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There are three studies in the Covenant Relationships collection in which we talk about marriage, divorce, remarriage, polygyny (polygamy), and celibacy. These studies are “Yahweh’s Heart in Marriage,” “Abstinence, Celibacy, and Nazirites”, and “Polygyny, Concubines, and Kingship.” Sometimes people read these studies, and they still have questions about how this pertains to them and their situation, so in this short study we want to take a look at the most likely possibilities, and form them into a flow chart of sorts.
The Abstinence / Celibate Path
Celibacy is the theoretical “highest and best” option, if we are called to it. (And if we are not called to it, then we should not attempt it, but we should absolutely remain abstinent until marriage.)
Mattityahu (Matthew) 19:10-12
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 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.”
Most people are not able to accept this path, and that is all for the good, because most people need to marry and raise up children in the way they should go, so that the next generation of Israelites will worship Yahweh.
Mishle (Proverbs) 22:6
6 Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.
Suppose a brother or sister feels called to the celibate path. This is a much harder path, but it is also a good path, in that the increased difficulty causes him or her to draw closer to Elohim. Also, since there are no family responsibilities, there is more time to do Yeshua’s work. This is the theoretical ideal, for those He calls to this path.
Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 56:3-5
3 “Do not let the son of the foreigner Who has joined himself to Yahweh speak, saying, “Yahweh has utterly separated me from His people”; Nor let the eunuch say, “Here I am, a dry tree.”
4 For thus says Yahweh: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant,
5 Even to them I will give in My house And within My walls a place and a name Better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name That shall not be cut off.”
Yet to clarify, celibacy is not ideal inside of marriage. Inside of marriage, closeness and physical intimacy is better. Therefore these are two separate paths which do not overlap.
The Marital Path
Once we begin to look at the marital pathway, things get more complicated, but first let us look at the hypothetical ideal, which is sometimes called, “one wife for life.” In this ideal scenario, one man marries one woman, and dedicates himself to loving her and their children, while she in turn dedicates herself to respecting and obeying him. If they do it well, this is where the next generation of Israel comes from, so this is also a set-apart pathway.
Ivrim (Hebrews) 13:4
4 Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers Elohim will judge.
Further, we know that the ideal in marriage is that of “one wife for life”, because what is called the Law of First Mention. This tells us that the first time we something in Scripture, this sets the standard against which all later instances are judged.
B’reisheet (Genesis) 2:24
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
The first instance shows us very clearly that the ideal in marriage is that of one man and one woman, together for life. This is also why it is the standard for both elders and deacons (i.e., congregational leaders).
TimaTheus Aleph (1 Timothy) 3:2
2 A bishop [elder] then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach…
TimaTheus Aleph (1 Timothy) 3:12
12 Let deacons [shammeshim] be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
At the congregational level, what most people need is help getting their families in order. And that is why the congregational elders and deacons (in general) need to be able to give the people an example of how to do it.
[There can also hypothetically be congregational leaders who are either abstinent or even celibate, but the normative rule is that the congregational leaders are selected at least in part based on their ability to lead the people toward the theoretical ideal. And if they do not set this example, then it leads to a situation in which the leadership tells the people to something other than what they do, which is hypocrisy.]
While lifetime monogamy is the ideal, there are other examples in Scripture. However, we will see that the farther and farther we get from the theoretical ideal, the messier things become.
Although the modern world rejects it, one of the rules of Scripture is that men and women have different biology, and therefore Yahweh established different rules for men, and for women. A prime example is Avram (later Avraham), who had not only his wife Sarai (later Sarah), but also a concubine named Hagar. Sarai brought Hagar to Avram, so he could bear children.
B’reisheet (Genesis) 16:1-4
1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar.
2 So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.
3 Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram 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.
However, let us note well that although it was lawful for Avraham to take a concubine in addition to his wife, it caused both him and all subsequent generations of Israel untold pain, grief, and heartache. And as we show in Revelation and the End Times, this grief and pain will last at least through Armageddon, if not until the end of earth’s history.
A concubine is essentially a sex slave. That is not what Elohim wants. Rather, what Elohim wants is lifetime, dedicated monogamy—and the farther we get from that, the more problems we cause for ourselves and our children. (This is not to say that there cannot be a good end to it, it is only to say that it deviates from Yahweh’s will.)
Under no circumstances should anyone who seeks to inflict concubinage on anyone lead a congregation, as to seek a concubine is to focus on the flesh, rather than on the spirit of love.
Notice also that while Jacob (Israel) had two wives and two concubines, he was not an ecclesiastical leader.
