Deut, 17:17a, specifically says:-

"Neither shall he (the king) multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away"

It seems that David was able to get away with almost anything when it came to the taking of women unto him, 2 Samuel 5:13, as per the question, being a case in point. In the case of Bathsheba, he even became an adulterer. Wasn't this carrying his "lust" of the heart a little too far, to say the least??


3 Answers 3


In the case of Solomon, we have this recorded:

1 Kings 11;3 - He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines—and his wives turned his heart away.

Some have suggested that the prohibition in Deut 17:17 against the future king "multiplying wives" is one of degree and that King David did not multiply wives enough (he had at least 8 wives) to break the law. That is a hermeneutical stretch at best and wild theological imagination at worst.

The fact is, as David multiplied his wives, his indifference toward women increased until his great sin with Bathsheba. There is at least two lines of evidence for this:

  • Only a man who was (at least temporarily) calloused enough could rape a woman, murder her husband and then be arrogant enough to believe that no one knew!!
  • The literary structure of the book of 2 Samuel naturally falls into two parts: (1) David's uninterrupted victories and successes in Ch 1-10, (2) Davids great failures including the incident with Bathsheba which resulted in the death of the four most senior heirs apparent: The son born to Bathsheba, Amnon, Absalom, Adonijah; and finally, the army census.

Thus, the advice in Deut 17:17 is sage advice, in part at least, because it was a guard against treating women like objects. Thus, David's actions in breaking the law in Deut 17:17 was a sin that led to other sins.

  • 1
    Liked your .... is an hermeneutical stretch at best and wild theological imagination at worst. + 1. Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 1:17

David's violation of the law mentioned in the OP was a sin, but it did not violate God's covenant with the king. Unlike Solomon, David's foreign wives did not lead him astray from God. However, beneath this is a more difficult question from the standpoint of hermeneutics, related to source criticism: which came first, the "chicken" of many wives or the "egg" of Deuteronomy 17. In other words, was Deuteronomy written before or after the reign of David?

Quite a few scholars believe it was written during the time of King Josiah. For example an introduction to Deuteronomy published by the US Council of Catholic Bishops states:

The book was probably composed over the course of three centuries, from the eighth century to the exile and beyond. It bears some relation to “the Book of the Law” discovered in the Jerusalem Temple around 622 B.C. during the reign of King Josiah (2 Kgs 22:8–13). It gives evidence of later editing: cf. the references to exile in 4:1–40; 28:63–68; 29:21–28; 30:1–10.

A different solution would be offered by those who believe that Deut. was written by Moses. In that case, David was able to marry many wives because no priest or prophet was strong enough to stop him. This raises the question as to why David got away with it, while Solomon did not. The answer would be that David's wives did not lead him to worship other gods, as Solomon's wives did. To marry many wives was prohibited by Deuteronomy 17 but it was not a serious enough sin to break Israel's covenant with God. Idolatry, on the other hand, was a grave sin indeed.

1 Kings 11:4, 11-12 NRSV

4 When Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. ... 11 Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant. 12 Yet for the sake of your father David I will not do it in your lifetime; I will tear it out of the hand of your son.

Conclusion: If Deuteronomy was written after the time of David, there was no law yet in existence to prohibit him from marrying foreign wives. But if the law indeed was known at the time, then God "allowed" both David and Solomon to have foreign wives because this practice in itself, though a violation of God's "statutes," did not fundamentally threaten the covenant that God had made with his people and the king. However, when Solomon's wives led him into idolatry, he was punished by the next generation by having the northern tribes split off from his kingdom. In sum, David's violation of Deuteronomy 7:17 was tolerated because his heart did not turn away from God.

  • Incidentally, I think that "lust" was not a major factor in David's having many wives. Most of them were political marriages designed to strengthen Israel's position with its neighbors. Bathsheba was an exception. David repented for that sin and was punished for it. Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 0:17
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    I, myself, believe in Moses' authorship - am not a fan of Catholic ideology - and if that is correct, then David should have known about the law - incidentally, you wrote Deuteronomy 7:17, instead of 17:17, at the bottom of your last paragraph. Take your point about Solomon's wives leading him into idolatry, whereas David, at least, did not allow that to happen. David had a good deal of respect for God's covenant towards his people for sure and therefore for God, Himself. It's the "poetic license", if you will, that David seemed to have, that I find hard to understand. A. is beneficial, + 1. Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 1:09
  • FYI the viewpoint expressed by the US Bishops in my answer is shared by many protestant commentators but not many of these are available online. Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 1:14
  • Catholic or Protestant is of no consequence to me here. Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 4:37

Allowed to sin Why was David allowed to marry several wives? The answer has to do with "free will" if we were to discuss this theologically in a seminary. But we must not let that phrase cause us to think that "God merely winked at a sin." Or that He gave his imprimatur on it. All of us are "allowed" to make life decisions, good or evil.

Get Away with it No matter the previous discussion, we must not think that there were no consequences to David's acquiring concubines and wives (2 Samuel 5:13). What a father does, set up a model for his children to pattern after. A father mentors the next generation, for good or evil.

In David's case he set up his children for a fall! (Especially Solomon when king) Solomon fell into the same trap of lust as his father engaged in. The wives of David may not have led his heart astray from God, as did Solomon's. But their presence in the household of David pulled the rug out from any sense of monogamy Solomon may have had! Solomon had no example of good marital relationships to follow. David did not get away with anything when he misled Solomon!

Holy men of God in leadership roles or positions of influence do great injustice to the Kingdom of God (and the reputation of the Name) when they sin. Their position opens them up to being an example on a wide scale...and their fall into sin has vast consequences. God forgives, yes...but consequences are usually unforgiving!**

For an in depth examination of this tragedy see Christianity S.E. #97052.

  • Free will obviously played a part here. But still .... Liked: God forgives, yes...but consequences are usually unforgiving! + 1. Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 3:09

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