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I'm hoping you can help. I'm struggling with a verse that seemingly supports God's approval of concubinage and taking of many wives.

The context here has to do with David's lust for more women.

2 Samuel 12:8

And I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given to you such and such things.

Is to be interpreted as approval of polygamy or is the main focus something else? I believe God is good. This makes me feel uneasy leaving this lingering in my mind.

Any help would be appreciated!

  • This makes me feel uneasy leaving this lingering in my mind. - For coping with feelings of uneasiness, please consult Psychology.SE. It is also unclear why loving or marrying more than one person implies a lack of goodness. – Lucian Aug 19 at 6:42
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    Why so snarky with your response? I'll admit I'm not perfect in my thinking. Nothing in me is perfect. Not all Bible scholars believe that God is totally accepting of polygamy because it can cause rivalry and other sorts of drama. Adam and Eve as one flesh is God's ideal. In a sense, taking on more women is basically saying the love of your first wife isn't enough. Gen 2, Eph 5:33, Matt 19:5, Eph 5:31 – Anderson Kate Aug 19 at 8:17
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    (1). I am merely pointing out that this is not a Christian apologetics site. (2). According to that reasoning, having more than one child is basically saying that the firstborn wasn't enough. Since scripture is ripe with sibling rivalry (Cain and Abel, Ismael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau), one can construct a religion trying to correct that tendency, by espousing a one child policy; then its adherents can come and ask questions similar to yours, about why, throughout scripture, God seems OK with having more than one offspring. – Lucian Aug 19 at 9:54
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    Ok, I'll let God be your judge. There is a problem with your twist. There's an order to be fruitful and multiple by God after we see the created order of the first marriage--one man and woman. No where in scriptures has God commanded more wives to one man in a marriage. First case from a hard hearted man named Lamech. Having this recorded doesn't mean God approved of it. The same can be said about slavery. Paul’s description of marriage as a picture of Christ and the church is seriously compromised by polygamy. – Anderson Kate Aug 19 at 11:33
  • We have to ask ourselves, why did God create two and said the beginning was created perfect..why are we given this model and dare God by changing it. – Anderson Kate Aug 19 at 11:35
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There is no doubt that polygamy was common in Israel; Elkannah, David, Solomon, Saul, Abraham, Jacob, etc, etc. In 2 Sam 12:8 we find that -

I gave your master’s house to you and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah, and if that was not enough, I would have given you even more.

Thus, among other things, God claims responsibility for some of David's several wives, and would have given even more. Monogamy was enforced by law under Roman rule from which western society has inherited the idea.

In ancient Israel, polygamy was very common. However, the priesthood was was almost universally monogamous.

In the NT, there is very little against polygamy except for a rather circuitous logic that cannot be ignored (see below). Overseers and deacons had to be monogamous (Titus 1:6, 1 Tim 3:2, 12) but I cannot find any explicit such directive for marriages generally, although some have tried to extract such from Matt 19:1-12.

There remains the passage in 1 Peter 2:9 -

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Note also:

  • Rev 1:6 - and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father--to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
  • Rev 5:10 - You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God

The logic goes that because the Israelite priesthood was monogamous, so should be the Christian community because God has called us to be a kingdom of priests. However, that is another discussion that should not delay us here.

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  • Thank you @Dottard. Do you think for that time, God was more permissive because the women would be left destitute? I think a lot of women in this age would feel hurt thinking they aren't enough for their husband's. I think that's why I'm having a hard time with the wording in this passage. – Anderson Kate Aug 19 at 2:46
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    @AndersonKate - you may be correct. If a man divorced his wife (it was illegal for the woman to divorce her husband) she would be destitute except for two alternatives: marry someone else or take up prostitution. – Dottard Aug 19 at 2:50
  • Hmm. I'm not so sure the Lord is necessarily telling David to ask Him for more wives/women, especially considering Deuteronomy 17:17. Perhaps it's more having to do with riches/things regarding the kingdom he was given. – Anderson Kate Aug 19 at 5:02
  • @AndersonKate - Deut 17:17 is not taking MANY wives. But what number turns few into many? – Dottard Aug 19 at 6:10
  • the priesthood was was almost universally monogamous - Was it ? – Lucian Aug 19 at 6:32
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2 Samuel 12:8 And I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given to you such and such things.

