the Bible that polygamy is wrong. The Bible begins with an explicit affirmation that marriage is between one man and one woman (Gen 1-2), an affirmation which is later confirmed by Jesus himself (Matt 19:4-6). There are, furthermore, laws limiting some of the worst effects of polygamy (Deut 21:15-17). And then, in the New Testament, Paul’s command to Timothy that church leaders must be, alongside exemplars of other moral virtues, “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2, 12; cf. 1 Tim 5:9) implies that polygamy is not a desirable thing.
And that’s why, in most modern Western societies (which still draw much of their moral understanding from biblical principles) polygamy is illegal. Christians might, with sadness, admit that polygamy exists in certain parts of the world. We might even, at times, seek to help those in polygamous relationships to make the best of a bad thing, to limit the suffering. But we don’t condone polygamy. In this, we’re following the Bible’s teaching. Sure, the Bible accepts that polygamy (like divorce) is one of the realities of a sinful world, and seeks to regulate it to some extent. But that all needs to be understood within the bigger picture of the Bible’s story: God’s salvation of a sinful humanity through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus. Within this story, polygamy isn’t an example to be emulated. Rather, it’s an example of the many bad things Jesus rescues us from.
Great and amazing are you deeds O Lord God Almighty! Just and true are your ways O King of nations! Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God. Hallelujah! The Lord God Almighty reigns. To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. May grace and peace be multiplied to us, according to the foreknowledge of the Father, in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ.
Whom do we have in heaven, but you, O great triune God? And there is nothing on earth that we desire besides you. Our flesh and our heart will fail, but Lord God, you are the strength of our heart and our portion forever. Yes Lord, you are our chosen portion. The lines have fallen for us in pleasant places; indeed we have a beautiful inheritance in Christ, all to the praise of your glory; and we have been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of your glory. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him.
Father of glory, give us a spirit of wisdom, enlightening the eyes of our hearts, that we may know what is the hope to which you have called us. Give us grace to advance the gospel being bold to speak the truth of Christ without fear. Give us full courage that Christ will be honored in our body, whether by life or by death. Let our manner of life be worthy of the gospel and our conduct in step with the gospel. Give us grace to stand firm in one spirit with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.
We pray that you would give grace to our brother John Edwards and his wife, Alaina, as they seek to plant DC Fellowship in Georgetown. For the glory of your name, give them fruit in making disciples that make disciples. And we pray for our brother Rob Stephens as he seeks to plant Aletheia Church in College Park. Bring him another qualified man to serve as an elder beside him. Grant them generational diversity and self-sustainability. Do this for the glory of Christ Jesus, we pray.
And cause the glory of Christ to reign supreme here at Restoration Church. Cause Jesus to be our greatest and deepest and most satisfying delight. We thank you for the life and ministry of S and C; we praise you the way they long to know Christ and share their home for the sake of the gospel. Give them wisdom and patience as they raise S in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. We also praise you for E; thank you for the many ways she serves our church. Give her a sweet delight in your word this week; cause your word to be sweet to her, sweeter than honey from the comb. And we pray for our brother M. Give him a great zeal to know Christ and relentless resolve to make Christ known. This week as he goes to work give him grace to work unto the Lord and glorify you even in the day-to-day.
Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. We pray for your name to be hallowed among the nations. Start right here in Columbia Heights by granting us favor in planting a Spanish speaking church. Hallow your name through X and X as they labor among the Tatar people. Hallow your name through Noah as he labors among Haitian. Hallow your name by bring the gospel to the unreached Jat people in Pakistan and the Bairagi in India and the Ansari in Bangladesh. For the glory of your name raise up men and women from this church to devote their lives to bringing the gospel to an unreached people group. Yes, Lord, use our little church to send people out with the gospel all over this globe that you might receive the worship you are due.
And as we think about taking the gospel outward, we must first look inward; we look into our own hearts, our own lives. And we see sin. We see the ways we have rebelled against you in the past, and we see ways the weeds of sin still entangle our hearts and motivations and actions. We confess our sin to you; we confess that we have committed sexual immoral acts, we have practiced idolatry, we have committed adultery, we have acted pride and greed; we have gossiped and harbored bitterness; we have lied and slandered. We confess these things to you; and we rely not on our works, not on trying to repay you, but only on the person and work of Jesus to cleanse us. We praise you we have been sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit. We praise you that there is therefore now no condemnation for those trusting in Christ, but there is reconciliation to you, our greatest joy. So it’s in the precious, mighty, majestic name of Christ we pray. Amen.
