And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her until she wept and would not eat. Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” – 1 Samuel 1:6-17 and 20 (NIV)
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One Jewish commentary I’ve encountered argues that polygamy in the Hebrew Bible was rare, usually occurring when the first wife was barren (or, in Jacob’s case, the second wife was the one he had been promised first): in all of these instances, however, the husband’s heart was with the barren wife – the spiritual union, the helpmeet promised in the Garden of Eden, rather than the “fruitful” partner suggested in the first chapter of Genesis.
Freed of the necessity of having children to expand the Jewish people, then, it appears that there would have been no polygamy. Thus, the spiritual marriage has a long and honored history.
Reflect on the Biblical instances of polygamy, though, and you’ll see this: it never works! It creates trouble and rivalries for everybody involved.
But now, as I return to Elkanah, I wonder how comforting his words really are – could they arise in a desire to be the center of her attention? Would sons detract from her devotion? As they say, the plot thickens. No wonder the Bible’s such an epic!
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And so Man came to be without God in the World, being alienated from that Divine Life, Light, Love, Grace, Goodness, Wisdom, Power, Holiness, Virtue, Purity, Innocency, wherewith the Lord invested him at the first in perfect Beauty; but Man going out from that first Divine Nature and Seed, in which he stood before Transgression, here was his Fall and Degeneration, and so he came by that unexpressible Loss of the Favour of God and Freedom of Will, that now the Lord being angry with him, he had no Power to do anything to appease him; the Garment of Innocency being lost, their Fig-leaf Aprons could not hide their shameful Nakedness from the Lord; which he seeing, and taking Notice of, compassionately made them Coats of Skin for their Clothing, and then he drove them out of the Garden of Eden: So here Man was put out of the Paradise of God for eating of the forbidden Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and Cherubims placed at the East end of the Garden, with a flaming Sword, which turned every Way, to keep the Way of the Tree of Life, as may be read in the third Chapter of Genesis at large. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)