The Polygamy of David and Solomon
Among the several Old Testament saints cited by Joseph Smith as precedent for his practice of plural marriage or polygamy were the Israelite kings David and Solomon:
David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses1 my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me. David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I gave them unto another, saith the Lord (D&C 132:38-39).
Although David and especially Solomon indeed had many wives, the Bible does not support the claim that God commanded or approved of this polygamy.
David had originally married Saul’s daughter Michal (1 Sam. 18:20-29); later Saul had given Michal to someone else named Palti (1 Sam. 25:44), but David eventually got her back (2 Sam. 3:13-14). In the meantime he had married two other women, Abigail and Ahinoam (1 Sam. 25:42-43; 1 Chron. 3:1), and later at least four additional wives (1 Chron. 3:2-3). He took still more wives and concubines, of an unstated number, after he made Jerusalem his capital city (2 Sam. 5:13; 1 Chron. 14:3). Thus, David had perhaps a dozen or more wives in all. The narrative tells the reader nothing one way or the other about the propriety or wisdom of these polygamous unions. However, when the reader sees what happens in the case of Bathsheba, he realizes (if it were not already apparent) that David had a weakness in the area of women. The Bathsheba incident reveals David’s lust for women having its deadly consequences.
Joseph Smith claimed that Nathan the prophet gave David his wives and concubines. There is nothing in the Bible to support that claim. Nathan does not appear in the biblical narrative until 2 Samuel 7, after David had already acquired his many wives. Nathan did, however, comment on David’s taking of Bathsheba as his wife. This leads us to what is perhaps the most abused statement in the Bible concerning polygamy:
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’” (2 Samuel 12:7-12 ESV)
Nathan quotes the Lord as saying, “And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more” (2 Sam. 12:8). This statement is often misunderstood as meaning that the Lord approved of David taking many wives. In the Old Testament historical narrative, especially the books of Samuel, statements are often made about the Lord doing something that in context mean that certain things happened by God’s sovereign permission, not as something that he considers morally good. The best known example is the statement that “an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul” (1 Samuel 18:10 NRSV). The narrative has already made clear that Saul had earlier rebelled against God in a way that was idolatrous and akin to witchcraft or occult divination (1 Sam. 15:23). The implication is that the Holy Spirit was no longer guiding Saul and that he was therefore susceptible to evil spirits. Yet the narrator says that this evil spirit is “from God,” an emphatic way of saying that it happened as God’s just punishment on Saul, a consequence of his rebellion. We would not and should not interpret this verse to mean that God directly sent or commanded an evil spirit to come upon Saul. Similarly, we should probably not understand 2 Samuel 12:8 to mean that the Lord directly gave David his many wives (and certainly not that he commanded David to practice polygamy, as Joseph Smith claimed), but that he had sovereignly permitted or allowed David to have many wives.
We can know that God did not approve of David exercising the conventional power of monarchs to take many wives for themselves because the Mosaic Law explicitly prohibited it: “And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” (Deut. 17:17 ESV). While the Mosaic Law implicitly permitted—not approved, let alone commanded—a man to have two or a few wives, it explicitly forbade the acquisition of many women and warned that having many wives had serious potential to turn a man’s heart away from God. Thus, David’s taking many wives is explicitly contrary to the Law that God gave to Israel.
Solomon, as is well known, had hundreds of women in what can only be called a harem. The Bible reports that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines, “and his wives turned away his heart” (1 Kings 11:3), just as Deuteronomy had warned. Joseph Smith’s appeal to Solomon as precedent for his doctrine and practice of plural marriage is thus flatly contrary to what the Bible actually says. This is yet another piece of evidence that shows Joseph either did not care to understand the teaching of the Bible or had so little regard for the Word of God that he willfully misrepresented or disregarded what it said in order to justify taking many wives.
For in-depth treatment of some of the issues discussed here, see also the following articles:
And see further our main page on Polygamy, from which you can find still other articles.
1. There is no biblical support for Joseph Smith’s claim that Moses had plural wives (D&C 132:1, 38), since the Bible mentions only one wife of Moses, Zipporah (Exod. 2:21; 18:2).