In this week’s review of the Book of Mormon, we’ll look at chapters one through four of Jacob. A primary theme we see in these four chapters is the practice of polygyny or one man married to multiple women. Here, Jacob receives a command from God that the Nephite’s are forbidden to engage in polygyny because of abuses. But in the Torah, we see direct references facilitating polygyny. So if polygyny is so offensive why didn’t God just abolish it in the Law and make other provisions for the support and protection of women. Further, Jehovah sought to sanctify Israel through the Law, which included polygyny. This week we’ll take a factual and honest look at polygyny in the context of the Law and factors concerning the themes, principles and purposes of it.
Nephites, Polygyny and the Law
Why Jacob opens his record with the topic of polygyny probably is because under God’s law polygyny is allowed and with man’s carnal nature the practice of polygyny is subject to abuses, especially the abuse of women and children those most vulnerable of society. We see these same kinds of abuses happening in polygamous communities today.
One thing that we see in this week’s reading is a condemnation of the practice of polygyny with David and Solomon at verse 24 in chapter 2. However, what we don’t see is Jacob and Abraham in this list who also engaged in polygyny. Some have suggested that Jacob was trick into polygyny, implying that polygyny was forced on him without recourse. But really, you don’t think God knew this and could have changed this outcome – of course He could have but He didn’t.
Another concept we see here with these Nephite men is that they were committing whoredoms and abominations, but under the Law, polygyny properly practiced was not consider a whoredom or an abomination. Women taken as wives in the Law were to be provided economic and emotional equality. Furthermore, the multiplying of wives is prohibited meaning that men were not to take an excessive number of wives – Deuteronomy 17:17. When we look at the righteous practice of polygyny, we see single digit numbers and not double- or triple-digit numbers. We might consider that seven wives is a limit since that is the number of completion, perfection and fulness – Isaiah 4:1.
Other concepts that we see in the practice of polygyny with Jacob is that wives controlled procreation and sex in the marital relationship, since sex often meant pregnancy. We also see biological sisters become sister-wives, which was later prohibited by the Law to prevent rivalries – Lev. 18:18. We see further that the children of Leah’s and Rachel’s servant-wives become fully vested in not only as heirs to Jacob’s property but to the covenant that God made with Abraham. Moreover, we also might consider that Zilpah and Bilhah were in servitude by consent and knew that providing children to Jacob was a possibility.
Finally, we see that monogamy was practiced under the Law, which was probably more common than polygyny. While personally I live in a monogamous relationship, I don’t feel justify judging those who practice polygyny as set out in the Law.
The Bigger Picture
Though we see challenges living polygyny, God allows it and institutionalized it into the Law. Why God allows it can be explained through the three key aspects of Kingdom Building, Dominion and Glory.
Building a nation or kingdom requires people and polygyny is a fast and efficient way to accomplish the peopling of a nation or kingdom when you start from a small beginning or even when you want to grow a nation or kingdom.
Dominion is the idea that the majority of a society has the greatest influence on the laws and politics of that society. Today, we can see this principle in effect. For example, some demographers are projecting that Muslims in sixty years will be in the majority of some countries in Europe, who then will have the power to influence the laws and politics of those countries. One of the factors that contribute to the growth of Muslims is their birth rate, which polygyny is a factor.
Our last aspect is Glory. In the Gospel sense, glory is the power and ability of God to save and exalt humanity – for His work and glory is to bring to pass the immorality and eternal life of man. And the more of God’s children that are raised in the gospel, the greater is His glory. Hence, polygyny is a practice that can impact the degree of God’s glory.
The Davidic Covenant and Eternal Marriage
Marriage under the Law becomes eternal for those who enter into the David Covenant because this covenant is everlasting and passes onto posterity forever. This covenant is a available to both monogamous marriages as well as to polygynous marriages. The Davidic covenant is comprised of four primary elements.
1. A position of leadership whether over a community or a family organization – Davidic
2. The office of High Priest is integral to the covenant.
3. Parties to the covenant must reach a level of personal perfection.
4. Men function as proxy-saviors/deliverers.
When we look at humans and polygyny, what we see in our biblical examples in the lives of Abraham and Jacob are not challenges to the marital system of polygyny itself but of the ability of humans to overcome individual weakness to live optimally in polygyny. In the example of Hagar, we see Hagar lift herself above Sarah in an attitude of pride because she can provide Abraham an heir. We also see this with Jacob who has favorites and is a respecter of persons. God sets these examples out in the scriptures not to denigrate polygyny but to challenge us to perfect our character.