Old Testament Heroes of Faith

(Steve E) #1

I am hoping someone can help me reconcile some of the Old Testament heroes of faith with those of today. I really have a hard time understanding why prominent figures in the Bible were incredibly complacent about polygamy and other sexual sins and why seemingly God never called them out for it. Yes, I understand sin has a way of catching up with you and sometimes God leaves you to your own devices as due discipline. Obviosly polygamy never worked out for anybody as it always lead to a great deal of disfunction. However, why does it appear as God never explicitly calls out anyone on this. David was moving along just fine with several wives until he clearly got called out for his episode with Bathsheba. Why did God not seemingly have a problem when David took on his second wife? And not to mention all the concubines.

So those questions about the past lead me to questions about today. Why is it that David and other such heroes in Bible are esteemed so highly, yet if those same people lived in today’s times they would lack serious credibility? In other words, if a prominent pastor were exposed to have several wives, how would he be viewed? Would he be considered to be a fraud or would he still be considered a great role model and someone to follow by example as a leader in the Christian faith.

(Stephen Wuest) #2

Now you’ve stepped in it! I suggest that you should ask the primary question, which is, “What is the nature of marriage?” Then, “Is polygamy a sexual sin, or is it allowable, but probably not advisable?”

Paul deals with all of these questions in 2 Corinthians. But very few Christians are willing to look at the core language he uses (kollaw), and how he connects this “joining” to the classic text in Genesis (that Jesus quotes) about “marriage.” And most Christians fail to note that Paul says that this bond happens, independent of whether the man and woman involved understand themselves to be “getting married,” and independent of any vows taken or ceremonies experienced or legal certificates gotten.

I’m not sure that this is the right forum for dealing with Paul’s core language. And the more popular or “accessible” approach weights cultural tradition and the statements of faith of different religious groups, or secular legal definitions of “marriage” over Paul’s core language. This is bypassing what Paul is defining as the lifelong marriage bond.
This is a serious topic, but it needs to be based on Paul’s core language, and not cultural traditions of different religious (or secular) groups.

(Jimmy Sellers) #3

Sorry for dropping but I not familiar with “Paul’s core language” could you point to a website or some educational material so that I don’t detract from this thread? thanks

(SeanO) #4

@hikernole I think Jesus, when talking about divorce (which Moses also permitted), gives a very powerful line of thought that can help us understand polygamy in the OT.

Matthew 19:8 - Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard . But it was not this way from the beginning.

Divorce was not God’s ideal, but it was permitted because of the hardness of men’s hearts. Yet when Jesus came and gave us a new heart He reinstituted the ideal - marriage for life. Perhaps polygamy is similar? What are your thoughts?

Here are some additional resources:

How does one respond to this situation? The answer begins by seeing that God always points His creation back to the primacy and perfection of the original design. Next, you have to read every book to the end – especially if it is the biblical context. And if you read the stories about the characters referenced above, you’ll quickly find that polygamy was an unmitigated sociological disaster that created heartbreak and sowed familial discord. By the time of the writing of Malachi, God’s command to a thoroughly chastised nation was clear: covenantal monogamy was to be the norm.

Further, through the ministry of Jesus, we see God “reset the clock” so to speak to the original goodness of monogamous marital union – pointing forward to a new society and a new way. He also enacted new provisions to protect women and raise their standing in society. Jesus showed a world that had distorted the meaning of marriage back to the beauty of “the man being joined to his wife, and two will become one flesh.”

Connect Thread

This thread goes into more detail on this very topic:

(Steve E) #5

SeanO - You make some helpful points. I don’t know that I fully agree with the line of thought of the condoning of polygamy being similar to that of divorce due to hardness of hearts. I am more inclined to follow the thought of God choosing to use the practice of polygamy throughout the Old Testament as way of choosing to tell a story of how bad things can get when marriage is outside of the boundaries of one man and one woman. That makes me wonder then how accountable the partriarchs and people on through the time of David were to this standard of marriage. Were they just ignorant or were they acting in outright rebellion?