The only situation in which someone with more than one wife, or with a concubine should lead a congregation would be in the case of a convert from another faith, and he already has multiple wives. If a man realizes his mistake, and dedicates himself to teaching what the Scriptures teach on this subject, then he can perhaps be trusted to lead people in Elohim’s pathway. But unless he idealizes the same things the Scriptures teach, then he is not to be allowed to lead or teach people, because he will want to teach them the wrong things.
Adultery, Divorce and Remarriage
Yeshua tells us that the ideal is that of one wife for life, and that man should not alter this for any reason.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 19:4-6
4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’
5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what Elohim has joined together, let not man separate.”
However, because we live in a fallen world, sometimes one partner does adulterate against another. When we live in the land of Israel, and the Torah is our constitution, the legal punishment is that adulterers should be put to death.
Vayiqra (Leviticus) 20:10
10 “The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.”
However, as we explain in “Yahweh’s Heart in Marriage” (in the Covenant Relationships collection), the highest and best response is to show mercy and forgiveness, because mercy triumphs over judgment.
Yaakov (James) 2:13
13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Mercy and love are why Yahweh pursues his wayward wife Ephraim (Jeremiah 3). It is also why Yahweh told Hoshea (Hosea) to pursue his wayward wife Gomer. Yet still we must to put active sin outside the camp.
When we are restored to the land of Israel, the law for adultery will again be set at capital punishment. Yet in the dispersion we are under the Melchizedekian order, and we do not normally have capital authority. Because of this, the best we can do is to shun those who are actively sinning, and to put them outside the assembly.
Qorintim Aleph (1 Corinthians) 5:1-6
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 Yahweh-Yeshua Messiah, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of Yahweh-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 Yahweh-Yeshua.
6 Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
We must put sin outside the camp, both to encourage the sinner to repent unto life, and also to maintain the purity of the camp (so that no one will mistakenly believe that the standards are lower than they are). Yet it is equally important that once the sinner repents of his sin, we bring him back inside the camp, and confirm our love for him, lest Satan succeed in destroying an Israelite who could have been salvaged.
Qorintim Bet (2 Corinthians) 2:5-11
5 But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent — not to be too severe.
6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man,
7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.
8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.
9 For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.
10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Messiah,
11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.
That is why, even though we shun sinners, we let them know that it is not them that we hate. Rather, we love them—it is only that the sin is anathema to us, so we must distance ourselves from it. Or as it is said, “We hate the sin, but we still love the sinner.”
Choices After Divorce
We live in a fallen world, and there are many different things that can go wrong in our walks, but one question that affects many people is what we should do if there is a divorce and remarriage (or multiple divorces and remarriages). Let us talk about some basics.
The Apostle Shaul was a highly respected rabbi before his conversion to Nazarene Israel (and may even have been on track to become the high priest). As such, he undoubtedly had a wife and children. Yet the Pharisaic (Orthodox) doctrine is that when someone converts to Nazarene Israel (or any variation of the faith in Yeshua), they consider him to be “dead”. Shaul could easily have married within the faith, and this would have qualified him to become a congregational elder. However, since his calling was that of an apostle he chose not to marry, so as to spend more time working for Elohim.
To get into hypothetical examples, had Yahweh called Shaul to be a congregational elder, he could have taken one wife within the faith, but not two wives, because two wives is not the original ideal.
Such a hypothetical Shaul also could not have taken a concubine, because Scripture idealizes marriage, rather than sex slavery. (We should also add that those who want to take a concubine do not know what spirit they are of).
If a man converts from a faith where he already has more than one wife, he may serve as a congregational elder or deacon, provided he explains that what he did was not the Scriptural ideal (and not to do that). He also needs to love and commit himself to all of the women he has married, unless they have remarried (in which case he should distance himself from the ex-wife, while trying to support the children as much as possible).
It often happens that Christians and other converts have past divorces and remarriages, and Yahweh calls some of them to leadership roles. They may serve as leaders if they confess the sins they committed in ignorance. Yahweh forgives sins that were committed in ignorance, so long as we confess our past sins, and are faithful from then on.
Ma’asei (Acts) 17:30
30 Truly, these times of ignorance Elohim overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent…
Of course such past sins are a blemish on any one of us, just as Shaul’s past sins in murdering others in the Nazarene Israelite faith were a blemish on him. Yet his past blemishes did not stop him from being called to a leadership capacity. Rather, the main thing was that he confessed his past sins, and did his best from then on, to set the best example he could.
Yochanan Aleph (1 John) 1:9
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Once we have confessed our sins, Yahweh is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And once we are cleansed, then we may serve in leadership, so long as we remain clean.
[For more details, see “Yahweh’s Heart in Marriage” in the Covenant Relationships collection.]