Can we talk about polygamy in the Bible?
I mean, how many wives did David have?
King David seems like a mystery at times.
At least to me he does. On the one hand, he is a man after God’s own heart. He was the “Lord is my shepherd” guy. God was so pleased with David that he made an everlasting covenant with him, promising him that one of his descendants would be on the throne forever. Spiritually speaking, David had everything going for him.
On the other hand, David had some pretty nasty flaws. He seduced Bathsheba and murdered Uriah. He would have killed Nabal if Nabal’s wife, Abigail hadn’t stepped in. Then, after Nabal died David decided to marry Abigail. Which seems like a happy ending until you remember that David already had a wife. By the end of his life, David actually had several wives.
By the end of his life, David actually had several wives.
Wait, how many wives did David have? Let’s see. Michal, Abigail, and Bathsheba. Maybe a few more we don’t know about.
So what’s the deal? Why did God allow David to have multiple wives? Why didn’t God punish David for his polygamy? Did God approve of David’s polygamy? These kinds of questions can make the Old Testament seem really confusing.
This polygamy in the Bible stuff is hard to understand. Am I right?
In his book, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, Paul Copan makes a very helpful point in this regard. He says:
…the Biblical authors often don’t comment on such actions [such as polygamy] because (at least in part) they assume that they don’t need to. In other words, is doesn’t mean ought; the way biblical characters happen to act isn’t necessarily an endorsement of their behavior.
In other words, just because it is in the Bible doesn’t mean that it’s good. Polygamy in the Bible doesn’t mean God endorses polygamy.
In Genesis 1-2 we see God’s ideal: a marriage between one man and one woman.
In Deuteronomy 17:17, God says to the future kings of Israel: “And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.” God never intended a king, or anyone else for that matter, to have multiple wives.
The reality, however, is that God patiently works with sinful men and women who live in a sinful world. God stoops to our level and works with us in spite of our flaws. David was king during a time when there would have been pressure to make marriage for political reasons. Did God approve of this? No, but he worked within the framework of David’s world and he extended grace to David.
On a side note, it is interesting to note that every time multiple marriages happen in scripture, strife occurred. God didn’t necessarily punish polygamy, but he didn’t bless it either. God’s grace works in mysterious ways.
When it comes to how many wives did David have, a lot of strife resulted.
I’m grateful we serve a God of grace. I’m sure that hundreds of years from now people will look back on the church and see many obvious flaws and much obvious fruit. Because God is gracious, and he meets us where we are.