Thursday, May 10, 2012

Is Bathsheba the Virtuous Woman of Proverbs 31?



Bathsheba by Rembrandt, 1654
photo by Jebe Jebe


Bathsheba often brings to mind the word 'adulteress' and the incident of King David's greatest sin. However, she must have been a woman of character to raise a wise son like Solomon and for David to elevate her among his many wives, choosing her child as his successor.

King Lemuel

Solomon spoke the wisdom of the Book of Proverbs, but the book was compiled by King Hezekiah's scribes (Proverbs 25:1). The last two chapters of the book are not credited to Solomon, however, but to Agur and King Lemuel. Scholars debate the identity of these two individuals, with many maintaining they were nicknames for Solomon, but uncertainty remains, especially concerning chapter 31, "the prophecy that his [Lemuel's] mother taught him." This exceptional passage describes the ideal wife, and the reason for keen interest over the authorship is because if it were Solomon, his mother would have been Bathsheba. The woman who washed herself in clear sight of King David, slept with him when sent for and then married him, the man who had murdered her husband, would have been this queen who admonished her son to choose a godly wife.

Dr. Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, acknowledges that "Jewish tradition holds that Lemuel was a poetic name for Solomon," but personally believes King Lemuel was the King of Massa, an Ishmaelite ruler. He gives an intriguing defense of his position that a non-Israelite was the author of this famous passage. However, if Bathsheba wasn't Lemuel's mother, she may have still been familiar with this ancient instruction for a virtuous wife, with her price "far above rubies." Perhaps the teaching was an ideal Bathsheba strove for as she lived her life in the royal spotlight.

King David and Bathsheba

When David first noticed Bathsheba, she was following a cleansing ritual prescribed in the Torah. She was a faithful follower of the Jewish religion, and not doing anything unusual in the dark of night. David sent for her and "took her," indicating she didn't have a choice. Nathan the prophet later confronted David over his adultery and murder of Bathsheba's husband Uriah, but only David was blamed. Bathsheba was compared to a lamb, and lambs in scripture represent innocence. She didn't choose to be with David initially, but she was subject to the king and made the best of her situation.
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She became a queen, but her life was not free from pain. She was forcefully taken by the king when her husband couldn't protect her, and then God's punishment of David affected her, too, when the child they conceived died. Instead of being cherished in a monogamous marriage, David came with other wives: Michal, daughter of Saul; Abigail the Carmelite; Haggith; Abital; Maachah, daughter of the King of Geshur; Ahinoam of Jezreel; and Eglah; to name a few. She had to share her second husband with many other women, and later in life with Abishag the Shunammite. When David was sick and dying, he couldn't retain his body heat, so a beautiful girl named Abishag was conscripted to lie with him to keep him warm. A scene is portrayed in I Kings 1 when Bathsheba needed to discuss her son's succession with David, bowing before his bed as Abishag is ministering to him. One can imagine the discomfort Bathsheba would have felt in this room.

Proverbs 31 and Bathsheba

Several of the verses in the mother's teaching hint at things that Bathsheba would have experienced firsthand, like the seductive power women have over men. Not only did Bathsheba's beauty incite David's lust, but she would have seen his strength and energy sapped by his many wives. "Give not thy strength unto women," Lemuel's mother says. "Judge righteously and plead the cause of the poor and needy." Solomon was already wise at the inception of his reign (I Kings 2:9), indicating the intelligent training he had already received. His mother had taught him the value of wisdom, so he knew to ask God for more of it to rule the people justly (II Chronicles 1:9-10). Bathsheba's training of Solomon during his formative years cannot be underestimated, and he revered her in return (I Kings 2:19), appointing her to sit at the right side of his throne.

"The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life." The virtuous woman works diligently, manages the home, and makes sure her household is fed and clothed. She is not only shrewd in business and generous to the needy, but wise and kind. Bathsheba showed she was approachable even to her enemies, like Adonijah (I Kings 2:13-18), indicating she thought the best of others and didn't assume ill will. "Favor is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised." As a mature woman, Bathsheba would have known the favor beauty attracted but also its eventual decline. Good looks fade, but genuine spirituality will endure, and praise will follow.

King Lemuel, and perhaps his father as well, interject thoughts about her in verse twenty-nine. "Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all." To them, she exemplifies the female perfection she has just described. Like this woman, Bathsheba was a living example of virtue, and her legacy is still with us. Solomon became the richest and wisest king ever known, and she ceremonially crowned him during his wedding to Pharaoh's daughter. Bathsheba was also in the lineage of the Messiah through her sons Solomon and Nathan (Luke 3:31).

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the identity of King Lemuel, the words of his mother endure through the ages. Many ancient rabbis believed Bathsheba was the role model for the passage, despite her scandal with David. A cloud of mystery surrounds this lady who defined feminine perfection, but the wisdom she imparted is still relevant thousands of years later.

Sources:

The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, King James Version.

Reagan, David; King Lemuel Learn the Bible, 2012 (accessed May 13, 2012).

Mariottini, Claude; Who Was King Lemuel? claudemariottini.com, May 18, 2009 (accessed May 10, 2012).

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