Moses' fifth speech, Part 8, Multiple wives and wealth for kings
Jan 22, 2013
Moses continues his instructions for kings by dealing with multiple wives. We read in Deuteronomy 17:17,
17 Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself.
This admonition does not specify how many wives a king may have, unless we take it literally as meaning anything more than one wife. This was the law that the apostle Paul must have had in mind when he instructed Timothy about overseers, or bishops, who were rulers in the church. He wrote in 1 Timothy 3:1 and 2,
1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife….
In those days polygamy was practiced throughout Judea, even among the priests. Paul, however, requires the bishops to be “above reproach, the husband of one wife.” The fact that Paul does not expound further upon this—and yet states his case clearly—shows that he had already discussed this issue with Timothy and the churches in general. This is a simple reminder, not a defense of his position.
Likewise, Paul extends this prohibition to deacons in verses 12 and 13, saying,
12 Let deacons be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Some in more recent years have attempted to apply these verses to divorce and remarriage, as if to say that an officer of the church must be married only once. But this is not what Paul was saying. The issue was polygamy, not remarriage. Further, even as Moses did not attempt to limit polygamy for all men, so also does Paul not extend his prohibition beyond bishops and deacons. Yet Paul defines Moses’ prohibition as meaning just one wife, and this is an example of how the anointing of Pentecost imparted a greater understanding of the law by the mind of Christ under the New Covenant.
It is plain that overcomers are called to rule and to reign with Christ (Revelation 5:10; 20:6). Hence, the principle applies to them as well, and anyone aspiring to be an overcomer must consider this law carefully.
One might ask, then, about David’s wives. Before David was king, he had two wives, Ahinoam and Abigail (1 Samuel 30:5 and 2 Samuel 2:2). After he became king, he claimed Saul’s daughter Michal as well (2 Samuel 3:14), for Saul had promised her to David many years earlier. Later, we read in 2 Samuel 5:13,
13 Meanwhile David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David.
In 2 Samuel 11 we read how Bathsheba became David’s wife. Although this came about amidst less-than-ideal circumstances, nonetheless, her son Solomon became the heir to David’s throne. Many have pointed out how multiple wives cause multiple family problems. David had many such problems, as did Solomon after him. 1 Chronicles 3:1-9 gives us a listing of David’s wives and children.
Long before their time, Abraham himself ran into problems with just two wives, Hagar and Sarah. The problems seem to center around the transfer of authority. In the case of Hagar and Sarah, each wanted her son to be the inheritor of the birthright. In later years, the king’s sons were rivals for the throne. David specified Solomon for the throne, but Absalom and Adonijah both tried to claim the throne at different times. It was common for princes to kill each other in their desire for the throne. (See 2 Kings 10:7.)
So also in later years of the church, we find bishops willing to plot against each other and even to kill each other in order to lay hold of the office of bishop. Such carnality cannot be stopped merely by prohibiting multiple marriages, but the problem can be limited by following Moses’ prohibition. Ultimately, the problem is the carnal mind and can be resolved only when the people refuse to support carnally minded church leaders.
Apparently, neither David nor Solomon felt the need to limit themselves to one wife. Solomon took 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3), which far exceeded the number of his father’s wives. It is clear that Scripture records this, not to condone his actions, but as an example of excess. Deuteronomy 17:17 says, “Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, lest his heart turn away.” Of Solomon, we read in 1 Kings 11:3, “and his wives turned his heart away.”
When we come to Jesus Christ, the true and final Heir to the throne of David, we see the example of true lawfulness. Though He did not marry an earthly bride, we see that the New Jerusalem is said to be His bride (Revelation 21:2, 9, 10). Paul tells us in Galatians 4:26 that the New Jerusalem was foreshadowed by Sarah, as distinct from Hagar.
In that sense, Jesus Christ has only one wife under the New Covenant. We may also take this back to Moses and understand that Christ had just one wife under the Old Covenant as well. In other words, He first married “Hagar” at Mount Sinai, a marriage that ultimately ended in divorce (Jeremiah 3:8), and later He began to prepare a new bride (“Sarah”). We are currently in the final days of her preparation for marriage.
And so, while the Bible does not specifically prohibit polygamy, neither does it condone it. In the case of kings, the law in Deuteronomy 17:17 reveals the mind of Christ and His displeasure with multiplying wives. But it is only later in the New Covenant that the law is clarified further, through the writings of those anointed by Pentecost, showing that leaders and rulers ought to have but one wife. This follows the example of Christ Himself, whose bride is the New Jerusalem.
The final part of Deuteronomy 17:17 says, “nor shall he greatly increase gold and silver for himself.” Again, Moses does not specify how much is too much, but this says something about the mind of Christ. When kings and leaders become wealthy as the result of their office, it usually indicates an unfair advantage over the average person. Such wealth can be the result of honest work—or may be obtained by bribery and theft. The mind of Christ never legislates against honest work, of course, but against the love of money (greed) that is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
As Solomon’s example shows, an abundance of gold and silver is never enough to satisfy the heart. 1 Kings 10 says,
14 Now the weight of gold which came in to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold…. 23 So King Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom…. 27 And the king made silver as common as stones in Jerusalem….
Even so, he raised taxes upon the people in order to pay for a multitude of building projects. This indicates either that he was spending too much, or that he was hoarding the wealth that he had and forcing the people to pay taxes that were beyond the biblical mandate. This came to a head after Solomon died, for then the people requested tax relief from his son, Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:4). He refused, and the kingdom was divided.
Perhaps the lesson to be learned from this example is that the more wealth a king receives, the more he believes that he needs and deserves. Wealth itself is not evil, but it tends to magnify whatever carnality and greed lodges in his heart. Perhaps the reason that silver and gold is coupled with the number of wives that a king may have is because both wealth and multiple wives will turn the heart of kings from serving God. It seems that the carnal mind considers wealth and/or wives to be a divine validation of their calling. This can easily turn the heart of kings and cause them to usurp the throne for their own use, rather than to see themselves as stewards of God’s throne.
This is the eight part of a series titled "Moses' Fifth Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones