Week Twenty Six: 2 Samuel 5–7; 11–12; 1 Kings 3; 8; 11
Have you every speculated, as an outsider looking into other’s affairs, about who is the guilty party of an argument, a divorce, or an adulterous relationship? It’s easy to judge others when we only see the outward results of people’s actions rather than their hearts. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior taught us: “Judge not that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”[i] There has been significant speculation, judgement, and debate as to whether Bathsheba seduced David or whether David raped Bathsheba.[ii] As you read this story, don’t be too quick to judge who is right or who is wrong. Instead look for principles in this story that the Lord wants us to understand.
In Ancient Middle Eastern law, adultery was viewed as a public concern because it upset the basic order of the family, confused the right of inheritance, and disturbed a peaceful society. [iii].[iv] The Babylonian, Assyrian, and Hittite law viewed adultery as an offence committed against the husband.[v] The decision about how to punish an adulterous wife and her lover was in the hands of the husband.[vi] Israelite law was distinctively different. Israel did not treat adultery as an offense against the husband, but an offense against God.[vii] The fear of God acted as an important deterrent against committing adultery. [viii]
In Deuteronomy 22:22 and Leviticus 20:10, both the adulterous woman[ix] and her lover were to be given the same punishment – the death penalty. The Biblical scholar, Anthony Phillips, claimed that in earlier Hebraic writings “originally this enactment [of the death penalty] only concerned the man, the woman being added later.”[x] The Lord’s law realized the punishment of adultery was to be equal, or even more the man’s responsibility in this ancient patriarchal society. However, man’s judgement in these situations was markedly different from what the Lord had proscribed.
In the Old Testament, we have the story of Tamar. When she was found to be adulterous, she was to be burned, yet Judah was not to be punished. Gratefully, Tamar was not burned as she proved to be more righteous than Judah, and subsequently she had twin boys. Her son Pharez would be counted in the ancestral line of the Savior. Likewise, the adulterous Bathsheba would give birth to King Solomon who was given the birthright and became a part of the Savior’s ancestral line as well, as described by Matthew.[xi]
In the story of David and Bathsheba, the Biblical account described the scene in which David walked upon the roof of his house and “saw a woman washing herself and the woman was very beautiful to look upon…And David sent messengers and took her.”[xii] Commentators have discussed Bathsheba’s bath in connection with the law of purification; others have thought it was just an innocent bath.[xiii] The inequality of power between King David and Bathsheba, a wife who was alone while her husband, Uriah, was fighting in the king’s army,[xiv] is startling.[xv] When Bathsheba was summoned to King David, by law, she could not refuse.[xvi]
When Bathsheba found out she was pregnant, David tried to hide their adultery by calling Uriah home from battle, hoping he would spend time with his wife. Instead, the loyal Uriah would not go home while his brothers in battle were living in tents. David then wrote a secret letter to the head of the army to have Uriah put in the hottest part of the battle and have the soldiers “retire from him” so that he would be killed.[xvii] After Uriah’s death, the prophet Nathan came to King David with an incriminating story of a rich man with many flocks and herds who took the cherished lamb of a poor man. David became angry about this rich man’s actions and said “the man that hath done this thing shall surely die.”[xviii] Nathan answered the king, “Thou art the man.”[xix]
The Lord judged David for his treachery, murder, and adultery. “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house and I will take thy wives before thine eyes… For thou didst it secretly but I will do this thing before all Israel.”[xx] We can learn from the story of David and Bathsheba that judgment is the Lord’s, for he is a righteous judge. The Lord is the only one who truly knows who is guilty and who is innocent.
Bathsheba, Tamar, the woman at the well, the woman taken in adultery, and the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears were all women who experienced mistreatment, shaming, and unrighteous judgment from men. [xxi] The Savior’s example of how to treat imperfect people in difficult situations is clear. He loved them for their faith. He cared about their mistreatment and their lack of standing and power in society. He gave them hope. He gave women hope that there would be justice, while calling men who exercised their power and dominion unrighteously an adulterous generation and condemning their wicked ways.[xxii]
Shaming and judgment are not ours to give. Instead, the Lord has asked us to “first cast out the beam out of <our> own eye; and then <shall we> see clearly to cast out the mote out of <our> brother’s eye.”[xxiii]
May we find joy in the Lord this week as we strive not to judge others, but to treat them with true charity.
[i] Matthew 7:1-2
[ii] Alexander Izuchukwu Abasili, Was it Rape? The David and Bathsheba Pericope Re-examined, 61 Vetus Testamentum, 1, 1-15 (2011).
[iii] Anthony Phillips, Essays on Biblical Law 2 (2002).
[iv] Michael K. Abel and Brent J. Schmidt, America Versus the Ten Commandments, 8 (2018).
[v] Robert Gordis, On Adultery in Biblical and Babylonian Law: A Note, 33 Judaism 210, 210 (1984). “Hebrew law regarded adultery as a sin against God and, therefore, beyond man’s power to forgive. Babylonian law, on the other hand, treated it as a civil offense against the husband.” Id.
[vi] A Phillips, Another Look at Adultery, 6 J. of the Old Testament, 3, 3 (1981).
[vii] Henry McKeating, Sanctions against Adultery in Ancient Israelite Society, with Some Reflections on Methodology in the Study of Old Testament Ethics, 11 J. for the Study of the Old Testament, 3 (1979).
[viii] Michael K. Abel and Brent J. Schmidt, America Versus the Ten Commandments, 8 (2018).
[ix] Anthony Phillips, Essays on Biblical Law, 3 (2002). Phillip wrote that “originally this enactment [of the death penalty] only concerned the man, the woman being added later.”
[x] Id. at 77.
[xi] Matthew 1:6
[xii] 2 Samuel 11:2, 4
[xiii] J. D’ror Chankin-Gould, Derek Hutchinson, David Hilton Jackson, Tyler D. Mayfield, Leah Rediger Schulte, Tammi J Schneider, & E. Winkelman, The Sanctified “adulteress’ and her circumstantial clause: Bathsheba’s Bath and Self-Consecration in 2 Samuel 11, 32 J. for the Study of the Old Testament, 339, 339-352 (2008).
[xiv] 2 Samuel 11:8-10
[xv]Jessica Stafick, The Case of Virgin Rape: Deuteronomy 22, 34 Priscilla Papers 3, 5 (2020). Stafick discusses three prominent patriarchal themes of these laws: “First, women were at a man’s disposal since their voice and ability to consent were faint. Second, the rights and entitlements of a male were to be protected at all costs. Third, the law is reflective of an incomplete, masculine image of YHWH….” Id.
[xvi] Gerald Cooke, The Israelite King as Son of God, 2 (1969) (discussing the king’s status as a son of God with completely power). See 2 Samuel 7:14.
[xvii] 2 Samuel 11:15
[xviii] 2 Samuel 12:5
[xix] 2 Samuel 12:7
[xx] 2 Samuel 12:11
[xxi] Jennifer Stasak, Unlikely Heroes: The Women of Matthew 1, Wyckliffe Bible Translators (December 1, 2020) https://www.wycliffe.org/blog/posts/unlikely-heroes-the-women-of-matthew-1. See Table 2.
[xxii] Matthew 16:4
[xxiii] Matthew 7:5