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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: Why Didn't God Condemn Lamech's Polygamy?

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Don Stewart
Cain's children multiplied outside of the knowledge of God. In the story of one of his descendants-Lamech-we have the first example in Scripture of the practice of marrying more than one wife-polygamy.

Then Lamech took for himself two wives: the name of one was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah (Genesis 4:19).

It is fitting that polygamy originated with the godless descendants of Cain. As with all the other instances of polygamy in the Old Testament, the practice is recorded, but not condemned. In fact, we find no direct prohibition to polygamy.

Reasons Polygamy Was Practiced

The practice of a man marrying more than one wife was common in the ancient world. There are a number of reasons why this was so. They include the following:

1.There were more females than males.
2.There was a desire to increase the wealth of the household.
3.A large number of children was needed to work the fields or with the herds.
4.Many females died in childbirth.
5.In nomadic communities it was important for every female to be attached to a household.

God's Purpose

God's original purpose as stated in the Garden of Eden is monogamy-one man should marry one woman.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

However, once the Fall occurred the marital relationship suffered a change. The man became the dominant member with the woman in a subordinate position. This led to various forms of exploitation including polygamy.

Mosaic Law

The Book of Deuteronomy seems to legislate polygamy as a current social practice.

If a man has two wives, one loved and other unloved . . . (Deuteronomy 21:15).

Moses prescribed that a man had to treat the offspring of a disfavored wife equally with the son of a favored wife (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). This seems to demonstrate that the practice was widespread.

Against Original Purpose

Though practiced, polygamy has always been against the original purpose of marriage that God ordained in the Garden of Eden. God specifically told the kings of Israel that they were not to multiply wives:

Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away (Deuteronomy 17:17).

Biblical Examples

When the Bible records episodes of polygamy, unhappiness was always the result. For example, the stories of Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon show the problems that come with having more than one wife.

Abraham And Hagar

Abraham took Hagar as his wife after Sarah, his first wife, could not conceive children. This led to all sorts of problems for Abraham and his descendants through the promised line.


Jacob married two sisters-Leah and then Rachel. He then married Rachel's maid Bilhah followed by Leah's maid Zilpah. These relationships caused him problems.


David practiced polygamy and in doing so it caused him many problems. He even committed murder to satisfy his lust (2 Samuel 5:13-16).


Solomon married hundreds of women, some of whom caused sin to be brought into Israel. Solomon married foreign wives who brought their gods with them into Israel, in the sight of the Temple itself. The worship of these pagan gods was also introduced to the people. At Solomon's death the kingdom was divided.

God's Ideal

By the time of Malachi (500 B.C.) the ideal of marriage between one man and one woman was spoken of as God's ideal. God told them why He did not receive their offering.

Yet you say, For what reason? Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have done treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth (Malachi 2:14-16).

The Lord is saying that He purposely made only one wife for Adam. God could have made others if He wanted to, but He did not. One wife was all that Adam needed.

New Testament

In the New Testament, the teaching on marriage presupposes the couples will have a monogamous relationship. Jesus said divorced was allowed, because of the hardness of your hearts (Matthew 19:8).

The Apostle Paul gave the qualifications of a bishop, which include monogamy.

A bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2).


The Bible says God ordained marriage in the beginning where one man would be married to one woman. The taking of many wives, or polygamy, was never in His original plan. Though not directly condemned in the Old Testament, whenever we find a man marrying more than one wife the outcome is always bad. The examples of Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon show the folly of multiple marriages.

In the New Testament the words of Jesus concerning marriage and the qualifications Paul gives for a bishop shows that monogamy was the norm and polygamy was not to be practiced.

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