I like the picture as described in the above article describing God “resetting the clock”. This helps me understand how we are allowed to hold people of today to a different standard than those of the Old Testament.

(SeanO) #6

@hikernole Yes, the New Covenant in Jesus enables us to obey God by the power of the Holy Spirit in a way that was not present in the Old Covenant. So it is rational that the expectations would be higher as well.

Regarding polygamy, I suppose I am more comfortable saying that God was being patient with their hardness of heart than I am that God was allowing them to sin so that they would be an example of how not to behave for us. However, there is one major difference between divorce and polygamy - in Deut 24:1-4 God explicitly allowed for divorce. But the same cannot be said for polygamy.

A few thoughts I’ve read on polygamy:

  • in ancient society it was not safe for a woman to be on her own, so it was safer to be in the context of a family
  • the patriarchs generally entered into polygamy at the suggestion of their wives in the hopes of bearing offspring and rulers used marriages to cement alliances - so it was in that sense a practical consideration
  • it is unclear why God remained silent on the issue

Here is a thought - is polygamy comparable to slavery in the OT? We know that God commanded masters to treat their slaves well and that the trajectory of Scripture is towards the freedom / equality of all people. But God did not command the undoing of every social institution - rather He moved them in a redemptive direction / trajectory.

Perhaps we see the same with polygamy? God did not undo the institution, but spoke truth into it.

Deut 21:15-17 - If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.

(Steve E) #7

Perhaps I was a little unclear in my wording. I did not mean to make today’s times more important by saying that He was using them as an example of how not to behave for us. I was just thinking about the big thought of God being a story teller. God telling the story of our need for a Saviour by demonstrating throughout the Old Testament that it was impossible for people to follow the entire law was not for us at the expense of them. But it was telling a story throughout history pointing towards the need for Jesus. On a smaller scale, couldn’t he being doing the same with the institution of polygamy by remaining silent? It points towards the best way to do life and that would be the practice of marriage between one man and one woman.

What are your thoughts on how accountable David was on the true boundaries of marriage?

Thanks for wrestling through this issue with me!

(SeanO) #8

@hikernole My first inclination is to say that if God intended to hold David to a stricter standard than David was aware of on this issue, God would have told him through Nathan or one of the other prophets. David had such a desire - a thirst for righteousness - that I can’t imagine God not letting him know if he needed to keep to a stricter standard. He was rebuked quite thoroughly for the incident with Bathsheba.

That is not to say that God saw David’s polygamy as the ideal, but simply that I do not think God intended to bring him to account for it. As the articles formerly mention point out, God’s ideal has always been marriage between one man and one woman and the NT makes that clear. So while we are not to emulate David, I cannot see that God meant to bring him to account on this particular issue.

What is your line of thinking in regard to David?

(Kathleen) #9

Hi all! These are very interesting questions you pose, @hikernole, and I am curious to get to the heart of your dilemma. Could you explain what you mean by ‘hero of faith’? It’s a phrase I have heard before, but it’d be great to sketch that out some more.

I tend to think of heroes as people deemed worthy of emulating, and it seems that a dilemma exists because these characters appear in certain ways to not be worth emulating.

(Steve E) #10

SeanO - I am not really quite sure what to think about David. He is the main person in the Bible that I struggle with on this issue. It goes back to the main reason I posted my original question. I’ve never really understood how the one person who earned the nickname of “Man after God’s own heart” could participate in polygamy and activity with concubines. I totally get the incident with Bathsheba as it is clearly recorded in the Bible that he was rebuked for it and he in turn asked for forgiveness. There is quite a difference between that and a lifestyle of sin, which that is what it looks like from our point of view. So then that goes back to your point in which your were thinking perhaps God did not hold David accountable to today’s standard of marriage. The part I really wrestle with is- if that were to be true, why would God not want to hold marriage to such a sacred standard in the OT time period and especially for his people.