Why does God not just permit but seemingly encourage David's polygamy in 2 Samuel 12:8?

David was favored by God. He gave him many wives and resources. It did not mean that God encouraged David to have many wives. God gave Solomon even more wives and look what happened to him in the end. It was not an encouragement from God.

Mark 10:2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

3“What did Moses command you?” he replied.

4They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

5“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. >6“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ a 7‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.

God let the Jews have more than one wife because their hearts were hard also and because of the culture of their days.

A man (M) marries a woman (W) and they become one flesh (1).

M + W = 1
M1 + W1 = 1
M2 + W2 = 1

M1 + W3 = ? but M1 has already joined W1 and become 1 flesh.
Should M1 join W3 and become another 1 flesh?

2 Samuel 12:8 does not supports God's approval of concubinage and taking of many wives in general. For one thing, he was only speaking to David personally. It was not prescriptive.

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Monogamy is nice, but polygamy is nicer. But can you really afford it? That's the real question. Kings had many wives and concubines because "it's great to be the king".

What is NOT nice is when a king with many wives intrudes upon not only the property rites of a good man but also upon the intimate nuances of a man whose devotion to God, King and Country were working well and bringing a sweet satisfaction...

This was why a prophet was called in:

[2Sa 12:1-13, 15-25 NLT] (1) So the LORD sent Nathan the prophet to tell David this story: "There were two men in a certain town. One was rich, and one was poor. (2) The rich man owned a great many sheep and cattle. (3) The poor man owned nothing but one little lamb he had bought. He raised that little lamb, and it grew up with his children. It ate from the man's own plate and drank from his cup. He cuddled it in his arms like a baby daughter. (4) One day a guest arrived at the home of the rich man. But instead of killing an animal from his own flock or herd, he took the poor man's lamb and killed it and prepared it for his guest." (5) David was furious. "As surely as the LORD lives," he vowed, "any man who would do such a thing deserves to die! (6) He must repay four lambs to the poor man for the one he stole and for having no pity." (7) Then Nathan said to David, "You are that man! The LORD, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul. (8) I gave you your master's house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. (9) Why, then, have you despised the word of the LORD and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife. (10) From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah's wife to be your own. (11) "This is what the LORD says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view. (12) You did it secretly, but I will make this happen to you openly in the sight of all Israel." (13) Then David confessed to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." Nathan replied, "Yes, but the LORD has forgiven you, and you won't die for this sin. ... (15) After Nathan returned to his home, the LORD sent a deadly illness to the child of David and Uriah's wife. (16) David begged God to spare the child. He went without food and lay all night on the bare ground. (17) The elders of his household pleaded with him to get up and eat with them, but he refused. (18) Then on the seventh day the child died. David's advisers were afraid to tell him. "He wouldn't listen to reason while the child was ill," they said. "What drastic thing will he do when we tell him the child is dead?" (19) When David saw them whispering, he realized what had happened. "Is the child dead?" he asked. "Yes," they replied, "he is dead." (20) Then David got up from the ground, washed himself, put on lotions, and changed his clothes. He went to the Tabernacle and worshiped the LORD. After that, he returned to the palace and was served food and ate. (21) His advisers were amazed. "We don't understand you," they told him. "While the child was still living, you wept and refused to eat. But now that the child is dead, you have stopped your mourning and are eating again." (22) David replied, "I fasted and wept while the child was alive, for I said, 'Perhaps the LORD will be gracious to me and let the child live.' (23) But why should I fast when he is dead? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him one day, but he cannot return to me." (24) Then David comforted Bathsheba, his wife, and slept with her. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and David named him Solomon. The LORD loved the child (25) and sent word through Nathan the prophet that they should name him Jedidiah (which means "beloved of the LORD"), as the LORD had commanded.

To have multiple wives was never a sin in the Hebrew viewpoint. To not be able to afford the wives you gathered is another matter altogether.

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And I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given to you such and such things.

Please note the parallel to another previous passage:

Genesis 2:16-17 ¶And the LORD God commanded the man, saying: Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.

