Q. When my wife and I married we both took vows to remain exclusively faithful to each other. However, that vow wasn't scriptural. Do I have the right to break it since it is contrary to God's marriage laws? If the answer is 'no' wouldn't that mean that any vow is binding, no matter what - like Jephthah's?
These are very good questions and are not easy to answer. We can perhaps start with Jephthah the Gileadite, the son of a prostitute, who was called to deliver Israel from the Ammonites. This is what happened:
Everybody knows that the vow Jephthah made was despicable because Yahweh hates human sacrifice of any sort which was the sin of the worshippers of Molech. Clearly Jephthah's promise was evil. And yet the Torah also teaches that our vows are binding, viz.:
"And Jephthah made a vow to Yahweh: 'If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be Yahweh's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering'" (Judges 11:30-31, NIV).
"When a man makes a vow to Yahweh or takes an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said" (Numbers 30:2, NIV; cp. Deuteronomy 23:21-23; Ecclesiastes 5:4-5).
The only problem is we now have two laws that contradict each other - the one forbidding human sacrifice (e.g. 2 Kings 23:10) and the other saying that a vow made to Yahweh is irrevocably binding. Which, then, must give way?
We know what Jephthah thought. He murderered his own daughter with a broken heart in the Name of Yahweh. Do you think what he did was right? Are there no 'exception clauses' which would disqualify an evil vow?
Although this passage does not have direct application to the question, it teaches us in the symbol of animal sacrifice that the vow must be "without defect or blemish" - in other words, it must be pure.
"When anyone brings from the herd or flock a fellowship offering to Yahweh to fulfil a special vow or as a freewill offering, it must be without defect or blemish to be acceptable" (Leviticus 22:21, NIV).
If Christ had sinned during His life and gone to the cross as a sinner, would His atonement have been efficacious (effective)? No, because He would have been impure.
Today we do not offer animal sacrifices - our only offering is a pure heart. If our motive is pure, our vow is pure; if our motive is impure, our vow is impure.
Jephthah's vow was plain evil and therefore not binding. In seeing it through he made Yahweh out to be a murderer by insisting that his vow was binding.
Technically-speaking, then the monogamy-only vow you made was not binding, as far as the letter-of-the-law is concerned. However, you both entered vows in purity of heart and in ignorance. The actual covenant of marriage was not, moreoever, evil, as Japhthah's vow was.
For a woman who has married a man on the basis of a vow to remain monogamous is not, moreover, in itself sinful. The majority are called of Yahweh to be monogamous. The vow may be said to be imprudent, however. Indeed, no vow should limit Yahweh in the number of wives He can give a man. It's up to Him to decide.
Once we have been enlightened by Yahweh's Law we are expected to obey it. Does such knowledge annull a monogamy-only covenant, though? Or just the clause in which the man promises to exclusively be faithful to his wife? Would your wife have married you if she had know you believed in polygamy and if she had known the polygamy in the New Covenant is valid?
In the marriage covenant (at least in the traditional one), a woman promises to obey her husband. Clearly she is not obliged to obey him if he demands her to break a commandment, for she must obey Yahweh before man, even her own husband! But what if he then demands that she obeys a commandment giving him the right to take another wife? Should she obey him? Would disobeying his wish constitute a lesser, equal, or greater disobedience than being forced to, say, commit theft? There is obviously a non-equivalence here since monogamy is not a crime.
Are we commanded to marry? The human race is commanded to multiply and replenish the earth, which cannot be done without marriage, but that does not mean one is immediately obliged to marry once one has arrived at a marriagable age. Nor are we compelled to marry someone against our wills.
Yah'shua (Jesus) says that a man must love his wife as He loved the Church (Messianic Community), and that a woman must obey her husband as the Church (Messianic Community) obeys Yah'shua (Jesus). When we accept Yah'shua (Jesus) as our Lord and Saviour, we are putting ourselves under obedience to a Lord (Master) as a slave (servant). We do not negociate with Yahweh and the Gospel is not a democracy. It is, however, our free choice to do so or not. But once we have made our allegiance, do we have the right to rebell as we discover commandments He has given us which we knew nothing about?