KMac - Hero of faith is exactly as you stated. They include all the big Bible characters that everyone including Non-Christians know all about (many of whom are mentioned in Hebrews 11).

(Matt Western) #11

I was also interested in the contrast between the heros of the faith and their deep character flaws.

I’ve heard Andy Stanley mention in one of his messages; the reason that the Bible is real is it portrays the leaders of the early church as bumbling idiots (when they were disciples of Jesus prior to his death) - not great leaders. If we are wanting to tell a story about ourselves, we like to mimimize our failures and maximize our strong points, so we get more followers or portray a movement in a positive light.

Could the fact that the whole Bible seems to be so brutally honest about all the characters being such a mess be proof that it’s authentic, and that we can learn from their mistakes (these things were written as an example to us; 1 Corinthians 10:11, Romans 15:4) - and make it useful to us to see that God can use broken people who still look to him in faith, and is in fact as the BibleProject suggests: God is committed to restoring humanity despite our constant failing and brokenness.

Yes, I agree that King David is one of the biggest characters of the Bible. In Acts 13:22 it quotes David as “a man after God’s own heart”. Why does it say this, when even towards the end of David’s life he still seemed to make some foolish decisions. When he was on his death-bed he gave some great words of advice to Solomon, and then said go and take vengeance and kill Joab and Shimei.

“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. "So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’ (1 Kings 2: 2-4)

“Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me—what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. He killed them, shedding their blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood he stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet. 6 Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace.

7 “But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai of Gilead and let them be among those who eat at your table. They stood by me when I fled from your brother Absalom.

8 “And remember, you have with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjamite from Bahurim, who called down bitter curses on me the day I went to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord: ‘I will not put you to death by the sword.’ 9 But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood. (1 Kings 2: 5-9)

Could the brutal honesty and documenting of both the character flaws and great acts of faith of the Biblical account be proof that it is inspired of God - like it claims to be in 2 Tim 3:16-17 ? Could it be that even as we look up to others in our own generation, we need to be reminded that everyone will fail at some point, grow old and weary and pass away - and we should be focusing on Jesus as in Hebrews 12:1-2 as the author and finisher of our faith?

Anyways, just musing out loud a little - hopefully a helpful contribution. :slight_smile:

(SeanO) #12

@hikernole The more I think about your question, the more I reflect on my own life. Not that my life is like David’s, but when I look back on my younger self there are times I wish I had known something I now know. I was Christian then too, but God did not appear out of thin air and tell me what to do.

When we talk about discerning God’s will today, we generally talk in terms of seeking wise council. And wisdom involves asking other godly people for advice. None of us get wisdom magically - it is always a journey. We stumble, fall, seek advice.

I imagine David’s life was no different. The rebuke by Nathan was probably a rare event. God did not likely rebuke David for every sin through a prophet. David probably had to learn and grow like anyone else. His sin against Uriah was simply so heinous that God could not allow the King of Israel to simply get by with it.

So I think my answer would be, like @KMac pointed out, we should not emulate David in every way. He made mistakes - he had to seek wisdom like any other man or woman. He did not always seek wisdom when he should have done so. If we look at how he handled the situation with Amnon and Tamar, he should have sought some wise council because he botched that entirely.

I think being a ‘man after God’s own heart’ refers to David’s sincerity of heart. It does not mean his heart was perfect, but that he had an attitude of humility before the Lord. He was broken like the rest of us, but his heart was willing to repent when he fell and sought the Lord.

So, what wisdom would David have found about marriage if he had went looking? I think we know - Proverbs tells us:

Proverbs 5:15-18 - Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets,
your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.

(Steve E) #13

Ok, so allow me to summarize where I think this conversation has developed.

For reasons unknown, God had not made it clear to the OT heroes of faith that anything outside of marriage between one man and one woman was sinful. Therefore we can not hold them to the same accountability that we have. And therefore it would be an unfair comparison to hold people we consider heroes of faith in our times with those of the OT.

