The Bible's seeming endorsement of polygamy in the OTA bothers many of us. I'd like to look into this issue in the lives of Esau and Jacob. By way of introduction, I note that Isaac married only Rebekah, and he did so at age 40 (Genesis 25:20). On the other hand, the Bible clearly disapproves of Esau's marriage to two Hittite women at the same age:

34 When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite; 35 and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. (Gen 26)

It is immediately after this that Isaac blesses Jacob with the benediction originally intended for Esau. Isaac and Rebekah then send Jacob to Haran where he must marry among the Hebrews:

Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, ‘You shall not marry one of the Canaanite women. 2 Go at once to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father; and take as wife from there one of the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. (Gen 28)

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Note the instruction: "take as wife one of the daughters of Laban." In the end Jacob married both of Laban's daughters: Rachel (as he intended) and Leah (through deception because she was the first-born.) I am wondering if Isaac and Rebekah waited too long to find a wife Esau, leading him to sin by marrying two women outside of the chosen clan. I also wonder if this marriage of Esau is what led to Rebekah and Jacob conspiring to deceive Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing originally intended for Esau, which then led to Jacob's being deceived by Leah and receiving two wives, one originally intended foo Esau, instead of one.

That was a mouthful, so I should simplify: My question: Did God originally intend for Esau to marry Leah instead of the Hittite women, and for Jacob to marry only Rachel?

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    Incidentally, the idea that Leah would marry Esau is preserved by an important rabbinical source, namely Rashi. 'According to this story, Leah was destined to marry Jacob's older twin brother, Esau... People were saying, "Laban has two daughters and his sister, Rebekah, has two sons. The older daughter (Leah) will marry the older son (Esau), and the younger daughter (Rachel) will marry the younger son (Jacob)." (from the wikipedia article on Leah) Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 16:44
  • The reason for Rebekah to help strip Esau from the blessing might be the to keep him from the Isaak's curse of being first born. First born should inherit the earth promised to Abraham, but it could not yet be delivered. I believe this was the reason for Isaak to be killed and then have been ransomed with a ram instead. But you put things in an insightful context as well.
    – grammaplow
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 17:30
  • So, you would feel uncomfortable with one man marrying ten virgins, I suppose ? Matthew 25.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 21:44
  • Well, yes.... but I didn't mean to imply that God absolutely opposed men having more than one wife in the OTA. Clearly, both Leah and Rachel contributed significantly to God's providence. I am specifically interested in Jacob's course here. I am wondering if Isaac and Rebekah had acted earlier (as Abraham did to find a single wife for Isaac), perhaps things would have worked out differently. Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 21:50

2 Answers 2


Let us be very clear about the following facts:

  • The bible does not record who was "intended" to marry whom in the family of Isaac and Laban so no comment can be made. Rabbinic traditions are highly unreliable and often we the product of wishful pious thinking, not actual facts.
  • The Bible no-where commands monogamy except for the priests. (The logical extension to this, is that the Bible nowhere disapproves of polygamy nor polyandry; but I am NOT advocating for either.)
  • The Christian church, in a strict legal sense, inherited monogamy from the Roman empire.

Despite the above, there has been a general tendency in historic Christian thinking to regard monogamy as justified by two things:

  • it appears to have been God's original plan for humanity as exampled in Edenic marriage
  • The NT teaching of the "Priesthood of all Believers" (1 Peter 2:9, etc) also suggests that Christians should be monogamous.
  • Being more willing to speculate, "no comment" wasn't the answer I was looking for ;-) I found it particularly interesting (I noticed this only recently) that Isaac tells Jacob to marry "one" of Laban's daughters. So we know at least that Isaac instructed this. Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 21:44
  • @DanFefferman - That is true. It is also true that Jacob intended to marry only Rachel.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 21:46

I would also think of Esau as a figurative re-emergence of the line of Cain. He is a Cain/Lamech/Nimrod figure and his having two wives as not an endorsement of polygamy but as a criticism of it.

In Genesis 4, Lamech takes two wives (the first mention in the bible of two wives) and a few verses later in 23 and 24, he associates himself with Cain:

Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

Of course Cain is the older brother who murdered the younger out of jealousy when Abel was accepted over him.

In Genesis 10:8 and 9, we have the figure of Nimrod:

Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.

In Genesis 6, the mighty warriors are associated with the sons of God marrying any of the daughters of men that they chose.

So, in Esau we have a man who was a skilful hunter (Genesis 25:27), marries two women who he choses, who were not of God's chosen line (Genesis 26:34), who plans to kill his younger brother for being chosen over him (Genesis 27:41).

So Esau having two wives is not an endorsement of polygamy, but instead is evidence that he is someone who is defiant against God.

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