After rereading 1 and 2 Samuel and the First Book of Kings, I find it difficult to understand why these people seemed to have been allowed to have many wives. Were they operating within the will of God, or were these actions outside the will of God? 1 Kings 9:4-5 reads, ‘And if thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart, and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded thee, and wilt keep my statutes and my judgments: Then I will establish the throne of thy kingdom upon Israel for ever, as I promised to David thy father, saying, There shall not fail thee a man upon the throne of Israel.’Did David forsake all his sins and become pure when he was too old to do otherwise? Is this why he finally developed a pure heart? It seems that for a godly man, David was evil in many ways.
Your question is very reasonable, and we must remember that the things “written before were written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4). David sinned many times. It is also true that David became a godly man. He is a picture of the human nature we all experience, the constant struggle within us between good and evil, between flesh and spirit. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). We all sin, though perhaps not as grievously as did David. But God does not classify sins as lesser and greater. Any transgression of His law is sin, and any sin stands as a barrier between us and God. We read that into the holy city will enter nothing that defiles (Rev. 21:27). We read also of the saints that “in their mouth was found no deceit: for they are without fault before the throne of God” (Rev. 14:5). This is the standard that each of us must attain. But we do not attain it in a moment. And God does not expect a lifetime without any sin. That is why we must be constantly overcoming: “Overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). That is why we must confess and forsake each sin (Prov. 28:13). We know that sin is pardonable (Ezek. 18:21-22). Only of Jesus could it be said that He never sinned after knowing God’s law.
You ask about King David having multiple wives: was he operating within the will of God? No, he was not. We read the law in Deut. 17:17, “Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away: nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself.” But like all military leaders and kings of his day, King David had a polygamous career. It was not only a custom of the time but a weakness and a strong passion of David. He sinned grievously. We read, “The thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (2 Sam. 11:27). David’s sin in the matter of Uriah the Hittite was worthy of death, had it not been for God’s mercy intervening. But God said to David through Nathan, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13).
David suffered much as a result of his sins. God warned and rebuked and punished him. But David had a good and honest heart to confess his sins and repent and turn, and God forgave him. David could say, “I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me…My iniquity have I not hid… Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Ps. 32:5; 51:3, 2).
David had a very turbulent life, but he never turned away from the true God to pagan worship. When he saw that he had sinned, he always returned to God and sought favor and forgiveness. We are grateful for the sure mercies God showed to David, which He has promised to us also (Isa. 55:3, 7). Many times we have not operated within the will of God. When we are proud, or think too highly of ourselves, or when our loyalties to God are divided with the interests of this world, or we want our own way, we are not operating within the will of God and need to repent and seek God’s forgiveness.
David had some outstanding qualities that helped him to overcome his evil ways. David knew how to humble himself before God and sincerely repent. Time and again he said, “I have sinned,” “My sin is ever before me,” “Purge me…and I shall be clean…Do not cast me away from your presence” (Ps. 51:7, 11 ).
When David repented, he turned to God with his whole being. He was intensely loyal. He could say, “zeal for Your house has eaten me up” (Ps 69:9), or “Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors” (Ps. 119:24); or, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11).
Who can say how quickly and how completely we can change our nature, can repent from our sins and do what is right, when we put our whole heart into the effort, when we apply ourselves with all our mind and might and strength, as Jesus commanded (Mark 12:30-31 )?
David worked intensely. He prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my anxieties: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24). He prayed for God’s cleansing. “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults.. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression” (Ps. 19:12-13). He longed for God’s all-seeing eye to discover any evil in his heart, so that he could eradicate it.
He promised, “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way …. I will set nothing wicked before my eyes …. My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he who walks in a perfect way, he shall serve me” (Ps. 101:2-3, 6).
David used his abilities for God and for his nation. He never turned to idolatrous practices. The united kingdom prospered under his reign in a partial fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to give to his seed “this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the River Euphrates” (Gen. 15:18). He crushed the power of the Philistines and other adjacent kingdoms that troubled Israel, so that the nation of Israel could enjoy a peaceful time.
David fought many wars. He won Jerusalem and gave Israel its capital. During his reign David preserved true religion in Israel and gave lavishly for its worship in music and singing.
David was also humble. He gave God the credit for every good. And when he sinned, in humility he submitted himself to God’s chastisement or punishment, to receive whatever God willed for him.
The people loved David, and God loved David. God speaks of David as “My servant” David who kept “my commandments” (1 Kings 11:33-34, 38). David often referred to God as his rock, his fortress, his stronghold in trouble.
You ask if David might have become pure when he was too old to do otherwise. We never become too old to sin. What we do not accomplish in remaking our natural dispositions while we are strong and able we cannot expect to do when we have lost our faculties. That is why the prophet Jeremiah said, “Give glory to the Lord your God, before He causes darkness, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and, while you are looking for light, He turns it into the shadow of death, and makes it dense darkness” (Jer. 13:16).