Chapter 7:

Polygyny, Concubines, and Kingship

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The three main offices within Israel are

  1. The king (i.e., government)
  2. The priest (i.e., spiritual leadership)
  3. The prophet (who is also often a Nazirite)

On top of this there is a fourth and special role: that of the judge. The judge is a special type of a king (i.e., a government leader) whose children do not inherit after him. He is also a prophet. One example of this was Moshe (Moses). Moshe led the nation, prophesied, and also served as Israel’s high priest before the Levitical order was established. In contrast, David was a prophet, and inquired of Yahweh with the ephod (which is a Levitical role), yet his children did inherit the kingship after him. Because the different offices have different standards of behavior, when those who hold multiple offices at the same time marry, there can be issues.

In ancient times it was considered perfectly acceptable for a king or a wealthy man to have more than one wife. Let us consider the example of Elkanah.

Shemuel Aleph (1st Samuel) 1:2
2 And he had two wives: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

Another example is King David, however, in addition to multiple wives, he also had multiple concubines.

Shemuel Bet (2nd Samuel) 5:13
13 And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he had come from Hebron. Also more sons and daughters were born to David.

We know David had at least ten concubines, because he left them behind to keep his house when Absalom drove him out of Jerusalem.

Shemuel Bet (2nd Samuel) 15:16
16 Then the king went out with all his household after him. But the king left ten women, concubines, to keep the house.

In Nazarene Israel, we explain how living beings reproduce after their own kinds.

B’reisheet (Genesis) 1:25
25 And Elohim made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And Elohim saw that it was good.

This pattern of reproducing after one’s own kind goes much deeper than just physical traits; it also speaks of personality and preferences. That is, our genetics also influence our inclinations and our desires, and the fact that Solomon was King David’s son can help us understand why King Solomon took an even larger number of wives and concubines than his father David did. In fact, Solomon took too many.

In Deuteronomy 17, Yahweh told us that Israel would surely have a king (i.e., government), but Yahweh also told Israel’s future kings not to “multiply wives” for themselves, lest their hearts be turned to idols.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 17:14-17
14 “When you come to the land which Yahweh your Elohim is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’
15 you shall surely set a king over you whom Yahweh your Elohim chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.
16 But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for Yahweh has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’
17 Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself.”

Because his heart was to serve his brethren, Yahweh ordained that Solomon would be the wisest king ever.

Divre HaYamim Bet (2 Chron) 1:11-12
11 Then Elohim said to Solomon: “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked riches or wealth or honor or the life of your enemies, nor have you asked long life — but have asked wisdom and knowledge for yourself, that you may judge My people over whom I have made you king —
12 wisdom and knowledge are granted to you; and I will give you riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings have had who were before you, nor shall any after you have the like.”

However, many commentators note that even though Solomon was the wisest king of all time, he failed to heed Yahweh’s warning against multiplying wives, which later resulted in the breakup of the kingdom.

Melachim Aleph (1st Kings) 11:1-4
1 But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites —
2 from the nations of whom Yahweh had said to the children of Israel, “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their elohim.” Solomon clung to these in love.
3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.
4 For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other elohim; and his heart was not loyal to Yahweh his Elohim, as was the heart of his father David.

But does Solomon’s error of following after the false elohim of his wives say anything about King David? David also had multiple wives, as well as multiple concubines, yet Scripture tells us that King David was a man after Yahweh’s own heart.

Shemuel Aleph (1st Samuel) 13:14
14 But now your (Shaul’s) kingdom shall not continue. (Instead) Yahweh has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and Yahweh has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what Yahweh commanded you.”

Further, speaking allegorically, in the parable of the ten virgins, Yeshua tells us that the Bridegroom (which is a prophetic shadow picture of Him at His second coming) will take five allegorical “wives.”

Mattityahu (Matthew) 25:1
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the Bridegroom.”

In Ezekiel, Yahweh also refers to the two houses as two sisters that He took for Himself. The older sister he calls “Oholah” (symbolic of Ephraim), and the younger sister He calls “Oholibah” (symbolic of Judah). Yahweh tells us these were two “daughters of one mother.”