Over the past years we have, in our family, discovered commandments which we were ignorant about or which we had been incorrectly taught were 'done away with'. Once it was clear I, as head of the family, imposed the Laws of Yahweh on my family. There was resistance from some of the elder children at first but once shown the clear truth they eventually yielded, settled down, and became happy.
What I did not say was: 'Here is the truth - accept it, or else.' I sat down and showed them the scriptures and reasoned with them. When our Order announced that we would be celebrating the Seventh Day Sabbath and Holy Days of Israel, we spent some weeks discussing the scriptures until we were thoroughly versed in them and there was no reason to question the Word. The Order did not say: 'Implement this in two weeks' but gave us grace - they gave us time and space to find out. Then the Order consulted with all its Priesthood and obtained their personal verdict. It was unanimous. From that point on we began implementing Israel's Holy Days according to the commandments.
There can be no doubt whatsoever that a husband who introduces the concept of polygamy to his wife for the first time must spend considerable time with her showing her the scriptures and, if necessary, going over them again and again. How shall he best love her? By shoving the truth down her throat and demanding immediate compliance? Or will he, like grace, give her time and space? And if he will do the latter, how much time must he give? How long is the "day of grace"?
There is no fixed answer to that. The Scriptures clearly teach that once the truth is known that Yahweh expects immediate implimentation. However, you men, be truthful: when you were confronted with a biblical truth you didn't like and yet knew it was true, how long did it take before your heart responded in faith and obedience?
What I am saying is this: a Patriarch-Husband is a judge in his home. In the Lord's Prayer we ask forgiveness of our sins as we forgive the sins of others. The forgiveness of our stubborn refusal to be obedient is therefore conditional upon our forgiveness of the stubborn refusal of, say, a wife to accept polygamy! The issue, then, is not one of right vs. wrong. Many honourable women accept the theory of polygyny but simply can't make the heart-connection. It terrifies the life out of them! It is a great burden for them to bear until the revelation of the Holy Spirit distills upon their souls. The heart always takes longer than the mind to be converted (hence the famous expression, "A man convinced against his will remains unconvinced still").
There are many husbands who wish to ram the truth of Yahweh's Torah (Law) down their wives' throats. Though they may be technically (legally) right, are their own hearts right?
The New Covenant of Christ takes the Torah (Law) of Yahweh a level further, by bringing it to its spiritual completion. One of those completing ingredients is called Grace. Grace is a quality that requires great patience, long-suffering, gentleness, and kindness. Although it is not an infinite thing in the sense that Yahweh can, by His grace, look past sin indefinitely (He cannot do this - in the end Justice must make its legitimate demands), it does stretch itself out generously.
We are not, however, to exploit grace. If we do, it will turn against us. At what point does our refusal to yield to Yahweh show contempt for Him? (Romans 2:3-4). Do those who resist the truth understand that they are storing up wrath for themselves? (v.5).
What if there is another woman called of Yahweh into a man's marriage? How long should she wait? How long should the husband wait for the second wife if he has been commanded to take her? At what point can the husband's insistance on the truth actually change him from being a righteous man into being an evil one? Might he, at some point, lose his focus on Yahweh and be only possessed of self-will and self-interest?
The Christian/Messianic Polygamy movement of the early twenty-first century has fractured down the middle and exists in two camps. These are broadly-speaking called the "polygamy-by-force" and the "polygamy-by-love" camps. The former insists that the husband should simply 'get on with it' without any regard for his wife's feelings (the casualty rate in divorce taken out by first wives is shockingly high - the leader of this movement has lost all his wives but one) and the latter that the husband should simply patiently love more and more and wait until the Spirit finally convinces her that she must follow her husband's path.
Sometimes I wonder if the issue has been over-simplified. Were I forced to choose camps I would naturally choose "love not force", and indeed I basically support this approach as the correct one. But experience has also taught me that there are many exceptions to this otherwise noble approach.
