The creation account’s explicit record that God created only one wife for Adam made it clear for all who would follow that anyone who takes an extra wife is going beyond what God intended. The famous creation ordinance is implicitly monogamous: ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’ (2:24).
Kent Hughes writes:
“In accord with this, the polygamous marriages in Genesis were darkly cast. Lamech’s chest-thumping Sword Song before his wives Adah and Zillah exuded polygamous brutality (cf. 4:23ff.). Next, Abraham ‘listened to the voice’ of his wife (an echo of Adam’s listening to the voice of his wife at the fall; cf. 3:17) and took Hagar as his wife, thus acceding to the marital ethics of Mesopotamia (cf. 16:2ff.). The bitterness that followed is infamous. Ungodly Esau married two Hittite women (cf. 26:34) and added a third by taking an Ishmaelite wife (cf. 28:6-8). And in Genesis 29 the polygamy that Jacob was duped into can only be described as disastrous. It is true that the later Hebrew kings were scandalously polygamous. But their marriages were also catastrophic.”
Clearly, the ideal for Hebrew marriage was always monogamy, despite the examples of royalty. So, in the Old Testament polygamy was understood to be a violation of the covenantal faithfulness that God demanded of his bride Israel as dramatically portrayed, for example, in the book of Hosea. And, of course, God spoke the final word in his Son who called his people to the joyous, monogamous love and fidelity that was emblematic of his love for his bride, the church (cf. Ephesians 5:25-33).
Now as we again take up Jacob’s life, he is a de facto polygamist. Strictly speaking, it was not his fault. Certainly, we know that it was not his choice! But there was a kind of equity here as the victimizer became the victim. Jacob was made to drink his own medicine. And this is messy – multiple wives, multiple births, sister hatred, brother hatred – all of which will be acted out over the years.
But despite all of this, we have here the genesis of the twelve tribes of Israel from one father and four mothers. Imagine the interest with which this account would have been scrutinized when it was first written some 500 years later by Moses upon the exodus from Egypt. The freshly delivered twelve tribes of Israel learned both about their origins and the ways of God. And for people of faith today there is likewise much to be learned here – about ourselves and about God.
How fascinating, then, this freshly written section must have been at the exodus when every man and woman could find his or her ancestral father and mother in this narrative. And how fascinating to see that human determination and cleverness would not, could not accomplish the work of God. In fact, God comes to the lowly as he did first to Leah in her humble condition and then to Rachel in her lowliness.
How fascinating this is for those of us who possess the revelation of Christ in the New Testament! When Martin Luther read this account, he asked, ‘Does God have no other occupation left than to have regard for the lowliness of the household?’ Luther’s question was answered not only here but in the good news of the gospel, as we have it in Luke. When Mary heard Elizabeth confirm that her womb bore her Lord, Mary sang,
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed. (Luke 1:46b-48)
Upon the birth of Jesus, the angels voiced the Gloria to lowly shepherds (cf. Luke 2:8-20).
When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, godly Simeon, who had been humbly waiting for the Lord, swept the baby into his arms, declaring:
Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation’ (Luke 2:29, 30)
And when Jesus initiated the preaching of the gospel, he quoted from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18, 19)
Iain Duguid notes, “The sorry tale of Jacob’s wilderness years and domestic infighting point us back to what is central in the life of Jacob. If Abraham was the man who exemplified faith, Jacob exemplified grace.” Here we see God’s love extended to an unlovely sinner. As Duguid writes, ‘Jacob is no hero.’ In fact, none of these are heroes of the faith. They are people like us, people who name the Lord’s name on our lips but daily give our hearts and lives to other treasures. Duguid continues: “Yet Jacob too ends up on the roll of those saved by faith in Hebrews 11. Why? Because our God specializes in rescuing losers and redeeming hopeless cases, and along the way doing in their lives exactly what he has promised from the very beginning.”
I hope you can join us this week as Chad opens the Word of the Lord to Genesis 29:31-30:24 and points us to Christ.
Thank you for your prayers on my behalf. By the Lord’s mercies I am doing better than I imagined and deserve. Please join us as we pray for a full recovery. Your continued prayers are appreciated especially during rehab, and for Michelle, as she is having to do most everything for me.