Why did God allow people in the Old Testament to have more than one wife,
even though we do not practice this today? What about “white lies?” Did
Rahab sin when she lied? Did God allow immorality, such as with Jacob and
his maidservant, which was consented to by his wives Leah and Rachel?


First of all, you should not assume that everything done by a
godly person in the Bible is automatically approved of by God. All of
these men and women were clearly sinners. The Bible is unique amongst
ancient documents in that it presents its heroes as very “human.” David,
Solomon, Samuel, Abraham, Sarah, Moses and others are definitely presented
as sinners who, in some cases, committed horrible mistakes. Therefore, if
I comment on whether “white lies” are OK, the fact that Rahab told one is
not really relevant to the question of whether it is okay to do such a
thing. We must look to specific Bible commands and principles, not to
individual stories to determine what is right behavior. We can comment on
whether or not Rahab?s actions were sinful, but Rahab?s or Jacob?s or
Isaiah?s actions are not a standard for us to use in determining correct
ethical or moral behavior.

Let us apply this to the fact that David had more than one
wife. Does God commend him for this? Did god command him to have several
wives? I believe that the answer is almost certainly no. God did command
or even approve of David?s or Solomon?s multiple wives. We know that God
was definitely displeased when Abraham took Hagar as his concubine
(Genesis 16, Galatians 4). Look at the results of David?s multiple
wives. They speak for themselves. One of his sons, Amnon, raped one of
his daughters, Tamar. (2 Samuel 13). Later, his son Absalom murdered
Amnon. One can argue that God allowed David to have more than one wife,
but given that the Law of Moses does not provide rules or regulation for a
man with more than one wife, we can assume that from the point of view of
the Law, the taking of multiple wives was not allowed. Look at what
happened to Solomon. His multiple wives was probably the single greatest
cause of his downfall.

Genesis 2:24,25 clearly implies that it was God?s plan all
along for one husband to have one wife. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus strongly
supports monogamy. A good question is whether taking more than one wife
is absolutely forbidden in Christianity. It would certainly disqualify a
man for the eldership (Titus 1:6). I can find no passage which directly
and clearly condemns polygamy. What I can say is that for a list of
reasons which I could continue for pages, including many biblical
principles ( such as the fact that it is illegal in most countries), I
believe that it is inconceivable to me that a disciple of Jesus would take
on a second wife, although it is possible that a polygamist could become a
Christian in a country where it is legal. In fact, I know of one specific
situation in which this is what happened.

Are “white lies” always sinful? Obviously, deceitfulness is
sinful. There is no such thing as a white lie. There are only lies.
There are so many passages on this that I will not bother to list any! As
a general rule, situational ethics are a bogus excuses for bad behavior.
Nevertheless, let me describe a scenario where a greater evil will cause
us to agree that telling a lie might be a godly path. I believe that if a
murderer were to enter my house and ask me if my children were at home, it
would be foolish to tell the truth. In this case, I believe that Jesus
Christ himself would probably lie to the criminal who attacked his home.
I am very hesitant to give people an excuse to justify lying, as virtually
all deceitfulness is clearly sinful, despite all our justifications.
However, I will have to admit that common sense (which is a gift we were
given by God) requires the use of deceit in radical situations in which
the telling of the truth is very likely to result in a greater evil than
the telling of the lie itself. What about Rahab? I will let you look at
this situation for yourself and reach your own conclusion. As I said
above, the Bible does not require us to use this example to teach a
principle about lying. That was not the purpose of God putting this
factual story in the Bible.

The conclusion is that we cannot assume that all the actions
recorded by even the most righteous people in the Bible are condoned by
God. We cannot assume that God will always solve such a conundrum for us,
because often the purpose of the passage was not to teach about the ethics
of the situation. In many cases, the Bible presents the facts of history
and leaves us to interpret these facts. In such cases, it is up to us to
apply biblical principles and common sense to understand the moral
implications of the actions of Bible characters.

John Oakes

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