“If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish” (Exod. 21:10).
Christian women today can only imagine what it might be like to be a minor wife or a concubine. First of all, poverty would be the driving factor in being sold as a slave cum wife to some man who wanted more than one. The choice would not be theirs, but there was protection for Hebrew women even under the Old Testament Law. A Hebrew (man or woman) might be sold as a bond servant in consequence either of debt (Lev. 25:39) or of the commission of theft (Exod. 22:3). However, his servitude could not be enforced for more than six full years. If a Hebrew male servant were sold, he had to be released again after 6 years unless it was his choice to remain a slave (Exod. 21:2).
A Hebrew woman was not to be treated the same way. She could not be sent out again after the husband had “humbled” her (Deut. 21:14; Ex 21:7). She was to remain his wife even if he did not like her. This gave Hebrew women a measure of protection from being sold to first one stranger and another or left without food, clothing or the “duty of marriage.” See Deut. 15:17 also. Any wardrobe her husband would provide might be less than wonderful, but her body would be covered and she would have food to satisfy her basic needs (similar to 1 Tim. 6:8).
The Lord has a similar law in the New Testament era. The Holy Spirit, through Paul, speaks of the duty of marriage for Christians today. When we make our vows of marriage we do not own our own bodies anymore (1 Cor. 7:1-5). Our bodies belong to our mates. Similarly, in the OT, because of this basic principle or “duty in marriage,” the Hebrew polygamist could not by law refuse to give the wife her rights. Only if he found something “unseemly” in her was he able to send her back to her father. Even then, if her father could prove she had been a virgin when he sold her, she could not be sent away or shamed publicly.
There are many examples of concubines being part of a multi-wife family under the Mosaic Law. The accounts show such customs were both authorized (2 Sam. 12:8) and practiced (Gen. 21:9-10; Gen. 37:2; Judges 19:3-5). Other accounts dealing with concubines are found in multiple scriptures (Gen. 22:20-24; Gen. 25:1; Gen. 30:3-5; Gen. 35:22; Gen. 36:12; 1 Chron. 1:32; 1 Chron. 2:42-50 and 1 Chron. 7:14). As we study these passages, we are able to see God’s protection of women in the strict laws made for concubines (Exod. 21:7-11; Lev. 19:20-22; Deut. 21:10-14). Even though their children could not necessarily inherit from their master (Gen. 15:4; Gen. 21:10; Gen. 25:1-6; 1 Ch 1:32-33), the Hebrew women were never to be left destitute of food, clothing and the duty of marriage.
What a blessing Christian women have under the Law of Christ! We are treasured and honored as the one-and-only wife, which should make our responsibility and our dedication to our husbands even greater. We should not expect the finest clothing or jewels (1 Tim. 6:8), but be ever grateful that the Lord has given us first place under our husbands in our marriage relationships. Then we have that wonderful hope of a place in eternity as the bride of Christ. What a beautiful concept that becomes, as we consider our place in eternity.
- What was/is a polygamist?
- Was polygamy a sin for the man under the Mosaic Law?
- When could a man send a wife back to her father?
- When could he send her out to be another man’s wife? (Deut. 24:1-4)
- When could a father sue the daughter’s husband for damages (Deut. 22:13-21)?
- What three things did every husband have to provide for his wife whether or not he liked her?
- Could a Hebrew female slave be treated the same way a Hebrew male slave was treated? Why not?
- What material blessings does God promise Christian men and women today?
- If someone asks us for financial help, what should be our consideration (1 Tim. 6:8)?
- With what should everyone be content (Luke 3:14; Php. 4:11; Heb. 13:5; 1 Tim. 6:8)?