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A Magnificent Love Story

C. Russell Yates, Director

This article started as a discussion on Old Testament polygamy, and ended as "A Magnificent Love Story." I will let the story unfold just as it did under my pen. I hope you enjoy the reading, half as much as I enjoyed the writing.

Does the Lord ever require a polygamous relationship?

A friend reviewed Fit For Marriage Lesson 5, Culture is Lord, and took exception to my teaching on Old Testament polygamy. He was right on several points, and I have since made the necessary corrections. The following is one of his objections:

In Mark 12:19 (the New Testament's position) the Holy Spirit through Mark quotes Deuteronomy 25:5-10 where God commands that a brother of a man recently widowed should take that widow as his own wife and raise up children under his brother's name. What cannot be claimed is that this only applied to unmarried brothers. It does not say only for unmarried brothers, and virtually 100% of Jewish men in that culture were married.

Now let me respond: The command in Deuteronomy has been belittled. But it led to the kinsman-redeemer concept that Christians now applaud. Few Christians have connected the two. My friend has suggested that sometimes God required that a man enter a polygamous relationship. Through modern eyes, this appears to be burdensome and even unjust on the part of God. But God is neither … as this article will demonstrate.

In Culture is Lord, I explain that just because God tolerates certain behavior, doesn't mean He approves. I quoted the following passages:

But they lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.Psalms 106:14-15
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.1 Corinthians 10:23

The Lord never requires something He just tolerates. Finally we are not to disobey a greater command so we might keep a lesser one (see Matthew 23:23).

Let me illustrate: In Genesis 1:28 God gives a general command that we are to multiply and replenish the earth. For that reason, some people say birth control is wrong. Does God require that we take multiple wives for the sake of maximum replenishment? No, His perfect will is expressed in Genesis 2:24 where he says the two shall become one—not the three or the sixteen.

Let us now consider the passage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) given by my friend. In Jewish Old Testament culture, parents arranged the marriages of their children (see Genesis 28:1-2). The elder was married before the younger (Genesis 29:26). In those days, heritage was paramount, and they wasted no time before having children. For the newly married man, the primary danger to his life was from war. So God gave the following ordinance:

When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife … .Deuteronomy 24:5

The newly married Jewish man, free from the draft, and not charged with any business for a year, would probably get his wife pregnant during that year. Once a child had been conceived, the constraints of Deuteronomy 25:5-10 no longer applied. Seldom was it necessary for a Jewish man to marry the widow of his deceased brother. When it was necessary, the brother was usually still single. But "what if?"

If the man were to somehow die before his wife became pregnant, his younger brother would then marry his widow. But nothing said it had to be the next one in line. If the second brother had already married, the third in line could easily have taken his place.

A good example of how this works is given in Genesis 38. Judah had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. It started when Judah took a wife for Er—her name was Tamar.

And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.Genesis 38:7-8

Now wait a minute. Er was so wicked that the Lord slew him. Why should Onan marry the wife of his wicked brother, and then raise up children in the name of a wicked man? … The Lord's callings are never capricious or without purpose. As an act of obedience to the Lord, Onan should have heeded his father's words.

And it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.Genesis 38:9-10

What recourse did a widow have if her husband's brother refused to marry her? The woman could arrange a meeting with the elders of the city. In their presence, she would declare that the brother had refused, remove the shoe from his foot, and spit in his face (Deuteronomy 25:7-9). It was a disgrace not to raise up children in the name of a decreased brother.

The Kinsman-Redeemer

The book of Ruth is a love story that could be made into a movie. It starts with a family—Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their sons Mahlon and Chilion. There was a famine, and the family left Israel to sojourn in the country of Moab. Elimelech died. After that, Naomi's two sons married women of Moab, Orpah and Ruth. Then Mahlon and Chilion died.

After all that calamity, the famine lifted in Israel, and Naomi headed home. Her daughter-in-law Ruth insisted on going with her. The words that follow are often quoted at weddings:

And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.Ruth 1:16

The Jews did not take Deuteronomy 25:5-10 lightly. Both of Naomi's sons had died, and her two daughters-in-law had not yet given birth. Here's what Naomi said:

And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?Ruth 1:11

In the absence of a younger brother, how could children be raised up in the name of the deceased? A near kinsman could serve in that capacity. The lot fell to a godly man named Boaz. … Let's not rush the story.

And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz.Ruth 2:1

With Naomi's permission, Ruth went to glean corn in the field of Boaz. Her presence did not go unnoticed.

And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother-in-law since the death of thine husband. The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel … .Ruth 2:11-12

A romance followed in the corn field and at the threshing floor, and the two women quickly seized the opportunity. Following Naomi's instructions, Ruth laid herself down at the feet of the sleeping man, Boaz.

And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.Ruth 3:9

From then on Boaz took the initiative. There was a nearer kinsman. Boaz found the man and gave him the opportunity to take Ruth as his wife. The man refused, and that left Boaz as next in line. He married Ruth.

Boaz raised up children in the name of Ruth's dead husband. Boaz fathered Obed; Obed fathered Jesse; Jesse fathered David, and 28 generations later, Christ was born—a descendant of a man who had never fathered a child. The book of Ruth is an application of the ordinance given in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. It is a magnificent love story. I suggest you read all four chapters of Ruth—just for the fun of it.

And what are we to “glean” from this story? First, we have role models: Boaz was a loving husband, and Ruth was a submissive wife. Next, to raise up children in the name of the deceased, speaks of resurrection and eternal life.

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. John 11:25-26

Finally, the ultimate kinsman-redeemer is Jesus. He is our Brother, our Bridegroom, and our Savior. … These words I am writing are new to me, and it's not likely the Jews of Jesus' day understood these things. With that in mind, let me continue.

The Jews of Jesus' day did understand the process—as revealed in Mark 12:19-22. Their “what-if” question revolved around seven brothers who died, one after another. Each time a man died, the next brother in line would marry his widow. The seven brothers above were portrayed as single men who sequentially married the widow. In the examples given earlier—Er, Onan, Shelah, and Boaz were also depicted as single men. I find no example in Scripture where a married man served in the kinsman-redeemer role. But even if an example existed, it would (like every case of polygamy) be merely a testimony to the grace of God.

So I ask the question again: Does the Lord ever require a polygamous relationship? No, He tolerates polygamy, but He doesn't require it. The perfect plan of God always brings life, and that which He merely tolerates often brings misery.

Now let me make the application to our present situation. God's Word says a man should faithfully commit to one woman … just one woman. It says a woman should submit to the headship of her husband. Modern culture says that men and women are “equal” and independent. The idea of a woman submitting to her husband is repugnant. The world sees Ephesians 5:22 and related passages as burdensome and archaic.

But just the opposite is true: The commands of the Lord are never a burden—always life giving. When a man loves, his wife submits, and they have relations, the two become one. Together they reflect a complete image of God. They model the relationship between Christ and the Church. And they rear wholesome, well-adjusted children. Each time it happens they write their own … “Magnificent Love Story.”

Their family becomes a reflection to a seeking world … of the love Christ has for His church and for them.

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