“The obedience and death of the Lord Jesus laid the foundation and opened the way for the exercise o this great and sovereign act of grace. The cross of Jesus displays the most awesome exhibition of God’s hatred of sin, and at the same time the most august manifestation of his readiness to pardon it. Pardon, full and free, is written out in every drop of blood that is seen, is proclaimed in every groan that is heard…Oh blessed door return, open and never shut, to the wanderer from God! How glorious, how free, how accessible! Here the sinful, the vile, the guilty, the unworthy, the poor, the penniless, may come. Here too the weary spirit may bring it’s burden, the broken spirit its sorrow, the guilty spirit its sin, the backsliding spirit its wandering. All are welcome here. The death of Jesus was the opening and emptying of the full heart of God. It was the outgushing of that ocean of infinite mercy that heaved and panted and longed for an outlet. It was God showing how he could love a poor, guilty sinner. What more could he have done that this?”
-Octavius Winslow (1 August 1808 – 5 March 1878)
O God of our greatest joy; God of our salvation and satisfaction, we come to praise your glorious name. We praise you this day that Jesus Christ is the victor, the conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might. We praise you that Jesus bursts the bonds of death, tramples the powers of darkness down, and lives forever. Gracious Redeemer, you were lifted up upon a cross; you, who as a Man of sorrows were crowned with thorns upon a cross, have now ascended to God the Father’s right hand, crowned with glory; you are our Lord and giver of life everlasting. Oh, how we praise you this day, Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed!
God Almighty, we praise you, that on the cross your wrath was satisfied; we praise you that on the cross justice was uncompromised; we praise you that on the cross love was magnified. We praise you that on the third day, as Jesus rose from the grave grace and mercy burst forth triumphant over Satan, sin, and death for all those who turn from their sin and trust in Jesus.
Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, what more could be done that you have done! Your death is our life; your resurrection our peace; your ascension our hope that one day you will return and restore all things. Holy Spirit, open the eyes of our hearts that we might behold the glories of Christ; grant us a true heart of full assurance, an unwavering confidence in Jesus. Cause us to hold fast to the confession of our faith without wavering, for we know you have promised us all good things in Christ, and you are faithful.
Almighty God, in Christ Jesus, we praise you that relate to us as a gracious, compassionate Father, not an angry, tyrannical judge. Oh, how we praise you for all that we have in Jesus. And we confess that we often still sin against you; that we forget of the lavish things you have given us; we forget how you have so often protected us and brought us through trials; we confess that we reject you when we desire the things of the world – status, money, acceptance, sex, drugs – more than you; we confess that we often find you dull and boring; we confess that we are often ashamed to speak the truths of the gospel to our friends and family. We confess our sins to you this day. By your grace would you grant us repentance that we might turn from our sin and trust in our Savior, Jesus Christ? We confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that he is Lord.
Father, in the name of Jesus and by the power of your Spirit, we pray it’s this gospel message that remains central in our church. And we pray the same for other churches here in DC. We pray for Justin and Allan as they pastor Sojourn Fairfax; give them abundant grace and mercy to exalt Jesus above all things. We pray for Jumaine Jones as he leads The Bridge in Silver Spring; cause him to marvel at Jesus and lead his people to do the same. We praise you for Capitol Hill Baptist and Church of the Resurrection and Christ Our Shepherd; may they faithfully labor to teach and preach the gospel; give these churches much grace to persevere for the hallowing of your great name.
We pray for our brothers and sisters around the globe this day, especially those who face persecution for simply trusting in Christ and trying to live faithfully unto him. We pray for the believers in northern Nigeria; as they think about the resurrection of the persecuted Lord today, cause them to take heart in all that they face. We pray the resurrection of Christ would be a great comfort this day to Asia Bibi, as she sits in a prison, sentenced to death, because she refused to renounce Christ; give her grace we pray.
And we pray for those peoples around the globe who have not heard of Jesus. Bring the gospel message to the Bohra in Sri Lanka, and the Ongkor in China. Raise up gospel labors to go to the Hazara in Afghanistan the Behdini Kurds in Northern Iraq and the Baloch in Western Iran. For the glory of your name, we plead for mercy upon these peoples that they might come to know you and sing your praises.
We pray for our own church. Give use grace to humbly and boldly speak the gospel to those around use. We praise you that you have used our gospel ministry to see people go from spiritual death to life, from the domain of darkness to the Kingdom of light. Use our church to see more and more people come to faith in Jesus. And help us always be a church marked with a sweet mixture rock-solid biblical conviction and Christ-like compassion. Help us always be a church that is marked by repentance of our sin as we bring the gospel to bear on the sin around us. Help us always be a church that delights in the supremacy of Jesus Christ and seeks to invite and equip others to share in that delight. In the name of our resurrected Savior, we pray. Amen.