Yehezqel (Ezekiel) 23:1-4
1 The word of Yahweh came again to me, saying:
2 “Son of man, there were two women,
the daughters of one mother.
3 They committed harlotry in Egypt, they committed harlotry in their youth; their breasts were there embraced, their virgin bosom was there pressed.
4 Their names: Oholah the elder and Oholibah her sister; they were Mine, and they bore sons and daughters. As for their names, Samaria is Oholah, and Jerusalem is Oholibah.

However, what is really confusing is how Yahweh tells us not to take two sisters together in marriage.

Vayiqra (Leviticus) 18:17-18
17 “You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, nor shall you take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness. They are near of kin to her. It is wickedness.
18 Nor shall you take a woman as a rival to her sister, to uncover her nakedness while the other is alive.”

The reason Yahweh did not break Torah by taking Ephraim and Judah is that this is all allegory. What we need to understand is the importance of the different roles. The King of Kings (Yeshua) will take five allegorical brides at His second coming, although He was celibate at His first coming (and during His ministry) He encouraged all those who could “accept it” to be celibate as well.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 19:8-12
8 He said to them, “Moshe, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for adultery, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
10 His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given:
12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs (i.e., castrated) by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs (i.e., celibate) for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”

Then Shaul (who was also a prophet) tells us that the ideal is to be celibate, if we are called to be so.

Qorintim Aleph (1st Corinthians) 7:1-9
1 Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
2 Nevertheless, because of (the need to avoid) sexual immorality, let each man (who is not called to celibacy) have his own wife, and let each woman (who is not called to celibacy) have her own husband.
3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.
4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
6 But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment.
7 For I wish that all men were even as I myself (i.e., celibate). But each one has his own gift from Elohim, one in this manner and another in that.
8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am (i.e., celibate);
9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn.

First we have men such as Elkanah and Kings David and Solomon taking more than one wife, then we have the kings Yeshua and Yahweh allegorically taking more than one wife. Yet as prophets, both Yeshua and Shaul (Paul) practiced and preached celibacy.

Most people do not feel called to be celibate; and as we showed in “Abstinence, Celibacy, and Nazirites,” while an abstinent person is promised a better reward, the important thing is not abstinence, but filling the call Yahweh places on our lives. If we try to be celibate when Yahweh wants us to marry, it is wrong, and vice versa. The main thing is to do Yahweh’s will for us.

As we show in other places, Yahweh’s will is that we hear and obey His voice.

Shemote (Exodus) 19:5
5 “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.”

Being realistic, if we were to tell people that all they need to do is hear and obey Yahweh’s voice, things could get messy fast. Yahweh does continually try to communicate with us, but demons also vie for our attention, and we also have our own thoughts. It is very easy to mistake our thoughts (or the demons’ voices) for Yahweh’s voice, especially when we want something. This may be one reason why Yahweh gives us laws in the Torah, to serve as a “tutor” of sorts. When we are inside of the Torah’s legal guideposts, we are probably inside His will.

Galatim (Galatians) 3:21-25
21 Is the Torah then against the promises of Elohim? Certainly not! For if there had been a Torah given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the Torah.
22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Yeshua Messiah might be given to those who believe.
23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the Torah, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed.
24 Therefore the Torah was our tutor to bring us to Messiah, that we might be justified by faith.
25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

The legal guideposts of this “tutor” are a practical necessity, for a great many who claim to be led by Yahweh’s Spirit do a great many things that are contrary to Yahweh’s instructions. First Corinthians 5 cites one example.

Qorintim Aleph (1st Corinthians) 5:1-5
1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles — that a man has his father’s wife!
2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.
3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.
4 In the name of our Adon Yeshua Messiah, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Adon Yeshua Messiah,
5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Adon Yeshua.

So what are this “tutor’s” guideposts with regards to marriage? How many wives does the Torah say a man can have? And does it depend on his office?

The Torah is written on more than one level. The Torah (literally “instructions”) establishes ideal codes of conduct that all of His people should ideally follow, in an ideal world.

