On The Restrictions Of Kingly Marriage

When we discussed the restrictions on priestly marriage we noted that the restrictions were primarily with regards to the moral character of the woman involved in marrying a priest [1].  There were similar restrictions on marriage for kings, but one striking difference is that the restrictions involved had more to do with the number of wives than the moral quality of those wives, largely due to the fact that kings had a less obvious role when it came to modeling God’s consistent purity than priests did.  Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to point out that the restrictions on kingly marriage themselves also had a strong influence on the sort of relationships that existed through the maternal line, and it would be worthwhile to examine the way that this law shaped the behavior of rulers and helped mark whether they were or were not obedient to the divine restrictions on the conduct of rulers.

The law concerning kings [2] can be found in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, and it reads:  “When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.  But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’  Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself.  “Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites.  And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.”

The restriction here is a simple one, and yet it is one that has bedeviled many kings in some fashion.  The restriction is not to multiply wives for oneself, lest his heart turn away.  The most notorious example of this problem was, of course, Solomon, famous for having 700 wives and 300 concubines who turned his heart away from God.  We will examine this particular case in due course, as it demonstrates the importance of marital alliances in the world of biblical history in a particularly dramatic way, but for our purposes now it is important to note the ambiguity of the term multiply.  We may clearly know that Solomon violated this principle by having 1000 women, but how many does it take until a king has multiplied.  Is it two?  Ten?  Thirty?  At what point does the human desire of a ruler to have many women to suit his own lusts or to engage in diplomacy with neighboring peoples or even powerful domestic families contradict God’s law?  It is not our purpose here to speculate, given that the Bible does not say, but we may note that any sort of polygamy was a departure from God’s original design of marriage for one man and one woman to be bound together for life, and that the Bible shows itself less tolerant of these concessions to the hardness of men’s hearts the further one reads, and let us leave it at that.

Let us note, though, that any restriction on the number of marriages a king could conduct would dramatically limit his own options and simultaneously increase the prestige of a wife under such circumstances.  Where monogamy is commanded, and where there are an equal number of men and women, we would expect women to have and to expect a relationship of parity with their husbands.  The original design of men and women as complementary would indicate this equality was not a sterile one but was an equality based on diversity, where each partner would be different but equal, and where that difference would spark a degree of interest and attraction that would not be the case if both partners were the same.  At any rate, without speculating too much into the purpose of God’s design for the attractive differences between the sexes and their implications for developing wholeness and unity, there were very clear implications that limiting the number of wives that could be married would increase the prestige of those wives for rulers, and would tend to strongly influence the sort of wives that kings would marry.  We would expect them to marry women who could bring with them some sort of power and influence of their own through marriage alliances with powerful neighbors, or that marriages would be conducted with women whose personal power and wisdom could be of great service to a ruler burdened with a large degree of responsibility who would likely wish a wife capable of giving wise counsel.  Unsurprisingly, we find both of these elements in the marital records we have of biblical elites.

[1] See, for example:


[2] See, for example:





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Love & Marriage, Maternal Lines, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to On The Restrictions Of Kingly Marriage

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