David was a follower of the Law. In Exodus 21:10 God commanded anyone with multiple wives cannot withhold and must provide food, sex and clothing for all of his wives. In 2 Samuel 12 God reminds David of all that He gave him and basically asking him why would you do what you did? Why would you commit adultery with another mans wife? If God gave David Saul’s wives as a reward for his loyalty, what kind of reward would it be for him to have to take care of 7 women? Where is the reward in that? Why did God give King David all of Saul's wives?
In 2 Samuel 12:8 we are told that God gave King David all of Saul’s wives. We have two questions. The first is, “Who were Saul’s wives?” and the second question is, “Why did God give David the wives of Saul?” That is, were Saul’s wives given as a reward for David’s faithfulness or were they given to him so that he could care for them since they were widows?
How Many Wives Did Saul Have?
Let us start by asking, “How many wives did Saul have?” The answer is that Scripture gives us the name of just one wife for Saul. I Samuel 14:50 gives her name as Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz. 1 Chronicles 8:33 and 1 Chronicles 9:39 state that Jonathan, Malchi-shua, Abinadab and Eshbaal were sons of Saul. 2 Samuel 2-4 gives the account of another son of Saul named Ish-Bosheth, who ruled over Israel for two years following Saul’s death. But Scripture does tell us that Saul had a concubine named Rizpah. He had two sons by her, who were called Armoni and Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 21:8).
Now Saul had a concubine whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah; and Ish-bosheth said to Abner, “Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine?” 2 Samuel 3:7 (NASB)
Saul had two daughters according to 1 Samuel 14:49: Merab and Michal. Michal in time married King David.
How Many Wives Did David Have?
Scripture names eight wives of David. But it tells us that he had other wives plus a number of unknown concubines. But the Bible never states that David married any of Saul’s wives. Scripture gives us the name of only one wife for Saul, Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz. This is a different woman from David’s wife with the same name, Ahinoam. David’s wife is always called Ahinoam the Jezreelitess. Further, Scripture never states that Rizpah was one of David’s wives or concubines. Four other wives of David are named: Maacah, Haggith, Abital and Eglah. 2 Samuel 3:2-5 simply tells us that these women were also David’s wives.
Sons were born to David at Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, by Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; and his second, Chileab, by Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur; and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, by David’s wife Eglah. These were born to David at Hebron. 2 Samuel 3:2-5 (NASB)
Therefore, it appears that either 1) David never married Saul’s wives, 2) the wives of Saul became David’s wives or concubines since 2 Samuel 5:13-16 and 1 Chronicles 3:9 tells us that David had other wives and concubines or 3) David only cared for Saul’s wives since they were widows. Notice in 2 Samuel 5:13-16 that the sons of the concubines are not named nor are the names of the daughters.
Meanwhile David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron; and more sons and daughters were born to David. Now these are the names of those who were born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet. 2 Samuel 5:13-16 (NASB)
Therefore, we do not know for sure if David married any of the wives of Saul or had physical sexual relations with them.
Why Did God Give David The Wives of Saul?
Therefore, why did God give David the wives of Saul? The answer begins to unfold in 2 Samuel 12:8 where we are informed that God gave David all of Saul’s possessions: Saul’s house, his wives, the kingdom and “many more things.”
Nathan then said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!'” 2 Samuel 12:8 (NASB)
The prophet Nathan spoke these words to David while confronting David about his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. It is important to note that Nathan is quoting the Lord God of Israel. The prophet reminded David that God had given him all of the possessions of King Saul. It is too easy to selectively focus on the statement “your master’s wives into your care” and ignore the other three things that God gave him. It is important to know that the Hebrew word for “care” is rarely used in the Old Testament to refer to sexual intercourse. For more information about the meaning of the word “care” read “Does 2 Samuel 12:8 mean God approved of David’s polygamy?
If Nathan was trying to say that David should not have had sexual relations with Bathsheba because he had been given all the wives of Saul, then why did Nathan include so many gifts? He could have simply referred only to the wives of Saul. Scripture does not support the conclusion that David actually married any of Saul’s wives or had children by them. All of David’s sons are the sons of the wives he married.
Some people claim that Saul’s wives were not given to David as a reward for the purpose of sexual pleasure and refer to Exodus 21:10 regarding slaves and 1 Corinthians 7:4-5 for wives. These verses prohibit a man from denying a slave or a wife her conjugal rights or to be able to engage in sexual activity and intercourse.
If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. Exodus 21:10 (NASB)
But such a claim ignores the fact that some men engage in sexual activity every day and some multiple times per day. If Saul had a small number of wives who were added to David’s harem, then David might not have had difficulty satisfying their sexual needs.
Exodus 21:10 and 2 Samuel 12:8 are not in conflict. Scripture does not tells us that David married or took as his personal concubines Saul’s widows. But if he had, we must understand that some men can engage in very frequent sexual relations.
2 Samuel 12:8 cannot be used to reveal that God approved or did not approve of polygamy. Scripture does not give us enough facts. What is clear is that God gave to David Saul’s widows for the purpose of providing financial support and care for them.