Does 2 Samuel 12:8 mean God approved of David’s polygamy?
2 Samuel 12:8 does not record God’s approval of polygamy but God’s gift of the possessions that He gave David. The gifts had previously been given to King Saul. Because of King Saul’s sin, which is recorded in 1 Samuel 15:10-23, Saul lost the kingdom given to him by God. Then God gave the kingdom and all of its possessions to David.
But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you. 1 Samuel 13:14 (NASB)
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)
2 Samuel 12:8 — The Meaning of “Care”
It is important to note that the King James Version Bible (KJV) says “bosom” and not “care.” The Hebrew word that is translated as “care” in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is heq. It can mean “bosom, arm or care.” For many people the word “bosom” implies sex. Of the thirty-seven times the Hebrew word appears in the Old Testament, it is used only there times to figuratively refer to sex (Genesis 16:5; Proverbs 5:20;6:27). The other times the Hebrew word refers to the bottom of the chariot, an arm, the bosom and to cherish. The normal sense of the Hebrew word describes “an area of the body between the waist and arms.” That is the literal sense of the word. Therefore, the ESV Bible translation usually translates the word as “arms.” This helps us understand that we must examine the context to discover the meaning of the word.
Did God Approve of David’s Polygamy?
The context of 2 Samuel 12:8 begins in 2 Samuel 12:1 and continues to 2 Samuel 12:14. In this passage the prophet Nathan confronts King David about planning for the death of Uriah and his adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:9). Therefore, one could understand verse 8 to mean that God gave Saul’s wives to David to care for them or to have sex with them. It could be that God was saying I gave you his wives, why did you have sex with Bathsheba? But such an interpretation would suggest that God only views women as useful for sex. Genesis 2:18 states that God made Eve to be a helper who was suitable. The Hebrew phrase “helper suitable” refers to more than sex. She compliments him in every way. Therefore, it is difficult to conclude that 2 Samuel 12:8 means the Saul’s wives were only given to David for the purpose of having sex. We must remember that heq is used only three times out of thirty-seven times to figuratively refer to sex.
Therefore, we cannot conclude that the passage means God approved of the many wives that Saul had accumulated nor of the wives that David acquired and the wives that King Solomon added (1 Kings 11:1-10). It is clear from 1 Samuel that Saul was not a man after God’s heart. Saul sinned repeatedly.
In Deuteronomy 17:17 God warned the future kings of Israel that they were not to have many wives.
He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself. Deuteronomy 17:17 (NASB)
The Hebrew word that is translated as “wives” is issa. It is the most common Hebrew word for women or wives. That is, he is not to have many wives. The message is simple. God did not and does not approve of polygamy. Yet, men choose to sin – to be polygamists.
Those who seek approval for polygamy in the pages of scripture ignore the lesson we are to learn from the original marriage that God created in Genesis 2:18-25. The lesson is that God did not give Adam multiple wives but one wife. She was Eve. They also ignore Deuteronomy 17:17; 1 Corinthians 7:2 and 1 Timothy 3:2. They ignore the fact that God allows us to sin and be disobedient. They ignore the truth that God will judge those who sin, if not here in this life then in the life to come.
But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. Romans 2:5-8 (NASB)
That is, those who are unrepentant and continue sinning will be judged more severely.
In Luke, Jesus reminds us and the book of Hebrews reminds us that in hell there are degrees of punishment based upon our deeds in this life. God does not always punish us now. It may seem that God approves because He allows us to sin, but judgment is coming!
Woe to you,Chorazin! Woe to you,Bethsaida! For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will be brought down to Hades! Luke 10:13 (NASB)
How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? Hebrews 10:29
God has not and does not approve of the sin of polygamy.
1. James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
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