Saturday, June 07, 2008

Commandments and Exceptions

The 10 Commandments are not relative but God does make exceptions at times. For instance, the commandment "Thou shalt not [murder]." However, killing in defense of family or country is not considered murder. Capital punishment is not murder. Another commandment says, "Thou shalt honor they parents." Does that mean a child should do whatever their parent tells them? What if a child was forbidden to accept Christianity. According to God, accepting Christ, even if we are disowned or it causes a division in the family is considered honoring our parents.

The same principles also apply to the commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." In the Garden of Eden, Adam was given one wife. This was considered the ideal and prototypical relationship. But if you read further in the Bible, God has at other times allowed the practice of polygamy under specific circumstances. If done under these specific circumstances, polygamy was not adultery any more than capital punishment is murder.

The Nephites were commanded to have only one wife, but an exception to this commandment is given. Just like there are exceptions given for divorce. God says, "if I desire to raise up righteous seed, I will command otherwise."

Abraham is a good example of entering into polygamy for the purposes of raising up a righteous posterity. Abraham was led to find God. He had left his family and home and his idolatrous ways. But it seemed he would have no posterity to leave this great legacy despite being promised great posterity. Sarah hadn't borne him any children. So, the Bible says, Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham as a second wife. Jacob had 4 wives for this purpose and the results are the 12 tribes of Israel. Imagine how many people there are who praise God they were born through the bloodline of Abraham.

Abraham covenanted with the Lord that he would be the father of many nations. Since Sarah had given him not children, he received other wives to fulfill the covenant. He took an active roll in making sure the covenant blessings were realized. And because of this faith, it was accounted unto him for righteousness. This example teaches us that if we are promised something by God, we shouldn't just sit on our hands and wait for God to deliver, but we should be anxiously engaged in realizing Gods promises to us.

Exodus 21:10-11 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.

Here Moses addresses polygamy very plainly right after recording the 10 commandments in Exodus. There is no suggestion that taking another wife = adultery if the husband continues to provide the 1st wife her food, reignment and duty of marriage. If, however, the husband cannot provide these 3 things, because his attentions are focused on another woman exclusively, then the actions of the man would constitute adultery, and under the conditions of marriage, she is free to divorce. LDS polygamy operated similarly. Divorce was easier to obtain. If a woman entered into a polygamist marriage and she didn't feel that her needs were being met, she was able to divorce and remarry monogamously. However there are only occasional examples of this occuring.

According to Exodus 21, It seems Moses wouldn't have a problem with a man taking another wife if he was able to provide fully for both households. And if you look back at Jewish history it is clear that polygamy was a common practice; certain sects more than others. That said, I am glad this kind of thing is not practiced any more. Unfortunately, in our society, there are an increasing number of men who have 4 children by 3 women and don't pay child support for any of them.

Deut. 25:5 If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her.

God makes polygamy a part of the Law of Moses for this same exception. The Law of Levarite marriage says that if a man marries and dies before his wife and he have any children, then his wife should be married to his brother so that the brother can raise seed up for his deceased brother. In many cases, the 2nd brother would have already been married; especially since the brother who dies without children would likely have been the younger brother. The older brother who would accept his brother's wife would have received the birthright and "extra portion" which would assure he had sufficient to fulfill the obligations under the Law. Therefore, Levarite marriage is another example of Biblically sanctioned polygamy.

David also took many wives and it was accounted unto him as righteousness. Only in the issue with Uriah and his wife was the sin (D&C 132:39). Solomon was also given many wives. Solomon was condemned because he took wives of non-Israelites or strangers and that resulted in Solomon turning to their gods, and building temples and idols up to other gods to appease his wives who worshiped other gods.

There is one other important exception that justifies polygamy and doesn't make taking another wife adultery. That is the commandment and duty to care for the fatherless and the widow. While many aspects of the Law of Moses were fulfilled in Chirst, our duty to care for the widow is still part of Christ's new and everlasting covenant. 1 Timothy Chapter 5 discussed the law for the care for widows. According to this chapter the first responsibility to care for a widow was on the widows own family. But if the widow were young (less than 60), Paul taught that the widow should remarry.

1 Tim 5:14-18 I will therefore that the younger women (less than 60) marry (remarry), bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some are already turned aside after Satan. If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed. Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.

Many of the second wives of Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young were widows of other church brethren. So, in these cases, having multiple wives and supporting multiple households is not considered adultery.

James 1: 27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
visit = episkeptomai = to care for

What is amazing is that the "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox" is used to justify the lavish lifestyle of many Christian pastors and bishops when this chapter is clearly referring to the duty of the elder who is using their own hard-earned money to care for multiple households. It is the elders who are caring for the widow and the orphan who rule (their homes) well who should be counted worthy of double honour. Further evidence that elder is referring to male believer in the church and not the pastor or bishop is that 1 Tim 1:19 "Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses." The Pastor or Bishop would be serving as the judge and not be the accused.

Evidence that polygamy was practiced by the Jews at the time of Christ and the Early Christian saints can be found in the pastoral epistles of Paul. In speaking of the qualifications for a Bishop, Paul stress that bishops and other church leaders need be the husband of one wife. I presume this is to provide ample time to manage the flock and attend to the work of the ministry instead of caring for several households comprised of widows (polygamy) and orphans (adoption). If polygamy wasn't a common practice, I am not sure why Paul would have brought it up.

Polygamy was required of the early LDS Saints for their exaltation because they were commanded and empowered to receive it. If they had rejected that perfecting work, then they would be rejecting the Holy Ghost which guided them into that practice. And therefore, would have have been rejecting Christ (John 13: 20). God does not require it of us today, so it is not a practice to be desired, and is not part of our path to perfection and sanctification.

Also, with regard to commandments and exceptions to them, I try to live by the following mantra: It should only be an rare exception when I am the exception.

No comments: