It’s an odd story when the king never marries. Ancient kings not only married, but also married again and again. And if dozens or hundreds of wives could not suffice, there were always concubines.
Wouldn’t a king who never married be some kind of lesser king?
The laws concerning kings in Israel read, “Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” (Deut. 17:16-17). Not many horses, many wives, nor excessive wealth; but some horses, some(?) wives, and some wealth.
When Israel finally demanded a king, Samuel warned them that most kings would not be content with some and instead acquire many (1 Sam. 8:10-18) of all of the above.
It is no surprise then to find that even the good kings did just as Samuel had predicted. If you only have Sunday school snapshots of King David’s life (David anointed by Samuel, David and Goliath, David and Jonathan, David as King) it is easy to create the false impression that King David’s downfall began in 2 Samuel 11. In other words, he was doing so well until his sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah.
When you read through 1 and 2 Samuel systematically, David’s sin with Bathsheba is not some puzzling exception in his behavior with women, but rather another choice in a long series of abuses of power. See 1 Samuel 25:39-44; 2 Samuel 3:12-16; and 2 Samuel 5:11-16. He did not have as many wives and concubines as his son Solomon (1 Kings 10:26-11:8), but neither king seemed to have a narrow definition of “some.”
In Jesus’s day we see similar expectations about marriage for those in power. King Herod had John the Baptist imprisoned because John dared to challenge the legitimacy of Herod’s marriage (Mark 6:14-29). The Pharisees asked Jesus about the right to divorce one’s wife for any cause (Matt. 19:1-12). The scribes and the Pharisees brought only a woman to be punished for adultery (John 8:1-11).
Not only was marriage for leaders expected, but again marriage to multiple women was common (even if created through loose divorce laws).
So what do we make of the fact that Jesus was the king who never married? When everyone else had a hard time limiting themselves to one, Jesus limited himself to none. He was not opposed to marriage or to women—just the opposite. In choosing not to be married, he elevated the dignity of every woman.
His mother was unexpectedly pregnant as a teenager but spared from divorce (Matt. 1:18-25). He spoke prophetically against the divorce culture of his day that primarily hurt women (Matt. 5:31-32). He restored a young girl to life and healed a woman suffering for more than a decade from disease (Matt. 9:18-26). He commended the faith of a Canaanite woman and healed her daughter (Matt. 15:21-28). He initiated a conversation with the Samaritan woman and offered her living water (John 4:7-42). He defended the woman caught in adultery and challenged her to sin no more (John 8:1-11). On the cross he spoke of provision for his mother (John 19:26-27). And when he rose victorious over the grave he appeared first to women (John 20:11-18).
He was the King who took nothing, but gave everything. He was the King who married no one, but served and gave his life for everyone.
It is an odd story where the King never marries, but it’s the greatest love story ever told.