For example, in the beginning Yahweh originally ordained marriage as a union between one man and just one woman.

B’reisheet (Genesis) 2:21-24
21 And Yahweh Elohim caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place.
22 Then the rib which Yahweh Elohim had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
23 And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Most people desire to marry in ratios of one-to-one, and this makes perfect sense. The birth ratio of males to females is about one-to-one; had Yahweh wanted the average man to take more than one wife, He would have had to make the birth ratio of women to men much higher. Additionally, we might note that when verse 24 tells us a man shall cleave to his wife, it uses the singular (cling to his wife), rather than the plural (cling to his wives). This gives us some insight as to what pattern Yahweh originally established.

However, some wealthy men in ancient Israel took more than one wife; and sometimes the wife even initiated it. For example, when Sarai (Sarah) had not born children to Avraham ten years after the promise, she brought her maidservant Hagar to Avraham as a concubine, to bear children for her.

B’reisheet (Genesis) 16:1-5
1 Now Sarai, Avram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar.
2 So Sarai said to Avram, “See now, Yahweh has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Avram heeded the voice of Sarai.
3 Then Sarai, Avram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Avram to be his wife, after Avram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.
4 So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.
5 Then Sarai said to Avram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. Yahweh judge between you and me!”

Although this union did not really turn out well, Yahweh never condemned Sarai for this act.

However, while it may be lawful according to Torah for a man to take a concubine if his wife brings him one, there are also downsides to be aware of. Just the presence of another woman in the household can cause extreme strife and jealousy; and as the head and priest of the household, the man may get blamed, even if all he did was passively accept his wife’s offer.

Israel also had two concubines, whom his two wives Leah and Rachel brought him, to bear children for them when they were not fertile. And, as with Avraham, this led to extreme strife and unease in his household.

B’reisheet (Genesis) 30:1-8
1 Now when Rachel saw that she bore Ya’akov no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Ya’akov, “Give me children, or else I die!”
2 And Ya’akov’s anger was aroused against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of Elohim, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”
3 So she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her.”
4 Then she gave him Bilhah her maid as wife, and Ya’akov went in to her.
5 And Bilhah conceived and bore Ya’akov a son.
6 Then Rachel said, “Elohim has judged my case; and He has also heard my voice and given me a son.” Therefore she called his name Dan.
7 And Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Ya’akov a second son.
8 Then Rachel said, “With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali.

It is entirely normal for a woman to want her husband’s undivided attention. While a man might enjoy the idea of having multiple women compete for his attention, it does not usually lead to a happy, shalom filled home. Further, it begs the question of how loving an attitude a man really has when he wants his wives to compete over him. It seems to reflect an attitude of “being served” on his part, rather than serving and loving his wife.

However, it does happen that women sometimes gladly become second wives. The case of King David gives us one clear illustration of this. After King Shaul forced David into hiding, King Shaul took his daughter Michal back from David, and gave her to Palti ben Laish. While David was still in hiding, a rich herdsman named Nabal roundly insulted David, and David set out to kill him. However, Nabal’s wife Abigail intervened, talking David out of avenging himself. Shortly after that, when Yahweh took Nabal’s life, David sent to take Abigail as his second wife.

Shemuel Aleph (1st Samuel) 25:39-44
39 So when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be Yahweh, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and has kept His servant from evil! For Yahweh has returned the wickedness of Nabal on his own head.” And David sent and proposed to Abigail, to take her as his wife.
40 When the servants of David had come to Abigail at Carmel, they spoke to her saying, “David sent us to you, to ask you to become his wife.”
41 Then she arose, bowed her face to the earth, and said, “Here is your maidservant, a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my adon.”
42 So Abigail rose in haste and rode on a donkey, attended by five of her maidens; and she followed the messengers of David, and became his wife.
43 David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and so both of them were his wives.
44 But Shaul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was from Gallim.

Although Scripture does not tell us the circumstances, verse 43 tells us that in addition to Abigail, David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel. And, as we saw before, David also took more wives and concubines.