I guess a follow up question then to make sure we are all on the same page would be:

If Bathsheba was single, would David had been rebuked by God through Nathan?

Thinking about all this made me have another thought. Perhaps God wanted to wait until the times of Jesus to make known the sanctity of marriage that he intended since the beginning of time so we could better understand the relationship between Jesus and His Church. He took something that was treated as a corrupt institution and made it new.

(Matt Western) #14

Your question becomes a bit hypothetical once you chance the historical story, because we can change any of the variables and ask a different question.

Given that David was after the time of the Law given by God to Moses stating ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’, your question becomes “How would God deal with King David who used his high office to take a woman and commit adultery with her”. If you only take out the married already / murder of husband part, it’s still not a good look: using his power to take advantage of a woman.

A better case for a hypothetical point of view would be Abraham, who was alive before the Law.

I’ve heard a message once (i forget who the speaker was) saying that in ancient times, kings were basically unquestionable and were seen as gods to be worshiped. No one dared to question them, and dared to hold them accountable - as they’d probably lose their life. The difference with David was he didn’t forget who was God, and he humbled himself and repented in Psalm 51.

Also, at the risk of repeating others, God created one man and one woman and brought them together (Genesis 1:27). If it was God’s original perfect design for polygamy, would God have not created multiple partners (for Adam or for Eve) at the beginning?

One more possible point of interest from an article:

So, it seems that God may have allowed polygamy to protect and provide for the women who could not find a husband otherwise. A man would take multiple wives and serve as the provider and protector of all of them. While definitely not ideal, living in a polygamist household was far better than the alternatives: prostitution, slavery, or starvation.

(SeanO) #15

@hikernole No, that is not my current position. As our discussion has developed, I came more to the conclusion that David knew polygamy was not the ideal, or at least that he could have known if he had wanted to know. And I have returned to my prior premise - that like divorce, God allowed polygamy because of the hardness of men’s hearts. Like slavery, God allowed the social institutions of the day to exist, but He moved them in a redemptive direction. At least that is where I am currently at.

If Bathsheba had not been married, David would not have had to murder Uriah to cover things up. I do not know for sure, but I suspect that if she had been single David could have simply brought her into his house along with the others - like Abigail (after her husband had died).

(Stephen Wuest) #16


I’m talking about the Greek vocabulary that Paul uses.

Kollaw is the word that he uses for “join.”

Paul quotes the passage about “marriage” from Genesis, and

translates it into Greek using kollaw.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul registers his shock that some in the

Corinthian congregation don’t seem to realize that all heterosexual

sex, forms this lifelong bond between the man and the woman

involved. Paul uses the example of a man having sex with a

prostitute, and then says that “Don’t you know that he has joined

himself with her?” The “joining is kollaw. He is talking about the

lifelong “marriage” bond. (English readers usually miss this,


Paul quotes phrases from the Genesis passage on “marriage” a

few times (as Jesus did), associated with heterosexual sex.

When I talk about “core language,” I’m talking about the original

Greek of the New Testament. People who only read the New

Testament in translations, often don’t realize the original language

that Paul is using, and how he is directly connecting the “joining”

of marriage (from the Genesis passage), to the “joining” that

happens in all heterosexual sex, regardless of the context.

When Americans read the Bible in English, they don’t realize that

most of the passages dealing with what we call “marriage” don’t include

an explicit word for marriage in the original language. (This would be

“gamos" in the Greek.) Most Americans bring their cultural concept

of marriage to the Bible, and think that when an English translation uses

“marriage” or “husband” or “wife” that it must be accurately translating

the original language. But the original language is based on heterosexual

sex forming the lifelong bond, not some sort of religious ceremony, or

promises made, or a legal certificate.

Unfortunately, most Western Christians have a definition of “marriage” that

is not dealing with the core language of Paul, or Jesus, who see heterosexual

sex as forming a lifelong bond, that happens “by nature” and regardless

of any accompanying covenant or promises or ceremony.

This is what I mean by “core language.”

