Why The Story Of David & Bathsheba Isn't A Lesson On Modesty

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Bloodshed. Law-breaking. Intentional sin. Adultery. These words describe common themes and patterns that we see throughout Scripture when rebellious people sin against a faithful God.

More specifically, we see these common themes extend themselves to a story that has been largely regarded by many, as a story of why women need to be more modest. Despite the many abuses of power by King David and his failure to keep in mind the covenant that God made with him, somehow we’ve decided to zero in on the woman.

But, when we take a closer look at the historical and cultural context of 2 Samuel 11-12, we see that there is so much more than a story that has been used by many to shame women. As we peel off the layers of our own cultural biases, we will uncover that Bathsheba isn’t the “temptress” that some Westernized readers of Scripture have made her out to be. We will discover how far King David actually went to pursue sin, and how we too must guard ourselves against patterning our pursuit of the lust of the flesh, as David did.

DAVID THE "INNOCENT" KING?

Naked woman bathing. David sees her, keeps on looking and then magically ends up sleeping with her. Oh, and it’s all her fault because she should not have been out there in the first place. Because then, David wouldn’t have lusted after her, thus causing him to “stumble” his way into sin, right?

Well, this isn’t actually how things happened. I hope my sarcasm can be discerned.

For a long time, I believed this story to be one that was about modesty. Based on how it was taught to me, thus shaping the lens through which I read it, I in great error thought that Bathsheba was the main one at fault. But upon reading through a better lens and with a better approach to The Bible, I realized how wrong I, and many of us, are/were wrong.

David was a king. This is no small statement that you read. If we head back to the beginning of 2 Samuel, we will see that David had been anointed King of Judah. This wasn’t his first rodeo. He was quite familiar with the weight and call of a king, a position established by The Lord to govern His people. 2 Samuel 2:11 says that David was the king of Judah for seven years and six months. So he basically had some sort of experience with this whole king thing.

In chapter 5, David is anointed king of Israel. Again, this is no small statement. The Lord actually had a pretty solid law and expectations for the king who would rule over His people. In Deuteronomy 17:14-20, we see that God not only made provision for a king should the nation of Israel desire one. He gave clear instructions and criteria that had to be met in doing such a thing. This candidate was to do/be several things:

Be chosen by God (Deut. 17:15)
He must be apart of the nation of Israel (Deut. 17:15)
He must be male (Deut. 17:14-20)
He must not require many horses for himself or cause the people of Israel to return to Egypt to do so (Deut. 17:16)
Not acquire many wives for himself or acquire for himself excessive silver and gold (Deut. 17:17)
He must write for himself in a book a copy of this law that was to be approved by the Levitical priests (Deut. 17:18)
He must keep it with him and be read by him all the days of his life (Deut. 17:19)
He must keep the law, being sure to do all that is says (Deut. 17:19-20)

Sounds like a lot of stuff, right? Well, because David was king of Israel, not only would he have had to qualify to be given that responsibility, but he also would’ve known extensively all that his position required. After all, it was a law that God established and in His establishment of the specifics of that entire Law, it was required that David not only know them, but read them all his days and be sure to do all that it says.

This shows us historically and culturally, that David although often painted as an innocent king who accidentally sinned against another man’s wife, was fully aware of what his journey into sin, would and did cost him.

LITTLE DETAILS & WANDERING EYES

Typically when reading through 2 Samuel 11-12, the main highlights are that of Bathsheba’s bath, David seeing her and inquiring about her, the great sin, the super awkward “I missed my period” message, the murder of her husband, the cover up and the super bold prophet Nathan confronting the sin of David.

However, I would beg to argue that some of the most important points that we can gloss over, are the details that may seem minute and not really worthy of paying attention to.

Chapter 11 starts off with saying that when the kings went out to go to battle, David sent Joab, his servants, and all of Israel. The Scriptures briefly tell us that they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. Hmm… Now upon first read, okay, David stayed back and watched a little Netflix while his team went to battle, because he’s king and can do whatever he wants, right?

Well, wrong. The Scriptures say “the time when kings go out to battle” yet David remained at Jerusalem. We see a poor example of leadership on David’s behalf. In previous chapters in the same book, David was present during the other battles, to which he knew that God had been faithful in the covenant that He made with him, as those battles were successful (2 Sam. 7). But here, as he is on his way to discovering how far he will go (or not go) to sin, he allows those he is leading to pick up his slack.

Moving right along, late one afternoon, David arises from his couch to discover while on his roof, the sight of a woman bathing. The Bible notes that she was a very beautiful woman. David then sends and inquires about her, to which we discover that this pretty lady has a name, and it is Bathsheba. Interesting enough, in the inquiry, there are warning signs that David should’ve heeded to not pursue this matter any further than he already had. We learn that Bathsheba is a daughter and a wife; more specifically the wife of a man who you could say worked for King David.