Shemuel Bet (2nd Samuel) 5:13
13 And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he had come from Hebron. Also more sons and daughters were born to David.

Scripture tells us that King David was a righteous man after Yahweh’s own heart; and as much as some might not like it, Scripture does not speak negatively of King David’s decision to maintain a harem. However, what Scripture does speak negatively of is King David’s murder of Uriah the Hittite, so as to steal his wife.

Shemuel Bet (2nd Samuel) 11:2-5
2 Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.
3 So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bat Sheva (Bathsheba), the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”
4 Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house.
5 And the woman conceived; so she sent and told David, and said, “I am with child.”

First David sought to get Uriah to lay with Bat Sheva (Bathsheba), in order to cover up his adultery. Then when Uriah would not, David conspired to have him killed.

Shemuel Bet (2nd Samuel) 11:14-17
14 In the morning it happened that David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
15 And he wrote in the letter, saying, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck down and die.”
16 So it was, while Joab besieged the city, that he assigned Uriah to a place where he knew there were valiant men.
17 Then the men of the city came out and fought with Joab. And some of the people of the servants of David fell; and Uriah the Hittite died also.

After Uriah was dead, David took Bat Sheva to himself.

Shemuel Bet (2nd Samuel) 11:26-27
26 When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband.
27 And when her mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased Yahweh.

David’s motivation in sleeping with Bat Sheva was lust. However, David’s motivation in marrying Bat Sheva and also Abigail may have been to provide for them, since their husbands were dead. In Tanach (“Old” Testament) times there were no secular social programs. Only the third tithe existed to support those whose families did not care for them when they grew old.

It is also important to realize that men typically die younger than women. The major factor then was typically war, but also disease and exposure to the elements. This created a relative surplus of women in society. Someone had to provide for them, lest they starve. If a woman was still young enough to bear children or work, a man might find it desirable to take her as a second wife; otherwise she often had no other recourse than to draw third tithe money.

TimaTheus Aleph (1st Timothy) 5:3-16
3 Honor widows who are really widows.
4 But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before Elohim.
5 Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in Elohim and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.
6 But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.
7 And these things command, that they may be blameless.
8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
9 Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man,
10 well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work.
11 But refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Messiah they desire to marry,
12 having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith.
13 And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.
14 Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully.
15 For some have already turned aside after Satan.
16 If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the assembly be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.

Yahweh does not tell us to implement secular programs such as Social Security; He only instructs us about the third tithe. Given that men will probably continue to die younger than women, and given that there will likely be families who fail to provide for their parents, in the millennial kingdom there will likely continue to be women who would be much better off as a second wife, than as a widow on third tithe support. Additionally, in Middle Eastern culture a woman is generally thought to need a man to protect her from bandits, marauders, and abuse by other men. Since Abigail was rich, wise, and beautiful, David offered to take her into his house; he also offered to marry Bat Sheva, since he had murdered her husband, and since she was carrying his child. In both of these cases, with their husbands being dead, it may have seemed obvious that these women would never become anyone else’s first wife; therefore, rather than remain widows, they gladly took the offer of marriage, and became “second wives” to the king of Israel.

However, while it is possible that all of the women David took as wives and concubines were previously widowed (and in need of support), this was not likely the case. David was a relatively powerful and rich king, and it seems more than likely that many of the wives and concubines he took were virgins, who entered into marriage with King David for reasons the Scriptures do not record. David may even have taken some of them for the purposes of strategic alliance, whether to strengthen his political position within Israel or to solidify relationships with other nations. All these were part of the reality of the kingship at that time.

Polygamy is taking more than one spouse (male or female), while polygyny is taking more than one wife. When we live in the land of Israel and the government does not forbid it, polygyny is lawful. However, while it may be lawful, the bigger question is whether or not it profits such that we should practice it ourselves.

Qorintim Aleph (1st Corinthians) 6:12
12 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

Polygyny is only acceptable if all parties agree to it before it takes place, whether that agreement is explicit (and direct) or just simply understood because of the culture. In the examples we saw above with Sarai, Leah, and Rachel, it was the wives who brought the concubines to their husbands, to bear children when they could not. Thus, because the wives initiated the polygyny, they agreed to it de facto; for that reason it was lawful.

