Sunday, August 30, 2009

Confronting the Church on Marriage, Part IV

I had claimed to Woody (Stewart Lauer) that the directive to Kings to not have רבה (rabah) wives is not a directive to have only one wife. It is a directive to have not too many wives.

This is a relative state which I believe to be defined roughly by the terms of concubines and their treatment in Exodus 21. A wife is owed regular consort (regular is relative), food and clothing. Poverty can overtake us all, but if a wife is deprived as a direct result of the addition of another wife, this is wrong. Exodus 21:10:
"If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish."
It should be noted that this is God himself speaking, and he's just finished up with the Ten Commandments in the preceding chapter, stating "thou shalt not commit adultery." I find it hard to believe then that God turns right around and without scowl or sign proceeds to regulate what we now regard as adultery. God says to provide for your wife or wives in their physical needs, including sexual relations. Depriving your wife of these things as the direct result of taking another wife, is wrong. Stewart "Woody" Lauer:
" 'Neither shall he multiply wives for himself (Deu 17:17 NAS),' is a command that Solomon violated by polygyny, irrespective of the wives’ citizenships."
I had mentioned the foreign origin of Solomon's wives and also said:
"You're arguing that a King could only possess one horse"
"I don’t know who the 'you' is, but I make no such argument. Holladay gives the hifil [sic]* stem for this verb as, 'make many, increase.' Both NASB and KJV render it 'multiply', which means 'increase in number,' or 'make more numerous.' V 17b, when proscribing riches adds the adverb, 'greatly', thereby allowing possession of riches in moderation. As such, vv 16 and 17a are best taken as absolute proscriptions, prohibiting multiple wives and prohibiting what we might call a calvary [sic] or a chariotry. The king was the ruler of God’s people of old."
My first observation is that I am not a King. If it is found, ultimately, that this is indeed a prohibition against a King having two or more wives at a time, well, so be it. I am not a King. Woody also compares this to elders, and I have too, so we are in rough agreement there. I will deal with that issue in the next post.

I had also mentioned to Woody that the sin for which Solomon is chastised in scripture, is not the sin for which Woody chastises him. In Nehemiah 13:25-27 it says:
"I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, 'You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin. 'Do we then hear about you that you have committed all this great evil by acting unfaithfully against our God by marrying foreign women?' "
Nowhere is the number of Solomon's wives mentioned as the primary concern, though it seems almost certain to our sensibilities that his number was indeed too great and a violation of Deuteronomy 17:17. Nevertheless, scripture at least sees this as a lessor problem, choosing not to make overt mention of it. The Bible also does not chide Solomon for excessive wealth or horses, both of which he also seemed to have in excess. Apparently, these things are not as big a deal as we would like to make them even if wrong, and it may well have been that Solomon's primary sin was the foreign nature of his wives, and the greater number of them he took, were of foreign origin. Nehemiah may be saying, "What's the real problem here?" and saying that if you took the foreigners out of the mix, there would be no problem at all. In any case Solomon is never directly chided for his many marriages and concubines, only his foreign ones.

Woody also tries to sneak in the idea that it's "one wife," "not a lot of horses," and "not a whole lot of gold." I'll accept only the last. In context, Deuteronomy 17:16-17 is parallel in construction. It shows two unlike things, and says identical things about them. In essence, the passage says "horse or wives, Kings are not to "רבה (rabah)" them, whatever that is. Here is the passage:
"Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply [רבה (rabah)] horses, since the LORD has said to you, 'You shall never again return that way.' He shall not multiply [רבה (rabah)] wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly [מאד (meh·ode')] increase [רבה (rabah)] silver and gold for himself."
In the last case, Woody's contention is supported. Using the modifier "meh·ode' " to go with "רבה (rabah)." But in the cases of the first use of "rabah" in verse 16, the "stem" and "aspect" of the verb is the same as in the case of it's use with wives in verse 17. It is the "Hiphil" stem and "imperfect" aspect. This renders the two constructions parallel. Furthermore, there are some other uses of the same stem and aspect that are worth looking into. Genesis 16:10:
"Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, 'I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.' "(NAS)
Or Genesis 17:2:
"I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly."
Genesis 22:17:
"...I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies."
Genesis 28:3:
"May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples."
This simply cannot be a word that is confined to the use "more than one." As it is used, in the immediate context, and others, the Hebrew "rabah" in the Hiphil stem and imperfect aspect means "a bunch." It may mean "a really big bunch."

If interpreted to mean "more than one wife" which is distinctly inconsistent with it's usage elsewhere by Moses in other books, it would also have the effect of limiting a King to one horse. The sentence construction again, is parallel. Whatever is said about a wife, is also being said about a horse. If a King is not to have more than one wife, he is also being said not to have more than one horse. If a King lives in a way that is instructive to the rest of the populace, then indeed we are to have only one wife, as the King would, and indeed, only one horse. This would make animal husbandry problematic, and getting horses a really big problem because in this same passage we are told that a King was not to go down to Egypt again, for the purposes of multiplying horses. Why not say "don't have horses at all?"

I am not one to say that the translations are in error. I think they are more than adequate, whether it be the King James, or the NASB or the ESV. They do get spun over time though, as politicians do focus groups and find buzz words, theologians work the margins of word meanings until we become accustomed to hearing them in contexts that dictate meanings not shared by the original text. Multiply has interesting meanings. The word "rabah" is translated "Multiply" or "Many" depending on your version. In English, depending on context, two is not many, nor may it be an accurate rendering of multiply. It's just barely multiply, and it's certainly not many. It can't be said to dictate only one wife, though it might, if read a certain way in the English. In the Hebrew, it simply can't be said to dictate one wife.

Next, I'll deal with Woody's similar contention on elders. And with a surprise admission on his part.

* Woody in this case, an alternate spelling, not an apparently incorrect one.

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