Upon receiving this new information, David sends messengers to take (yes, they took her) and bring her to him and he lays with her. This all happened in verse 4 of chapter 11. What’s interesting though, is the little detail that the English Bible gives us! It says in parentheses, “Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.” Let’s stop right here. It’s time to do some digging!

CEREMONIAL CLEANSINGS

This is super important! Please grab your Bible if you haven’t already because I don’t want you to miss this!

God wasn’t playing about them laws in the Old Testament. He knew what kind of people He chose and He also knew the extraordinary measures His people would go to sin. Therefore, He in His loving kindness, administered a series of laws that would help govern the people and assist those leading them, in the process.

When The Bible tells us that Bathsheba had been purifying herself from her uncleanness, this adds layers to the argument that this story cannot be used to guilt women into wearing only a certain kind of swim suit or longer skirts. Instead, this tells us more about our God and how His Law is good, because it acts as a boundary that keeps us in the know of sin versus righteousness, and how to govern ourselves accordingly.

Any Bible with cross references will direct you to the book of Leviticus for this particular verse in question. In Lev. 15 we learn about the laws God spoke to Moses and Aaron concerning bodily discharges. In verse 19, it informs us what a woman like Bathsheba was expected to do, during her menstrual, as well as what any person who touched her in ways outlined in the chapter (cough, cough king David).

Because The Bible doesn’t give us details regarding where on the timeline of her uncleanness Bathsheba was, looking at what it does provide, we can note a few things:

(1) David was dead wrong because he knew good and well the laws concerning bodily discharge, as he was a king of Israel. We talked about this earlier, in that him even becoming king was contingent upon his knowledge of and adherence to the Law.

(2) Bathsheba was purifying herself from her uncleanness, which according to the laws, would mean that would fall under the direction of Lev. 15:28 in that even after she was cleansed, 7 days still would’ve needed to pass before she was clean again. That again, means David was dead wrong because he likely didn’t know what her period app said, yet he did know the laws of God as king.

(3) David would’ve known what Lev. 18:19-20 says, as king. Not only was he not to approach any woman, more specifically Bathsheba, to uncover her nakedness while she was in her menstrual uncleanness, but he also wasn’t to lay sexually with his neighbor’s wife, which would then make him unclean too.

So basically, we have a cleanup on aisle 10 needing to commence very quickly.

MODERN-DAY APPLICATION

Application is so important when studying God’s Word. Sometimes we can rush too quickly to it, but once we’ve truly committed to gaining context, we can make some pretty helpful observations to then rightly add as challenges to take our knowledge to action.

As the story continues with Bathsheba sending David that “I’m late” message, we see the convo between David now as an adulterer, with Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. Then, David premeditates the murder of Uriah by the skillful work using his rather shady army commander Joab (what, he is! Read 2 Sam. 3) to put Uriah on the forefront of the hardest fighting (2 Sam. 11:15). This leads to the death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s mourning and the birth of a son born unto David’s new wife. Whew! That was a lot.

If this story teaches us anything, it teaches us that we will jump over all of God’s laws to pursue the lust of our flesh. The story of David and Bathsheba doesn’t leave any party guiltless. It shines the light on the implications that arise as a result of being called by God to do things for His glory and what happens when we don’t adhere to His statues. David knew God’s Law. He’d experienced lots of victories by staying close to His Word and submitting Himself to The Lord. But the moment that pride and covetousness and lust and bailing out on the mission crept in, so did the effects of what pursuing those things bring: death.

In God’s infinite wisdom and sovereignty, He was kind and merciful enough to bring an old friend back to David to confront him on his sin. This old friend, the prophet Nathan, was delivering the same thing he delivered the first time: a word from The Lord. But this time was different, because this word was one that would shake David to his core and be sovereignly used to encourage us all today, as to what true, heartfelt confession and repentance looks like.

God shows us through the confession and repentance of David in Psalm 51 how merciful and committed He is to us, despite our faults and sin. Does this mean that we abuse God’s grace because He is kind? By no means! The book of Romans speaks to this. But, it does show us that the type of God we serve and the work that Christ accomplished on our behalf, allows us to be embraced by our Father even in the midst of confronting the very things He hates that we do.

As we read and reread the story of David and Bathsheba, may our main takeaway be that: sin is not our friend, God’s laws are good and modesty is not up for debate as Bathsheba was fulfilling a duty that was established by God in her bathing. This story points to the infinite ways in which Christ is our only hope. Without Him, we are doomed and left to our own devices we will always pursue the lesser, more evil thing. But with Him, we are redeemed with hope and left to His Word and Spirit, we will by His gracious leading pursue the better, more holy thing. And that is Himself.