I firmly believe that a husband in a monogamy-only covenant must expect to wait a long time to reassure his wife that his motives are pure. Not only that, but he must learn to love her even more than he did before, imitating Christ in His love for the Church (Messianic Community). Having said that, though, I also believe that this cannot go on indefinitely. If a woman is being shown Christ-like sacrificial love by her husband and continues to resist the truth beyond a certain time, then the Holy Spirit will depart from her. I also believe that when that time has passed, and if Yahweh (not his ego) tells him to give her an ultimatum, that he must do that. However, he must be so attuned to the Spirit that he does not mistake his own desires in this matter (because he is impatient to marry a second woman) for the voice of Yahweh-Elohim. He must be 100% sure that this is the will of Yahweh, otherwise he could be committing a very grave sin indeed.
The responsibility upon the man is therefore very, very great. If he forces his wife down an emotional cul-de-sac which she can't escape from, then he may be guilty of spiritual murder. This is not to absolve her of her sin by any means but it is to point out that he, as patriarchal head, carries a heavy load that he must dispose of righteously. In my experience most people who have been called into polygamy are not given a timescale to work in by Yahweh. And very often Yahweh uses this period of time while He waits to purify THE HUSBAND. He is being trained to become a Christ-like patriarch, in the image of his Saviour. And it is especially at this very dangerous time that Satan may find his way in and turn him into a heartless tyrant. I have been frankly APPALLED by the behaviour of some 'Christian' and 'Messianic' polygamists in the polygamy-by-force movement, not just by their deeds, but because I have felt in their spirit THE SAME OPPRESSIVE SPIRIT that I have seen in such cults as Mormonism, Islam and the Jehovah's Witnesses. It's exactly the same spirit even if the doctrines are different.
The hallmark of a mature Christian/Messianic Patriarch is seen when he has, first, learned to love his wife unconditionally as Christ loved the Church (Messianic Community), and THEN, second, been tutored by the Spirit as to WHEN and HOW to firmly move towards a final decision. Very often he will not have to do the latter because the wife will either:
My own situation was a little unusual inasmuch as after my first wife left, leaving me monogamously married to my second wife for several years, that my second wife was already under polygamous vows which included my right to take other wives. I did not therefore face the problem of monogamy-only marriage vows AND YET she went through all the struggles of one who might have done because she had a monogamy-only heart-frame. She knew all the theory and agreed with it, made covenants opening the way for polygamy, and we lived preparing for it, but once the first potential wives came the heart-struggles came. I waited, and waited, and waited. There was one postponement after another. 'I'm not ready yet' was the constant reply I received. Two prospective wives waited patiently. Once was approaching the years when it would not be possible for her to have children and she was understandably anxious. There were others to consider as well.
- (a) Yield miserably of her own free will;
- (b) Yield joyfully of her own free will; or
- (c) Run away and (finally) divorce him.
At this point I must point out a very important scripture. Paul, quoting Isaiah says:
When Christ calls a member of His allegorical bride, an unsaved person, to be saved, NOW is the time of salvation. Postponing salvation is, as we know, a terribly risky thing, for you do not know what may happen to you tomorrow. For a second wife to indefinitely postpone her marriage because of the double-mindedness of a first wife may well be dangerous for her on the same basis, and the one preventing her may well be storing up wrath for her soul. AND I KNOW WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT because in order to appease my first wife's anti-polygamy I turned two women away, both of whom ended up marrying cultists - one a Mormon, the other a Moslem! I quite possibly sacrificed two women's salvation in order to appease what is, according to Paul, a demonic doctrine: denying legal marriage to another. And polygamy is legal marriage in Elohim's (God's) eyes.
"I tell you, now is the time of Elohim's (God's) favour, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2, NIV).
Nevertheless I was under a monogamy-only marriage covenant and it was on that basis that my first wife married me. Had I approached her and told her I planned to marry polygamously before we had got married, she would certainly have refused my proposal...as would have been her right. And the thing is, I did know about, and believe in, polygamy before I married her so it was not as though I 'discovered' the truth about it after we were married. I was never in a place to plead ignorance, even assuming that would have been a legitimate excuse. Prospective spouses should come clean about their beliefs before committing to marriage.
