589.     We must never forget that polygamy (more explicitly speaking, polygyny), from the Biblical point of view, is something quite different from that legal fiction which alone falls under the condemnation and punishment of our legal enactments. A man is quite able to live as a polygamist in modern civilisation (and British law will even compel his more decent wife to live in the indecent relation with him, unless he, besides being a polygamist, inflicts "gross cruelty" upon her), and not be condemned as such. This is done by making the ceremony proof of the crime, instead of the crime itself. If a man can be proved to have gone through more than one marriage ceremony, during the life-time of the woman with whom he went through it the first time, he can be punished, not otherwise, generally.

590.     But the Bible nowhere prescribes a marriage ceremony, nor can we find more than a slight trace of such ceremony in the Old Testament. Dr. Christian D. Ginsburg says: "Cohabitation without any religious ceremony whatever constituted and consummated marriage among the early Hebrews.” This gives us the true test as to what constitutes polygamy in its true and Biblical sense.

591.     Prof. A. H. Sayce says: "The Biblical records have been put into a category by themselves, to their infinite harm. Commentators have been more anxious to discover their own ideas in them, than to discover what the statements in them really mean.” Thus it was in early times as regards polygamy. The Jew sought a salvo for his own conscience as regarded the practice of polygamy, and thought he found it in the O. T. Christian expositors have preferred, for the most part, to accept the Jewish teaching that God did not, of old, discountenance polygamy,¾indeed, that He even ordained it. It would carry us too far afield to fully discuss this question, but some points may be brought out of profit to us.

592.      Without saying anything against the marriage ceremony (it is of the utmost importance for the protection of women and children in our day), yet we must not allow this mere ceremony to blind our moral sense as to the loathsome sin of polygamy. A polygamous man should not be permitted to shelter himself (as the law permits), behind the defense that more than one ceremony cannot be proved against him.

593.     Take away, than, that sham test as to the crime, and we are bound to admit that there live in our midst today polygamists who are highly honored, and seldom rebuked even by Christian mn,¾particularly if they happen to be monarchs, aristocrats, or men of great wealth. Their relations with women of loose morals are matters of public scandal; they answer to every Biblical test, as to their polygamy. And were these men of today subjects of Biblical record, they would be frankly pictured as precisely what they are, and the number and names of their wives and concubines might be given,¾since Scripture takes no account of the marriage ceremony as a test or proof of the offense. We have already called attention to the (to us) misleading sense in which the term "concubine" is sometimes used in Scripture (paragraph 548). It may not imply polygamy.

594.     The Bible is nothing if not true to the truth, to which it will sacrifice the mere reputation of a hero ruthlessly, whereas the modern biographer may write up his hero, carefully concealing his "private life.” For instance, David is pronounced a man of "integrity” as a king, 1 Kings 9:4, as the context shows; and "perfect," as a king, because he never went into idolatry, or led his people into it, 1 Kings 11:4; but the contexts show these to be political estimates; the same biographers show that David was faulty and sometimes criminal. Now because of these things, frankly written in the Bible, but carefully suppressed in the biographies of our day, though alas! too often equally true, have we any right to say that the Old Testament countenanced polygamy, whereas we who live in New Testament days do not? No; in these we suppress the truth, in those days the Bible acknowledged it. David was a polygamist. Putting aside shams, on the Bible test, how many of the "Christian" kings of the world, have been anything better?

595.     There are only about a dozen instances in the Old Testament record, covering 4,000 years or so, where a man's wives are listed, and of some of these, we have no means of knowing but they were the second or third wives of widowers. We must not conclude too hastily that God ever thought polygamy was any less to be abhorred than He abhors it today. Indirect evidence of a thing is often proof of highest order. Years ago, we attended a service on Sunday morning at the Mormon Tabernacle in Utah, in company with a band of Christian missionaries. The comparatively inexperienced "preacher" who occupied the pulpit said: "A man should set a good example before his wives.” The slip made a sensation of uneasiness in the presence of "Gentiles." There are no such slips as this in God's speech, in His Book. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife," not "wives," Exodus 20:17; ¾"towards the wife of his bosom," not "wives," Deuteronomy 28:54; "Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine,” not "wives" Psalm 128:3; "Rejoice with the wife of thy youth,” not "wives," Proverbs 5:18; "Even the husband with the wife,” not "wives," Jerermiah 6:11, and so on, throughout the Bible. These are strong bits of evidence against a Divine countenance of polygamy.

596.     But the traditional assumption that the O. T. sanctions polygamy has led to careless and perverted translation, at this point. Deut. 21:15 should read: "If a man has had (past tense) two wives,” as proved by the tenses a little further along, "have borne" and "was hated.” The Hebrew language has no proper tenses, as we understand them, so that the tense must be determined largely by other forms in the context. The verse begins, "If a man has had two wives," in the Septuagint Greek, the Latin Vulgate, the Syriac and the Arabic versions, and also in the Targum. The teaching is: If a man, whose first wife "was hated," remarries, after her death or divorcement, he may not transfer the birthright from the first wife's eldest son to the second wife's eldest son, as the second wife would naturally wish him to do.

597.     We do not pretend that what is said in the Mosaic Law concerning polygamy is ideal; but it was the best that could be said to a degraded people. The same can be said of polygamy that Jesus Christ said of divorce, in Matthew 19:8, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives," not because it was right so to do, but because there was wrong in the men. All that law, put into the hand of man to enforce, ever can accomplish is: (1) to find the transgressor on his own level; (2) give him a help against sinking lower; and (3) protect others against his bad influence, or his abuse. "The law could make nothing perfect," says Hebrews 7:19. This is taught all through the N. T. Had Moses made his laws absolutely ideal, there would have been an open rebellion against him, and his entire following would have returned to Egypt and degradation. Practically, he could never have enforced ideal laws among a people just emerging from slavery. Spiritual and moral teaching must always accompany the enactment of laws, or a people cannot be elevated.

598.     There are many instances in the O. T. where circumstances prove a closer tie between a child and its mother than between the same child and its father. These were all formerly explained on the basis of polygamy,¾that is, in polygamous countries, and among such people, the father does not seem so close to his children as the mother. But since the discovery of the early matriarchy, such instances are not considered as necessarily proof of an existing polygamy in the family, but rather as testimony in the direction of female kinship. Thus, the fact that Rebekah's father has less to do with her matrimonial affairs than her mother is testimony to existing matriarchal customs. But on the other hand, the fact that Samuel’s mother has more to do with Samuel than his father seems to be the natural result of his father having two wives. There are many other instances which will be found in illustration of these two customs, alike demonstrating a closer tie between mother and child than father and child.

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