In contrast, King David never asked his first wife Michal for permission to take either Abigail or Ahinoam. He could not have done so, since they were not in contact at that time. However, it is also unlikely that David needed to ask Michal for permission to take other wives, since in Middle Eastern culture it was generally understood that a man who could afford multiple wives was free to take them. Nonetheless, had Michal entered into marriage with the understanding that she would be David’s only wife, he would have needed her prior consent. This is because marriage is a covenant agreement, and parties to a covenant are not free to alter the terms of the covenant after it has been established, unless all parties want the change.

If a woman enters into a marriage with the impression that their relationship will be monogamous, then the husband is not free to take other wives without her prior permission. Should the husband take a new wife (or concubine) anyway, then he has violated the terms of the covenant, which makes him an adulterer. According to the principles of Torah, both he and his new wife are liable to be stoned to death.

While many women are against polygyny, some see an advantage in it. In the cases of Sarai, Leah, and Rachel (above), it may have seemed better to them to bring concubines to their husbands than to see them sorrowful at not having an heir. Sometimes women no longer desire sex with their husbands, so they find the introduction of a second wife a relief. Still others feel it would be better to be a “second wife” to a rich and powerful man (such as a king or a corporate head) than to have exclusive access to a less powerful (or less wealthy) man. Other women cite yet more reasons.

Whatever reasons women might have for desiring to be part of a polygynous marriage, there is one time when the Torah requires a man to take on a wife, regardless of whether or not he already has one, or even wants one. This is when brothers dwell together, and one of the brothers dies without a son to carry on his name. When this happens, Yahweh expects the surviving brother to marry the deceased man’s wife, and raise up a son to carry on his name. The surviving brother can decline to do this, but then he has to go through a ceremony whereby he is publicly humiliated for refusing to perform his duty to Yahweh, to family, and to society.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 25:5-10
5 “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.
6 And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.
7 But if the man does not want to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate to the elders, and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to raise up a name to his brother in Israel; he will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother.’
8 Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him. But if he stands firm and says, ‘I do not want to take her,’
9 then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the presence of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s house.’
10 And his name shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal removed.’

In the West this is called levirate marriage, from the Latin word levir, meaning “brother-in-law.” In Hebrew it is called yibbum (“yee-boom”), which is taken from the Hebrew word for brother-in-law, yee-bamah (יבמה). In addition to raising up a son to carry on the dead brother’s name, yibbum also serves to provide for the dead brother’s spouse. Since there are no secular programs such as Welfare in Yahweh’s world, this keeps her from having to draw the third tithe, or becoming a second wife to some unknown person outside the immediate family (who may or may not treat her well). Since yibbum is commanded in the Torah, it overrides any monogamy agreement a couple might or might not have.

The principle is that not only does Yahweh want us to have strong families, but that He wants us to take care of our spiritual family as well. This may be the main reason He gives no provision for social programs outside of the family unit (except for the third tithe, which is intended solely as a safety net for those whose families refuse to take care of them).

Yet whatever reasons a woman might have for wanting to enter into a multiple wife situation, concubinage is something else. Concubinage is essentially a type of slavery. While concubinage and slavery might both seem barbaric today, if we will study this matter out prayerfully, we may realize why Yahweh speaks of them.

Let us realize that Yahweh essentially has two sets of standards with regards to slavery. While He forbids us to take other Hebrew believers into hard slavery (per se), He does permit us to take slaves of other nations, particularly if it will help convert both them and their children to the faith in the long run.

Vayiqra (Leviticus) 25:42-46
42 For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves.
43 You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your Elohim.
44 And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have — from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves.
45 Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property.
46 And you may take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a possession; they shall be your permanent slaves. But regarding your brethren, the children of Israel, you shall not rule over one another with rigor.

When the children of Israel settled the land of Canaan, they were not able to drive all of the other nations out, so they settled in and amongst them. The children of Israel later became stronger, and put the Canaanites to forced labor.

