Mentioned in numerous Old Testament passages, the concubine was not a prostitute but an auxiliary marriage partner who was both similar to and different from the wife. She was similar in that the Bible describes her marriage partner as her “husband” and includes her along with sons, daughters, and wives as a member of the ancient household (Judg 20:4-6; 2 Sam 19:5).

Like the wife, she enjoyed the economic support of her husband (2Sam 20:3), and like a full-status wife, she was to have sexual relations only with her husband (Judg 19:1-2). Given the other wives and concubines in the household, she could not expect the same fidelity from him.

At the same time, the life of the concubine and her children was also different from that of the full-status wife. The difference started with the economic exchanges that attended the marriage. The concubine did not have to secure a dowry to bring with her into the marriage. Her status was also different. Within the hierarchy of the household that included full-status wives as well as slaves, the concubine fell short of the wife in rank but above the female slaves.

Her children felt the brunt of this lower social status. The children of a concubine were not scheduled to receive a portion of the inheritance unless the husband chose to make special allowance for them. Sarah was worried that Abraham would do this for Ishmael, so she urged that he be sent away (Gen 21:10). In the end, Abraham graciously provided gifts for all of the children of his concubines before his passed away (Gen 25:6).

The reasons for seeking a concubine in marriage varied from person to person, but we can safely make the following observations. As with the full-status wife, the man seeking a concubine could expect to enjoy sexual pleasure in this relationship as well as enjoy the blessing of additional children.

Given the importance of children in extending the economic and physical security of a household, it is not surprising that concubines are frequently mentioned in connection with the children to whom they gave birth (for example Gen 22:24; 2 Sam 5:13; 1 Chron 2:46, 48).

Of course a full-status wife also brought advantages to her husband, but there were economic incentives that made the marriage to a concubine more desirable. The groom did not have to pay the bride-price that was required for marriage to a full-status wife. In addition, the husband could add children to the household without complicating the inheritance since the concubine and her children were not included in the calculation. Concubines were sought by kings for an additional reason.

When alliance were struck, the partner nations exchanged young women who married the respective kings as a symbol of the pact that had been made. The more alliance-born concubines one had, the more prestigious one looked as a leader in the ancient world.

Although the LORD warned the Israelites about buying into this worldview (Deut 17:17), Solomon had three hundred concubines and Rehoboam had sixty (1 Kings 11:3; 2 Chron 11:21). END OF PART 1.

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