Scriptures

How Could David ‘Fulfil God’s Will’, If He Had Many Wives?

Introduction

Before trying to answer the question, how could David ‘fulfil God’s Will’, if he had many wives? let’s consider a few things first.

‘Wives and Concubines’

Consider the matter of David’s many wives and concubines, an aspect of his life which, it seems, was tolerated by God. In looking at this, I suggest that, although we cannot justify it, we should first clarify our understanding of the place that ‘Concubinage’ occupied in Old Testament society and recognise that it was a widely accepted practice among many of the nations of that age.

There are references to it, in at least nine Old Testament books, beginning as early as the Book of Genesis and continuing to the time of Daniel, and it was practised by at least 13 named and prominent Old Testament personalities.

Furthermore, the Hebrew word, ‘pilegesh’, has the literal meaning of ‘half-wife’, so that a concubine was a woman legally taken in marriage, but occupying a position in the household inferior to that of the first wife.

It has been reliably established that, in those days when to have a male heir was considered of vital importance, there were widely accepted legal codes, for instance, the Nuzu laws of the time of Genesis, which decreed that if a wife was unable to bear a child, she must provide her husband with a serving maid, who would be expected to bear a son in her place.

This is why Abraham accepted Sarah’s proposal, and took Hagar her maid ‘as a wife’, who gave birth to Ishmael.

‘Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so, she said to Abram, ‘The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.’ Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So, after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.’ Genesis 16:1-3

And, since that same law decreed that a concubine must be regarded as a member of the household and provided for, we find that Abraham objected when Sarah determined to send Hagar and Ishmael away, Genesis 21:9-ff.

When, at the demand of the people, God allowed Israel to have a king it was considered, among the nations of that time, a symbol of royal magnificence and greatness for a king to possess many wives and concubines, and such ‘marriages’ were frequently arranged as a method of sealing political alliances between kingdoms.

Hence, the reference, in 1 Kings 11:3, to Solomon’s 700 ‘wives, princesses’ and 300 ‘concubines.’ Incidentally, these figures are drastically reduced in the Song of Solomon 6.

‘Sixty queens there may be, and eighty concubines, and virgins beyond number.’ Song of Solomon 6:8

David’s Disobedience

First, let’s look at Act 13:22, where Paul declares that David was described by God, as ‘a man after my own heart, who shall fulfil all My will’, and yet, according to the historical books of the Old Testament, it’s clear he had many ‘wives and concubines.’

‘These were the sons of David born to him in Hebron: The firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel; the second, Daniel the son of Abigail of Carmel; the third, Absalom the son of Maakah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, by his wife Eglah. These six were born to David in Hebron, where he reigned seven years and six months. David reigned in Jerusalem thirty-three years, and these were the children born to him there: Shammua, Shobal, Nathan and Solomon. These four were by Bathsheba daughter of Ammiel. There were also Ibhar, Elishua, Eliphelet, Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet—nine in all. All these were the sons of David, besides his sons by his concubines. And Tamar was their sister.’ 1 Chronicles 3:1-9

There is no doubt that in this matter David sinned, because the law of God, as laid down in Deuteronomy 17:17, states that the King

‘must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.’

Yet, again, although he must certainly have been aware of this law, 2 Samuel 5:13 records that when he became king,

‘David took more wives and concubines from Jerusalem’.

Whilst we cannot justify his conduct, I think it’s important to bear in mind that nowhere in the Scriptures is David declared to be perfect. Indeed, they don’t attempt to hide his imperfections! After the sins he committed against Uriah the Hittite, and, against Bathsheba herself, the last sentence in 2 Samuel 11 reads,

‘But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD’. 2 Samuel 11:27

In what sense may it be said that David ‘fulfilled’ all God’s will?

‘After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; who shall fulfil all My will.’ Acts 13:22

Well, Paul’s quotation takes us back to 1 Samuel 13, where we read about God’s rejection of the disobedient Saul as king of Israel. 1 Samuel 13:14 records what the prophet Samuel said to Saul, and these are the words to which Paul refers in Acts 13:22.

They simply mean that in contrast with the disobedient King Saul, the man whom God had chosen to succeed him as Israel’s king would be the sort of king whom God desired.

In other words, the statement relates only to David’s role as king. As God’s chosen ruler, and with His help, David would succeed where Saul failed. This is why later, in the same chapter, Acts 13:36, Paul was able to say,

‘Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed.’

Clearly, then, Acts 13:22 mustn’t be taken as an unqualified expression of Divine approval of David’s entire life and conduct.

Conclusion

The pity is that David fell in with the spirit of the age, even though he should have known that in so doing he was disobeying God. The fact is, that, although David had many fine qualities, he was capable of serious sin and grave errors of judgment.

But what should also be said for him is that when he was made aware of his sins, he repented. Psalm 51 is a prime example of this.

Furthermore, we should never forget that he was a man of a dispensation very different from our own, and we should not judge him in the light of the fuller revelation which we possess today in the New Testament.

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Galatians 2:20

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