Last week we saw how Jacob got tricked by his uncle to marry both of his daughters even though he only wanted to marry one. And right away there were problems in the marriage because Leah wasn’t loved by her husband Jacob while Rachel was. This is what moved Leah to have kids by Jacob hoping that once she gave him some sons then he would love her. Now she did have 4 sons by Jacob, but it didn’t change his feelings for her. He only loved Rachel even though she still couldn’t have kids.
But this was starting to really trouble Rachel. I’m sure she knew Jacob loved her, but it seems she’s getting a little nervous about her worth as a woman. For a woman to not be able to bear children back then sometimes meant she was useless as a wife. So she takes matters into her own hands and starts this back and forth cycle between herself and Leah in a child-bearing competition to gain Jacob’s love and attention. Before its all done Jacob has 4 wives, 12 sons, and many daughters. One big happy family, right? Wrong!
A little boy was attending his first wedding. After the service, his sister asked him, "How many women can a man marry?" "Sixteen," the boy responded. His sister was amazed that he had an answer so quickly. "How do you know that?" "Easy," the little boy said. "All you have to do is add it up, like the Pastor said: 4 better, 4 worse, 4 richer, 4 poorer. Sixteen."
God never intended for man to marry more than one wife. But before we get into where and why He intended marriage to be monogamous, let’s look at what happened in Jacob’s polygamous marriage.
Wife #1, Leah, (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah)
Wife #2, Rachel, (barren)
Wife #3, Bilhah
[Read Genesis 30:1-3.]
Rachel is getting desperate here. She’s jealous of her sister, the ugly one, since she’s having all the kids. And probably Jacob is sleeping with her a lot more than he is with Rachel, even though he loved her. So jealousy is burning within Rachel.
She’s also feeling useless as a woman. So she gives her handmaid to Jacob as a wife. By the way, when she said, “that she may bear upon my knees”, the given wife or concubine would actually give birth while sitting on the other wife’s knees to signify that she was giving birth on her behalf.
[Read Genesis 30:4-8.]
Dan – “justice”, Naphtali – “wrestling”
But now guess who gets jealous? Leah. Even though she already has 4 kids, she saw the attention she was getting from Jacob slipping away.
Somehow that contentment she had achieved when she gave birth to Judah was now masked in jealousy for her husband’s other wives. So instead of trusting God to meet her emotional needs, she gives her husband another wife! Like throwing gas on a fire!
Wife #4, Zilpah
[Read Genesis 30:9-13.]
Gad – “fortune”, Asher – “happy”
But even though her handmaid bore sons to Jacob in her stead, it wasn’t enough. She still wanted to be loved by Jacob.
Wife #1, Leah
[Read Genesis 30:14-16.]
Now here’s what’s going on here. Leah’s son Reuben is probably 5 years old at this time. He’s out playing in the fields and comes across a Mandrake bush and brings some of the fruit home to his mother. These Mandrakes were also called “love apples” back then and were used as an aphrodisiac and fertility enhancer. So Rachel wants those “love apples” to give to Jacob so he’ll start sleeping with her again and maybe, just maybe have a child with her.
But Rachel strikes a deal with her to give her the fruit in exchange for the opportunity to start sleeping with Jacob again herself. Obviously Jacob was spending a lot of time with his two new wives.
[Read Genesis 30:17-21.]
Issachar – “reward”, Zebulum – “dwelling”, Dinah
Now it doesn’t say if Rachel got Jacob to eat the Mandrakes. Probably she did as they obviously started sleeping together again. But the next few verses make it clear that God, not the fruit, made it possible for Rachel to finally have a child with her husband.
Wife #2, Rachel
[Read Genesis 30:22-24.]
Joseph – “may He add”, (Benjamin comes later)
Jacob has 4 wives, 12 sons, and many daughters. One big unhappy family. But that’s how polygamy always ends. It’s just not meant to be this way. God always intended for only one man to be married to only one woman at a time.
But it seems that God was often silent concerning this matter. How come God didn’t intervene or expressly forbid this practice that never seems to turn out right?
A Mormon acquaintance once pushed Mark Twain into an argument on the issue of polygamy. After long and tedious expositions justifying the practice, the Mormon demanded that Twain cite any passage of scripture expressly forbidding polygamy. "Nothing easier," Twain replied. "No man can serve two masters."
The fact is there are several places where the Lord made it clear that marriage was always intended to be between one man and one woman. But He didn’t address the situation every time it came up.
Remember, many events in the Bible are historical accounts of the events on earth. Just because the Bible records accounts of polygamy doesn’t mean they are models for us to follow. Actually, when you read of these and other accounts of polygamy it should make you want to stay away from this practice. It always seems to end badly.
Lamech: Genesis 4, Cain’s great, great, great grandson had 2 wives, godless
Abraham: Genesis 6, Sarah and Hagar, Ishmael, (Arab nations)
Esau: 3 godless wives
David: son’s of multiple wives fighting over his kingdom
Solomon: wives turn his heart away from God
The historical accounts of these events seem as a warning to stay away from the practice of having more than one wife.
But the Bible also clearly lays down the principle of monogamy right from the beginning.
[Read Genesis 2:22-25.]
From the beginning God clearly states that marriage is strictly for one man and one woman as they become one flesh. It also lays down the principle of how sexuality is intended to only be between those two people within that marital relationship. We see these principles brought out in two of the 10 commandments. “Thou shall not commit adultery” and “though shall not cover they neighbor’s wife”.
God also reinforced this principle in the book of Deuteronomy.
[Read Deuteronomy 17:17.]
As God was laying out the expectations for Israel’s future King He was reinforcing the principle of a monogamous relationship between husband and wife.
I Corinthians 7 also speaks on the one man – one woman principle throughout. But in verse 2 it spells it out clearly, “Because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.”
Jesus Himself in answering the people’s questions concerning divorce reinforced the principles laid down from the very beginning. Marriage has always been about two becoming one permanently.
[Read Mark 10:2-12.]
Now the subject of divorce is for another sermon, but the principles of monogamy are here. Marriage has always been about two becoming one permanently.
God has tried to help His people understand this throughout the ages but many just haven’t listened. But you know, He’s tried to get His people’s attention on many things, yet they keep on disobeying His principles and commands. So it’s not about how many times or what words God used to help society follow the rules of monogamy. It’s about God’s people following His will for creation.
Probably the most famous account of polygamy in the Bible, maybe in the world, is the account of King Solomon who had 700 wives and 300 concubines. That’s 2 birthday parties a day to remember!
Now Solomon did marry many of these woman for political purposes. Instead of fighting battles he would marry the relatives of his enemies. But I also think Solomon probably had some sort of sexual addiction much like someone addicted to pornography today. Anyway, for whatever reason, his polygamy took him down a path that he never wanted to go.
[I Kings 11:1-4.]
This is one of the greatest warnings against polygamy throughout the entire Bible. The fact is, one person has only so much love to give. One man can only focus so much. Can you imagine what the influence must have been upon Solomon with all of those pagan wives. With that many wives you’d never get to hold the remote, let alone watch what you wanted to on tv.
But seriously, his focus was shifted because of his wives. But when one man and one woman of the same spiritual mindset become one flesh then the focus can remain the same. Just like God intended from the beginning.