This is one of the most complex moral dilemmas in the Gospel and it is very easy to justify ones position with 'what if' scenarios. For instance, it is all very well talking about sacrificially loving and watching that love being rejected (as so many valiant poly-minded husbands have done with Jezebel-like wives) but it is another thing if your postponing the decision to marry polygamously to appease a stubborn woman is going to result in a woman going to hell because she then goes and chooses an unbeliever or a cultist and as a result compromises. I am not, of course, saying necesarily that the issues are so clear-cut but that such may be critical ingredients in the equation that leads a patriarch to make one decision or another. But how would one even know someone is going to hell? Only Yahweh knows a person's heart. You cannot emotionally blackmail a first wife because you believe another woman will go to hell if you aren't allowed to break your monogamy-only vow and marry her. And even if she does break the commandment not to marry an unbeliever, it's still her choice. You're not responsible for that choosing and your first wife definitely is not responsible. We alone are responsible for our own choices no matter how hard the circumstances.
To get involved in polygany means not only that life gets a hundred times more complex if your partner is resistant but that a considerable SPIRTUAL MATURITY is demanded of you. POLYGAMY IS NOT FOR IMMATURE MEN. Absolutely not. I will repeat that a hundred times a day if necessary until my hair turns white to get that message across. This is not a principle you can afford to mess around with. And don't you dare try to manipulate or blackmail your first wife just because you (in your head, heart or between your legs) want another wife.
I have deliberately not answered a lot of questions in this response. The question asked is a very important one. And I have not answered them because every situation is unique. There is no single 'magical formula' that you can use - there is no military 'Battle Plan B' to follow as an option of three of four. There are potentially THOUSANDS of ways to do things and none but one who is walking in the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) can possibly know which path to take safely. When it comes to men polygamy either:
When it comes to women it either:
- (a) Builds spiritual, loving giants;
- (b) Creates fleshy spiritual monsters; or
- (c) Spits out spiritual whimps.
May a poly-minded man break a monogamy-only vow?
- (a) Creates spiritual, loving giants;
- (b) Ripens the unrepentant rebellious into hideous Jezebels; or
- (c) Creates emotionally mangled or destroyed victims.
The question is: who is your wife? A true Sarah, a horrible unredeemable Jezebel, or a victim who simply CANNOT handle polygamy no matter what?
- 1. If his actions lead to the creation of spiritual giants, YES - BUT only Yahweh knows in advance if they will...dare you take the risk?
- 2. If his actions are merely prompting a Jezebel to reveal her true colours and run away, YES/NO - that will depend if she will repent or not and only Yahweh knows in advance if they will...dare you take the risk?
- 3. If his actions lead to the destruction of a helpless soul, ABSOLUTELY NOT - and only Yahweh knows in advance if they will...dare you take the risk?
And how can you tell them apart? Are you able to carry the responsibility for someone's soul, whether you make or break them? Should you carry such a responsibility? Does Yahweh give you permission in Scripture to assume such a responsibility? What if your calling is to love and cherish a woman too weak to be a polygamist for the whole of your life?
You have a 50:50 chance of creating something beautiful or unleashing hellish destruction in your life, your wife's life and your children's life. I have known a man lose wife, children, ministry and career because he tried to forced them all into polygamy. Such men end up with nothing, bitter regret and, in some bases, losing their faith in Elohim (God). In the years I was actively involved in the polygamy ministry scene (from the 1990's to 2003) I saw roughly a 95% failure rate. And it wasn't only the ordinary folks who failed, but high-profile leaders too. One leader allowed himself to be driven to murder! He is serving a life-sentence in a California penitentiary for murdering one of his wives who wanted out. He was brilliant, charismatic, cocky...and violent. The leader of the polygamy-by-force movement abandoned three wives and their children when the pressure got too high, changed his name, moved state and started another ministry pretending that nothing had ever happened. His new followers know nothing about his story, save maybe one or two insiders. He too was brilliant, charismatic, cocky...and cowardly. And he lives in constant fear of being exposed.
