One of the biggest failures of David was his failure to live out God’s design for marriage and family. The fact that he ignored what God said about marriage was devastating to his children and many people around them.
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2 Samuel #2 . 2 Samuel 3:2-5;13-16
Second Samuel Chapters one through five give us the history of a half-hearted civil war between Saul’s family and David’s followers. But right in the middle, chapter three interrupts the war narrative to tell us briefly about the sons that David had during this time, and about his wives. There are some significant things to say about this interlude. I could have put it before or after the war discussion. Since I am writing this the week before father’s day (in the USA) I’ll cover it now, and we’ll get to the war next week.
Six sons of David are named in 3:2-5, and each one came from a different wife. The Old Testament does not offer many outright condemnations of polygamy. Yet it unflinchingly and consistently records the negative results of having more than one spouse. And there are passages that warn against it, even especially for kings.
Of David’s sons named in this passage, Chileab, Ithream and Shephatiah are mentioned only here in the history of Israel (though the same passage is repeated in 1 Chronicles 3). It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that they died in infancy or childhood; because of their absence in later genealogies it is virtually certain that they died before they themselves had children. David’s three surviving sons prove the brokenness that results from ignoring God’s intended plan for marriage and families.
The first survivor is Amnon. When he grew up he raped his half-sister Tamar, who was Absalom’s full sister. Absalom, the next one, had Amnon murdered for what he did. Later, he started a civil war with his father David, and made him flee for his life. Adonijah was a schemer who also tried to seize control of the kingdom when David was old and weak. He was ultimately executed by his half-brother Solomon.
There is one more note in chapter three concerning marriage. In verses 13-16 David demands that his wife Michal, Saul’s daughter, be returned to him. It is true that at one time, it seemed like David and Michal were in love (1 Samuel 18:20). But the marriage has been dissolved for a long time by this point, and David’s main motivation appears to be to unify the kingdom – joining the house of Saul and the house of David once more. He may have also been concerned that if Michal had any children, her second husband might claim them as rightful heirs of the throne of Israel. But her second husband loved her very much. He followed her all the way to the borders of David’s kingdom, weeping that he was losing her. This is an awful, tragic event.
It is a fact that David had many wives and many children by them. It is also a fact that the resulting family was full of greed, lust, hatred, murder, mayhem and grief. David was a man after God’s heart in many ways. But in his role as a husband and father, he failed spectacularly, as men of power and fame frequently do.
I did not plan out the texts this way, but I happen to be writing this just prior to Father’s day. So I want to point out a few things here that seem relevant to fatherhood. First, David’s failure as a father began with his failure as a husband. The strife in his family began with the fact that David ignored God’s plan for marriage, which is laid out clearly in Genesis 1 and 2 which describe marriage as the joining of one man and one woman for life. Once David ignored that, things went downhill. We might excuse him for marrying again after being separated from Michal. That divorce was beyond his control. But he continued to add wives like state-stickers on the back of a retired couple’s RV.