As Adam before him was allowed to taste of the many trees of the garden of Eden, so also David was permitted to take unto himself wives from among the many unwed or widowed daughters of Israel; but, as the forefather of all mankind was forbidden to touch the tree of knowledge, lest he die, so also the ruler of all Israel was prohibited from touching wedded brides from among his people, lest he and his kingdom both perish, as it eventually happened, centuries after his time.

The context here has to do with David's lust for more women.

Not quite. The context has to do with sending someone to their death, so that one could then proceed to marry their widowed wife.

Just as anything ranging from simple theft to aggravated robbery is forbidden by the Mosaic Law, but the pursuit of wealth is not (provided that the poor, the widows, and the orphans are not forgotten, which constitutes a major theme in the prophetic books), so also adultery (in all its violent and non-violent forms) is prohibited as well, but the pursuit of (preferably virgin) wives (and concubines) is not. Of course, Christ does indeed explicitly and repeatedly condemn the acquiring of wealth in the Gospels, but He lived one and a half millennia after Moses.

I'm struggling with a verse that seemingly supports God's approval of concubinage and taking of many wives. [...] This makes me feel uneasy leaving this lingering in my mind.

Does God's tacit or implicit tolerance of polygamy make you feel uneasier than Him explicitly commanding that various types of (sinful) people be put to death by stoning, or that entire cities, including their (male) children, be blotted out of existence ? If you accept the latter as biblical fact, why not the former as well ?

Or perhaps you are simply bothered by the fact that the Gospels contain no polygamy-related equivalent of John's Pericope Adulterae, explicitly condemning the practice ?

Is to be interpreted as approval of polygamy or is the main focus something else ?

As already mentioned above, the Mosaic Covenant does not forbid polygamy (Moses himself, through whom the Law was given, had multiple wives, as explicitly mentioned in Scripture); were that not the case, then there would have been no logical reason for the Prophet Nathan not to explicitly mention this to David as well, just as he explicitly mentioned his (indirect) murder of Uriah (in a manner not explicitly forbidden by Mosaic Law; after all, it's hardly a sin for a king to send his most trusted and valiant fighter into battle) so as to legally take his widowed wife as his own, since adultery, unlike David's conniving plot, was explicitly forbidden by the Law.

  • As the Pharisees after him, David kept the letter of the Law, while breaking its spirit, by infringing upon its intended purpose and meaning.

  • As Christ in New Covenant times, Nathan the Prophet is tasked by God to remind him of that.

Is to be interpreted as approval of polygamy or is the main focus something else ?

The main focus is (obviously) obedience to God's law, and trust in His divine providence.

Did he desire (yet) a(nother) wife ? If so, then why not acquire one by then-legal means, having faith that the same God that delivered all other blessings into his hands will not fail him this time either ?

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  • Though not mandatory, explanations for downvotes are always appreciated. – Lucian Aug 21 at 15:00
  • +1 for your great answer, although I believe this question should be closed down altogether. – Bach Aug 25 at 17:37
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REVISED ANSWER

Just because God allows or permits his children and image-bearers to stray from his original design for them, does not mean he sanctions their straying or places his imprimatur on it.

For example, God's design for the nation of Israel was for her to be a theocracy, not a kingdom in the usual, worldly sense. YHWH wanted to be her king, and he provided Israel with prophets, elders, military leaders, judges, and--of course--priests, to provide her with all she needed to accomplish his will and to be a light to the Gentiles surrounding her.

Samuel summoned the people of Israel to the Lord at Mizpah and said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.’ But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your disasters and calamities. And you have said, ‘No, appoint a king over us.’ So now present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and clans" (1 Samuel 10:17-19 NIV).

I'm sure we would have little difficulty in citing other ways in which God accommodated himself to Israel and her leaders, not because his design for her had changed but because sometimes he gives his children enough rope with which to hang themselves. God's decretive will cannot be altered, and his revealed will is not a suggestion. When his image-bearers considered his permissive will to be one-in-the-same with his revealed will, the resulting "wiggle room" originated in them, not God.

A common aphorism is "Be careful what you wish for," and its implication is clear: We are allowed by God to flaunt his design, but we do so at our own peril. Actions have consequences, and when we confuse God's permissive will with his revealed will, we often--if not always--suffer the consequences.

