By Connor Salter, Crosswalk.com
As Old Testament characters go, King David is probably the most famous. The slayer of giants, the hero of Israel, the man who pursued God with all his heart. While we talk a lot about his heroic might, we don’t talk much about David’s wives. Depending on what Sunday School you attended, you might not know there were multiple wives. Let’s take a look at what the Bible tells us about them.
Who Were David's Wives?
There are several key places in the Bible that describe David’s wives. 1 Chronicles 3:1-9 lists sons that David had with seven women, six of which he married while living in exile in Hebron. The list of wives married during his exile is repeated in 2 Samuel 3:2-5. However, these lists only mention the wives that David had sons with, and the 1 Chronicles list ends with “these were the sons of David, not including his sons born to concubines” (1 Chronicles 3:9). A wife not covered in either list, David’s first wife, is mentioned in several stories about David’s exploit. Given that Biblical genealogies are not always definitive (sometimes they just mention notable family members or the notable offspring), there could be wives the Bible doesn’t mention.
So, based on what we know, David had at least eight wives, and we learn in 2 Samuel that he had at least ten concubines. Here are the eight wives:
Michal was David’s original wife, Saul’s daughter whom David won by killing 100 Philistines (1 Samuel 18:24-27). She later helped David escape before her father could kill him (1 Samuel 19:11-18) and was married off to a man named Palti. David took her back after he became king of Judah (2 Samuel 3:12-6). When David danced before the Ark of the Covenant as it entered Jerusalem, Michal rebuked him for his undignified behavior. David retorted that he was celebrating before God, and that story concludes by saying Michael “remained childless throughout her entire life” (2 Sam 6:23).
Abigail was the second of David’s wives. As described in 1 Samuel 25, she was first married to a wealthy man named Nabal who treated David cheaply. Abigail wisely entreated David not to kill Nabal, and he had mercy. After Abigail told her husband that she saved him, Nabal had a heart attack and died. David then married Abigail, and she had a son named Daniel.
Ahinoam married David while he was in exile from Saul, and had David’s firstborn son, Amnon. Amnom would create much grief for David and the rest of the family when he molested his half-sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13).
Maacah, whose father Talmai was king of Geshur, married David while he was in exile and her children included a son named Absalom and a daughter named Tamar. After Amnon raped Tamar, Absalom killed him (2 Samuel 13:23-38). Later Absalom tried to usurp David.
Haggith married David while he was in exile, and had a son named Adonijah. Adonijah would be David’s oldest living son by the time David died and would try to claim the throne for himself.
Abital married David while he was in exile, and had a son named Shephatiah.
Eglah married David while he was in exile, and had a son named Ithream.
Bathsheba was David’s last wife (at least the last one mentioned in the Bible) and probably his most famous. As told in 2 Samuel 11-12, Bathsheba was married to Uriah, one of David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:39). David slept with Bathsheba and arranged for Uriah’s death when he discovered Bathsheba was pregnant (2 Samuel 11:14-27). The prophet Nathan rebuked David, and Bathsheba’s child died. Later she and David had a second son, Solomon, who God favored (2 Samuel 12:25).
The Bible also mentions a woman who was not strictly a wife or a concubine, but close enough that it became a problem. In his old age, David could no longer stay warm in bed, so his advisors found “a young virgin” named Abishag to sleep in the same bed with David and provide warmth. 1 Kings 1:4 says Abishag “looked after the king and took care of him. But the king had no sexual relations with her.” So, Abishag slept with the king, but not (if you’ll forgive the pun) “in the Biblical sense.”
However, after Solomon became king, Adonijah used Bathsheba to ask Solomon a favor: he wanted Abishag’s hand in marriage (1 Kings 2:13-23). Solomon replied, “you might as well ask me to give him the kingdom!” (1 Kings 2:22). The implication seems to be if Adonijah married a woman who’d been on intimate terms with David, it would be like marrying one of David’s wives: a claim to power and succession. Thus, although Abishag was not David’s wife or concubine, her intimate connection with the king resulted in people using her as a pawn.
If God Is Against Polygamy, Why Did David Have Multiple Wives?
The Bible routinely describes polygamy in a negative light, so it may be hard to understand why David, a “man after God’s own heart,” (1 Samuel 13:14) had multiple wives. Some scholars have suggested he married some of these women for political reasons—as noted earlier, Maacah was the daughter of a king. Others have speculated that in the pagan societies surrounding Israel, having multiple wives was a way kings showed their power.
