Why didn't God punish Abram/Sarai/Hagar for adultery?

If he hates adultery and it is supposed to be one man one woman, why did God not even reprimand any of them for that?

We don’t know. God chose to act, in time and history, for God’s reasons.

Why did God (apparently) allow slavery for so long?

This is a mystery. Hope you don’t think this response is a cop-out.

Yes, this is a subtle question, in many respects. Even Sarah’s being Abraham’s wife is incestuous, because she was his half-sister.

The Jews were not immediately “the chosen people” in the sense of the development in Genesis. The Sinai covenant with its rules was not operative yet, that we can tell. The selection starts with Abraham, to be sure, that is, a covenant relationship.

So, the marriage conventions may have not yet been and do not appear to have emerged from the background of pagan beliefs and practices that surrounded Abraham.

Recall that Ham was the son of Noah who greatly sinned by violating his father’s nakedness. Ham’s offspring Canaan became a large group of people with similar pagan oriented marrital practices and extravagances.

Abraham and the Jewish nation had not yet fully become identified as they eventually would be.

Maybe. What intrigues me though, assuming this statement is accurate, that God reached out and established a covenant anyway.

Indeed. Let us never forget that the Bible shows a progressive revelation. He took Abraham where he found him and elevated him. He took a band of wandering Aramaics and made them His Chosen nation and Himself their king.

Abraham is such a cluts throughout Genesis. Several times he pretends his wife is his sister to avoid possible death and he fails to say something when Hagar and Sarai into conflict. And yet, despite it all you dont hear God say much about it according to scripture.

The way it was explained to me, God may not have done anything because he was patiant with Abraham since, after all, despite his many woes he was a great man of God. When God asked him to leave his home and way of life he obeyed and didnt complain. And he allowed Lot (whom he loved like a son) to have the best parts of the land even though Abraham should have probobly gotten it. Later when he rescued Lot he even refused to take anything as a reward “I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal.”

However, in some ways God did in fact punish Abraham for his adultery. God was going to bless Abraham through a son that Sarai would give birth to. When Abraham agreed to lay with Hagar, it seemed it was done through unfaithfulness and human calculation instead of remembering God’s promise and having faith. Hence, we read that when Abraham had Ishmael when he was 86 but God doesnt speak to Abraham again until he is 99. At which point Abraham must have suffered great pain to be left alone. Read his reaction to God speaking to him in Genesis 17.

Furthermore, we later read how when Sarah wanted Abraham to get rid of Ishmael and Hagar Abraham was greatly “distressed… because it concerned his son.” Keep in mind, a son to Abraham was more important than any riches the world had to offer. When he had Ishmael, it was the greatest treasure God could have possibly allowed him at that point (even though it wasnt through Sarah). So for God to ask him to do whatever Sarah told him to do must have been incredibly heart breaking for Abraham. It was his first son who he was being asked to send out to the desert.

But it seems like God commanded him to do what Sarah asked of him because God had made his promise through Isaac not Ishmael. Isaac was the fruit of Abraham’s faith in God while Ishmael was the fruit of his lack of faith. God in all his mercy still blessed Ishmael and Hagar ofcourse, but nevertheless asked Abraham to keep with what must be done. So you see, in many respects, God did punish Abraham by making him keep to what is right in the end which must have terribly pained Abraham. But even in this, God’s grace was upon Abraham for allowing him to learn about how much he had grown in his faith by being obedient to God despite not wanting to send his son out into the desert. We see an even greater act than this later with Isaac of course.

Anyway, I hope this helps to answer your question.

God Bless You,

Different covenents have different laws in them. The former covenants are imperfect, but yet still valid, the last Covenant is a win-win though. :wink:

In the culture of the time:

  1. Polygamy was not forbidden

  2. It was not uncommon for a barren wife to give a servant/slave to her husband to father a child with and then adopt the child as her own.

For another example, Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachael. When Rachael couldn’t bear children, she gave Jacob her servant – who bore Jacob two sons. Later, Leah did the same.

In any case, the actions of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, would not have been considered “adultery” in the manner understood today.


Abram’s main offense wasn’t so much the adultery, but a lack of trust. Abram was promised a son, and rather than trust in God’s word, he took matters into his own hands. God waited many years before making Abraham prove his faith on the mountain by sacrificing Isaac. Most of us fathers probably would’ve failed that test. I’m willing to bet that Abraham was never the same after that day.

It wouldnt be considered adultery for the people of the times but I believe the question is about why God didnt get mad at it. Surely he considered it adultery even then no?

I have a feeling that He only revealed His law to us as and when we were capable of understanding it. A bit like a parent might not tell a one-year-old not to take off its clothes in public - simply because it knows that the child wouldn’t understand. And the parent doesn’t get mad if the child does it, for that reason - that it’s only a kid.

He didn’t hold it against Noah for not being circumcised, for example, (since He only introduced the practice with Abraham) or, presumably, against Abraham for not observing Passover (since He only introduced that custom with Moses). Nor even against Moses for having more than one wife (apparently), since polygamy too wasn’t prohibited yet.

Nor, of course, against any of those who lived before the time of Christ for not believing in Him.

I have to say I respectfully disagree with you here. He never told Abraham “though shall not murder.” However, that doesnt mean that if Abraham went out murdered a couple of people it God wouldn’t hold him accountable. I agree that for many people who have not heard the Law, God holds them accountable for the law written in their hearts. But this is Abraham here. A guy who spoke with God directly several times. A guy who must have had a heightened sense of what God wanted from him.

