We too often impose our standards, our culture, our way of life on those people who lived thousands of years ago in a place far removed in both custom and time. I have often heard that if Bathsheba had only been a modest woman, David would never have fallen, making her the primary offender, an evil seductress who brought down a man of God. When I did some study, then placed myself in the correct time frame and civilization, I learned a thing or two, and today I am going to be brave enough to share it with you.
First, there was no running water in those days. Now that may seem so obvious as to be ridiculous to mention, but it changes the customs. I discovered in books about social customs in Bible times that it was not at all uncommon for people to bathe outdoors in good weather. Homes had center courtyards and screens were set up to shield the bathers from the eyes of those in the house and on the street. The sexes bathed separately, the women at the same time, then the men. I know that I can still find today people who bathed on the back porch of their homes before they had running water and an indoor bathroom. They took appropriate precautions for modesty too, and were never censured for their actions. Likewise, Bathsheba’s actions were socially acceptable and appropriate. There were probably other homes where the same thing was happening. David was the only one at fault here. No one could shield the bathers from someone on a rooftop. Society expected men to be “on their honor.” If their actions put them in a place they did not belong, it was up to them to leave, just as it would be today if a man accidentally wandered into a ladies’ room by mistake.
Here is another thing we always miss. In those days young women were married off at puberty. The Law made it extremely difficult for a woman who was at all fertile not to conceive soon and often (Lev 15:19-28). Uriah and Bathsheba still had no children and we know in hindsight that Bathsheba was able to conceive. I believe that makes a good case for Bathsheba being very young, probably still a teenager. So the king calls for you—not just any king, but the country’s hero, a warrior king, and a man over 40 by the way. Even if she were 18 or 19, even if she were 25, the intimidation factor had to be huge. Unless you are a woman over 50 who was sexually harassed by a boss back in the days when turning a man in was not common, when it was, in fact, not quite acceptable, don’t even talk to me about how Bathsheba should have had the courage to say no. You cannot possibly understand how she must have felt. Yes, I have been there.
When you really study the situation and think about it in its proper time frame and cultural setting, the higher probability is that Bathsheba was not a temptress. More likely, she was a scared young woman who probably felt she had no choice. As it turns out, David was capable of murder, and she was the one looking into his eyes, not us.
Or perhaps there was some ego involved. David was the king and he was handsome. Maybe that excited her, but even if that is true, that intimidation factor just will not go away—David was the final authority in the land. And this was a man who was so cold-blooded about it that he checked to make sure she was “clean” by the Law’s standards before he even touched her.
My problems with Bathsheba have more to do with her naiveté. This was a woman who, though she lived in a political milieu, was totally ignorant of how things worked. Her affair with David was just the first time we see this trait, and though we might understand it then if she were indeed a very young teenager, it never seemed to get any better, no matter how long she lived in the palace.
Read the first few chapters of 1 Kings. David is dying and Adonijah is conniving to take the throne, even though it has been promised to her son Solomon. It takes Nathan the prophet to wake her up to what is going on right under her nose. Then a few verses later, after David is dead and Solomon is king, Adonijah asks her for Abishag. Abishag was probably the last of David’s concubines. Everyone in the kingdom knew that claiming a king’s wife was a claim to the throne. That is what Absalom did in the sight of all after he ran David out of the country. But Bathsheba takes the request to Solomon as if it were a simple matter of a request from brother to brother. Solomon understands immediately that his kingdom, God’s kingdom, is in danger and has Adonijah killed. Bathsheba should have known too.
So we are back once again to Jesus’ command that we are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. This is not just a matter of learning to study better and being careful not to place our own values on a time and place far removed from us, making judgments that may not be valid. There is something to be learned from Bathsheba’s behavior, though perhaps not the behavior we always condemn. God is not pleased when we act like simpletons, when we fail to see the obvious. He will not save us when we fall into traps that should have been avoided.
Bathsheba did become a faithful wife to David. She did see to his wishes when he became old and physically unable to, even if it did take a nudge from Nathan. Maybe after Adonijah was executed she finally gained a little wisdom in the affairs of her world. It certainly took her long enough.
Brothers, be not children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature, 1 Cor 14:20.