Abraham had a couple of wives as did David, and Solomon had seven hundred! In a society that values monogamy in life and law, this part of the Bible is downright weird. That is why in response to an earlier post, one of you asked this tough question.
I will keep it brief because though it is very different from our culture, it is not that complicated an issue in scripture.
1. It was a cultural norm
When God began speaking to Abraham, God was speaking to a man living in a well established culture, and like most cultures of that time, Polygamy was normal. It was accepted for many reasons not the least of which is the fact that it was a way for families (who needed many members working together to survive) could deal with fertility problems.
2. It was always allowed and never endorsed
Though there are several characters that are involved in polygamy in the Bible, there is never a verse where God says, “Polygamy rocketh, thou shalt all participate within it.” In fact, every time polygamy comes up, it is a source of strife and tension with Solomon’s record breaking matrimonies explaining his tragic disobedience: “his wives led him astray” (1 Kings 11:3).
3. It’s Adam and Eve not Adam and EveS
Though this is definitely an oversimplification, Genesis clearly chooses a monogamous relationship as the model for marriage in the future, and underscores it by saying, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
4. A Sign of Commitment and Holiness
While people were apparently permitted even in the New Testament to have multiple wives, a commitment to monogamy was seen as a higher standard to stove for as you can clearly see in firs Timothy 3:2 “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…”
In the words of my philosophy professor, that’s clear as mud but covers the ground. However, it puts on display one of my favorite attributes of God: he loves us right where we are and challenges us to grow. God doesn't make you get your act together before you can follow, you are loved and accepted as-is and challenged to grow closer to God's ideal for you. Thank God!
Question for the comments: What is your favorite tradition people use in weddings?