Re-thinking King David’s Adultery

Like me, you’ve probably heard sermons that go something like this:  “So, we should never put ourselves in compromising situations.  Look at King David.  It says he was in Jerusalem in the Spring, ‘when kings go to war.’  He wasn’t going to war, like kings were supposed to do.  He was lounging around his palace.  Then, he saw Bathsheba, and it was all downhill from there!” 

First, let me say that we should stay focused on our callings.  Working hard has a way of not giving us much time to be tempted!  But, I’ve read a couple things recently that make me question this standard reading of King David’s adultery.

Howard F. Vos writes: “Kings did not always lead their forces into war.  And, in fact, the time came when the people at large insisted that David stay home from the front for his personal safety and for their good.  ‘You are more help to us in the city,’ they said (2 Samuel 18:3 NKJV).  Moreover, the autocratic kings of the ancient Near East had so much administrative detail to attend to at home that they could not always handle both military and domestic affairs adequately,” (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Manners & Customs, 160).

And, from renowned scholar Kenneth E. Bailey: “In the Middle East, men and women are exceptionally modest about exposing their bodies … [Bathsheba] decided to take a bath in front of an open windo facing the palace.  Why should spend her life with a lowly paid foreigner if she could manage to move in next door with King David?  If taking a bath in front of a window was all she had to do–why not give it a try?

“No self-respecting women, in any culture, would do such a thing.  In a traditional Middle Eastern village, only powerful people have second and third floors to their homes.  Such people can look down on and see into their neighbor’s homes, walled courtyards and windows … David’s Jerusalem was small (twelve to fifteen acres), and all of it crowded … the space between the palace and Bathsheba’s house could hardly have been more than twenty feet.

“Bathsheba knew what she was doing and she was no fool.  Her plan succeeded, the king noticed her, and within a short time David arranged to have her taken to the palace” (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, 40-41).

David definitely sinned, but these authors make the story more human, and thus add more interest.


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