Jesus is praying
Peter’s a sleeping
Judas is betraying
But Sunday’s comin’
The council is conspiring
The crowd is vilifying
They don’t even know
That Sunday’s comin’
The disciples are running
Like sheep without a shepherd
Peter is denying
But they don’t know
That Sunday’s a comin’
The Romans beat my Jesus
They robe him in scarlet
They crown him with thorns
But they don’t know
That Sunday’s comin’
See Jesus walking to Calvary
His blood dripping
His body stumbling
And his spirit’s burdened
But you see, it’s only Friday
The world’s winning
People are sinning
And evil’s grinning
The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands
To the cross
They nail my Savior’s feet
To the cross
And then they raise him up
Next to criminals
But let me tell you something
The disciples are questioning
What has happened to their King
And the Pharisees are celebrating
That their scheming
Has been achieved
But they don’t know
It’s only Friday
He’s hanging on the cross
Feeling forsaken by his Father
Left alone and dying
Can nobody save him?
But Sunday’s comin’
The earth trembles
The sky grows dark
My King yields his spirit
Hope is lost
Death has won
Sin has conquered
and Satan’s just a laughin’
Jesus is buried
A soldier stands guard
And a rock is rolled into place
But it’s Friday
It is only Friday
Sunday is a comin’!
-S.M. Lockridge (1913-2000)
Too often we read the story of David & Goliath we think of ourselves as David; we want to be the hero; we act as if our freedom depends on our ability to fight our giants. But that’s not us in this story. We are more like the Israelites or Goliath. There’s something glorious taking place here. It’s not trite and self-centered like asking, “How can we courageously take the 5 stones of our lives and face our giants?”
No, this story is about seeing the Lord; it’s about being so passionate about God’s glory and being so confident in God’s promises you are willing to do whatever it takes to glorify God’s name so that all the world might know the greatness of your God.
But this story is not primarily about the fights that we need to struggle to win; it’s about the fight that Jesus single handedly already won. Yes, the story of this anointed shepherd king from Bethlehem prepares us for and points us to a greater King; it points us to Jesus. Jesus is the promised son of David. Where was he born? Bethlehem. What does he call himself? The Good Shepherd.
Jesus, the eternal Son of God, is God’s forever-anointed shepherd King from Bethlehem who stood in the gap for us when we were afraid and helpless to fight our enemy; he came to the battlefield of our lives and cut off the head of our enemy.
This story of David defeating Goliath in the valley points to the greater David, Jesus fighting a greater battle up on a hill. Just as Goliath fell and died, our sin, our rebellion, fell upon Christ; he died for our sin. Though unlike Goliath, Jesus rose again decisively defeating death for all who trust in him, that we too might run freely and joyfully back to our King, the Lord God himself.
Do you have a clear understanding of what justification and sanctification* are? If not, you may start to believe you can earn God’s approval through what you do (or don’t do), or you lose God’s favor based on what you do (or don’t do).
CJ Mahaney, provides a helpful summary on these two key theological realities:
- Justification is being declared righteous
- Sanctification is being made righteous.
- Justification is our position before God.
- Sanctification is our practice before God.
- Justification is immediate and complete upon conversion – you’ll never be more justified that you are the first moment you trust Christ for salvation.
- Sanctification is a progressive process – you’ll be more sanctified as you continue in grace-motivated obedience.
- Justification is objective – Christ’s work for us.
- Sanctification is subjective Christ’s work within us.
*This is specifically referring to what theologians call progressive sanctification.
From J. Warner Wallace:
Our private conversations with non-believers are similarly analogous to baseball. In every conversation I have with unbelieving friends, I am ever mindful of the value of singles. I don’t have to “win” every encounter. I don’t necessarily have to offer the Gospel or describe the Christian view of Salvation. If I get the right pitch, I’m happy to swing. But most of the time I’m lucky to get on base at all. With reasonable expectations in mind, I am happy to overcome a single objection or advance someone’s understanding just a base or two. In fact, sometimes the most important thing I can do is reflect the nature of Jesus as I listen and gently respond. I may not even get the chance to offer a defense or make a point, but my character will speak for me as I make the effort to get on base.
When I share the truth with unbelievers, I sometimes act as though I’m playing a singles tennis match. I’m on one side of the net, and my opponent is on the other. I’m all alone out there on the court, it’s hot and the entire world is watching on ESPN. Whatever I do (or don’t do), whatever I say (or don’t say), will all come down to my individual effort. If I’m going to be successful, it’s all on me. But that’s not the reality of my situation. I’m part of a much deeper team called the Church. I’m not alone on the court; I’m just one in a series of batters. I come to the plate, I get a sense of what the pitcher is throwing, and I make an appropriate decision on how to respond. On rare occasions I may swing for the fences, but sometimes the wiser choice will be to make contact with the ball, get on base if possible, or take a “walk” if the pitcher is throwing wildly. It’s not all on me. I don’t have to win the game by myself.
Evangelism and Christian Case Making is often just like baseball. Remember your place in the line-up. Drive in a run if you can, or just get on base for the next player at bat. Remember you’re not alone. If each of us can get a single, we’ll eventually succeed as a team.