At the very least, God had reveled to man at that point that man and woman are to be one flesh. So I dont see how he could have thought it correct to lay with another woman.

Sure, Abraham spoke with God directly, yet God didn’t tell Abraham that He was a Trinity and that Jesus was coming along and would die for our sins, did He? At least not that we know about.

Yes Abraham and Jacob and Moses, and Solomon, had a heightened sense of what God wanted of them, compared to their peers who were still idol worshippers and what have you. But this still doesn’t mean they had the perfection or the complete fulness of all revelation that we have. The ‘heightened sense’ accounts for their faithfulness to what HAD been revealed to him - the monotheism, the rejection of false gods, the covenant and the circumcision - not to mention the willingness to sacrifice Isaac.

But clearly they did NOT, nor did Moses, nor Solomon for all his God-given wisdom, yet have the teaching that ‘man and woman becoming one flesh’ precluded polygamy. So why would they necessarily have the sense that it precluded sleeping, on your wife’s request, with her maid?

He didnt tell the Jews about the Trinity nor did he tell the Christians about the trinity either. These are mysteries of our faith. They are high divine mysteries. An understanding of murdering a man is not. It is something the people of that time must have faced constantly in their environment. God seemed pretty upset when Cain murdered Abel. I find it very difficult to believe that a sense of morality regarding murder and polygamy (two things that must have been encountered a lot in that culture) would have not been known to them. For they seem to regard two incredibly sacred bonds between people.

Sure, the people of that time engaged in Polygamy all the time but that doesn’t make it permissible (not that I am saying you are saying that either). Customs, covenants and a high divine knowldge such as that of the Trinity are completely different from basic laws writen in the heart of man that expressed respect the union of marriage and dont Murder.

Whether sleeping with a maiden on your wife’s request (for the sake of procreation) was morally permissible at the time seems a different question. My objection is with the idea that polygamy or other acts referring to human behavior are permissible simply because God had not explicitly told people at that point, DON’T DO IT!

Polygamy and murder are two different issues entirely.

Murder is, and always has been, wrong.

In the Old Testament, polygamy was not viewed the same way.

Jacob, with whom God made a covenant, was never criticized by God (or anyone else) for polygamy. Hannah, the mother of Samuel the Prophet was one of two wives. In her story we can see the tensions that this can cause – but neither she nor her husband was criticized by God. King David, known as “The Man After God’s Own Heart” had many wives – and the only one for which he was criticized WAS an actual act of adultery. Judgment came against King Solomon on account of his wives – not as to their number, but rather because of their idolatry.

Polygamy WAS specifically forbidden for church leaders by St. Paul.

However, in no sense, in biblical times (whether Old or New Testament) could polygamy be considered “adultery” in the traditional meaning of the word.

CS Lewis, in *Mere Christianity * suggests (and I paraphrase) that “People have argued as to how many wives one should have – but not that one can simply take any woman one wants!”

In other words, even where polygamy was accepted, there was an understanding between relationships which were legitimate as opposed to illegitimate.

The understanding that monogamy is a more properly ordered lifestyle than polygamy is an example of the growing and deepening of the natural law, whereas murder has always been rejected by the natural law.


Great response here. I took agree that murder and polygamy are two completely different things. I just disagree with the position that says since God didnt say anything about it, he must have been ok with it, or made it permissible. I just dont like that rationale. It certainly could be that it wasnt a big deal as other things such as adultery and so God didnt say anything about it. There is an order of seriousness in sin is there not?

I am familiar with that C.S. Lewis quote. But I still maintain that just because people have disagreed about whether you can have more than one wife, that doesnt say anything about whether God disagrees with it. He didnt say anything He may not have said anything about it to Solomon (in scripture) but that doesnt mean that he was fine with it. To have more than one wife is almost Eros gluttony - despite whether it is condoned by ones partner. Afterall, we as human beings dont get to say what is right and wrong by our actions.

And so, in this spirit, I submit that I could be completely wrong in my thinking. For neither can I say what is right and wrong in God’s eyes. If one says, “God didnt say anything, many of his greatest prophet did it… so it must have been ok for them” then so be it. That is a reasonable argument. I just dont find comfort in it.

Abraham did many terrible things that God could have back slapped him for. But God didnt say anything about it because it seemed he was patient with Abraham and his other great prophets whom he was to make into a great men.

Isaac is the only one of the patriarchs who was not polygamous. Joseph the favorite son was the child of the #2 wife (Jacob also had 2 concubines).

Jesus said Moses’ law permitted divorce “because of the hardness of your hearts” but “from the beginning, it was not so.” So perhaps God permitted polygamy because of human weakness, without approving it?

The OT law also permitted marriage to be formalize by having sex (but if you had sex first, your marriage could not be dissolved by divorce).

The reality is that the laws of marriage are laws of the Church (Tradition) not found in the Bible. In the New Covenant marriage is raised to a Sacrament - a source of grace to believers. The Holy Spirit strengthens us in ways the Patriarchs (and their wives) did not benefit from.

Indeed. Kinda makes you wonder just what atrocities the people around the time of Noah must have been getting up to to make them so awful if the best of 'em stuffed up (by our standards) so much?

Yes! Exactly! Thank you NHInsider. You put it best. :slight_smile:

Has the meaning of adultery changed over the centuries? I have never thought of the prophets Abraham or Moses, as being adulterers; David, yes, because of what he did to Uriah, but I never thought of any of the other prophets in that way.

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