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Polygamy and slavery
|Created by Gerard de Vos|
Category: Christ related
One of the standard accusations against God is that He allowed and therefore condones, polygamy and slavery. Let us look at the issue to see if the accusations are true.
What is the Bible about? It is about the God who created the earth, the universe and all life and has a purpose for His creation, namely the eternal Kingdom of God. This entails a King (God Himself), a people (those who were saved from the eternal consequences of their sin, because they accepted that Jesus paid their penalty on the Cross) and a country (it will be the renewed heavens and earth).
Since the time of the incident with the devil (in the guise of a snake in the Garden of Eden), where Adam and Eve succumbed to his clever plan, the world has been under a curse and in a general mess. In that mess God stepped in and promised hope. People can, through Jesus, escape the trap of the devil, and be prepared for eternity. It means that there is the possibility of change regardless of how bad things are. For that reason the Bible tells the history of people and nations with honesty. It talks about the real world of hatred, lust, jealousy, war, rebellion, adultery, murder, theft, et cetera. The Bible is about real life. For example, God warns against killing people because they are made in the image of God. Murder carries with it a heavy punishment (although the murder's slate can be wiped clean by Jesus if he humbles himself before God). Yet it doesn't mean that when a prophet of God, like Moses, kills a person (the Egyptian in Exodus 2:12), that God condones murder. The Holy Spirit, through the writer, faithfully transmits the history of Moses and what happened to him after the murder. Remember that Moses spent forty years in the desert looking after sheep. It must have been quite a comeback for a prince, raised in the courts of Pharaoh and taught in all the wisdom of Egypt, to look after and talk to dumb sheep.
Of what benefit would it have been to us, if Moses had been a perfect man, upright in all he did; if he had been chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and he did it perfectly right, according to God's plan? What message would that have carried for me, John Citizen, warts and all, with character blemishes, very wrong actions at times, and all messed up? If Moses was the perfect person, I could not be mentored by his life story, since I am not perfect. Yet as his history is written down honestly, I understand that his preservation was miraculous (like many of us if we think about it). Therefore, even if Moses broke one of God's very important laws, namely murder, there was hope for him. One has to understand why God forbids murder. If a person doesn't know Jesus, or doesn't want to know Him, it is not to say that person cannot change in future. Yet when he is murdered, that person's chance of a heart change is destroyed and he is lost. This means that the blood of that person is on the murderer. So Moses did not commit some small sin, but he majored in one of the big ones. Yet after 40 years in the desert, not enjoying the comfort of the palace but sleeping outside, he might have lost some of his 'airs' and was willing to do things in God's way. He really didn't have great self confidence at that stage (which also speaks to some of us), but God helped him.
Let us also illustrate this principle in the life of Paul, the man who wrote many New Testament letters. He was originally one of the Pharisees, and he thought the new group of followers of Jesus were just a bunch of happy clappies, a disgrace to God. He persecuted the church, putting people in prison and even killing them (Acts 9:1,2; Acts 22:4,5; 26:10; 1 Timothy 1:12; Philippians 3:6). Paul was stopped short by God and became a changed man, tirelessly working to spread the message of God's Kingdom. Again, what would it have benefited God if He whitewashed Paul's sins and told us how wonderful Paul was? God cannot lie (Titus 1:2) and He did not allow history that is not true, to be included in His Word. He led the writers to tell what happened when Truth (the Bible's message) met sinful men. That encourages us because God says He has no favourites. What He did for imperfect people like Moses, David and Abraham, He will do for us. Abraham 'sacrificed' his beautiful wife to the Egyptian court for fear that he will be killed. That is after God called him to go to Canaan. Why would God call Abraham for a special mission in Israel and then let him be killed? What about the cheat, Jacob, who colluded with his mother's scheme to get his father Isaac's blessing, even though God promised that the older (Esau) will serve the younger (Jacob).
The miracle of the Bible is that it is about real people, who lived in real places. They sinned and did wrong things, but were willing to listen to God's call. God gives hope. He changes people through Jesus, and that allows them to be filled with the Holy Spirit who will help, guide, teach and comfort them in this imperfect world. The Bible is a personal book. It addresses people at the level where they live. It is not some high lofty explanation of life. We read about ordinary people, and what happened to them, and we can see ourselves in them.
Another example where it would have been very expedient not to mention the failure of the Israelites, is when they were incapable to remain loyal to God for 40 days. They were led out of Egypt, saw God's miracles, and yet when Moses was away for 40 days, they forgot about God and made a golden calf to worship. What an insult to their Deliverer from the cruel bondage of slavery under the Egyptians! Yet God tells it exactly how it happened, as well as His anger and desire to wipe them out. Moses prayed for them and told God that the other nations will say that He delivered His people only to kill them in the desert. Then God relented and forgave them.