None of us knows how people are going to turn out. Some, rarely, are given the spirit of prophecy, but most are not. You may think you are a prophet, you may think you are experienced enough to be sufficiently spiritually equipped to force a first wife to follow your lead against her will and against your monogamy-only vows, but do you actually have the experience? I have known brilliant men - ministers - who thought they did and who ended up as destructive and destroyed fools. Isn't that what happened to Solomon, the wisest man who became the biggest fool? How many Polygamy-by-force men have thought their wives were Jezebels when in fact they were spiritually weak and defenceless and unable to cope with their husband's impatient and bullying ultimatums, who lived in terror of not being loved any more? I would suggest that the men who push such women over the abyss because of a lack of sensitivity, love care on their part are signing their eternal death warrants. They are making themselves candidates for hell!
If, on the other hand, they are forcing an unrepentant Jezebel out into the open, they may be saving their own souls and the souls of others! How many Jezebels have destroyed their husbands? They should not be left to ruin a marriage, destroy children, or prevent other polygamous wives from coming in for a marriage covering but should be rooted out. If the man is strong, and is obedient to heaven, YAHWEH WILL DRIVE THEM AWAY so as to free the man for his ministry and family. He must not do it himself - he must still be loving - but he must also be strict and meek, that 'magical combination' which only Yah'shua (Jesus) can supply. But be very, very, very careful indeed for if you try to do this in the flesh you may very well discover that you too are operating out of a loathesome and detestable demonic spirit yourself. Two wongs do not make a right. No Ahab was ever justified by a Jezebel.
So you will see, I hope, that my approach is basically polygamy-by-love or love-not-force BUT that I sometimes make exceptions for Jezebels. If the man loves sacrificially but sticks to the Truth, the Jezebels will eventually run or repent, for they are in truth bound for perdition anyway if they won't repent. Perhaps their souls will be saved out of the marriage. But whether or not they claim to be 'Christians' or 'Messianics', if they deny their salvation by their works, and then flee, then she may be divorced, and that is the end of that. Christianity is a ministry of suffering...so endure it, not afflict it whilst calling out the liars, the deceivers and those who claim to be of the Spirit but who operate out of the flesh - men and women alike!
So my default answer to your question is always NO, YOU MAY NOT UNILATERALLY BREAK YOUR MONOGAMY-ONLY VOWS. You should stick to the truth, in love, with long-suffering, enduring the trial of your faith, assuring your wife of your love for her (she needs to feel safe, needed and wanted - that's the main terror of polygamy for her), correcting her, when needed, as the Spirit leads, in truth and with much patience and long-suffering ... not for rejecting your wish to take another wife (which is her right based on monogamy-only vows) ... but for behaving in an ungodly way, showing her gently and kindly, yet firmly, what the fruits are of rejecting the truth. In short, you have to be her pastor and remain trustworthy in that family office!
Do you think you can manage to do that? Then you might be called to be a polygamist. If you don't have that maturity, love and skill, then polygamy isn't for you and my counsel to you is to RUN A MILE - preferably a hundred.
This is reality. Forget the carnal romantic fantasy world of aspirant polygamists, and forget it quickly. Stay a monogamist, mature as a monogamist husband. Polygamy is not, in any case, a 'right' in the New Covenant (as it was in the Old) but a calling of the Most High for men with a good name because it is a family priesthood office (Hebrews 5:4). Those who haven't got one, who think they have, will get beaten up by polygamy and hurt their families in the process. It is never wise to operate out of Yahweh's will. So don't.
Think heavenly pattern and you won't go wrong. Think how marriage is allegorised by Yah'shua (Jesus) to describe His relationship to the Church (Messianic Community). It's a polygamous relationship, is it not? And what is Yah'shua (Jesus)? Our High Priest. Likewise the polygamous husband is the high priest of his family. So if you are not of priestly quality, you're not called to be a polygamist, and should stick with one wife. Our High Priest was obedient to Yahweh, loved and sacrificed, the One for the many. The family high priest must do the same. None are ever forced but they are drawn by the power of love. If that isn't in you, you are defeated from the start in which case your monogamy-only vow was divine providence for you and your wife.
Polygamy is a priestly calling, not a whim of the flesh