In those days, polygamy was a sign that the polygamist was rich and powerful. Many wives were a sign of status, sort of like a brand new Mercedes-Benz these days, only more expensive. It was expected that powerful men would have many wives. I believe that part of David’s motivation in marrying so many women was to gain respect in the eyes of his followers and in the eyes of foreign leaders. I’m sure he also wanted extra wives for other reasons, and the culture merely gave him an excuse. The truth is, David caved in to cultural pressure about marriage. And in doing so, he ignored a very clear warning from Moses that even kings were not to take many wives:
14 “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, take possession of it, live in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations around me,’ 15 you are to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses… …17 He must not acquire many wives for himself so that his heart won’t go astray. He must not acquire very large amounts of silver and gold for himself. (Deut 17:14 & 17, HCSB)
There is a lot of cultural pressure on godly marriage these days also. Of course, there is the pressure to cave in and say that marriage is a joining of whoever wants to be joined, regardless of gender (or anything else). But I think the biggest cultural pressure on marriage these days is divorce. Divorce is just as much against God’s design for marriage as is polygamy. If you think it was wrong for David to have several wives, then biblically speaking, you’d better admit that divorce is wrong too. If you think gay marriage is not according to God’s plan, than you had better acknowledge that neither is divorce. The only difference is that our society accepts divorce, but not polygamy (at least not yet). It may soon accept gay marriage, or even stranger moralities concerning marriage, but we as Christians need to understand what the Bible says, and hold to it, regardless of what our culture does. There are loopholes in the law that allow unscrupulous people and companies to legally cheat and scam others. Does that mean it is OK for Christians to make money by doing those things? Of course not. Legality is not the same as morality. The law in Nevada says prostitution is legal there. Does that mean it is OK for a Christian woman to choose that for a career – as long as she lives in Nevada? Of course not. Government laws are not the same as God’s standards, and we can’t expect them to be. In the same way, it doesn’t matter what any human government says about marriage. What God says is the only relevant thing, and Jesus was sky-clear about marriage:
4 “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,” 5 and He also said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”
8 He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not like that from the beginning. 9 And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
It would be nice if our legal system reflected our Christian morality. But there are already so many places in which it does not. If we make disciples and Jesus changes the hearts of people, they will do what is right, even if the law says it is OK to do wrong. If we all really followed Jesus and really let him use each of use to make disciples, gay marriage would not even be an issue. I wish Christians in America would quite fussing about gay marriage and instead let their hearts be broken in repentance over divorce, and over our failure to really submit to Jesus in all areas of our lives, especially marriage.
Now, what if you have already had a divorce and have remarried? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. These instructions are for you right now. What’s past is past. Live each present moment in step with the Holy Spirit. If you are married now, regardless of which number your marriage is, stay married to this one. Make it work, starting now. I think this principle is illustrated (in a negative way) by what David did to Michal. He tore her away from a man who deeply loved her. David destroyed another marriage and another family by trying to “undo” his divorce. The whole thing was a big disaster, as divorce always is. We’ll learn later that neither he nor Michal were happy about how it worked out after they were married again. So don’t try to undo your present marriage, whether it is your first or your fifth.
If your present marriage is truly intolerable (and often we exaggerate how bad it is) then it does appear that you can get divorced without sinning – as long as you never marry anyone but your present spouse again. In other words, for a Christian, divorce should lead to lifetime singleness, or reconciliation with your estranged spouse. The one exception where a person is free to get divorced and marry someone else is explained by Jesus – if your spouse (not you) commits adultery. Even there, Jesus does say that you must divorce – only that you may.
But before you decide that your marriage is intolerable, I want to suggest to you that marriage is a live thing. Things will get bad – for a while. They always do. They will also get better. If you stay with it, that is inevitable too. And then they will get rocky, and then better again. That’s life. Marriage is the most intimate relationship available to human beings. Two human beings relating that closely are bound to cause trouble for each other. But they can also be a source of incredible strength and joy to each other, if they stick with it. At its best, marriage gives us glimpses into the very nature of God. At its worst, it forces us to confront our own flaws and foibles, and maybe gives us a glimpse into the heartache that the Lord feels when we turn away from him. Either way, it’s a good thing. Notice I didn’t say easy but rather, good.
When David ignored God’s plan for marriage, it led to disaster for his children. Not only did his children suffer, but many around them suffered also. In other words, David’s disregard of God’s view of marriage was not merely a personal choice that affected only him – in his case it affected hundreds of people. In fact, his son Solomon followed in David’s polygamous footsteps and it destroyed and entire nation of people.
A huge amount of research has been done concerning children and divorce. Though children often seem to bounce back and handle things well at first, the long term consequences of divorce upon children are deep, troubling, and difficult to resolve. The struggles of children of divorce range from physical health problems to emotional trauma, depression and problems with future relationships. On this father’s day, I say to dads: If you are serious about being a good father, start by being a good and faithful husband to the mother of your children.
I’m sure David was under a lot of pressure. Everyone around accepted polygamy, especially for a man in his situation. But I believe that if David had been truly willing to follow the Lord in this area of his life, the Holy Spirit would have given him the strength to do so. I know the same is true for us. I think Kari and I have a great marriage. But trust me, we have our negative times like everyone else. But the grace of God is always available to us to help us in our struggles – all we have to do is submit to God’s design and reach out for that grace.