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Chapter 21:10-17 (ESV)

Posted on March 23, 2024  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 21:10-17 (ESV) - “When you go out to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.

 “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.”

Question to consider: Which of the patriarchs had two wives and favored the children born of the wife he loved?

Passages like this one always seem strange to us because we are so far removed from this culture. Our tendency is to immediately want to accuse Moses of being some kind of misogynist, and in our culture that kind of accusation means that people will entirely dismiss anything that is said instead of trying to understand it in light of its context. 

Even at the time of Jesus, the Pharisees tried to trap Him into saying something against Moses or take sides in a political debate among rabbis regarding the subject of divorce. Of course, Jesus doesn’t speak out against Moses, but against the hardness of men’s hearts. “And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.’” (Matthew 19:3-9)

Because of sin, Moses was forced to provide instructions like this. In the instance regarding the woman captured from wars concerning enemies outside of the promised land, Moses was making sure that the woman was given the opportunity to mourn the loss of her family and then protected should the man decide to divorce her down the road. When other nations conquered an enemy, the women would have been raped and left for dead or sold into slavery. Moses’ instruction to Israel was that they were not to be like the nations, but treat the women with dignity and make sure that they were not used and sold into slavery.

In the instance regarding the marrying of two women, Moses prohibited the men from choosing favorites from among the children. If the example he gave seems familiar to you, it is because it pretty much describes the actions of Abraham leaving Hagar and Ishmael destitute or Jacob choosing to love Rachel’s children more than those of Leah or the concubines. Moses didn’t say anything bad about Abraham or Jacob, but their actions created the opportunity for this mess. Those that believe polygamy is somehow a thing blessed by God should read and understand the history Moses presented about Abraham and Jacob in Genesis. Jesus described the heart of God when it came to marriage. A man is to become one flesh with his wife and be content with the wife God has given him. The Apostle Paul described marriage as a mystery that pointed to Christ and the church and advised, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25)

In the case of Jacob, he split the portion of the firstborn such that Judah received the scepter and Joseph received the greater inheritance. I would argue that the ultimate division of Israel into two kingdoms was the long-term result of Jacob's favoritism and that even though Solomon was recognized for his wisdom, he was foolish for ignoring the instruction of Moses in regard to the actions of a king and a father.


Dear heavenly Father, help us to view marriage as You intended it to be. Help us to repent of our hard hearts and selfish ways and seek to love one another sacrificially. Amen.