Marriage is ordained by God. He planned it, blessed it and millions of people have enjoyed the courtship, companionship and love of their mates down through the centuries. From marriage often comes the privilege and blessing of chil­dren with the resultant family life. Properly entered into, marriage is the richest of all human relationships that a man and woman can enjoy.

On the other hand, the marriage vow is often taken lightly. It is entered into with the idea that if it does not work, that relationship can be broken. “If this one doesn’t work, I’ll try another one,” is the attitude of many. Others live to­gether apart from any marital ties. Children come along and may never even know to whom they belong.

Polygamy, the practice of having plural wives, often appeared in the Old Testament. King David was probably the greatest offender in this point. Blessed and used by God as the leader who pulled all of Israel together, he had the problem of too many women. We shall attempt in the following paragraphs to trace this area in the life of this Old Testament king. You may also have had some questions in this area as you have studied the Scriptures.

MERAB – The woman who almost made it

David the shepherd boy had captivated the hearts of the people of Israel. News of his heroic exploits had preceded his return from doing battle with the Philistines. The women danced in the streets and sang their praises of this one who had led the armies and so soundly defeated this dreaded enemy. They gave more praise to this lad than to their king, Saul.

These actions only filled the heart of the king with jealousy and anger. He became dreadfully fearful of David. To his way of thinking, the only way to get rid of this young man was to kill him. Having missed his mark when he cast a javelin at him, he tried a more subtle attack. He offered his eldest daughter Merab to be David’s wife upon his return from the next battle. Saul placed David in the thickest part of the struggle, assuring himself that the young warrior would be killed, and that he would never have to keep his promise. David, however, successfully returned alive from the battlefield experience. Saul, not anticipating his return, had already given Merab to another man named Adriel (1 Sam. 18:19).

MICHAL – The woman who loved David

Michal, too, was a daughter of Saul. She fell in love with David and wanted to marry him. Saul was pleased with this turn of events, for he felt that through his daughter he could lay a trap for David. “And Saul said, I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him. Wherefore Saul said to David, Thou shalt this day be my son-in-law in one of the ‘two” (1 Sam. 18:21).

For a dowry, Saul asked for the foreskins of one hundred Philistines, again hoping to make David fall in the ensuing battle. When David returned alive, however, he presented twice as many as demanded. Saul had to make good on his promise to his adversary. Michal became the wife of David. Michal became the wife of David.

Soon after their marriage, Saul once more sought to slay David with the javelin, but he missed again. Fleeing from Saul, the young man went home to his wife, Saul’s daughter. She, sensing that David’s life was endangered by the irate king, let her husband out the rear window and deceived the troops sent by her father to take her husband the next morning. Saul was foiled once again.

As soon as David was banished by the king and could not return home, Saul gave David’s wife to another man, Paltiel, in marriage. When David later returned as king, she was forcibly restored as his wife, over the vehement protests of Paltiel (2 Sam. 3:14-16). There is evidence to believe, though, that her strong love for David had cooled. When the ark of the covenant was later brought to Jerusalem, David danced and leaped before the Lord. When Michal saw this, “she despised him in her heart” (2 Sam. 6:14-16). As the result of her disdain for David, she  was denied the privilege of bearing any children (2 Sam. 6:23). Michal’s marriage to David was an unhappy one. Her love for David, which was once so strong, had disappeared and was replaced by hatred.

ABIGAIL-The woman with a wicked husband

Nabal was a very wealthy rancher with great herds of sheep and goats. Apparently his flocks grazed in an area where David and his troops protected them from marauding enemies. After David had provided this protection for some time, he had an urgent need of some provisions to care for his young men. He sent ten of his warriors to Nabal, asking the favor of some food, but was rudely refused. Angered by Nabal’s denial of help, and sensing his selfish and wicked attitude, David gathered about four hundred men to fight against this wealthy herdsman and destroy him!

When Nabal’s wife, Abigail, learned what her husband had done to those who had protected them, she secretly met with David. Having brought him and his men the needed provisions, she was able to prevent David from killing her husband. When Abigail later told Nabal what she had done, and how she had helped to spare their lives, he was struck with fear and died a few days later (1 Sam. 25:2-38). Shortly after the death of Nabal, David took Abigail to be his wife.

AHINOAM – The woman of Jezreel

“David also took Ahinoam, of Jezreel; and they were also both of them his wives” (1 Sam. 25:43). Most scholars feel from the use of the tense of the verbs (pluperfect) that David had married Ahinoam prior to Abigail. Whenever there is a listing of Abigail and Ahinoam, Ahinoam is always placed first (1 Sam. 27:3; 30:5; 2 Sam. 2:2). Ahinoam bore David’s first son, Amnon; Abigail bore his second, Chileab.

MAACAH – The woman of royalty

Not too much is known about this wife. The Scriptures tell us she was the “daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur” (2 Sam. 3:3). We know that David “invaded the Geshurites . . .” (1 Sam. 27:8). Perhaps he met her there. All we are certain of is that when David completed his wilderness wanderings, he settled in Hebron. His son Absalom was born to Maacah in this southern city.