Pastor and therapist Ted Roberts gives an interesting theory in his book Pure Desire and other resources: David may have been stuck in a cycle of “sexual bondage.” Like many men struggling with pornography or sexual issues, David had a harsh relationship with his father, who called David his “youngest son,” using a Hebrew word that also means “unimportant.” Men with sexual issues also have illicit behavior they try to hide (David hid his affair with Bathsheba), and pass on their dysfunctional behavior to their children without ever confronting the problem (Amnon rapes his half-sister, David got angry but did nothing about it). Given that context, David may have had so many partners because he was in an addictive cycle. It may be shocking to suggest King David had sexual issues, but it’s not out of the question.
All of these theories have some evidence behind them and leave us with something to chew on. Regardless of which one is correct, the fact remains David made a mistake having so many wives. He was a man after God’s own heart, but that doesn’t mean he got everything right.
Even though the Bible doesn’t describe God or prophets outright condemning David for polygamy, it doesn’t praise him for it either. The Bible states he had many wives, but never adds anything like “and this was accorded to him as wisdom” which would imply God approved. Even though God favored his second son with Bathsheba, this doesn’t mean that God wanted their relationship to happen. It’s more of an example of God taking a sinful situation and working some good from it, much as Joseph getting thrown into prison led to him meeting the Pharaoh (Genesis 41).
In fact, the Bible’s narrative makes it clear David’s marriage choices created big problems. His many wives resulted in many children with rivalries and unhealthy relationships with each other. In fact, this would fulfill a prophecy Nathan gave when he rebuked David for his infidelity: someone in his household would rebel against him, someone who would shame David by sleeping with David’s wives in public (2 Samuel 12:11-12). Years later, after Absalom killed his brother Amnon for what he did to Tamar, Absalom rebelled against David and forced him to flee Jerusalem. To establish his authority as the new king, Absalom took ten of his father’s concubines and slept with them in public (2 Samuel 16:15-23).
Eventually, Absalom was ousted and killed (2 Samuel 18), but the troubles continued. In David’s old age, Adonijah declared himself king, and David had to quickly crown Solomon to clear matters up (1 King 1:5-52). As mentioned earlier, Adonijah then used the “almost concubine” status of Abishag to try and get closer to the throne. Solomon responded by having Adonijah killed (1 Kings 2:25).
All in all, the Bible makes it clear that David’s polygamy created an enormous amount of pain.
Who Was David's Favorite Wife?
The Bible doesn’t outright say which of David’s wives he favored the most, nor does it give us enough information to guess. We don’t know about five of his wives other than which sons they bore. We learn more about Michal, Abigail, and Bathsheba, but not much about how David related to them over time.
We know Michal was devoted to David, enough to hide him from her own father. However, it’s not clear if they reconciled after she rebuked David. The fact she had no children could mean they became estranged. We know Abigail was unusually wise, and nothing about how she related to David later in life. We know that David promised Bathsheba her son Solomon would succeed him and that she warned him that Adonijah was trying to usurp the throne (1 Kings 1:17). So, they were at least on speaking terms later in life. Still, we don’t know if David named Solomon his successor because he favored Bathsheba, because God favored Solomon, or to compensate for everything Bathsheba had suffered.
Why Should We Know about David's Wives?
Since the Bible doesn’t give us many details about David’s wives, and many of the details we get are so sad, it’s easy to wonder why we should study their story. There are a variety of reasons to learn about them, with two particularly clear ones.
The first is that everything in the Bible is worth learning on some level. Some details may not have major stories attached, and not all of them have detailed themes or takeaways. However, nothing in the Bible is accidental, it is all God-breathed and useful (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The second is that their stories show us a side of David we often forget. While David did some great and wise things, he didn’t always do the right thing. Much like his son Solomon, David had lots of wives, but it created trouble and strife. Learning about David’s poor choices, and the results of those choices help us to understand he was more than the heroic figure we discover in Sunday School. David was a fallible human being who made poor choices as well as good ones and had to face those actions’ consequences.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Roberto Nickson
G. Connor is a freelance writer and journalist, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. He has contributed over 600 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.
This article is part of our People from the Bible Series featuring the most well-known historical names and figures from Scripture. We have compiled these articles to help you study those whom God chose to set before us as examples in His Word. May their lives and walks with God strengthen your faith and encourage your soul.
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