Does God approve of polygamy?

Polygamy, or polyamory, continues to be celebrated.

For instance, the secular entrepreneur Tiago Forte recently wrote on X:

You are already polyamorous for most things – books, songs, ideas, cities, apps, movies, etc

All I’m saying is maybe we should consider polyamory in one more category – people

Another person, whose bio indicates church involvement, recently wrote on X:

Any who doubt that God endorsed polygamy, is there any other reasonable explanation for 2 Samuel 12, where God explicitly states (through Nathan) that he gave David his wives? Or how do you explain the fact that God never once condemned any polygamists in the OT?

However, in today’s liturgical reading, we read 1 Kings 11:1-6:

King Solomon loved many foreign women in addition to Pharaoh’s daughter: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women from the nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, and they must not intermarry with you, because they will turn your heart away to follow their gods.” To these women Solomon was deeply attached in love. He had seven hundred wives who were princesses and three hundred who were concubines, and they turned his heart away.

When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away to follow other gods. He was not wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God, as his father David had been. Solomon followed Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom, the abhorrent idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, and unlike his father David, he did not remain loyal to the LORD (CSB).

As the king of Israel, Solomon was responsible for setting an example of loyalty to God.

In this passage, it is clarified that Solomon failed to uphold God’s law. It was commonly accepted at the time that kings should intermarry with the royal families of other nations, using family ties to turn rivals into allies and promote peace.

The narrator explicitly reminds us that God forbids these marriages “because they will turn your heart away to follow their gods.” And this is exactly what happened: “his wives turned his heart away to follow other gods.”

The Lord’s evaluation is clear: Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight.

As Paul House explains in The New American Commentary:

There are several problems, however, with what Solomon has done. First, he has disobeyed Moses’ law for marriage, which constitutes a breach of the agreement Solomon makes with God in 1 Kgs 3:1–14; 6:11–13; and 9:1–9…

Second, Solomon has broken Moses’ commands for kings (cf. Deut 17:14–20)…

Third, Solomon has evidently fallen into the emotional trap of wanting to be like pagan kings.

House also provides specifics into Solomon’s idolatry:

Who were these gods Solomon worshiped? The fertility goddess Ashtoreth had been a stumbling block to the Israelites since they arrived in Canaan (Judg 2:13). Perhaps it is fitting for Solomon to worship a sex goddess. Molech was an astral deity (Zeph 1:5) to whom human sacrifices were offered (Lev 20:2–5; 2 Kgs 23:10; Lev 18:21; Jer 32:35).138 Chemosh, like Molech, probably was also an astral god. Besides these deities, Solomon probably worshiped other gods as well (1 Kgs 11:8). Thus, the miraculously blessed heir of David, leader of the covenant people, has broken the most fundamental command of all: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod 20:3).

But what about 2 Samuel 12:7-10? The prophet Nathan says to David:

Nathan replied to David, “You are the man! This is what the LORD God of Israel says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from Saul. I gave your master’s house to you and your master’s wives into your arms, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah, and if that was not enough, I would have given you even more. Why then have you despised the LORD’s command by doing what I consider evil? You struck down Uriah the Hethite with the sword and took his wife as your own wife—you murdered him with the Ammonite’s sword. Now therefore, the sword will never leave your house because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hethite to be your own wife.’

It is difficult for me to see how this passage is an endorsement of polygamy. Nathan is specifically holding David accountable for the murder of Uriah and the evil of taking Bathsheba to be his wife.

The closest thing to an endorsement is the Lord saying, “I gave your master’s house to you and your master’s wives into your arms.”

However, the IVP OT Background Commentary provides important cultural context:

Since royal marriages were a reflection of the power of a monarch and represented political and economic alliances made in the name of the state, it would have been necessary, at the succession, for the harem of the former king to become the responsibility of the new monarch. In this way there was continuity of treaty obligations.

It’s one matter for David to protect and take responsibility for the women already in a vulnerable place in Saul’s household and for him to uphold the political treaties they represented.

But it’s a stretch to see this as an endorsement of polygamy, especially in the context of Nathan announcing God’s judgment on David for taking another wife. And, as Deuteronomy 17:17 clearly states, in the Mosaic requirements for kings, “He must not acquire many wives for himself so that his heart won’t go astray.”

Whether it’s polygamy, serial monogamy, pornography, or adultery, humans are often sexually promiscuous.

However, God consistently draws a link between our exclusive loyalty to him and, if we are married, our exclusive loyalty to our spouse (except in cases of abuse, as we discussed when studying Jesus’ teachings on marriage and divorce).

I look forward to hearing your thoughts as well.

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A friend recently asked me if the Bible endorsed polygamy using 2 Sam 12:8. So glad you already had shared this explanation, Carson. I was able to simply forward this answer. Thank you.