Did King David have idols in his house?

by | Aug 29, 2023 | Ask the Pastors

QUESTION

In our readings this [last] week, we read of Michal putting an “image” in David’s bed to fool his pursuers. The NASB (and almost every modern translation) translates the Hebrew “teraphim” as “household idol” for the image that Michal used to fool Saul’s men. NKJV has “household gods” in the footnotes, while the AV of course remains static with “image.” Given that the teraphim that Rachel hid were obviously small enough to fit under her saddle, what gives with teraphim that are big enough to look like a man sleeping in bed? And because the chapter indicates that Saul sent his men to David’s house—why did David have, or allow Michal to have, household idols in his house? Neither would be acceptable according to the Law. And apparently this wasn’t a tiny teraphim that David might plausibly say he didn’t know was in his wife’s possession. Is this another example of David’s failure in all things relating to domestic duties?

ANSWER

For questions like this, I recommend families have a good Bible dictionary on hand. One I recommend is the New Bible Dictionary published by InterVarsity Press. It’s not cheap, but it’s a tool that will serve you for decades. We keep ours by our dinner table to help us answer similar questions that come up during family devotions (which we often do during dinner). For this particular question, about all we know is what we can deduce from the few places teraphim show up in Scripture. It seems these objects were indeed associated with household superstition and worship. It also appears they came in various shapes and sizes. It’s possible the one Michal used may have been some kind of bust, rather than a man-sized statue.

But that’s about as far as a Bible dictionary will go, and more needs to be said.

I tend to think these teraphim in houses were a blind spot for the people of God. Perhaps they were something so commonplace culturally, that even faithful men and women didn’t give much thought to whether or not such objects were acceptable to the Lord. There are other examples of this that we know of. In several ways, as you alluded to, David’s household was not, shall we say, in order. For one, he accumulated eight wives, a pattern we know never ends well. We are told elsewhere of David’s failure to discipline his sons. (E.g., Amnon, 2 Sam. 13; Absalom, 2 Sam. 13–19; Adonijah, 1 Kings 1. I suspect the multiplicity of children that results from a multiplicity of wives is a responsibility beyond what one man can handle.) As another example, we have seen as Pastor Bayly preaches through 1 and 2 Kings that worshiping at the high places was a sin tolerated even by kings who are otherwise commended by Scripture: “He did what was right in the sight of the LORD.…Only the high places were not taken away…” (2 Kings 12:2–3 [Jehoash]; 14:3–4 [Amaziah]; 15:3–4 [Azariah]; 15:34–35 [Jotham]; etc.).

What’s the lesson here?

We should be willing to examine our own homes and habits in order to identify idolatrous behaviors which may be so commonplace that we don’t give them a second thought. I knew a Christian woman, whom I respected, who kept a statue of Buddha on her kitchen window sill because she felt like it gave her peace. We may be quick to judge someone like that (and we should exhort such a brother or sister not to put their trust in vain idols), but let us also consider: How many idolatrous images do we allow (for example) into our homes every day through our phones, computers, and TVs? Perhaps we even think such images help us worship God better, like the images of Christ manufactured for us by Hollywood moviemakers.

I expect that when we stand at the judgment seat of Christ, our eyes will be opened to how incredibly gracious the Lord has been toward us in not counting against us many sins and fleshly indulgences of which we were completely unaware.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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