Yehoshua (Joshua) 17:12-13
12 Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities, but the Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land.
13 And it happened, when the children of Israel grew strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out.

In addition to putting the Canaanites to forced labor, the children of Israel also forced the Canaanites to pay tribute.

Shophetim (Judges) 1:33
33 Nor did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh or the inhabitants of Beth Anath; but they dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath were put under tribute to them.

One thing we need to remember is that in Hebraic thought, our nationality is not determined by our ethnic heritage, but by our faith. This is why those who adopt the faith of Avraham are referred to as “children of Avraham,” because in Scripture one’s nationality is determined by one’s religious practice.

Romim (Romans) 9:6-9
6 But it is not that the word of Elohim has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,
7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.”
8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of Elohim; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.
9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”

As we explain in Nazarene Israel, this often overlooked difference is also why the Renewed Covenant (“New” Testament) refers to those who were genetically Jewish, but who did not cling to the Hebrew ways, as “Greeks.” It is not that their genetics were Greek, or that they descended from the Greeks in any way. Rather, it was that their worship practices and thought patterns were influenced by Greek culture.

Ma’asei (Acts) 6:1
1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists (KJV: Grecians), because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.

In Nazarene Israel we explain that “Hellenists” and “Greeks” appear all through the Good News and in Acts chapter 6, yet the first true non-Jew to be brought to the faith was Cornelius, in Acts chapter 10.

Ma’asei (Acts) 10:1-2
1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment,
2 a devout man and one who feared Elohim with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to Elohim always.

While it may offend Christian sensibilities, the truth is that Yahweh is an imperialist, and He expects us to expand and further His kingdom by all available means. We are to treat all those who hold to the same religion as brothers, since Israel is a family; yet those who do not hold to the same belief are essentially considered as fodder, at least until the moment they convert.

A concubine can be a righteous wife taken from a non-Hebrew people who are subjugated to the Hebrews, whether by hard bondage or by tribute. While she may not have the same legal rights in a Hebraic court of law as an Israelite wife, her husband is nonetheless expected to treat her with dignity (like a wife).

In Hebrew and in Aramaic the word for concubine is pilgesh (פִּילֶגֶשׁ), coming from the four letter root of פלגש. Four letter roots are rare both in Hebrew and in Aramaic, and no one is really sure of the origins of this word; however, it is phonetically similar to the Aramaic word palges (פלגס), which refers to a young adult who is not yet mature. Others have hypothesized that it is a contraction of פלג אשה, meaning “half a wife,” or “a partial wife.” This is an apt description of a concubine’s legal status, which is less than that of a full wife. For example, while the penalty for lying with another man’s wife is death, the penalty for sleeping with a concubine who was betrothed to another man is only a scourging, because she is “not free.”

Vayiqra (Leviticus) 19:20
20 “‘Whoever lies carnally with a woman who is betrothed to a man as a concubine, and who has not at all been redeemed nor given her freedom, for this there shall be scourging; but they shall not be put to death, because she was not free.’”

Nonetheless, when a man takes a slave as a wife, he is commanded to love her as he loves himself.

Shemote (Exodus) 21:7-11
7 “And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave (i.e., concubine), she shall not go out as the male slaves do.
8 If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her.
9 And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters.
10 If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights.
11 And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without (paying) money.”

Marital relationships are first and foremost about love, and love is to transform all other relationships. Even if a man purchases a concubine with money, she is not to work in the fields as the male slaves do. Rather, while she is certainly to be productive, she is also to be a wife. Her husband is to care for her and love her all of her days. If he treats her as a slave, Yahweh considers that he has “dealt deceitfully” with her in marriage. She is liable to go free, while her father is liable to keep all her bride price. In other words, if he does not truly care for her, and love her, Yahweh says her concubinage is to be annulled without any penalty to her or her family, because marriage is supposed to be about love.

Perhaps one of the reasons concubinage is considered with such revulsion in American Christian society is that historically the Christians did it wrong. For example, it was common for American Christian slave holders in the South to have marital relations with their female slaves, yet the children of their union were raised as slaves, and both mother and child worked the fields. This was in direct violation of Exodus 21:7 (above), and it showed nothing of the spirit of love that is to define all marital relationships. Further, once these American slaves converted to Christianity, their indenture should have technically been terminated in the year of Jubilee, which calls for the release of all Hebrews.