Yes, God gave to King David the house that belonged formerly to his predecessor, Saul, which included Saul's wives, but again, God's doing so was an accommodation to David as a king among similar kings in the surrounding nations. No self-respecting king back then would be without his concubines, and yet God's revealed will to Israel, including Israel's leaders, was "one husband and one wife for life."

Some of the patriarchs of Israel and perhaps many of Israel's kings flaunted God's revealed will in this area because they confused his latitude with his permission. We have only to look at King Solomon's reign to realize his fascination with multiple lives was largely his undoing, spiritually:

As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done (1 Kings 11:4-6 NIV, my bolding).

Clearly, God sometimes overlooks (or "winks at") his creatures' ignorance (see Acts 17 in the KJV at Acts 17:30 and passim), but he nevertheless does two things. First, he allows their sins to find them out (see Numbers 32:23 and passim). In other words, they reap what they sow. Second, he allows us to feel the brunt of our misguided (and often sinful) actions with unpleasant consequences.

Turning to God's Word in the New Covenant, we can invoke no greater authority about God's purpose for marriage than to quote Jesus, who said,

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[see Genesis 1:27] and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[see Genesis 2:24]? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Also in Mark 10, Jesus reaffirms God's design for marriage from the very beginning: One husband and one wife for life. Two become one flesh. Not three or four or five become one flesh, but just two and only two. Remember, too, that the context of both Matthew 19 and Mark 5 involves the subject of divorce. In both places, Jesus reaffirms the sacredness of the bond between husband and wife.

Notice as well that Moses, not God, allowed for divorce, and he did so because of the hardness of heart which plagued the Israelites. Interestingly, the only "out" that Jesus allowed for divorce was marital infidelity and the breaking of the Sixth Commandment: You shall not commit adultery.

In short, I challenge anyone who thinks that God was somehow "for" polygyny (which is the correct term for multiple wives) to examine the life of every believing (and unbelieving!) man who flaunted God's design for marriage. In taking multiple wives he was inviting heartache, disappointment, disillusionment, conflict, and spiritual declension to become part of his family's life.

That God permits multiple marriages is not the same as God sanctioning multiple marriages.

In conclusion, as an author whose name I cannot recall at the moment observed, the pattern the apostle Paul speaks of in Ephesians 5 did not originate in marriage but in the relationship between Christ and the church universal. Too often we use the former as the pattern for the latter, which is a mistake. As Paul said,

This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

God's love for his saints originated in his character and in his counsels in eternity past. The sacrificial love that God would one day demonstrate at Calvary before a watching world preceded the love of the first man Adam for his wife Eve. The singularity of that bond between Christ and his church is, I believe, more than enough proof that multiple marriages were not part of God's good, acceptable, and perfect will for his children in any age. If in rare instances God seems to have placed his imprimatur on polygyny, you can rest assured it is because he cared more about the woman's well being than the man's pleasure, as evidenced, for example, in the levirate (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10).

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  • The church consists of a plurality of persons. – Lucian Aug 19 at 15:39
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    Of course, Lucian. But I think what this commenter is getting at is Christ only has one bride, and that is the church. The collective church is a single bride. Paul makes use of the special meaning of the marriage of Gen. Each believer in this passage is not a bride. The analogic use have a specific purpose when they are used and they always fall part if we push them too far. The Church is also composed of both males and females. We would not argue for multiple people from each gender in a marriage. – Anderson Kate Aug 19 at 21:21
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    @Lucian: One of the biblical metaphors for the church universal is Christ's "bride" (see Revelation 19:7 and 21:9). The apostle Paul uses the metaphor of "virgin" (see 2 Corinthians 11:2) to refer to Christ, who is the bridegroom. Don – rhetorician Aug 20 at 19:12
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    This is a good New Testament exposition on the subject, and isn't far from being the best answer here. However, I don't feel it right to (+1) as it currently falls down in having near-zero exegesis of the Old Testament, and particularly of 2 Samuel which is the key passage. If appropriate, I suspect a more full assessment could be provided of how polygamy functioned in the OT - you insinuate that David was 'flaunting' God's design for marriage, and yet the source passage suggests that God directed the situation in question. How do you reconcile this? – Steve Taylor Aug 25 at 7:55
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    @SteveTaylor: Good points. I'll revise my answer accordingly. Don – rhetorician Aug 25 at 15:13

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