The other day I saw a letter to the editor of the local paper, railing against "biblical" marriage. She asked what that is supposed to mean. Does it mean polygamy, since David was given multiple wives? Does it mean levirate marriage when a man is required to marry his brother's widow?
It occurred to me once again this proves a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. In fact it was hard not to believe this was a case of being willingly ignorant. It turned out to be a tirade against those opposed to same sex "marriage" on biblical grounds. This spitting polemic was intended to make it sound as though the bible is very arbitrary and contradictory, and couldn't be trusted.
I was reminded of a marital question raised by the Sadducees of Jesus' day. In fact it was about levirate marriage. The scenario proposed that a woman was widowed by no less than seven brothers before she finally died. The Sadducees didn't believe in the resurrection, so the question "Who's wife will she be?" was intended to ridicule the doctrine of the resurrection.
Jesus' answer to the Sadducees was so profound and relevant for the author of this letter to the editor as well as many other sneering questioners. He said, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God." (Matthew 22:29) Wow! I feel the brunt of that answer. So often my problem with a bible concept is exactly that. I don't know the bible well enough, and I am selling short the power of God.
It is true that David had more than one wife. It's recorded because it is the truth, not because it is a guideline for pleasing God. The text about David is simply sober history. It happened this way, and so God tells it this way. That does not mean that God approved of what David did, nor does it give us leave to follow his example. Even though David was guilty of murder as well as adultery, when he repented, he was the man after God's own heart. And a man with multiple wives cannot throw some away after he repents. He must keep his responsibilities toward each of them.
The bigger question is "Is this a normative text?" That is to say, is this supposed to be an example for all believers to adopt as a rule for their behavior? Any who deal with ancient documents must learn to ask himself, "What did the author intend by these words?" Nine times out of ten the task is not that daunting. Even modern documents, like the morning newspaper, require some interpretation. And if you really want to know the author's intent, it is not that difficult to figure out.
Armed with a genuine interest in the bible's teaching about marriage, you will discover Jesus' words, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." These words are not simply reciting history. Any amateur interpreter gets the point that this is intended to be a guiding principle, an authoritative definition of marriage. This text is normative. It is designed to give us guidance for our lives.