What was the point of concubines? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Our next look will be further ahead at the life of Abraham as we study what the Bible says about marriage. Abraham is told by God that he will have a son through him he will bless the world. I had a pastor once who said you can picture Abraham going home that evening, turning on some Barry Manilow, and telling Sarah that they had to do their part in faithfulness to the promise of God.
Yet despite whatever might have happened, that promise didn’t seem to be being fulfilled. So Sarah decided she needed to help God fulfill the promise. Isn’t that nice of her? Technically, God had said Abraham would have a child. That doesn’t have to be through Sarah. Here. Take my concubine Abraham and have your way with her and let the promise come through her.
Now in the biblical account, this doesn’t end well. Some people claim that Ishmael’s descendants became the Arabs and that led to Islam, but I don’t know if we have any hard data on that one so I won’t accept it now, but there was still enmity many times between the Ishmaelites and the Israelites. The home life at the start was also disrupted as Ishmael was hardly friendly to Isaac.
But why would God allow concubines?
Something we see in Scripture is that people fell and they fell and often seemed to hit rock bottom immediately. God is a gentle teacher and sees that they are progressing so He allows certain borderline practices that He does not consider ideal as they go on their journey. I consider Israelite slavery to be better than the surrounding nations, but still a practice God tolerated but never considered ideal.
We also need to keep in mind that in those days, infant mortality was high. Not only could children die at a young age, before the advent of better medicine, but mothers could also often die in childbirth. That can still happen today, but normally, expectant mothers don’t worry that they will die in the delivery room as they are giving birth.
In those cases, it was often thought that this was a way of keeping the wife alive and increasing the number of children that could come about. Later in the history of Judah, we will see, for example, that Joash is given two wives when he becomes king, which makes sense since most of the Davidic line had been wiped out by his grandmother, even if it wasn’t ideal.
Does this constitute a change in marriage? No. You still have the man-woman unit being central. What we do see is the numerous problems that develop. Fortunately for Hagar, Sarah’s concubine, the story works out for her. After all, she is the innocent party and was just doing what she had been told, although there was the exception of her possibly being rude to Sarah. God indeed blesses her and she is actually the first person in Scripture to see the angel of the Lord specifically.
Concubines will show up later throughout the text, but there is no need to discuss their role further, though we will mention at times when they show up.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)