CT web comment editors don’t like references to the original languages of the

Bible. And they tend to value medieval definitions of “marriage” (by Luther,

or Calvin, etc.) more than they do the core language of the Greek New

Testament. So, it’s really hard to talk about the core language of the Bible,

on the CT web site, with people who do not value the original biblical



(Stephen Wuest) #17


One of the basic problems in Bible study, is that the Bible was not

written in English. And few Christians will make an effort to start to

learn New Testament Greek, or Hebrew.

The core language that Paul uses is Greek, and he “quotes” a lot

of concepts from the Old Testament. So, if you can’t look up the

original Greek language that he is using, and have Bible study

tools to figure out what the original wording means, then it can

become very difficult using translations, to follow how he uses

different words.

(If you use commentaries, then you should know that you can

find commentaries that say ANYTHING! And then, you still have

the basic problem of trying to verify if what the commentary is

saying, is true. Studying commentaries is different than studying

the Bible.)

As far as educational material, there are some world class

tools for studying the common Greek of the New Testament.

I use the Bibleworks software. It’s not cheap, but it contains

some scholarly quality material. This includes the Nestle-Aland

Greek New Testament version, that can be searched with a

computer. It also has a version of the Hebrew Old Testament.

[NA-28] The New Testament text is the Nestle Aland 28th edition, from Bibleworks

The world class reference book for New Testament Greek is:

[Danker] A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian

	Literature, 3rd Edition, Danker (editor), The University of Chicago Press, 

	2000. $130

There are a number of good reference books for Old Testament Hebrew/Aramaic, such as:

[Holladay] A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, William L.

		Holladay, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971.

Stephen Wuest

(Jimmy Sellers) #18

Thanks for the clarification. I ask because I was unfamiliar with the term “core” language of Paul. The connect community is very diverse both culturally and theologically and because of this I found that it is best to ask. For me the the real beauty is that it is united in its desire to know Him and to make Him known.

(Todd Sheets) #19

Hi Steve,

Excellent question! Let me propose an alternate perspective.

David is not a hero of the faith but a hero ‘by faith’.

Like myself, you and any other person who claims to be a follower of God, we are fallible- albeit sinners.

God did not choose David because of his size, appearance or birth order- God chose him despite all those things.

God’s faithfulness and sovereignty succeed despite David’s many sins - David was called a man after God’s own heart- despite being disqualified from building the temple because he had too much blood on his hands.

When David sought God for forgiveness after deliberately winning against God- God displayed his mercy and grace. Forgiving reprehensible sin, not because David did good things, but because God’s steadfast mercy and loving kindness endure forever. He will succeed with us or in spite of us. He is Sovereign. He gets the glory!

King David was a type of one to come. One to come from his line who was not him (think “the Lord said to my Lord”…). - David was a shadow and type of the perfect prophet, king and not priest who was to come. The true king, King Jesus!

That’s why every other OT hero of the faith never succeeds in living in perfection- because we’re inclined to look to their example for how to be more faithful or be like the ‘heros’ of the faith (or what works must I do). Jesus said “it is finished”; Hebrews says we can rest from our works because Jesus is the Great High Priest; Ephesians says we are saved by grace, not works lest any man should boast. And God knows- we like to boast. I’m regularly catching myself looking for new ways to covertly add my ‘works’ to my resume…are you?

The true hero of the OT is the God of the Universe who promised to make for himself a people that were not worthy of being called his people (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, to name a few)…

So God didn’t save David because of his perfect life, he saved him because he had a faith that didn’t originate inside himself and therefore couldn’t be lost or squandered because of his perpetual inclination to go his own way. It wasn’t for David’s glory, but for God’s.

Hope this helps. Grace and Peace.


(Stephen Wuest) #20

I’m using “heroes of the faith” as the phrase has been commonly used by Christians, to refer to the “faith” chapter in Hebrews. Throughout Christian history, these people have been viewed as prime examples as individuals in God’s people, who showed great faith in God, in the way that they lived out their lives.