There are things in the Bible that cause people to wonder, “Why did God allow this?” Let’s notice two such things.
God created only one man and one woman in the first home (Genesis 2:21-25; 3:21). Polygamy or polyandry was not there.
Polygamy is first mentioned in Genesis 4:19. It is stated as fact. No expressed approval or disapproval is set forth. Keep in mind, this is Patriarchal times. We do not have a written record of all that God taught during this time. However, we do know that as time went on such became more common. Some of the Bible’s great characters were polygamous, men such as—Abraham, Jacob, Esau, Gideon, David, Solomon and others.
This practice of polygamy often brought unrest into the family. It did so in Abraham’s house: Sarah and Isaac v. Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 16; 21; Galatians 4). It did so in Jacob’s house: Rachel and Joseph v. Leah and her offspring (Genesis 29; 30; 37). It did so in Gideon’s house: Abimelech v. Gideon’s other sons (Judges 8-9). It may have been a factor in the house of David: Absalom and Tamar v. Amnon (2 Samuel 13 cf. 3:2-5; 13:4). There was also difficulty between Adonijah and Solomon (1 Kings 1-2).
How should we view this? Here are a few views: (1) It was sinful. The difficulty with this view is that Abraham “died in faith” (Hebrews 11:13). Never are Abraham, Jacob, or David rebuked for taking more than one wife. The Old Testament law regulated the practice of polygamy (Exodus 21:10; Deuteronomy 21:15-17). (2) It was tolerated by God, though it was a violation of His will. That is, it was sinful, but God overlooked such. The difficulty with this view is that our God does not simply overlook sin (Nahum 1:3; Habakkuk 1:13). What about Acts 17:30? J.W. McGarvey commented — “Paul does not mean that He excused it … he means that God had not hither-to attempted to break it up, as He does now by sending forth preachers of the truth” (New Commentary on Acts). I believe this to be correct. Moreover, God at times seems to sanction polygamy (Genesis 30:1, 22; Judges 19:2-3; 2 Samuel 12:1-3, 7-8). (3) It, though not the ideal, was not sinful. Kerry Duke “Polygamy and divorce are merely aspects of an unchanging moral principle the sanctity of marriage. This union is the only divinely authorized realm in which the sexual relationship can occur; sexual union outside this realm is sinful. This principle is permanent. But what constitutes a legitimate marriage has undergone some variation in divine teaching since Eden. Though some Old Testament marriages were composed of one man and several wives, they were marriages nonetheless. Concubines were not adulteresses … they were actually married … Judges 19:2-3 … Whether a man can have more than one wife at a time is a matter of divine positive law … Murder and adultery are wrong; no qualifying circumstances or principles justify these acts. But it is critical that these acts be precisely defined by biblical teaching” (Ox in the Ditch, pp. 74-75). This seems to me to be the best explanation.
What about under the New Testament? Polygamy is never authorized under the New Testament (Matthew 19:5; 1 Corinthians 7:2; 9:5; Ephesians 5:23 cf. 4:4).
Today, when we think of slavery, our minds naturally think of the enslavement of Africans by Europeans and Americans. We think of racism. We think of inhumane treatment.
In truth, slavery existed throughout the world, and for thousands of years before the New-world enslavement of blacks started. “Before the modern era, by and large Europeans enslaved other Europeans, Asians enslaved other Asians, Africans enslaved other Africans, and the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere enslaved other indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere. Slavery was not based on race, much less on theories about race. Only relatively late in history did enslavement crossing racial lines occur on such a scale as to promote an ideology of racism that outlasted the institution of slavery itself … To make racism the driving force behind slavery is to make a historically recent factor the cause of an institution which originated thousands of years earlier … Africa was resorted to as a source of large supplies of slaves only after centuries of Europeans enslaving other Europeans had been brought to an end by the consolidation of nations and empires on the European continent, by internal shifts from slavery to serfdom in much of Europe, and by the Catholic church’s pressure against enslaving fellow Christians … It was Africans who enslaved their fellow Africans, selling some of these slaves to Europeans or Arabs and keeping others for themselves. Even at the peak of the Atlantic slave trade, Africans retained more slaves for themselves than they sent to the Western Hemisphere … An estimated one-third of ‘free persons of color’ in New Orleans were slave owners … Black slave owners were even more common in the Caribbean” (Thomas Sowell, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, pp. 113, 115, 120, 127). Where did the racism connect with slavery? “If all men were created equal … then the only way to justify slavery was by depicting those enslaved as not fully men. A particularly virulent form of racism thus arose from a particularly desperate need to defend slavery … In short; racism was neither necessary nor sufficient for slavery, whose origins antedated racism by centuries. Racism was the result, not the cause of slavery” (ibid., p. 128).
Here are some things to keep in mind: (1) Slavery is not always tied to racism. (2) It is not always inhumane in its treatment. “The treatment of slaves has varied enormously” (ibid., p. 135).
Slavery was allowed under the Old Testament. Kidnapping was forbidden (Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7). However, one could become a slave due to: (1) War (Numbers 31:7-35); (2) Criminal punishment/retribution (Exodus 22:2-3); (3) Debt (Leviticus 25:39-40; 2 Kings 4:1). God was concerned about their treatment (Leviticus 25:43).
God also recognizes this economic relationship under the New Testament. However, He instructs masters—“Masters, do the same things to them (treat them as God would have you to treat them, as a servant of God B.H.) giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him” (Ephesians 6:9). “Masters, give your bondservants what is fair, knowing that you also have a master in heaven” (Colossians 4:1).