An issue came up during a Bible class and several members would like me to approach the issue in a sermon. I am trying to figure out an approach. You may already have a sermon that hits or touches on the issue, in which case just tell me which one. If not, maybe you can brainstorm with me and give some ideas for me to consider. So here is the issue that started the discussion and a summary of where it went.
Concubines. We were in Judges 19. The question was: Did God approve of concubines? Everyone seemed to agree He did not, but neither did He specifically condemn the practice. That raised the point of several "men of faith" who had concubines: Abraham, Jacob, David. This brought up a discussion about how these men could be faithful and yet engage in immoral behavior. Finally, the question turned to "was God more lenient with the people of the Old Testament"? If so, why? If not, how do we explain the practice of concubinage?
I have come up with a few approaches, but I don't particularly like any of the ones I have thus far. So if you have some thoughts, I'd appreciate them.
A concubine is a slave who is taken as a wife. If the practice remained only as such, I don't believe there would have been anything wrong with it. It would still be one man married to one woman. The problem arises in that many of the men who took concubines for wives had them in addition to their "regular" wife; thus, committing polygamy.
The question is why didn't God say something about it to these men? David and Solomon, especially, should have known better because there was a law specifically about their situation. "You shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the LORD has said to you, 'You shall not return that way again.' Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself" (Deuteronomy 17:15-17). Yet, God did condemn them for some sins, but not polygamy -- other than to note that it was Solomon's wives who led to his downfall (I Kings 11:1-2).
We do know that God took into account the ignorance of man. "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31). We see other examples of God not remarking on certain sins, such as Abraham's lies -- though we see that those lies got Abraham into trouble.
I believe that is one aspect of the problem. We know that God hates sin and the Bible is straight forward in recording the fact that man sins, but we don't always see God's rebuke for every sin. The lack of rebuke doesn't imply acceptance. If such were the case, we would have to argue that God is accepting our sins today because He is not actively condemning each sin as it occurs.
The fact that a sin is recorded would not imply that every sin committed by these men and women in the Bible was recorded. Only certain ones were recorded so that a point could be made (Romans 15:4; I Corinthians 10:5, 11-12). We must also then conclude that we may not have a record of every act of repentance made by these men when their sins were discovered. In other words, we are attempting to make a judgment about whether a person deserves heaven or not based on incomplete information.
While I don't know if this is the case or not, if we look at the raising of children, parents usually pick and choose which acts of disobedience they will tolerate at a moment and which they will punish. Generally, we know that children have to learn and so we pick certain things to work on that we think are most important. As those lessons are learned, we move on to other things. We know that God dealt with mankind as a whole in a similar fashion. It is the reason the covenants were introduced in a step-by-step fashion. "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24). It may be that God let a few things slide so that mankind would be able to learn lessons of obedience in a step-by-step fashion.
Still, even the sins not directly condemned usually are mentioned to cause problems in a person's life. Such is what we find today. If a person does not repent and turn from their sins, God will judge them on the last day. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (II Corinthians 5:10). Does God have a zero-tolerance plan for sin? We know sin is always condemned and we must repent of our sins. But does this mean only the absolutely perfect, those who have repented of every single sin in their lives will reach heaven? I have a hard time imagining many would make it if this were so due to the prevalence of sin. Not that this excuses any sin, it is just an acknowledgment of our pitiable state. "For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" (Romans 7:22-25).
It appears to me that God takes into account how hard a man strives to be pleasing to God despite the man's personal weakness. It gives me hope that when I do stumble, I haven't ruined my chances for heaven. I can pick myself up, dust off my sins, and return to running the race toward heaven. It doesn't mean I'll ignore my sins, or expect God to excuse them. I'm trying hard to stumble as little as possible, weak though I am. And still, I can praise the Almighty who would save such a person as myself.