We find the same principle in the history of Ananias and Sapphyra. These two sold property and brought the money to the apostles. They could have kept an amount of the money of the sale for themselves and God would have been satisfied. Their sin was that they kept some of it, but declared that it was the full amount. They wanted to give the impression that they were so generous as to give it all. The church should have been glad for their obvious generosity, but God did not condone it. To Him honesty and integrity remains important and thus we have the history of two apparent 'Christians' who died because they lied to the leaders. Again, God would have profited by trashing this information. He didn't. He teaches us what life is about, and we learn from other people's mistakes. It should make our learning curve much shorter, if we recognise God's brilliance in teaching us His ways through the history of the people in His Word.
The Bible tells us that Adam disobeyed God and that upset God's plan, but it didn't. It all works together in God's plan for the following logical reason. The message of the Bible is about a King selecting an eternal Bride for His beloved Son, Jesus, the Bridegroom. Not even an imperfect earthly father would like his son to marry a girl whom he knows does not love him and will not remain loyal to him. So God's plan of selection allowed a method of testing the Bride to ensure that she loves His Son and will remain loyal to Him for all eternity. He allowed another suitor (the devil) on the scene. That would give people the opportunity to choose. Love entails freedom to accept or reject. God gave man that privilege. Each person can decide to either love or not love the Bridegroom, Jesus.
When the devil rebelled against God, sin and death came into the world. The earth was cursed and became corrupt. Relationships in marriages are often strained, and society is no longer controlled by love and care. Yet in this broken world, God spreads His message of hope for a second chance, to sinful people. One of God's important principles is that He never whitewashes the characters of the people we meet in the Bible. If they had character blemishes (sins), they are mentioned. That is why the sins of King David, the man after God's heart, are exposed. He seduced the wife of one of his Thirty absolutely devoted soldiers (2 Samuel 23:1-39). When he heard that she was pregnant, he had Uriah brought from the battlefield, made him drunk and sent him home to sleep with his wife. The king hoped that would cover his sin, but Uriah was so loyal that he would not do it while his comrades were at war (2 Samuel 11:7-13). Then the king sent a letter back with him with a plan to cause him to be killed on the battlefield (2 Samuel 11:1-25). To get perspective, remember that David was king and probably could get many girls who would be willing to consort with him. Such examples are included in the Bible to teach us, to warn us, to tell us that there are traps the devil uses to get people to disobey God. In the case of King David, God forgave him, but he had to bear the consequences of his sin. These honest narratives show that the God of truth is the Author who inspired the writers of the Bible. He will never give the impression that sin has no consequences. It has. For example, the drug addict might be cured, but he remains hampered by a dull mind as a result of the drugs (though there are many who testify that God also healed their minds by a creative miracle). The important thing is that God does help people to turn the consequences of their sins around through prayer. We might have sinned against our children when they were young, but we can pray and ask for forgiveness and the healing of their hearts. He always forgives sins if people repent.
Now, what about polygamy? King Solomon is the most notorious example of that in the Bible. King David also had many wives. Does God condone it? No, He specifically warned kings in Deuteronomy 17 not to acquire many wives. Then why did God allow it? God never forces people to obey Him, and if the characters in the Bible deliberately disobey God's desires, it is faithfully recorded as it happened. Solomon's wives led him to betray God and serve their idols. David's adultery and murder cost him dearly (his family life was a mess after that). If God gave us a nice, sanitised description of the characters in His book, what value would that have? It is wonderful to think that there might be 'perfect' people (impossible in this fallen world), but they will not inspire others. They will rather cause them to be depressed. A sinful man who recovers and makes friends with God is what happens in real life, and that encourages people and gives them hope.
It is the same with slavery. Every enemy of God clamours that Jesus condoned slavery because He didn't condemn it. There was the slave, Spartacus, who did take action. The result was that many slaves were killed in the battle with the Romans. Six thousand more were crucified. Think of the pain, the cries, the horrible results of such an uprising. How much better was Jesus' way to change slaves and their masters from the inside out. Paul records the history of the runaway slave, Onesimus, whom he sent back to his master, Philemon. The gospel message changed Onesimus to become an obedient and respectful slave. Philemon would be changed and become a compassionate boss and possibly even free Onesimus. In that way slavery is perverted and eventually destroyed from the inside by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A final example is the description in 1 Samuel 8:1 of the godly prophet Samuel's two disobedient, irreligious sons. Does that record mean God condoned their behaviour? Obviously not, since they did not inherit the prophetic ministry of their father. It is merely another example of the honest record of the history of people's lives in the Bible: Samuel, one of the great prophets, had two sons who were profligates. What a shame on Samuel's fatherhood. Any person intent on 'protecting' God's good name would have remained silent about that. Yet God doesn't. He uses history to show His mercy to those people who are willing to repent, turn around and work with God in establishing His Kingdom (and ensuring that they are part of it).