There are number of passages in the Hebrew holy bible that I struggle with. The story that the ten concubines in 2 Samuel 16:15-23, especially when merged with God’s words in 2 Samuel 12:11, is there is no doubt the bible passage I battle with the most.

You are watching: How many concubines did david have


The ideal that we view in Eden, the a man and also a mrs living together in mutuality and also unity, is i do not have anything to be checked out in this story. Neither room the normal concerns, expressed in other places in the Bible, of mercy and also justice for the vulnerable.

Someone inquiry me about the ten concubines yesterday, so I’ve jotted down a few thoughts. There is no delight or consolation here, and also I short article the adhering to with some trepidation.

Warning: Mentions sexual violence versus women.

The Story: Absalom’s Repulsive Actions

Absalom had actually revolted against his dad David and made himself king. Once he witnessed his son obtaining power, David fled indigenous Jerusalem with his whole household except for ten concubines.<2> These women were to run the royal residence in David’s absence. Absalom then arrived in the capital with his men, and also asked for advice indigenous Ahithophel on exactly how to combine his position.<3>

Now Absalom and also all the Israelites involved Jerusalem. Ahithophel was additionally with him. …Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give me her advice. What must we do?”Ahithophel replied to Absalom, “Sleep v your father’s concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Once all Israel hears the you have end up being repulsive to your father, everyone v you will be encouraged.”So they pitched a time for Absalom on the roof, and also he slept v his father’s concubines in the vision of every Israel.Now the advice Ahithophel provided in those work was prefer someone asking around a word native God—such was the regard the both David and Absalom had actually for Ahithophel’s advice.2 Samuel 16:15, 20-23 CSB.

This story is bad enough. What makes it much worse are the words previously recorded in 2 Samuel 12 and also attributed come God.

This is what the lord says, “I to be going to bring disaster on friend from your own family: I will take her wives and give castle to one more before your really eyes, and he will sleep with them in broad daylight.”2 Samuel 12:11 CSB (See 2 Samuel 12:7-12 because that context.)

It appears that God handed the women over to Absalom. This is deep troubling.<4> The ladies seem to be nothing much more than pawns gift used―abused―for political reasons. No God care around them?

Background: Politics and also Power Plays

I can’t uncover a way to do this story palatable, yet here’s a little bit of background and context that perhaps helps come explain, yet not explain away, what happened.

We must go back to the story of David and also Bathsheba. David had actually taken Bathsheba and had sex with her. She ended up being pregnant and also David had her husband Uriah eliminated so the David’s actions wouldn’t be discovered. The prophet Nathan then checked out David to convince him that his guilt and also warn him the his actions will have actually tragic effects within his family (2 Sam. 12:10-12).

During this conversation Nathan speaks for God and also explains, “I gave your master’s home to you and your master’s wives into your eight …” (2 Sam. 12:8). Nathan is right here referring come Saul’s house and Saul’s wives. Implicitly in 12:8 is the idea that royal marital relationships were no primarily an individual relationships however had national and also political significance, and also that imperial wives were inherited by the king’s successor.<5>

Since royal marital relationships were a reflection of the strength of a monarch and also represented political and also economic alliances made in the surname of the state, it would have actually been necessary, at the succession, because that the harem of the previous king to come to be the obligation of the new monarch. In this way there to be continuity of contract obligations. ~ the fatality of Ishbosheth (2 Sam. 4:5-7) and also David’s increase to kingship, the would have actually been meant that the would prolong his security Saul’s family, including his harem.<6>

Inheriting the wives walk not average that David necessarily slept through them. They were his by inheritance; he did not must “demonstrate” they were his.

There is a law, repeated several times in the Bible, forbidding young from having actually sex with their father’s wife/ wives (Lev. 18:8; Deut. 27:20; etc). This law didn’t use to David and also his inherited wives due to the fact that he was no Saul’s son, but it did apply to Absalom. Absalom to be David’s son, his flesh and blood, so sleeping with David’s concubines was illegal. Calvin defines Absalom as “incestuously defiling his father’s bed” (Institutes 1.18.1, p.202).

Apparently, Absalom was not worried about the legislation or around being repulsive. He was a lawless usurper, and also to create his reign and also humiliate his father, he had actually sex through the ten powerless concubines if David was still alive.

Because a king’s chief wives and second wives were such a price of his politics connections and also authority, a usurper can manifest his displacing the a reigning king by resting with members the the king harem. … that is noticeable that to case a king harem was tantamount to claiming his throne.<7>

A bitter twist in this whole story is that David’s rooftop, where his abuse of Bathsheba began (2 Sam. 11:2), is also where Absalom abused the concubines (2 Sam. 16:22).

What about the Women?

In the narrative, Absalom is presented together a scoundrel, yet there is no hint of concern for the concubines who had no to speak in what to be happening come them. They may also have had actually no to speak in authorized David’s harem, and no to speak at countless other times in your lives. Such to be life for plenty of women in the old world.<8>

Some commentators suggest that Absalom’s actions, i m sorry looks choose rape come us, were properly weddings. The tent might have functioned as a chuppah (חֻפֶּה), a bridal time which a newlywed couple used come consummate their marital relationship (2 Sam. 16:22; cf. Psalm 19:4-5; Joel 2:16).<9> The tent available some privacy come Absalom’s windy display, however framing his actions as weddings doesn’t soften the severity that what Absalom did. His intentions to be to insurance claim power and also shame David which he did through abusing the women.<10>

Furthermore, “If Absalom’s public sexual usurpation the David’s consorts is construed as an act of war, this gesture i do not care strikingly reminiscent of sexual violence against women in a military context.”<11> Rape has commonly been provided as a weapon that war, and this kind of violence was provided by adversaries of Israel (Judg. 5:30; Lam. 5:11; Isa. 13:16; Zech. 14:2). The Israelites, however, were forbidden from using rape in war (Deut. 21:10-14). My girlfriend Dr Jill Firth (Lecturer in Hebrew and Old testament at Ridley College) called me that Absalom was behaving like a international enemy.