HAGGITH, ABITAL AND EGLAH – The women of Hebron

Very little is known about these three wives of David. Each woman had a son born to David during the years he lived in Hebron. It appears they are only listed to develop the scriptural narrative and lineage. Some of the children play an important part in the development of the division of the kingdom after the death of David. Nothing personal, however, is mentioned con­cerning these wives.

OTHER WOMEN – Wives and concubines of David

“And David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron; and there were yet sons and daughters born to David” (2 Sam. 5:13).

David ruled over Hebron and the southern area for more than seven years. Following this, David took the stronghold of Zion, called Jebus or Jerusalem.  He defeated the Jebusites and became king over all of Israel, ruling from the “City of David,” for the next thirty-three years.

He continued his many marriages. Though the names of all his wives are not mentioned, twelve more children were born in Jerusalem:  Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Nogah, Nepheg,  Japhia,  Elishama,  Eliada and Eliphalet (cf. 2 Sam. 5:14-16 with 1 Chr. 3:5-9).

There were other children also born to David’s concubines, which were too numerous to mention.

BATHSHEBA – The woman by whom David was tempted

David had gotten recognition as a great leader and king. The battles he fought were easily won. The Philistines, the arch enemies of Israel for a long time, had been soundly defeated. His do­ minion was enlarged to cover new territories, having defeated the Ammonites and Syrians. David brought the ark of the covenant to his capital city. He even planned to build a temple in Jerusalem until the Lord made it clear to him he was not to do so. Having probably attained fifty years of age, all looked good for him to rule peacefully and happily for the rest of his life. Yet David would soon face some of the greatest calamities of his life.

The ancient armies seldom, if ever, battled in the winter. The general procedure was for them to go home and return in the spring to pick up where they left off the previous fall. Furthermore, the king usually led the army into the battle. This particular spring, however, David decided to stay home. He had a proven army and a great general in Joab (2 Sam. 11:1). This change in protocol led to one of the most tragic defeats in the life of David, one which did not occur on the battlefield.

David, enjoying the prosperity God had given him, had idle moments on his hands. Walking along the rooftop of the palace one evening, his eyes fell upon a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, who was out taking her bath. Passion surged over him and took complete control. He sent for this wife of a faithful soldier, Uriah, and committed an act of adultery with her. “This sin was, of course, but the natural climax to a long life of polygamy, one common to oriental despots” (I.S.B.E., Vol. II, p. 797).

A short time passed, and David learned from the lips of Bathsheba that she would soon bear his child. He tried to cover his passion with murder. Her husband Uriah was given his own death sentence to carry to General Joab. He was placed in the forefront of the battle. Shortly thereafter, he was killed by the enemy in the line of duty. A moment of passion had led to adultery and then to murder.

David took Bathsheba to be his wife, and on the surface all appeared to be well. In time she bore him an unnamed son. “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (2 Sam. 11:27b). The Lord brought the Prophet Nathan into the picture. He told David the parable of the ewe lamb, thereby pointing out to the king his sin and his guilt. “Thou art the man” (2 Sam. 12:7). The all-accusing finger of God had caught up with David. Furthermore, through the Prophet Nathan, God promised judgment to the king for what he had done. The child born of this relationship would die. The sword would never depart out of David’s house. His wives would be given to his neighbors. Trouble would be his the remaining days of his life.

Having been stricken in his conscience, David repented and confessed his sin. Two psalms are associated with his sin and repentance – Psalm 51, which is a cry of confession, and Psalm 32, one of forgiveness. These psalms are some of the most heartrending in all of Scripture.

It is worth noting that there is no record of David ever taking another wife after this incident. He must have learned his lesson and learned it well.

As we try to paint a picture of the life of David from sacred writ, it becomes obvious that he was involved with many women. The Scriptures name eight different women who were married to him, and he almost married Merab. He also had more wives and concubines in Jerusalem, with children born to them. In all, the Word of God names nineteen children who were fathered by David and born to these women. In all probabil­ity, if there are unnamed wives, there were also more unnamed offspring as well. The children of these women would haunt David for the remainder of his life.

The Paradox of David’s Life

David’s sin was great. He practiced polygamy and did many other things that certainly did not please the Lord. He even committed adultery and murder. Yet, the inspired Word of God declares, “. . . I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, who shall fulfill all my will” (Acts 13:22). How can this be? The two concepts seem incompatible and contradictory. Is God inconsistent with Himself? Has He changed His view of the heinousness of sin?

In David the Lord simply shows us what man is really like. David was a great soldier, shepherd and king. He was an outstanding poet, and his music cheered the hearts of many people. But, as great as he was, at times the pen of the poet and the strings of the harp were laid aside. After all, he sinned like everyone else. But, the Lord shows us that this king learned well. When deep in his sin, he learned to cry out to God and confess it. He thus was the “prodigal son” of the Old Testament. He learned to have a broken and contrite heart before his Lord, and God heard the cry of that broken man. Though his sin was great, and though the results of it hounded him the rest of his life, he was great in his confession. Broken before the Lord, he was forgiven. Yes, God can bless and use a broken vessel.

God is not inconsistent! He knows the heart of every man, his every sin, and his every weakness. When, in simple faith, we come to the Lord with our load of sin, God will forgive us as well. God can then call us “. . . a man after mine own heart, who shall fulfill all my will” (Acts 13:22b). How the Lord longs for this very thing from each of us.

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