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The two texts:

“When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ 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.

“Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites.

And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.” ‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭17:14-20‬ ‭

Compared with:

I gave you your master’s house, and put your master’s wives into your arms. I also gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all that somehow seems insignificant, I would have given you so much more as well! 2 Samuel 12:8

There are similar questions on this site pertaining to this general question:

Did God permit David to marry numerous wives in 2 Samuel 12:8?

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

I am not asking if/why God is permitting or encouraging polygamy, but I want to ask if this is a contradiction whereby God gives a law (Deuteronomy 17) and then says He will give something (namely: wives) to David if he had done better, which would violate God’s law. This sounds contradictory from God’s vantage point.

Q: How do we reconcile the kings law Deuteronomy 17:14-20 with 2 Samuel 12:8?

2 Answers 2

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The commandment is: "Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself."

For multiply, NIDOTTE has:

רָבָה (rābâ, I), q. become numerous, increase, multiply; pi., hi. increase (#8049); אַרְבֶּה (ʾarbeh), nom. locust (#746); הַרְבֵּה (harbēh), hi. inf. abs. great number, many, much (#2221); מַרְבֶּה (marbeh), nom. abundance, increase (only Isa 9:7 [6]; 33:23) (#5269); מַרְבִּית (marbît), nom. multitude, majority (#5270); תַּרְבּוּת (tarbût), nom. breed (#9551); תַּרְבִּית (tarbît), nom. interest, increase (#9552).

I think we can safely take the sense of "a great number", rather than a blanket ban on "increase", since if you start with one and get two more, you've tripled the number but still have not multiplied too much. Kings would need to have multiple wives just to make alliances, so there was a political need for polygamy and a need to produce a male heir as well.

But God said "I would have given you more if that wasn't enough", so this would not be a contradiction if either

A) God being the one to give the extra wives is not the same as "he shall multiply for himself", or

B) Whatever extra God would give would still keep him under the "multiply" limit (which is unspecified)

And I think we can safely say that both A) and B) would work.

Also, there is a reason why there is no hard number, as how many wives would corrupt a king has a lot to do with who the wives are and what the character of the king is. Thus a general "not too many wives" rule is given, and this flexibility should resolve any apparent contradictions.


Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 1037.

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  • that makes a lot of sense, actually. +1
    – Cork88
    Aug 24, 2022 at 15:29
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The key phrase God uses is, "lest his heart turn away". One godly wife would not turn the king's heart away from God, nor would two, or three, or more - if they were all godly wives. But if one or more wives out of a group were ungoldly, then they would turn the king's heart away from God. That's exactly what happened with Solomon - read 1 Kings 11:1-13 about his massive multiplication of wives, many of them pagans.

Another key point is what 'multiply' means, in context. Take the use of that word with horses, for example. Is having two or three horses 'multiplying horses for himself' in the sense God warns about? If the king's chariot or coach required two or more horses to pull it, then surely having a few horses would not be violating God's statement? Or if the king really was only to have one horse, would not having a second one, as a spare should the first become lame or ill, be reasonable? It's not having a large stable-full of horses that was the problem.

It was about going down to Egypt for horses: "...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.’ It was more a warning about where they might acquire horses from, than the number of horses. God's people were often told not to go to Egypt again, after God delivered them from that place and gave them the promised land.

Likewise with the command as respects silver and gold. Notice how the warning is against "greatly multiplying" silver and gold, for himself? A very great deal of that would be needed to run the country and taxation would fill the fiscal coffers. But that would not be for the king, personally. (Or, it shouldn't be.) The warning seems to be to avoid stocking up great wealth for the one man, the king.

Therefore, when we come to the 2 Samuel 12:8 section about king David, context shows this was God speaking to him via Nathan the prophet, upon exposing David's sin of adultery with Bathsheba, and what he caused to happen to her husband, Uriah. This is not about a king accumulating lots of wives, but about God having already blessed a godly king. If David had thought those blessings already given were insufficient, God was saying he would have given him more, so there was no need for David to steal another man's wife!

So, these two texts don't contradict each other. The first gives warnings about what a king should not do, to protect himself from turning against God (via ungodly wives); the second tells a sinning king that God would have given him another wife legitimately, (there was no excuse for coveting another man's wife.)

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  • Interesting answer, but you said: “The first gives warnings about what a king should not do, to protect himself from turning against God (via ungodly wives)” where does the text mention it about being “ungodly wives”?
    – Cork88
    Aug 8, 2022 at 17:46
  • @Cork88 Correct – the term ‘ungodly wives’ does not occur. I should have stuck to the biblical usage of the word ‘pagan’. People in the Old Testament era were rarely without god, in that sense of being ‘ungodly’. Most people were very religious indeed, having a multiplicity of gods and goddesses – what the O.T. refers to as paganism. It is the account of Solomon (1 Kings ch.11) that details the paganism of many of his wives, which turned him against the only true God. Just read that chapter.
    – Anne
    Aug 9, 2022 at 15:09
  • I am familiar with that particular chapter, but my mind will need to meditate on your answer. I will have to do some mental sorting. Appreciate the response.
    – Cork88
    Aug 9, 2022 at 17:13

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