Excuse me, ma’am, but Jacob had 4 wives.

I was still an active member of the LDS Church, and I was substituting as the pianist in primary.  Singing Time was over for the Junior Primary, so I had a few minutes to relax before the Senior Primary came in.

The Primary President was in charge of Sharing Time, and she was having the children role play some Bible stories.

Since we believe we are Israelites, Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) is a key person in our story and covenant heritage.  The trouble for a strictly monogamous Church is that Jacob/Israel inconveniently had 4 wives, and each wife was the mother of at least 2 of the sons who would become the namesakes for the “tribes of Israel.”

How does one tell the story of the family and hold Jacob/Israel up as a good example we should emulate without condoning his polygamy???

When trying to role play this awkward marital situation, what is a Primary President supposed to do?

She did what any self-respecting monogamous Primary President would do.  She pretended that Jacob had only one wife, giving her the credit for birthing all 12 of his sons (and 1 daughter).

I wasn’t a polygamist back then — in fact, I didn’t even like the idea of polygamy — and yet I was shocked at this blatant mis-telling of the common Bible story.

(Side note: The famous musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat mentions Jacob’s “wives and states that Joseph’s mother was Jacob’s favorite wife.  As far as I remember, the play leaves it at that; the plural wives are not major characters and they are never explicitly named, so the screenplay skirts around the polygamy issue without either making a big deal about it or being inaccurate.)

Screenshot 2019-10-29 17.21.24

Screenshot 2019-10-29 17.20.46

Back to the Primary President.  She invited 1 boy and 1 girl to the front of the room and let them dress up in some simple homemade costumes.  Then she introduced them to the primary as Jacob and his “wife“, who were the parents of the 12 sons we know as the tribes of Israel.

I was stunned.  I couldn’t let this error pass without comment, so from the back of the room, I raised my hand and opened my mouth and said,

“Excuse me, ma’am, but Jacob had 4 wives.”

The Primary President blushed and hemmed and stammered and couldn’t find a way to remove herself from the embarrassing situation she’d put herself into.  The story was cut short and the children were shooed back to their seats.

I felt bad for correcting the Primary President in front of everyone, and yet, what would you have done?

An hour later, when the same activity was being done with the older age group, I noticed that the Primary President still had children act out Adam and Eve, Noah and Mrs. Noah, Jonah, Daniel, David and Goliath, and so on, but she didn’t dare repeating the Jacob-and-his-monogamous-wife incident, and that story was left out.

Jacob family tree

7 thoughts on “Excuse me, ma’am, but Jacob had 4 wives.

  1. For a long time I thought polygamy was a weird anachronism in the Bible. It was not until many years after knowing the Bible stories that I figured out that the Bible was right and I was the one who had it wrong. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I come across people all the time who have no idea how prevalent polygamy is in the Bible. It’s all over. Sometimes it’s obvious and well-known (such as Abraham and Jacob) and sometimes it’s subtle or less well-known (think Hannah or Isaac).

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  2. I am learning more about Plural families. I was able to spend time with some families during the Feast of Tabernacles, and I learned that all the negative remarks I heard about Poligamyst was not true! The husbands were actually very nice to their wives. The Children were treated with much love & compassion from their mothers. Overall I became open to becoming a wife in a plural marriage if it is in my future?

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  3. Great post, Charlotte! I can totally see you doing this too 😊
    It’s always important to ask questions and point out clear omissions, especially for those who are either unaware or those who chose to ignore scripture.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Could you make available the chapters and verses from the Bible where God commands, condones, promotes, or approves of polygamy? I see instances where humans practiced it and God worked around it, but none that indicate that God’s plan of salvation is dependant on the sexual practices of humans. God completely bypassed sex and a man when Mary was pregnant with Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus’ genealogy includes not just polygamists, but a former prostitute, which only indicates God’s continual, faithful striving with fallen humans, not that he relied on any work or act they could ever perform to enact his incredible plan of salvation or to get themselves to Heaven. It is pure, unmerited favor. Jacob’s placement of his concubines in the caravan that was returning home toward a possibly angry brother is alone proof that there was nothing holy about polygamy itself.

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