Our culture gets in the way of our Bible study far too often. It is a lesson taught to me by a younger woman about twenty years ago. During that class we were discussing the wives of David and the problems that might have caused—all of them being wives of the same man. Naturally the idea of jealousy and resentment came up first, and we discussed that for several minutes.
Finally this young woman spoke up and said, "I don't think we have any idea how those women felt. They grew up with the idea of polygamy. It was all around them, especially in the neighboring countries, and even among the richer Israelites. They knew from the beginning that they might find themselves in this situation. Their own mothers might have been in that situation. How can we who are used to monogamy even imagine what they were feeling?"
I knew immediately that she was correct. We carry our cultural baggage into our Bible study when we need to be dropping it off at the study door. The only way to know how these women might have felt is to talk to a woman who has experienced it.
And because of our cultural baggage we miss a lot of other examples in the Biblical text. How about the marriage of Abraham and Sarah?
Abraham married his half-sister Sarah. Period. He was surrounded by polygamy. His friends and neighbors were likely polygamists. He was wealthy and polygamy was far more common among the rich. It took money to support several wives and a few dozen children.
And—Sarah had not given him an heir. That alone would have been cause for the men of that place and era to find a second, or even third wife. I can just imagine a neighbor stopping by and saying, "Abraham, my daughter is marriageable now. She is healthy and could give you the children Sarah has not." I can even imagine that happening several times.
But Abraham did not succumb for decades. He was 85 when Sarah finally prevailed upon him to take Hagar as a second wife, a concubine since she was a servant. It took Sarah's great love for her husband and great faith in the plan of God—that there had to be an heir for the promises to come about—before he would even think of doing so.
Somehow, this man of God had learned the Divine Plan of God for marriage—one man for one woman for one lifetime—and had lived up to it, even among rampant, and culturally acceptable, polygamy. This man had learned to love his wife "as his own body" thousands of years before Paul put it into words.
We miss all that because none of us would have ever even dreamed of polygamy to solve the problem. We miss it because monogamy is second nature to us. We miss the love this man had for his wife, even after she had grown old and unable to bear him a child, a child God said had to be born for all those promises He made to come about. Still he was willing to wait, willing to be satisfied with the woman he had originally chosen, when no one else he knew would have.
And how many of us become dissatisfied over the trivial, dissatisfied enough to trade one in for a new model, as the old saying goes? How many of us can match the devotion these two people had for each other through thick or thin, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse? How many of us jump at the first "worse" there is to get out of it?
See what you miss when you don't study the culture of the times? See what you miss when you think we are so much smarter, so much wiser, so much more knowledgeable about God than those ancient people were? Drop your luggage at the door and see what they have to teach you.
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Eph 5:28-31)