The ten ladies were exploited and abused―casualties of war. Yet, the storyteller shows no problem for them and also tells united state nothing around their distress.<12> The just hint of treatment is as soon as the conflict between Absalom and David is over. After Absalom’s death, David returned to power in Jerusalem, and also he protected and also cared for the concubines as widows. The did not have actually sex with them again (2 Sam. 20:3). He protects them but likewise marginalises them.<13>


Life was very different in David’s day. Women would have had various hopes and expectations of life, and less freedom, 보다 what many women, and also men, enjoy today. I recognize this, but I feeling for David’s concubines. I am deep troubled and also grieved by what Absalom did to them on the rooftop of the palace.

And ns really don’t know what to execute with the idea that God was somehow behind Absalom’s actions. The is possible, however, that emphasis on males in the biblical message is a have fun of the author’s concern much more than a enjoy of God’s heart. (See additionally footnote 4.)

The author of 2 Samuel presents his stare with men at the forefront. His worry is the politics turmoil and also war between David and also Absalom, not with the concubines who suffered due to the fact that of David’s transgression against Bathsheba and Uriah.

I proceed to believe that God cares because that the vulnerable, and he wants us to care for castle too, yet there are no easy answers once it concerns the disturbing story the David’s ten concubines.


<1> come me, this story is worse even than the story the the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19. All Israel to be outraged by the heartless and despicable therapy of the concubine (Judg. 19:30-20:48), however there is no heart or angry in the story in 2 Samuel 16.

<2> Concubines in Israelite culture were secondary wives that sometimes had actually fewer legal civil liberties than cook wives.

<3> Ahithophel is explained as Absalom’s trusted advisor. He may have been Bathsheba’s grandfather. (More in footnote 6 here.) Is his defection native David come Absalom due, at least in part, to David’s wicked actions towards his granddaughter? Ahithophel later commits suicide (2 Sam. 17:23).

<4> Andrew Hill note one means of dealing with 2 Samuel 12:11.

The account is problematic due to the fact that it appears contrived, a crucial insertion foreshadowing the episode of the violation of David’s concubines through Absalom (2 Sam 16:21-22). All this to be to satisfy Nathan’s prophetic curse of David’s dynasty (2 Sam 12:11-12). Hence, part biblical commentators simply refuse all or part of 2 Sam 15:16 as the job-related of a glossator.Andrew E. Hill, “On David’s ‘Taking’ and also ‘Leaving’ Concubines (2 Samuel 5:13; 15:16),” Journal of Biblical Literature 125.1 (Spring, 2006): 129-139, 129.

<5> Royal marital relationships were regularly made to type and cement politics alliances. This is one reason Solomon objected to his brothers Adonijah taking Abishag, David’s companion and also nurse, as a wife. This activity could have actually been understood as signifying the Adonijah, not Solomon, to be David’s legitimate imperial heir. (See 1 King 2:13-25.)

<6> man H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and also Mark W. Chavalas, note on 2 Samuel 12:8 in The IVP bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2000), 339. (Google Books)

<7> Jo Ann Hackett, “1 and also 2 Samuel” in Women’s scriptures Commentary, 3rd Edition, Carol Newsom, Sharon Ringe, with Jacqueline Lapsley (eds) (Louisville, KY: Westminster man Knox Press, 2012), 150-163, 161.

<8> Men likewise could it is in controlled and exploited by men and also by women who were an ext powerful than them (e.g., Naboth in 1 monarchs 21).

<9> lot later, in beforehand Judaism, the room where a marriage was consummated was called a chuppah.

<10> By having actually sex through his father’s ladies he effectively “upstaged David in his mrs prowess, i beg your pardon is a major qualification because that a king.” Hackett, “1 and also 2 Samuel,” 161.

<11> Erin E. Fleming, The national politics of Sexuality in the Story of King David (Dissertation: john Hopkins University, 2013), 225. Https:// Fleming additionally notes the “prophetic literature has personifications of urban as females that imagine the military defeat of the city together the physics abuse and also sexual violation of a woman (Isa 47:1-3; Jer 13:22; Ezek 16:35-41; 23:9-10, 22-29; Nah 3:5).”

<12> Similarly, the narrator gives us no hint of Bathsheba’s distress in 2 Samuel chapters 11 and also 12. The emphasis is specifically on David.

<13> David tombs is crucial of King David’s treatment of the concubines, both before and after they were abused by Absalom. In an exciting essay that is well worth a read, burial places compares the plight that the concubines with Hannah Baker in the Netflix series 13 reasons Why (2017). His essay is on The Shiloh job website here.

See more: What Is The State Bird Of Nevada State Bird: Mountain Bluebird

You have the right to support my work for as tiny as $3 USD a month.Become a Patron!

Image Credit

The Wives the David through James Tissot (1896-1902) (Tissot drawing 310, contempt edited: Source)

Related Article

A forgiveness Look in ~ BathshebaTwo Brave females in 2 Samuel 17Abigail: A bible Woman through Beauty and BrainsThe Propriety of bible Women v AuthorityWealthy females in the roman World and in the First-Century Church

Further Reading

Erin E. Fleming, The national politics of Sexuality in the Story of King David, especially pp. 217-232. (Online Source)