It may be that Yahweh’s true purpose in allowing Israel to take concubines is to help those who are taken as slaves out of the other nations convert to the true faith. However, even if that is so, we should also point out that Yahweh is not really in favor of slavery, or the establishment of any yoke other than His. In many places Yahweh speaks against slavery of all forms.

Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 58:6
6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?”

Yet the fact remains that Kings David and Solomon both took concubines, and they were not necessarily taken as slaves from other nations. Sometimes it could happen that a concubine was simply someone from within Israel with a much lower social status, taken as a wife. The purpose of taking her as a “slave” instead of as a full wife was simply that she came from a much lower background, and could not bring as much financial gain to the relationship as a “normal” wife.

As we saw earlier, the four main offices in Israel are

  1. The king (i.e., government)
  2. The priest (i.e., spiritual leadership)
  3. The prophet (often a Nazirite), and some say
  4. The judge (both prophet and king)

When we look at the king, priest, prophet, and judge, we can see that they are called to play different roles. The rules that apply to one office do not necessarily apply to the others.

For example, it is lawful for those in the kingship to take more than one wife (unless their marital vows specified otherwise), and kings often took more than one wife.

Shemuel Bet (2nd Samuel) 5:13
13 And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he had come from Hebron. Also more sons and daughters were born to David.

In contrast, the Levites were typically monogamous, and the high priest would be disqualified from office if he had not taken a virgin for a wife.

Vayiqra (Leviticus) 21:14
14 “A widow or a divorced woman or a defiled woman or a harlot — these he shall not marry; but he shall take a virgin of his own people as wife.”

Whereas those in the kingship might take other wives, the purpose and function of the priesthood is to teach Yahweh’s ideals to His people. Perhaps this is why the apostle Shaul tells us that those in the priesthood roles of congregational elder and servant are to take exactly one wife, in accordance with the Edenic ideal.

TimaTheus Aleph (1st Timothy) 3:1-13
1 This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of an elder (‘bishop’), he desires a good work.
2 An elder (‘bishop’) then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;
3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;
4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence
5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the assembly of Elohim?);
6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
8 Likewise servants (‘deacons’) must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, 9 holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience.
10 But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as servants, being found blameless.
11 Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.
12 Let servants (‘deacons’) be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
13 For those who have served well as servants obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Messiah Yeshua.

In Aramaic the word for “of one” is d’khada (דחדא). This indicates a singular (just one wife). This word is phonetically related to the Hebrew word for one, which is echad (אחד). While one can argue that this word means “unity” (as in “a unity of wives,” in context it does not work.

In Greek the phrase for “the husband of one wife” is mias gunaikos andra. Again this indicates a singular usage. Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek word as meaning “one” or “first.”

NT:3391 mia (mee’-ah); irregular feminine of NT:1520; one or first:

Looking up the reference to NT:1520, we find it also means “one.”

NT:1520 heis (hice); (including the neuter [etc.] hen); a primary numeral; one:

What Shaul means, then, is that an elder or a servant in the assembly must be the husband of exactly one wife. Therefore, while polygynists are not restricted from the kingship (government), and while celibates (such as Nazirites) may serve in prophetic, teaching, judgment, or apostolic roles (as did Shaul), what the vast majority of people need in the assemblies is shepherding from someone who has set a good example by successfully implemented the Edenic ideal of a one man and one woman union. For this reason, local assembly leadership roles should be filled by monogamous husbands who have successfully led their families in the way of Yahweh and His Torah.

Sometimes women feel threatened by the presence of polygynists in the congregation, however, this is unnecessary. Just because there may be polygynists in the assembly does not mean that the Edenic ideal has changed from loving, dedicated, monogamous marital unions; nor does it mean that all husbands will seek additional wives. However, if there are people like King David, King Solomon, and Elkanah in Scripture then there should be a place for them today, just as there should also be a place for celibates, due to the historical record of Yeshua, Shaul, and Yochanan HaMatbil (John the Immerser).

Seeing as Yahweh and Yeshua speak allegorically (in prophecy and in parable) of taking more than one wife when they are in their kingship roles, we cannot in all good conscience condemn the likes of Avraham or King David for taking multiple wives and concubines. How can we condemn the practices of the patriarchs, when they were so much greater than we are? As long as polygynists do not try to lead our assemblies (but stick to business and government), they should feel welcome amongst us, that is, if they are not disobeying the laws of the lands in which they live.

At the time of this writing, Ephraim is in the dispersion. As we explain in “Obedience to Government v2.0” (in Nazarene Scripture Studies, Volume 1) Kepha (Peter) tells us to submit ourselves to every ordinance of man for Yahweh’s sake, and to honor and obey the sovereign (i.e., our government leaders).

Kepha Aleph (1st Peter) 2:13-17
13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for Yahweh’s sake, whether to the king as supreme,
14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.
15 For this is the will of Elohim, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men —
16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of Elohim.
17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear Elohim. Honor the king.

In verse 15, Kepha tells us that to obey the government is to do good, and that by obeying the government, we put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.

Shaul also tells us, in the plainest of terms, to submit to our governments, as the governments over us have been appointed by Elohim.

Romim (Romans) 13:1-7
1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from Elohim, and the authorities that exist are appointed by Elohim.
2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of Elohim, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.
4 For he is Elohim’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is Elohim’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.
6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are Elohim’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.
7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Then in 1 Timothy 2, Shaul tells us to pray for those whom Yahweh has placed in authority over us. If something is wrong with our government, we are simply to pray that Yahweh would heal our nation.

TimaTheus Aleph (1st Timothy) 2:1-4
1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men,
2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all righteousness and reverence.
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of Elohim our Savior,
4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Sometimes believers try to get around the need to submit to government (especially in the areas of taxes, drug use, and anti-polygamy laws) by pointing out that the apostles did not agree to stop witnessing their faith when the Sanhedrin told them to do so.

Ma’asei (Acts) 4:19-20
19 But Kepha (Peter) and Yochanan (John) answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of Elohim to listen to you more than to Elohim, you judge.
20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

The difference here is that the basis of Yochanan and Kepha’s protest was not that they were being denied the opportunity to take multiple wives, but that they were being denied the opportunity to witness their faith (which we are commanded to do). We never read about anyone in the Renewed Covenant taking multiple wives, nor is it commanded. It is not that polygyny never took place in Renewed Covenant times, but Yeshua and Shaul both promote either celibacy or the Edenic ideal of lifelong, loving monogamy (depending on how Yahweh leads us).

Yet, what if Yahweh should lead a brother (and particularly a business or government head) to take a second wife? Or what if Yahweh should lead a sister to want to become one? Those who practice polygyny must still make a lifelong commitment, and make a vow before Elohim to ensure that all of their children are provided for within the context of a loving, believing family that is dedicated to serving Him.

The world gives its approval to extramarital sex, live-in girlfriends, serial marriages, and raising children out of wedlock. None of these are lawful, for none of these teach children to worship Elohim. As much as we may not like to admit it, when it is done right, according to Yahweh’s Torah, polygyny does teach children to worship Elohim. Even concubinage, when it is done right, helps to build Yahweh’s kingdom.

While polygyny may not be the Edenic ideal, may not be acceptable practice for spiritual leaders, and would not be practiced by a prophet or Nazirite, who among us is qualified to judge his brother or sister for doing as our forefathers have done before us, so long as they raise their children to worship Elohim, and do not transgress the laws of the lands in which they live? And how can we judge anyone else for doing what Yahweh says is lawful for them to do?

Romim (Romans) 14:4
4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for Elohim is able to make him stand.

How can we know what Yahweh has laid on anyone else’s heart? Let us leave judgment in the hands of our good heavenly Father, who knows just what trials and lessons each of us needs to learn in order to serve and please Him.

In Yeshua’s name, amein.

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